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Starting a Co-op

by Debi

A co-op can be a great experience, or a frustrating waste of time, depending on how well organized it is. Pre-planning makes all the difference!

  1. Make sure that you include families that are like-minded, especially in the area of child-rearing. For example, in one co-op I was in, one family had the belief that children need to express themselves and not be stifled. That translated into a child running all over, ignoring directions, doing her own thing, and totally disrupting the meetings, and the parent become angry when other mothers tried to settle down the child so the other children could learn.
  2. Set clear goals, requirements and expectations. What subject will you study? Who will lead or teach, and how often? (Ex. will one mother always teach, or will each mother take a week and prepare everything for that lesson?). Are you using a particular curriculum or designing your own lessons? Set a starting and ending date, weekly or biweekly times, and stick to it.
  3. Will all ages participate or school-aged children only? What will you do with non-participating children (usually babies and toddlers)? Will mothers also each take a turn watching them? Will mothers stay and participate each meeting or drop off their children, and only stay for the meeting they lead?
  4. Who will pay the cost of supplies? Does each mother pay for her "day" of teaching, or will you pay per class, or a set fee for the entire length of the co-op? Will snacks be involved? Make a schedule so it is clear who will bring what, when.
  5. Again, define the purpose, and be sure all are clear about it. It may be a formal time, covering a lot of information, or it may be a fun time of crafts, games and activities, or something in between. I dropped out of a co-op once because although it was described as something "meaty", it turned out to be quite surface-level and play oriented for socialization, not at all what I needed at the time. Your co-op may be designed as primarily a social time, which is perfectly fine, but be sure everyone understands.
  6. Set behavior standards for the children - rules for the time. For example, you may need them to stay seated and quiet during presentations, raise their hands before speaking or answering, or not teasing. This will obviously depend on the type of co-op you are planning.
  7. Plan, plan, plan! The better planned it is, the smoother it will run. Obviously, the more families involved the more planning will need to be done. Will you plan it all and invite families to participate, or will you invite families then get together and decide the topic together? Both ways work, but it is good to think it through.

Types of co-ops vary. One good way for science is to take a topic (say, plants, or chemistry) and have each mom pick experiments and prepare them for a specific date. If you have 6 families, then do it for 6 weeks. This also works for studying continents - each mom picks one and prepares the lesson/activities. Or, do character traits, and let each mom prepare activities (similar to Konos) for it.

I have done co-ops differently. Right now,I have a child in more of a class situation, where one mother teaches and we drop off our kids. They turn in their assignments to her, and she grades them. I am also in another one where 15 kids meet at my home and are going through a writing series. Here, the mothers stay and watch the video lesson, then grade their own child's assignments. The papers are turned in each week so we can read them to the group, but returned at the end of that class. Because it is video lessons, it is very easy to prepare for.

A co-op can also be done where one person teaches a subject she loves (say, painting) for 4 weeks. Then another mom takes over and teaches some other area (maybe cooking) for the next month, then the next mother may teach a unit on the Westward Movement. This adds a lot of variety, and your child may be introduced to an area that you would never think of teaching.

It is not overwhelming to prepare a lot to teach once every month. It can be overwhelming to teach every week. See what works best for your group.

My kids love getting together with other kids in these types of settings, and I like that they get to learn from other mothers who have different strength areas than I. Go for it! Co-ops can be great!

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