Category Archives: Kids

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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Mama Life Hacks {#24}: The Nightly Clean-up

I am not a clean freak. I prefer my house to be clean. But I can function just fine (for a while, at least) if it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t feel like my house is ever COMPLETELY clean, since if the kids and I have cleaned two of the bathrooms, the high likelihood is that the other three need a scrub (yes, that means we have 5 bathrooms…that might be part of the problem). I do not have a compulsive need to deep-clean every surface of my house on a weekly basis, as several of my friends do (which is both a blessing to my sanity–hello, 7 constantly-mess-producing children–and a curse–I know that if I were compulsive, my house would, indeed, be cleaner).

HOWEVER, I feel the most mentally at ease and–there’s no better way to put it–okay with myself as a human when my house is picked up and reasonably clean. And that is what today’s Mama Life Hack is supposed to help with.

And it’s so simple, so obvious, so ridiculously basic that I fully expect every comment on this post to be some iteration of “DUH, Abbie, or “Why didn’t I already think of that?”

But first a little back story. We clean every morning. After Bible reading and before we start school, the kids all do their “morning routines.” For the girls and Theo, this involves unloading the dishwashers, picking up the common area (living room/dining room/kitchen/stairway) and putting away any toys or books we’ve gotten out (even though this process generally happens between 8 and 9, there have been children up and playing since 6:30 usually, so, yes, there’s already at least some mess by the time the sun comes up).

The older boys alternate day-by-day with: 1) loading the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher/cleaning the sink and surrounding counter and 2) sweeping the kitchen/dining and wiping down the island, stove, counters.

(I include this detail because I get a lot of questions about what kind of chores my kids do at which ages). 

During this time, I flip laundry, feed the baby, answer emails, etc. I’m not cleaning alongside them, necessarily, but we’re all doing something productive.

This way, we start our school day with things in the spaces we use most under reasonable control.

Fast forward to the end of our day, and MOST (not all, but most) of this work has been completely undone. Pencils have been sharpened to nubs and dropped on the ground (thank you, Theo), papers have been shredded on the floor (ahem, Theo again), lunch has been made, snacks X 7 have been eaten…twice (goodness, that’s a lot of food), books have been hauled out of lockers, bathrooms have been strewn with toilet paper (among other things #ew). We try–oh how we try–to put things back as we go. The food gets put back at lunchtime. The paper mounds get picked up. The bathroom gets de-TP’d. But when the focus is on learning, not cleaning, and there are still more messes to be made, it’s inevitable that we miss a pencil or 6, and there’s a doll or 3 under the couch.

Oh, and then there’s dinner. I do simple food: Taco soup, chicken tortilla soup, chicken and squash grill, spaghetti, chicken pot pie (my most-well-loved-by-readers recipe). But there’s still some cooking debris that’s inevitable with the process of refereeing 7 kids while preparing food for them (although to be fair, it doesn’t feel like refereeing 90% of the time; they’re honestly usually playing happily, reading, helping me cook, or doing something outside).

My point? Despite our best efforts, our main living areas are still at least a little bit messy at the end of every day.

And I’m tired. And not the least bit interested in starting all over again with what feels like (no IS) a never-ending process.

One day, as I was expressing to Shaun my frustration with the amount of work yet to be done at the end of the day versus the amount of fortitude left with which to tackle it, he said, “We just need to set a timer for after dinner clean-up and get it done.”

At first, my emotions rebelled against the simplicity of the suggestion. It couldn’t possibly be THAT easy.

But then, I remembered an article I read once about a mother of many (also a homeschooler) who instituted a 5:00 PM clean-up train, in which each member of her household was required to fall in line as they snaked through the entire house picking up errant socks and books and general life detritus. It had sounded intimidating  (even though she said they enjoyed it) to me at the time, but I could see the appeal in ending each day with a picked up house.

And so, despite my temptation to sulk, rather than truly look for a solution, I said, “Okay, let’s try it.”

So, we did.

And it worked.

So, we still do.

Every night at 7 PM, our trustworthy Alexa  begins chirping to let us know that it’s time to clean. And we get to work. Everyone but Honor pitches in. (Still trying to figure out how to train an almost one-year-old who doesn’t walk to throw away his own diapers).

The smaller kids repeat a version of the picking up routine they do in the mornings, every now and then with the addition of a rug vacuum. And the older boys and I usually tag-team the dishes + large pan scrubbing + sweeping. Shaun helps with picking up, redirecting wandering attention (AHEM, Theo and Twins), trash duty, or whatever else needs doing.

cleaning

Gittin ‘ur dun. P.S. She’s standing on my fave kid stool of all time. 

We turn on music. We might even boogie down a little. But mostly, we work. It takes 20-30 minutes with all of us hustling at our respective tasks to take the main living area from cluttered-enough-to-be-stressful:

cleaning4

The milk is out. Dishes are piled in the sink. The island is strewn with leftover…stuff. And I do believe there are containers of garlic powder and cayenne on the sofa table???

to this:

cleaning2

Don’t be deceived. This is clean-from-a-distance. Some nights, I have time/energy to wipe down the cabinets or rearrange the fridge if the dishes are light. Most of the time, though, this is simply main surfaces wiped down, floors swept (not mopped), dishes done, and clutter put away.

It’s not deep-cleaned. But do you know what it is? Stress-free!!

Half an hour of corporate cleaning makes my brain go AAAAAAHHHH every single night, and it’s glorious.

Now, obviously, I have lots of helpers, and some of my kids are older. But that also means that I have more mess-makers. And I can tell you that, after years of training the little ones, they are finally starting to get it. (So, if you only have wee ones, there’s still hope). The olders were gone the other night, and Della (7), the twins (5), and Theo (3) managed to help with dishes, pick up and vacuum the living room, put away toys, and throw away trash quite proficiently.

MOST of the problem with everything feeling so overwhelming was my assumption that–even though I require my children to help throughout the day–once it hit evening time, I was completely responsible for setting everything right. (No clue why). And, given how tired I usually am, many nights, that just wasn’t happening. With the result, of course, being a more cluttered and stressful start to our mornings.

The oh-so-subtle shift from: this is MY responsibility to this is OUR responsibility and let’s see how quickly and joyfully we can knock it out has done wonders for my energy levels, motivation, and attitude.

The kids don’t mind a bit. In fact, because of the music and camaraderie, they actually–gasp–enjoy it.

cleaning3

Another important part of our evening routine: the older kids’ reading the children’s Bible to the oh-so-attentive littles after we clean. 

So, there you have it. The little cleaning trick that has revolutionized our nighttime routine.

Notice that it’s similar to the other mom’s idea but not identical. Different time. No conga line. BUT. The elements of togetherness, fun, and work are still present. And I think those are the keys.

Let me know if you give this a shot or if you already do something similar. I can’t believe it took me so long to implement this (thanks, Shaun), but I’m so glad we did.

P.S. I’m working on a no-sock-left-behind system that my Instagram peeps helped me devise, and I can’t wait to share it soon.

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