Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homeschool Co-ops

I have had a rather tepid attitude toward homeschool co-ops over the years. I love some aspects of co-ops even while I dislike other parts. For five of my seven years as a homeschool mom, I did not ultilize a co-op. For two years, I did. In theory, I love the idea of a homeschool co-op. The social interaction, the group learning without jeopardizing flexibility, the fellowship with other moms…sounds perfect. In larger areas, there are even specialized groups for homeschoolers, such as fine arts co-ops. I love that idea! On the surface, it all seems like a win-win situation.  As with everything in life, however, there are some pitfalls.  In my rural area, there are not a lot of co-op opportunities for homeschoolers, but I have tried the ones that are available. Although co-oops have their positives and their negatives, we are excited that we are once again joining a homeschool co-op for the upcoming school year.

A few years ago, my children and I spent a year as part of the only co-op in our area, which consisted of two churches of the same denomination that had joined together for cooperative classes.  Although we did not attend either of those churches, they allowed our family to join. Overall it was a great year with many valuable learning experiences. The best parts were that my children made some new friends that they got to see regularly, they were able to participate in group activities that they would not have been able to be involved with otherwise (i.e., PE, group discussions with their peers), and they gained the experience of accepting instruction from an adult other than me. The negative aspects involved the issues that commonly occur among group situations with children: Someone feels left out or is picked on, some children don't get along, etc. It is important to remember that the same issues that affect kids when they are herded together in school will also occur in a homeschool co-op setting, albeit on a smaller scale usually. The silver lining is that many caring mothers are present to help the children deal with such issues as they occur. The timing wasn't right for our family to continue with the co-op, so we left after only one year. For the upcoming year, we are enrolling in this co-op once again and we are excited about it. This particular co-op includes a mothers support group, which I am definitely looking forward to.

Last year, I started a new co-op in my area for only one year.  I approached the women in a Charlotte Mason support group that I attended about beginning a co-op based on Charlotte’s educational methods. The women were interested and the Living and Learning Homeschool Co-op began with just two classes. I was the director and I taught the music class; a woman from the support group who is also a good friend taught the art class. It was a great year and I think everyone enjoyed it, but we decided not to continue it for next year. My friend who taught the art class is relocating to another state, so we needed a new art teacher. Also, I needed to lessen my responsibilities within the co-op due to a possible job change for my husband as well as some health issues in our family.  The other women in the group were unable to take on those responsibilities due to their own family circumstances (i.e., new babies, too many other commitments, etc.), so the co-op has ended. God may have plans to begin it again in the future, but it isn’t meant to be for the present time.

Although it isn’t a co-op, I want to mention that my children were involved in a homeschool drama troupe for the past two years. It was a wonderful group that brought so many rich experiences into their lives!  This drama class was honestly the best group learning experience that my children have ever had. Although I wish the ‘Encore Players’ group could continue forever, it appears that it may not. The teacher and founder has decided to enroll her children in a Christian school full-time. At this writing, the future of the Encore Players is uncertain.

It is amazing to see how God has always provided for the needs of my family, including my children's need for social interaction. At various times, God has used cooperative learning experiences as part of his divine provision and I am thankful that such opportunities are available to homeschoolers. Although it hasn’t always been perfect, my family has gained much from the co-op experience.  

Have you been a member of a homeschool co-op? Has your experience been a positive one? Please comment below…I would love to read your story!