Home School Co-Op…What’s that?

Most long-time readers here know that, not only do I home school my own 7 children, I, myself, was home schooled many moons ago. At 35, I am a bit of first-generation mainstream home schooler (as opposed to, say, a home-schooler-by-necessity-because-of-the-pioneer-days). And let me just say: it certainly wasn’t as popular as it is now “in my day.”

I get lots of questions about home schooling–most friendly–from fellow home school moms, skeptics, and the idly curious, so I thought I’d dedicate a few posts to answering as many of them as I can from our family’s perspective and experience.

I’ll talk about curriculum and schedules and such more later, but, first, I’m tackling one I get asked all the time, and that is: “What in the world is a home school co-op?” (I have a feeling that, at least for some, the follow up question is: “Is that, like, a cult, or something?”).

Oddly enough, even though I grew up attending a home school co-op, I couldn’t really have defined “home school co-op” accurately in its modern incarnation 5 years ago. We didn’t participate in one until two years ago, and I didn’t know much about how they worked until fairly recently.

The co-op my brother and I attended as kids certainly didn’t look anything like what we do now, but the basic tenets and benefits were still present: socialization, fellowship, instruction, and an outlet for the mamas.

Way back when, our co-op consisted of a gathering of 4-10 families who would meet up once a month or so at the local public park under the guise of picking up their health food orders. Most of them were crunchy granola mama types, and I can still remember the delight of watching the big freight truck full of spritzers and sprouted grain rumble up to our picnic table. Looking back, the concept seems quirky in the extreme. How had they convinced the driver to meet them at the park of all places? I assume that their orders were substantial enough to warrant his making a special stop. All I knew is that I loved the naturally sweetened orange gumballs and yummy fizzy drinks we got as a super-special treat once a month. We kids would snag a fruit leather or two and scatter pell-mell through the park–little kids to the swings and slides, middle ones to play tag, and older ones down to the lake to fish or skip rocks.

Of course, I thought that co-op day was all about the kids. We were there to play! It wasn’t until I was a home school parent myself that I realized that the mamas were at least as jazzed as we were to get a chance to “play.”

Somewhat regularly, we would have an organized lesson or field trip instead of just free play, but mostly, those days were a chance to fellowship and socialize (and buy giant bags of unmilled whole grain wheat).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that, these days, a home school co-op is a highly scheduled, curriculum-heavy, organized *thing.*

home school co op

This picture is from last year, and I kind of can’t believe how witsy bitsy everybody looks, but it exemplifies another fun thing we do at co-op: THEME DAYS! (This one was Nerds vs. Rock Stars). 

Of course, it depends on your co-op because each is run by individuals with specific tastes, but I can tell you how ours works.

We meet once a week (the norm for every co-op that I’m familiar with), and, in our case, each mother (or father) is required to be on site for the entirety of her children’s instruction (which varies, depending on age and circumstance). Not only that, but we are required to participate in some meaningful way. Some parents are floaters and do everything from P.E. to cleaning to nursery. Others–like I-are lead teachers. Last year, I was a grader for English and grammar, and I spent the day grading papers and worksheets for lead teachers. This year, I am the high school Spanish teacher, and I teach 3 periods of Spanish 1 and 2, then spend the rest of my day feverishly grading papers so that I can send the kids home with their graded work at the end of the day. I try to do as much work as possible there, but I pretty much always have some grades to record and vocab sheets and quizzes to make up at home.

I know that, just like my mama and her friends when we were kids, many mamas attend our co-op–at least partly–for the fellowship. We even have “women’s groups,” staggered throughout the day, which often consist of a Bible study or a craft or even just a meaningful discussion. But I rarely make it to mine because I’m usually still grading.

At this point, we are mostly enrolled in a co-op so that my children get a chance to play with friends and learn from other teachers (besides me and my mom), but I do love the days when I get to go to women’s group or just have a quick chat with a fellow mama. I don’t know everyone in the co-op (it’s fairly large), but I have met several kindred spirits I love to catch up with, at least briefly, each week.

The flip-side of the requirement to participate and remain on site is that we pay very nominal fees for our co-op. I know it’s different for others where mamas can drop their kids off and teachers are paid, but at ours, each teacher names a small fee per student per semester for her class (to cover supplies), and then the only additional costs are a minimal general purpose fee per family and then, of course, the cost of books and other supplies.

There is a set schedule for each grade, and we choose our offerings and time slots in the spring for the following school year.

Right now, Ezra and Simon (11 and 10) are enrolled in Spanish, Anatomy and Astronomy, World Geography, English, and Basic Computing. They also have P.E. classes. The younger ones have less strenuous subjects, but they are all learning and playing throughout the day as well.

My kids LOVE it.

I…dread it at least a little bit every week.

Even with the kids participating heavily (as in, they make most of the lunches and prep backpacks ), it still takes us several hours each weekend to prepare all of the lunches and clothes and backpacks and homework folders. Sometimes, it just feels like one more thing in our busy schedules. But it is definitely worth it because of how much my kids enjoy it. Also, once I’m there, I always enjoy teaching my students. I even enjoy grading for the “alone time” (ha!).

It’s a pretty classic example of something that’s at least a little hard for me but still good.

Because, as we all know by now, hard is not the same thing as bad.

And…there you have it! An explanation of (at least, our) home school co-op.

I have several more home schooling posts in the hopper, but feel free to drop a comment here if you have a question you want me to address!

P.S. I think Olympics Hangover is a legit thing. I can’t help myself. They only come around every couple of years, and I always stay up way too late for two weeks straight taking in all of the excitement. Any fellow Olympics lovers out there? Is it starting to take its toll on you too?


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14 thoughts on “Home School Co-Op…What’s that?

  1. This is really interesting! My friend has homeschooled 3 of my kids along with her 4 kids for the last 3 years. It works out so great! She has also organized a local informal co-op. We gather once a month for a field trip or project. We bring sack lunches and moms visit. The kids did book report poster boards last semester. In March, they are doing a science fair with judges and prizes. We’ve also had guest speakers (fire dept, electric co-op, etc…) and many interesting field trips. So, as you said, everyone has different co-op arrangements. Ours is definitely informal and relaxed. My kids love going just like yours.
    I’m seriously suffering from Olympic hangover!! We’ve been staying up way too late (watching as I type this) which has made me so tired in the morning. I’m ready to get back to a normal bedtime but I sure am going to miss watching them every night. It has been fun to watch as a family because my boys are both into it this time around! Great family entertainment!

  2. I have similar feelings about our co-op. I love it, and kinda dread it. Each week, I’m so thankful we don’t have to do it daily

  3. So – I was a homeschooler like you growing up! My oldest is 4 so we are just starting the second generation. – it’s actually something I will be writing extensively about. I’m the meantime we never did a co-op after I was 9, we moved too much and other life things. I meet up with my sister (and sister in law when they move back) once a week for our own “co-op” we do art and science experiments for preschoolers. Between the three of us we have 7 kids between the ages of 4-8 months so it’s a fine group as it is at the moment. When the kids all get older my husband has already been drafted for all upper math and science/programming. Well I’m kind of rambling sorry, lost my point – I love following you though because big family+homeschooling +building your home (which we start in 2 -3 years debt paid off and land found first) so anyway, hi!

    1. Hi there, Julie! I would actually love to do a “co-op” like that with friends. I might even prefer it because it would take a lot of pressure off of me, but I know this is good for my kids.

  4. Do you feel like you are connected with other adults somewhere else besides the co-op? Is that just not something you need? Have there been times when you did seek out more fellowship with other moms? I’m curious about your feelings that the co-op is more for your kids than for you. We’re very early in our homeschooling journey and I still feel a little daunted by the potential for isolation that can come with homeschooling.

    1. Oh, I definitely need interaction with other adults to feel sane. And I have it. Just not primarily from co-op. I think many of the other moms at co-op come for the fellowship more than I do because they’re not lead teachers. They’re definitely working, but they have a little more downtime to visit. I doubt any of the lead teachers feel super connected with the other women because we’re too busy teaching and grading. It just happens to be my job at this point, and that’s fine. It’s worth it to me for my kids to get what they do out of it.

      My adult interaction comes from: a) teaching classes 4 times a week at my gym, b) hanging with my best friend, usually while we walk the trails near our gym while the kids are in childcare (the gym is a lifesaver for me), c) chatting with my mom, who helps me home school 2 days a week, and d) occasional nights out or playdates with girlfriends. I honestly don’t feel isolated or stymied in that way at all. I think the only way that would happen is if ALL you ever did was school all day and never pursued any other kind of outlet. It’s possible for sure, but I think the norm for most home school moms is to have a “thing” or two outside of home schooling that helps them to feel like women as well as mothers/teachers.

  5. Ok , In large family living i find often one of my littles has a sickness. Or I’m concerned when everyone is well we goto something like this just to catch a weekly virus. Have you experienced this ? My youngest is 3 months

    1. Well, I would say that it’s not usually true for us. We are rarely sick and rarely catch things when they’re going around. BUT! This sickness season has been horrendous, and we have caught several things…one from co-op that I know of. The others from elsewhere. For the most part, though, I haven’t found it to be a problem. At least in our case, we don’t pay high tuition. That would make missing a day hurt a lot worse.

  6. Hey, Abbie — Random comment and don’t post, cause no reason to. But, did you know that your Instagram link on this site goes to some weird random page? Check it out! Thought you would want to fix it.

    1. Hey Jackie. Okay, so you’re the second person that has said this, but…it works for me. Are you talking about the Instagram link on the sidebar (to the right of the post text) where it shows minis of my feed? Just wondering if there’s another link that’s broken that I’m not noticing.

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