Homeschooling is great, isn’t it? You have the freedom and flexibility to teach your children according to your own style, schedule, and interests. Thanks to the recent uptick in families choosing to homeschool, curriculum choices, resources, and ideas are more abundant than ever. Still, you may find yourself needing something more for your family’s needs. Perhaps you don’t feel confident teaching a certain subject. Maybe your kids need more social opportunities. Or you wish your children had access to extra classes such as art, debate, home economics, or creative writing. A homeschool co-op sounds appealing, but there aren’t any in your area that seem to fit your expectations. If you have considered starting your own homeschool co-op, we’ve compiled some ideas and suggestions to guide you and help you get started.
What is a homeschool co-op?
A homeschool co-op is a group of families who meet regularly to help each other reach common homeschooling goals. Co-ops are usually centered around academics but can also include family activities, social time, the arts, or service projects. Classes and activities may be overseen by parents voluntarily, or parents may choose to pay a teacher or activity director to help with the co-op’s classes or activities. Co-ops can range in size from as few as two or three families to as many as four hundred. Meeting places include churches, libraries, homes, and community centers. Some co-ops get together once a week and others, once or twice a month. It’s important to note that homeschool co-ops are different from homeschool groups. Homeschool groups tend to be larger and more general in their purpose. Many homeschool groups offer a co-op for age or grade specific classes, extracurricular activities, and other social opportunities. Some co-ops are totally independent of any homeschool group. The purpose of homeschool co-ops is to share the load of teaching with other likeminded homeschool families in a non-public school setting.
Why start a homeschool co-op?
Homeschool co-ops can
- Support homeschoolers’ personal homeschool system.
- Provide access to teachers who are skilled in certain subjects.
- Offer plenty of social activities for parents and children.
- Allow families to explore different areas of interest in various subjects and classes.
- Encourage parents and children in their homeschool journey.
Begin with a Purpose or Mission
If you decide to begin a homeschool co-op, take some time to think about your purpose for doing so. Then use your purpose to come up with a clear mission statement. This is key, because creating a mission statement will help you clarify your goals and purposes for yourself and others. Mission statements should answer two main questions: Who are you, and why does your co-op exist?
Who is in your homeschool co-op?
Identify your co-op according to the following:
- who you want to include, i.e. any homeschooling parent or child, high school students, art students, elementary students, etc,
- your homeschooling style, method, or curriculum choice,
- your religious affiliation (if applicable), and
- your geographical location.
Why does your homeschool co-op exist?
Define your purpose. Is it to promote homeschooling, support homeschooling students, encourage homeschooling parents, provide academic support, offer social opportunities, etc.?
You do not need to explain how your co-op will accomplish your purposes in your mission statement. You can provide a separate program statement that describes how you operate classes, plan field trips, organize sports programs, and implement other activities.
Keep your mission statement brief and concise. Aim for one sentence or no more than 50 words. Word your mission statement accurately and keep your goals realistic. Make your mission statement prominent and include it everywhere you can, such as posters, signs, letterheads, and in e-mails.
9 Steps to Start a Homeschool Co-op
1. Find the Right Location
Whether in a church building, library room, or someone’s house, it should be a positive learning environment. Students and parents should feel safe, respected, loved, and supported. A positive learning environment will encourage reasonable freedom, responsibility, and opportunities for students to grow academically and socially. Seek to create a space where students and parents can explore a variety of personalized learning experiences. When choosing a location, consider the size of your group and make sure it will be large enough to accommodate everyone. Also, try to pick a location that will provide ample space if your co-op expands in the future.
2. Provide Co-op Classes for Homeschoolers
One of the greatest benefits of homeschool co-ops is the wide range of classes kids can take. How many and what type largely depends on your co-op’s budget, number of available teachers, and location. You might choose to prioritize only courses that other parents in your co-op might not feel confident about teaching so you can share responsibilities for core classes that are harder to teach. You might volunteer to teach math (if you’re strong in math) while a different parent might volunteer to teach literature (if you’re not as strong in literature). Offer extra courses not found in typical homeschool curriculum. The key is providing classes that are challenging yet fun, creative yet practical, and completely different from the normal everyday homeschool routine.
Class Ideas for Young Children
- Letter of the week.
- Storytelling for little ones.
- Rhyming with Dr. Seuss.
- Exploring the senses.
Class Ideas for Elementary through Middle-school Students
- Exploring the 50 states.
- Teambuilding challenges.
- Wilderness survival skills.
- Book inspired cooking class.
- All about insects.
Class Ideas for High Schoolers
- Business math.
- Public speaking.
- Car care 101.
- Coding/computer programming.
- Creative writing.
- Home economics.
3. Choose Homeschool Co-op Curriculum
When choosing a curriculum for your co-op, keep the following in mind:
- Your co-op’s mission statement. Your curriculum should support the goals and purposes you have set forth in your mission statement.
- Your co-op’s learning style. If you identify your co-op as something specific as Charlotte Mason, classical, or Montessori, you’ll want to use a curriculum that complements that particular method. If you are implementing an eclectic style, you can choose from several different sources to fit your co-op’s needs.
- Your budget. Remember that your co-op members are already paying for their own personal curriculum, so try to keep curriculum costs affordable without sacrificing quality.
4. Find Homeschool Co-op Teachers
Most homeschool co-ops require parents to teach or assist teaching one or more classes. After you decide which subjects and classes to offer, make a list of them. Ask parents to volunteer teaching one of the classes, making clear that they will be responsible to prepare lesson plans, lectures, and any necessary extra materials for their class. If you don’t have enough parents to teach, don’t worry about it. In the early days of your new co-op, focus on only offering classes that you’re confident your co-op can do well. Only consider hiring outside if you’re confident in your ability to cover the costs.
5. Cover Homeschool Co-op Costs
To avoid “nickel and diming” families, combine all the co-op fees into one fee if possible. Costs should cover any applicable expenses, including facility rental, curriculum, field trips, and classes. The exception would be additional supplies needed for a certain class, such as art. Most parents like to know the overall cost upfront so they can plan their homeschooling budget. You may want to list all the separate expenses in a budget statement so parents can see exactly how their fees are allocated. Many private schools, preschools and colleges combine all their fees into one general tuition fee to keep finances simple and straightforward. They will add up all the costs needed to run their program and charge parents enough money to cover those costs.
6. Establish Homeschool Co-op Rules
As with any other well-run organization, it’s important to establish clear rules and guidelines for your co-op from the beginning. So long as your new co-op is more homespun, you won’t need to stress about the rules as much. As your group grows, you’ll want to take some time to think through rules you believe are appropriate and necessary for the benefit of all families involved. Rules should address expectations on deportment and behavior, class material, care of facilities, safety, and anything else you think pertains to your co-op. Strive to keep rules short and easily understood so parents and children don’t feel overwhelmed by them. Write them down and include them in your handbook for easy reference.
7. Create a Homeschool Co-op Schedule
Some key questions to ask when planning a schedule are:
- How many days and times do you want to meet throughout the school year?
- How many class hours are you planning?
- Will your day include a lunch hour?
- Do you need to include time for setting up before and cleaning up afterward?
- Do you have a start and end date in mind?
- Will you take time off for special events and holidays?
- Will you plan makeup days in case of bad weather or other unforeseeable circumstances?
Once these things are clear in your mind, you can start preparing your schedule for the school year. You may want to consider an orientation meeting to introduce yourself, review rules and procedures, talk through the schedule, and allow time for students and teachers to meet each other. When planning a co-op day schedule, a general rule of thumb is to keep class periods around 45 minutes. Another is to allow at least 30 minutes for lunch or recess.
8. Plan for High School Transcripts
If your co-op plans to include high school classes, those can count toward graduation credits. Most states count one full year course (including two semesters’ worth of lessons) as one credit. Single semester courses usually count for a half credit. Many states have a list of required subjects that students must learn every year. These are the standard core subjects: math, social studies, English language and arts, and science. In addition to standard course work, high schoolers are expected to complete a number of elective credits. One of the biggest reasons homeschoolers join a co-op is because they can have access to various elective classes. Those, as well as the core ones taught in co-ops, can be recorded on high school transcripts.
9. Keep Communication Open
Clear communication is vital to the success of any co-op. From the very beginning, establish good lines of communication with your homeschool families. Parents want to stay informed, especially when any change in policy, schedule, or activities occurs. Send out regular e-mails (at least once a month), and let parents know as soon as possible of any changes. Let parents know you are available if they have any questions, suggestions or concerns. Listen to them, ask follow-up questions when necessary, and tell them you appreciate their input. Misunderstandings are inevitable, and when they arise, seek to clarify matters as soon as possible. Be gracious toward your homeschooling families, even when they may not be so gracious to you. Remember that no co-op is perfect and no family is perfect. As the name itself suggests, co-ops should encourage cooperation in working toward common homeschooling goals. Organizing, operating and maintaining a homeschool co-op is a lot of work, but well worth the effort to support and encourage your local homeschooling community.
• • • • •Jennifer is a pastor’s wife and mom of two young girls and loves homeschooling them. During her own twelve years of being homeschooled, Jennifer developed a passion for reading and writing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and relishes writing during her free time.