Category Archives: Homeschooling

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.*

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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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Our Homeschool Year in Review

I’ve talked about our homeschooling/daily routine here a couple of times before (you can see my “day in the life” post + some other bits and bobs), but I’ve gotten so many questions recently about how to get started in homeschooling, what curricula we use, and what our typical day looks like that I thought I’d give all 20 of you (who have probably already emailed me privately, ha!) interested another peek at our school routine–especially since this year has been considerably different than usual.

Although…we’ve had several iterations so far in this homeschooling journey (including full-time homeschooling and part-time homeschooling + private school), and I never know exactly what the next year will hold, so maybe “usual” is a misnomer.

This year’s notable difference has been the addition of my mom as a teacher. (Insert aaaaalll the praise hands). She homeschooled my brother and me through around age 15 when we both started college (although, not that at the same time, since my brother is 4 years older), and before + during (albeit very part time) + after that, she taught both high school and college students. She’s an amazing teacher–patient, creative, meticulous…

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I really don’t toot my mama’s horn enough, but she’s an incredible woman, and I am so grateful that my kids have her so actively involved in their lives. This year that looks like hiring her to come to our house on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach the boys and Della from 10-3. Then, those three go home with her on Thursday evening and stay through Friday (they only have to do their “independent” workbooks at her house on Fridays rather than our full curriculum, so it’s our lightest day).

Which means that I only home school alone on Mondays and Wednesdays. That has been such a Godsend this year, with 2 very active (read: tiring) 3-year-olds + a toddler, since I spend those days catching up on laundry and housework, blogging, meal prep, figuring out stuff for the new house, etc. I always have grand plans of getting giant projects done the days that my mom is here, but the truth is that I’m usually doing well to get the normal housework done. Funny how excited I get about having help, only to realize that having 3 little kids “underfoot” is enough to put a kibosh on painting projects and the like. Duh, Abbie. Turns out 6 kids at home all day is busy whether there’s help or not. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m THRILLED to have it and wouldn’t want my kids to be anywhere else).

Typically, Mom focuses on history, writing, handwriting, keyboarding, and __________ (additional subjects vary per day/need). And I do history, science, grammar, and Christian apologetics (plus some Spanish; but I’ve slacked on that this year). This is in addition to the boys’ independent work, which they do (with questions answered) mostly on their own each day.

Our Monday routine is: gym in the morning (where the boys complete their independent work), grocery shopping for the week, errands, home for lunch, school in the afternoons, dinner prep, free time, (these days) soccer practice, dinner, then bed.

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{This is usually the scene when we get home from grocery-shopping on Mondays, and everybody’s famished, and there are bags everywhere in the process of being put away}

Wednesdays are a mad rush of: chores, school (both independent and with me), lunch, piano practice, gym, dinner, bed. Definitely our most hectic day.

We don’t do school on the weekends, of course, and on Monday the whole rigamarole starts all over again. I cannot even begin to express lightning fast this year has gone. I am still in denial that it’s May with the school year already almost done. #likewhoa

As far as curricula, we’re all over the place. I’ve done all-inclusive curricula in the past, but I never loved every last bit of it, so over the years, I’ve honed my favorites and gleaned a lot of recommendations and reviews from fellow homeschool mamas until I’m pretty happy with our setup.

Which is:

Math – Horizons

Reading – Bob Jones

Writing – Institute for Excellence in Writing (I can’t actually speak to this because my mom teaches writing, but from what I’ve gleaned from her, she doesn’t love it; feels like it’s a bit dry/restrictive. Others I know rave about it, but my mom IS a writing teacher, so I definitely trust her to take what she can from the curriculum and put her own unique stamp on it)

Science – Apologia

Apologetics – Apologia (Who is God and Can I Really Know Him)

History – The Story of the World

Spelling – A Reason for Spelling. Honestly, I’m not impressed with this curriculum, and we won’t be using it next year. The activities don’t do very much to reinforce the words, and the words, themselves, seem way below grade level to me (my mom agrees)

Grammar – First Language Lessons for the Well-trained Mind

Handwriting – We have a book (whose name I cannot currently remember, shamefully), but I also print Bible verses to copy for handwriting practice

We also supplement with some super-reading/language skills books from Sylvan learning, which I really like because they include word finding exercises, lots of practice with prefixes/suffixes, homonyms, synonyms, antonyms, and various other “wordy” things that can kind of fall through the cracks of a curriculum category.

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Della doesn’t do all of these things, of course, but she does have her reading/math/handwriting exercises, and she’s usually present when we’re doing history/science/grammar together (she’s surprisingly good at spotting things like prepositions and adjectives, even when the boys get stumped), so she’s absorbing a lot. She’s also grown a ton in her reading confidence, so she’ll be ready to officially head into 1st grade in the fall (even though she doesn’t turn 6 until the end of November).

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Speaking of the fall, we’ll be adding yet another twist to our homeschooling routine because we’ve joined a co-op. When I was growing up, I remember being part of a co-op–which basically meant that, once a month or so, all the home schooling moms and their posses got together at the park and played and ate a picnic. It was definitely a social thing.

But this is infinitely more structured than that, and both Shaun and I will be participating in a teaching/helping capacity (parents are required to pitch in, and election for the very limited available spots that come open each year is awarded according to which parent positions need filling rather than child “merit” or number). Fortunately, they needed a computer programming teacher (Shaun, NOT me), which is why we made the cut. They have nursery and toddler facilities, so our whole family (well, Shaun’s role is limited to an hour) will be spending 3 Mondays a month attending school at the co-op. The rest of the week should look similar to our current setup, but again, I never know quite what to expect, so we shall see.

Aaaaand if you made it all the way through that, I congratulate you. Your attention span is better than mine. (I started nodding off somewhere around paragraph 3).

Obviously, our routine wouldn’t work for everybody, but it’s great for us right now. I’ve said it before to anyone who cares to listen, but I’ll say it again: I love homeschooling for its flexibility (among other things). Is your kid ahead? Great! Bump him up. Is he behind? No problem. Slow down, and take more time on a specific subject. Is your schedule nuts one week? Not the end of the world. Just double up on your work the next week.

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{Sometimes, you just gotta take a break to help your sister put together her new Princess Legos}

My kids are easy to teach, so far (not gloating; just observing with gratitude), and they really like the schedule, what they’re learning (for the most part), and the opportunity to see their Softa (my mom) so often. This has been the least intense homeschooling year for me by far, and I’m honestly just really grateful for that, with everything else we have going on, building the new house and how much that requires Shaun to be gone.

ANYhoo, I’d love to hear about your homeschool routines and any curriculum suggestions you might have for me (I’m especially interested in finding something fantastic for: spelling and maybe some more Charlotte Mason style subjects like poetry, art, and music), and I hope this post has been at least a teensy bit helpful and informative for those of you who have questions about such things.

If I overlooked something or didn’t address your questions, feel free to ask away. Even if I can’t answer it, I bet you a much more seasoned and awesome homeschooling mom than I can answer it in the comments.

P.S. Lest I have somehow painted too rosy a picture of our homeschooling experience, I would like to point out that Simon came downstairs the other day intent on having me settle an argument between him and Ezra, in which he was insisting that the USA is in South America, while Ezra countered that it was in North America. Whomp whomp. At least one of them had a clue, right? Methinks I may need to add “geography” to our must-have curriculum list.

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