5 Steps to a Successful Homeschool Co-Op Sept 8, 2004 18:13:01 GMT -5
Post by Charity on Sept 8, 2004 18:13:01 GMT -5
5 Steps To A Successful Homeschool Co-op
by Debra Bell
Pooling your resources and sharing the load is not only the best survival tip for long-term homeschooling; but also, a wonderful way to enrich your life and the lives of your children with the quality friendships that grow from this effort. But not all good intentions, ends well; so here are some tried-and-true steps for laying a solid foundation for your homeschool co-op.
1. Define your purpose. Establish a vision. Put it in writing.
There are a lot of different reasons for co-oping and there are a lot of different needs one might address. Co-ops that start without a clearly define set of parameters often run into relational difficulties when folks realize they have conflicting ideas. “I thought my younger children would have the benefit of sharing classes with older students who could be positive role models.” One mother reports, “ But families with older kids want the co-op to provide academically advanced classes too challenging to include mine.” She left disappointed and a bit offended that others didn’t see the value in multi-age groups that she did.
2. Start small and build slowly.
This is an if-I-had-it-to-do-over-again recommendation. I led our 15-year-old homeschool co-op the first 8 years. In the beginning, there is a lot of tweaking that will need to go on; there are a lot of problems you haven’t anticipated which will arise; and these are compounded when you add a lot of members up front. It’s just better to start small and get a feel for how this group learning thing works best for your families and then grow your numbers judiciously as you get comfortable with a particular emphasis.
3. Make membership selective.
I realize this can be a hotly contested idea among homeschoolers; but in my experience, establishing a criteria for membership saves a lot of time dealing with things such as behavioral problems in kids and differences in visions with moms. It’s up to you what your standards of membership might be – but from my observation, every long-lasting co-op has them. It might be membership in a particular church (thus insuring compatibility on doctrinal issues); it might be at least one year of homeschooling (thus insuring parents are not looking to the co-op as their source of a cheap private school); or it might be every student shows evidence of being self-governing (as ours does.)
4. Every member involvement.
No. 1 reason for co-ops disbanding? Leadership burnout. Why? A few women doing everything. Lots of families dropping off their kids. Ours started out this way. Two of my girlfriends and I volunteered to teach art, gym and music for our early elementary-aged children. Ten other mothers dropped off their kids at our church every other Friday, then headed out the door for three free hours of running errands or sipping coffee together at someone’s home. At first I loved teaching the kids, but by Christmas I was steaming. I wanted that three hour break, or else I wanted others suffering with me! I had to remind myself, I’d set it up this way. Had someone made me the same offer, I’d be off like a chicken flying the coop myself. Needless to say, come summer planning meeting, we changed the terms of membership – everyone sharing the load. Ever since, all moms (and the occasional dad) teach or help two out of three class periods. The other time block, moms are free to hang out in the “teacher’s lounge” we’ve created and stocked with coffee and snacks. If a mom can’t take a teaching assignment, then she serves in some other way – clean-up, fund-raising, running the book club, etc. But part of the membership packet includes a complete list of responsibilities members must select two or three to commit to as part of considering their family’s application.
5. Clearly defined leadership.
When you start small, say with 4 or 5 families, it’s possible to run by consensus; but if you want to serve more than that number of students, you will have to have a leadership team. You will waste too much time trying to arrive at that consensus; or the opinions of the dominant personalities in your group will rule the roost and others will just drop out without explanation. We have a leadership team of three women, and it is self-perpetuating. That means once appointed, we serve until we step down, and the existing leadership team determines the replacement. The consistency of this approach works best for us; but other co-ops have limits of term and officers are elected. The more important point is that who is shouldering responsibility for the co-op is formalized.