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Whether you’ve been homeschooling since your kids were little, or you pulled your kids out of public school – either from elementary, middle, or high school – one thing that your middle or high school homeschooled youth will need is a co-op.
Having raised 5 kids – all who now have gone through or are currently in their teen years – I’ve found that participating in a great homeschool co-op has been vital to their growth and development, as well as helping you to continue homeschooling through their teen years.
I want to help you see the benefits of participating in a co-op with your teens as well as help you see how you can do it with everything else you’ve got going on.
In this article I’ll discuss these topics:
- Our experience – why we got involved with a co-op
- Benefits of a co-op that the youth can see
- Benefits of a co-op that parents can see
- unexpected benefits
- after homeschool high school
- How to co-op
- simple co-ops
- more involved co-ops
- What to do with your littles while teaching in a co-op
JUST A NOTE: There are co-ops where all ages of children are involved, and co-ops where just older children/teens are involved. While I do discuss both of these ideas in this article, I mainly focus on the latter.
Our experience – why we got involved in a co-op
We started homeschooling when our oldest was three and we’ve been homeschooling ever since. One thing that I began to notice very keenly when my oldest was about 11 years old, was that things were changing with him. He needed something more. He needed something a little different than what we were doing and I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
I was grateful to have other homeschool friends who were a little bit farther down the path than I was. I talked with them to see what they were doing with their teens and many of them, if not most of them, were involved in some kind of a co-op with other homeschoolers.
While our homeschool was going great for our kids, it became clear that our older kids needed more. Something beyond just me and their siblings and the frequent gatherings, occasional classes, and other events we did with other homeschoolers.
Like-minded homeschool moms would gather together and create little co-ops that would meet regularly, like once or twice a week, and each mom would contribute in some way to help run it – like teach a class, run activities, etc.
As I did some research, discussed things with my husband and my kids, and prayed about it, I began to feel pretty strongly that we needed to be involved with a co-op. So when my oldest was 12 and my second oldest was 10, we started getting involved with a co-op. And only my 10 and 12-year-old participated in it. (I’ll explain how I juggled this and my three younger kids later in this article.)
When we joined our first co-op it did feel a little overwhelming since adding more things to my already full plate felt a little daunting, including the fact that I still needed to take care of my little ones’ needs.
But it still felt like the right thing to do and I could see that my older kids would flourish with these opportunities.
So we dove in!
Benefits of a co-op that the youth can see
As I’ve talked with my kids and with many other homeschooled youth, they all have had very similar responses about why they love being in a co-op. Here are some of the main reasons I’ve heard:
- They love getting together with other homeschool friends regularly
- They love that this becomes consistent and they get to form strong friendships and have more common experiences with them
- They enjoy having someone besides mom teach them
- They get a taste of different types of teachers and teaching styles
- They love the classes they get to take and the things they get to learn
- They enjoy learning alongside their friends to hear their points of view and bounce ideas off of each other
- They are inspired by seeing what other homeschooled youth are doing and they consider new opportunities
- Their skills and abilities increase and improve
- They love the group activities they get to do
- They want challenge and encouragement from more sources
- And of course, they love more socialization!
Benefits of a co-op that parents can see
Ok, friend, hold on to your hat . . . there are a TON of benefits that parents will appreciate.
Co-ops are generally not drop-off situations (like public school or private school) and they require parental involvement to operate. This might sound like a negative at first but I’m here to tell you that this has actually been a great strength and blessing to me and our family.
As you probably know, one of the great things about homeschooling is it is a family affair. Not just, “kids, go do your homework.” It involves all of us in one way or another.
When moms gather together with other like-minded moms (meaning they’re interested in the same type of methodology and have similar ideas regarding homeschooling and education) and they unite, discuss, and plan what things their kids need, every one of them is deeply motivated to make it happen. Oftentimes what my child needs is also what someone else’s child needs.
And a co-op is born.
One mom may have a passion/strength/skill for English, grammar, and writing, while another mom is a scientist at heart and totally geeks out about it. Another mom loves world cultures and geography, and another mom is crazy about math.
While teaching in a co-op may seem like a ton of extra work, it’s actually a real time saver. For example, while I was teaching a history class in our co-op, another mom was teaching a class on writing and grammar, and another was teaching a world cultures class. *That meant that I didn’t have to also teach writing and grammar at home, nor world cultures . . .*
When we gather together and offer what we have to other kids and families, we all are strengthened and lifted up.
This creates a culture of great education in our homes. We are ALL involved. Mom is learning, the kids are learning, and sometimes dad is involved as well.
We connect with other moms and families and we support each other when it all feels overwhelming. We’ve got each other’s backs.
And here’s something cool I’ve seen in co-ops we’ve been in: Even when a subject needed to be taught that a mom didn’t feel very competent in, these were the situations that were amazing to watch. That mom would dive into the subject and study and work and learn, then go and teach what she learned to the kids. She would be on fire and so excited about what she’s learned and that fact right there simply couldn’t help but ignite a love for the subject in her students as well. Simply beautiful.
And we’ve been able to participate in things well beyond just our co-op classes.
Through either our co-op’s efforts or when we’ve networked with other co-ops, we’ve also participated in things like:
- spelling bees
- geography bees
- US Constitution bowls
- mock trials
- speech and debate classes and tournaments
- humanitarian trips, in-state as well as out of the country
- group fundraising opportunities
- local service opportunities
- plays, including Shakespeare
- government simulations
- business ventures
- state legislative internships
- homeschool proms
- field trips
- fun social gatherings
- youth leadership opportunities (like this one)
- and we’ve been able to work with local businesses to offer special homeschool classes for things like ballroom, ballet, taekwondo, swimming, acting, etc during the daytime
Also, when like-minded moms and families unite together to create a homeschool community and culture, life-long friendships are formed between moms and dads as well as the youth. (You can see a sampling of this in this article.) This has been a huge personal blessing to me.
Our families are strengthened and supported in similar values and beliefs, and great character is fostered as well as great minds.
An unexpected benefit:
In our homeschool community, which has been going strong for years, we’ve even had some of our youth grow up and get married to other youth from our associations.
For example, one of my sons married a girl he has known since age 9. They had participated in co-op classes together, been in Shakespeare plays together, and had run in the same crowd for years.
And we just went to a wedding reception last week for another young man and woman who had known each other for years in their homeschool co-op.
So far, there have been 4 such weddings from our co-op group alone. How about that?!
After homeschool high school:
Boy, these kids are smart and capable and good. We’ve seen our older youth graduate and engage in powerful and meaningful things in life. Things like:
- College (including bachelors and masters degrees)
- missions for their church
- wholesome marriage and sweet families have been started
- qualified and capable career/work and service
- great hearts and great minds making a positive impact on our world
- They are powerful.
Many of these homeschooled youth still have each other as best friends, and some are even engaged in homeschool communities teaching, leading, and giving back to the younger generation. Our whole families are great friends. It’s all a beautiful sight to behold.
How to Co-op:
- It can be as simple as 2-3 moms and their kids gathering once a week and doing an activity or a class together
- Or 2-3 families going on weekly field trips together
- It can be one mom inviting another family over to do science projects together
- It can be some youth coming together for frequent book discussions
- Or for service activities
- One year I offered a club for girls age 9-11 called Curiosity Club. (More details on this coming soon!) We met every other week for a couple of hours and did learning activities, they did presentations, and the moms took turns teaching and sharing something they loved.
More involved co-ops:
- Some families are interested in similar homeschool curriculum and they join together to teach it, with each mom taking a different subject.
- Some moms suggest topics they’d like to teach that they are excited about, and they all plan and organize their co-op around these ideas.
- Some families get super organized and create a structure that can be perpetuated for years. This is the kind of co-op we’ve been with for many years. We call our co-op Aspire Scholar Academy.
- This co-op was created and has been supported by a whole bunch of moms over the years (some have come and gone, and others have been in it for the long haul.) It has stood strong for years because the vision and purpose were so well established and it has resonated with so many others that people just keep coming to it.
- Some families hire great mentors and teachers to come and teach their youth, and all the families pitch in to pay for it.
- There are some co-ops that want the entire family involved and create situations where there are classes for all age groups. This requires more families to be involved and teaching various ages, littles included.
Here is a friend’s blog post of a bunch of great homeschool co-op ideas.
What to do with your littles while teaching in a co-op
This is often a big concern for moms, especially when they and their oldest child are getting involved in a co-op. But I can assure you, there are ways to make it work well.
How I did it with my littles:
When I found myself in this situation, here’s how I handled it . . . My oldest two were in the co-op and they were ages 10 and 12. I also had a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. Then the second year of teaching I was also pregnant with my fifth child. And yes, it was challenging, and sometimes I felt pretty overwhelmed.
Not only was I spending a good amount of time out of class preparing to teach, but I also had to figure out what to do with my littles while I taught.
Here’s how I made it work:
My 6 and 3-year-old boys loved to read books, color, and listen to audio books. So I prepped them well beforehand and had them even practice this at home a bit.
I explained what I was going to be doing and what they needed to do. Each week we had them each gather a few favorite books to read, a coloring book and crayons, and an audiobook along with their own device to play them on. (Back then it was cassette tape players!) (And no, back then we didn’t have any smartphones, ipads, or the like to ‘entertain’ them. They learned how to govern themselves well. Not that using those things are bad, I’m just suggesting that there are several options for how to engage your kids while you teach.)
We brought a blanket and put it on the floor in the corner of the room right next to where I would be standing to teach. They were to stay on the blanket the whole time I taught, and not talk to me, or to each other. We even went over to the lady’s house where we held co-op before classes started so they could see the room and practice for a bit. I made sure they went to the bathroom right before class started.
And you know what? They did phenomenally. Every single time I taught they sat on their little blanket, read their books, colored, and listened to their audiobooks. Man, they were amazing.
It was a powerful lesson for them to learn and practice. They learned quite quickly to govern themselves well for a solid hour and a half. They also got to observe the big kids learning cool things, and they also listened in sometimes and learned stuff.
How other moms have made it work:
- In some co-ops, some moms will teach a class and another mom will offer to watch her little kids.
- Some co-ops create a child-care ‘class’ where a couple of moms sign up to watch all the littles of the moms who are teaching during that time block. They do fun and engaging learning activities.
- Some moms hire a sitter
- Some have other moms who are not in their co-op watch their kids and offer trades
- Some moms with very, very littles have contributed to the co-op in other ways besides teaching
Wrapping it up
If you’ve ever thought that a co-op would be too much work to add to your already over-full plate, or if you’ve thought there’s no way you could homeschool through middle or high school, or if you’re just looking for ways to make this homeschool thing work for the long run, I would encourage you to look around and see if you can find other like-minded homeschool families who may want to join together to create a co-op and provide great opportunities for your youth.
There’s something to be said about families coming together to make great things happen.
I won’t lie and say it’s a walk in the park, but I also won’t hide the fact that in our experience it has been a wild, challenging, incredible, powerful, mind-blowing, enriching, and absolutely worthwhile venture on all points. For our entire family.