It was “just another” graduation, and once again, I found myself in tears. Happy tears, of course, but tears nonetheless. Our family knew and had grown to love most of the 18 young adults standing on the stage in their royal blue caps and gowns. As our family watched their families wrap up their years of home education, I reminisced about how far they’d come: I’d seen them blossom and grow, get in and out of trouble, perform on stage, compete at Field Day, get dressed to the nines at the Spring Formal, act up at Fall Festival and overeat sweets at Christmas and Valentine Day’s parties.
Because we were all part of the same co-op.
Our family has been a part of co-ops in so many shapes and forms over the years. We’ve gone from 2 to 8 to 25 (at least) families; we’ve done just-for-fun classes, to studying history through the arts, to learning via the classical approach; teachers have ranged from “just” volunteer moms to employed teaching professionals in their fields. We’ve had classes in living rooms, Sunday school rooms, museum halls and playgrounds. Co-ops can look and be set up in so many ways. While none of them are perfect, I am sold on the format and the opportunities they provide.
What is a co-op?
Co-op is simply short for “cooperative”, as in “cooperative learning”. Homeschool co-ops are groups of homeschool families, usually (and at their best) with similar visions and values, but different perspectives, who combine their forces to provide the learning opportunities they desire for their children. No matter what format they take, they are flexible and fun ways to enhance the parent-directed home education process!
Why should you join a co-op?
- Co-op situations allow structured interaction with other children. I’m not referring to the “socialization” issue here, but I do want to point out that interacting with other children in a learning environment is a skill that your children will find useful in the future. It’s not the same as play, or sitting still in church, but involves the ability to communicate clearly and creatively with other people and contribute in a real way to a group discussion or project. These are learned skills.
- It allows for exposure to varied curricula. Many times, and this has certainly been the case for me over the years, we find a curriculum or method of teaching and stick with it. That’s all well and good, but as our children grow, we need to teach them how to learn and glean from other methods and other teachers. Co-op classes are an easy and natural way of introducing this concept to them.
- It takes the stress off mom. Yes, sometimes it can be a pain to get to class on time, or have to work appointments or meetings around the co-op. In the long run, however, it’s much less stressful than coming up with a year-long course of study in a subject that may not quite be your strength or interest.
- It also enables moms to interact with more experienced veterans to get feedback, input and advice when needed. There’s nothing like talking one-on-one with someone who has gotten to know you and your kids when you’re in the middle of a problem or need a question answered or some brainstorming help!
- Co-ops provide a group of people with whom you can do the large-group types of activities that can become a welcome touchstone for your family – We all enjoy our group’s annual Field Day to get our summer started, graduation to officially “send off” our friends to college, and fall festival, where we enjoy fun games and family camping in the cooler fall weather. We also love monthly get-togethers such as spelling bees, geography bees, International Day and Commerce Day. In more densely populated areas, many co-ops also provide team sports, some of which even provide opportunities to engage in some healthy competition.
- It allows mom and dad to have an idea who their kids are hanging out with. This reason especially comes into play as kids begin to stretch their wings as teenagers and start driving!
- It’s a true time-saver. We get to drive to one location and my kids can not only take a variety of classes, but also practice leadership skills by taking part in Key Club, Student Council, and/or assisting teachers with the little ones. Our group also charters a Boy Scout and American Heritage Girls troop, both of which our kids participate in.
- Kids get the benefit of other trusted adults pouring into their lives. Through small group classes, they interact at a genuine level with other parents, who bless them with their attention, wisdom, time and love, in addition to teaching subject matter. These parents often become mentors, or at other times connect them with other people or opportunities that serve to develop their special skills, abilities or interests.
- It gives me the opportunity to pour into my kids‘ friends and peers’ lives, as well. Yes, of course my first responsibility is to my own children, but God did not create us to live in a vacuum or be self-serving. By observing me as I mentor other young people, my kids learn that the world does not revolve around them and that we all have gifts and love to share with everyone!
- Last, but certainly not least, a co-op can meet a need for a short time or an extended season. While our family has seen many members come and go over the years, we have been a member of our group for close to 20 years. Now, we’ve also joined and left other groups that served a purpose we needed for a time, but maintaining membership in this larger group has also given our kids a sense of belonging, family and ownership of their learning in a larger sense.
And it’s why I get teary-eyed at graduation each spring.
*This article originally appeared in the iHomeschool Network blog under the title “Top 10 Reasons to Join a Homeschool Co-op”
Co-ops can definitely enhance the quality of your homeschool efforts. Can you think of any other benefits to joining a homeschool co-op? Tell us about them in the comments below!
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