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?

 

Sparrows and Blogs

“What is the price of two sparrows–one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” Matthew 10:29

As much as I’d love to believe that my view of God is accurate–Biblical and true–I can find myself falling into some really basic mental pitfalls. Most of my wrong views of God stem from my own parenting shortcomings. I love my kids to distraction. But I am also easily frustrated by them. I get annoyed by their humanity, even when I’m being a hypocrite about it sometimes (ugh, kids; how dare you leave your clothes in the middle of the floor again, regardless of the fact that I do the exact same thing?). Some days, I’m overflowing with patience and lovingkindness. Others, I’m doing well not to say out loud: “Your voice is like an ice pick in my brain, and everything you say–no matter how normal or basic or necessary–is aggravating the snot out of me.”

It’s easy for me to project my bad days or ill humor onto God and assume that he reacts the same way, even though I know from Scripture that it’s not true. He doesn’t change his mind. He isn’t fickle or hormonal. He’s slow to anger and abounding in love. And that love endures forever. Just like my love for my children. Only, he never has to apologize for the things he said when he was hangry.

LIKEWISE, I can find myself questioning just how much God could possibly care about the minutiae of my life. I mean, there is actual suffering in the world. Surely, my little issues can’t be that compelling. (SUCH a human thing to think when God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and independent of time and space). But then, I read verses like the one above about the sparrows or Matthew 6, which is all about God’s caring for the grass and flowers and how, if he take the time to give a daffodil its frilly edges and buttery yellow hue, how much more does he care about me? Yes, even the things that shouldn’t seem to matter.

Or sometimes, I get such a sweet glimpse of the way he orchestrates the details of my life that it rocks me back on my heels, theologically speaking.

Take Sunday night for instance. I went to bed at 11:15. I had to wake up at 5 AM to teach my Body Pump class, so I set my alarm, but I did not plug my phone in because it had 65% battery, which was more than enough to make it through the night, my class, and most of the rest of the day.

What felt like mere seconds later, I awoke to find Theo standing beside my bed. Feeling groggy, I hauled him into bed and snuggled his little body close. And then, curious, I checked my phone to discover that it was only midnight (even though he’s my earliest riser, he rarely comes into our room this early, and I don’t remember the last time it happened at midnight). As I stared at my screen, something else registered with me: my phone battery, which had been at 65% 45 minutes before, was now at 15%. Even though I hadn’t been using it at all. Apparently, there was an app in the background siphoning its battery power at an alarming rate.

You guys. If Theo hadn’t crawled in bed with me at midnight, my phone would have died in the middle of the night, and I would have disappointed 20 people who got up early with the express design of taking BODYPUMP the following morning. I would have gotten a call from my group fitness manager asking why I hadn’t shown up to class. And I wouldn’t have had anything else to offer than: “My phone died.” It would have been embarrassing and just all around bad.

Or take my blog.

Yesterday, it disappeared. Just…poof. Wasn’t there anymore.

I came home from errands yesterday evening, and Shaun asked me if I had done anything different–updated something or changed a setting. NO, I said. WHY DO YOU ASK, I said.

Because it’s gone.

Whuuuuuuttt?

I didn’t panic, but I certainly did feel anxiousness begin to simmer in my soul at the prospect of losing almost 7 years’ worth of projects and pictures and memories.

I have the utmost faith in Shaun’s ability to fix all things technical. He’s a wizard. But I still know that, sometimes, technology breaks for no apparent reason, and it can’t be fixed.

We called GoDaddy (our hosting provider), and they spent about an hour on the phone with Shaun trying different things to help him restore the information…with no luck.

It was a database issue. Not a hosting issue. And we couldn’t even log into my account to figure things out because my username and password are stored in the database, which was clearly corrupted.

Here’s the thing that blows my mind, though, y’all.

We’ve been needing to update my blog for ages. You know that. Some of you semi-regularly email me about that. I mean, my profile pic is approximately 4 years old. Two kids are missing. It’s ridiculous. But it takes a lot of time to do much of anything technological, and we just haven’t had it.

Last Saturday, we finally had a free day to focus on the changes. But first, Shaun said we needed to back up my blog to his computer…just to make sure that, if any of the changes caused any problems, we’d have a copy of everything.

This is the first time we have ever done this.

Two days later, my blog crashed. Apparently, there were tables with information in the database that had grown much too large due to a bug in a plug-in, and my entire site just shut down out of sheer exhaustion from having to carry the weight of all of that info (NOT a technical explanation, I realize…but one that many mamas will be able to relate to).

It had nothing to do with our backing it up, and the back up took so long that we never got around to changing anything on the site. In other words, we did nothing to cause the crash. It. was. going. to. happen. We just didn’t know it.

But God did.

And I firmly believe that he prompted my husband to do the backup of everything…two days before…for the first time in seven years. And because of that, once we figured out and fixed the problem with the database, we were able to restore all of that saved info. spilled milk

Are y’all picking up what I’m laying down? It’s hardly water into wine, but I do consider the fact that my blog still exists an absolute gracious miracle of God.

Why do I say all of this?

Well, first of all as an Ebenezer. I want this blog here to be able to look back on when I (inevitably) begin to wonder whether I should take this or that silly little ol’ thing that’s making me anxious to the Lord.

And maybe as an encouragement for you too. I don’t know most of your circumstances. However, I do KNOW that God cares about them because he loves you. I knew that before he used a toddler to make sure I woke up on time or made sure we backed up my blog so it wouldn’t disappear. But I sure am grateful that he saw fit to give me those little windows through which to glimpse his love.

Maybe you’re struggling with something you think is too minor to take to God. Or maybe you’re staggering under the weight of something that feels too big for God. Neither is true.

Like the old song says:

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Is there something (big or small) I can pray for you about? If so, it would be my privilege. You can email me at blogabbie{at}gmail{dot}com.