Click here to read Part 1 of this article: The Benefits of Collaborative Learning.

Click here to read Part 2 of this article: Educational Co-ops: The Inside Scoop.

So many people have asked me how my co-ops work that I am writing this article, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Why reluctantly? Because this is only one example of the thousands of ways in which a history co-op might function. In fact, almost every co-op I’ve been involved in has operated differently. With that said, let’s take a look at my history co-op from last year.

Spring-Time Questions

I pray. Curriculum decisions must be made. Although in the past I’ve both written my own and adapted from textbooks, this year I’ve decided to try the Diana Waring Ancient Civilizations and the Bible materials. Now I need to look through it all carefully, deciding how to make it work best for me.

I pray. Participant decisions must be made. Although in the past I’ve opened my co-ops to anyone in our support group on a first-come, first-served basis, this year will be different. This co-op has arisen out of our 13-year-old son’s specific needs. Tyler has always been the youngest in our co-ops because I’ve geared them more around his brother, JB, who is five years older. JB has graduated and now I want to work closely with Tyler to give him the co-op experience he desires. He would like a small, less formal group involving students with which he is already comfortable. This beautifully suits my desires for a more laid back pace. We invite five other teens, two boys and three girls. Four accept.

I also had to decide on payment versus true co-oping (trading of talents). I decided that if a parent wished to teach Tyler a class that was of interest to him we would just swap. If a parent wished their child to participate with no parental job required, they would pay. Two trade and two pay.

The Nitty Gritty

Summer’s here and the real planning begins. I take Diana’s materials and decide how much we should do in class, how much should be required at home, how I will assess progress, and how fast our pace will be. I design a schedule that covers the book in eight months, allows students to pursue some of their own interests, includes two hands-on projects, a notebook approach, and strongly incorporates both Bible and geography in the plans. Regretfully, I drop many of the fun, hands-on activities in her book for lack of time. These can be done for extra credit or for one of their required projects. Tyler has had many hands-on experiences over the years and my goal for this year includes a greater emphasis on researching and writing of history papers.

I decide to also include the high school level geography course from The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. Although we will complete the geography in Diana’s book, it deals with ancient civilizations. I also want to cover current world geography this year.

I meet with the other parents and explain what I am doing and why. I listen closely to any concerns and if possible, take those into account.

I go through each unit in the book and look to see what additional reading materials would be beneficial. I scour my own history collection as well as the library’s. Then I order a few books that will be particularly helpful. (If these were younger students I’d also be on the look out for fun hands-on games, stickers, and motivational items, as well.) I begin reading the first unit and listening to Diana’s What in the World’s Going On Here, Volume I tape set to get a head start on the teens. Although I will not be able to do this all year, I want to at least begin the year understanding the material we are to cover. After that, I will do the work and learn along with them.

I determine they will each keep a timeline, updated monthly using the book’s timeline assignments. Each student will decide what kind of timeline they wish to make and what style they will use in completing it.

Wow! There is so much I want them to learn! How will we ever cover all this ground? I pray some more for wisdom. I realize that I need a full school morning to implement this course. I choose Monday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. with lunch included. I determine that they will each keep their own notebook of what they are learning and I will base my evaluations, in part, on these notebooks.

We begin in mid-August so that we can be through in early May. That works best with my speaking and traveling schedule.

A Co-Op is Born

Welcome to my house! It’s the first day and everyone files into my kitchen. (I am blessed with a humongous kitchen.) I welcome all and begin with prayer. I show them where to store their "stuff" and their lunches. I discuss ground rules, which can be basically summed up in one word: Respect. I go over the materials we will be using, the syllabus, and my goals. I am so excited about this subject and this co-op that I have to be careful not to overwhelm them.

By the end of the day, we’ve read out loud from our Bibles and reference books. We’ve listened together to the first part of Diana’s tape. We’ve used our maps and atlases to locate places. I’ve pulled out my books and resources to let everyone have a chance to borrow whatever they’d like to take home. Most importantly, we’ve talked together about what we are learning.

Discussions turn out to be the heart of this course. Each week we discuss what we are reading or listening to or watching on videos. I give the kids assignments that allow them leeway in picking topics. Since they are all working on different but related topics, we all learn from each other. I love getting them to express themselves and seeing when the light bulbs go on. I love when they see the application of something to their own lives. I love when I see them grasping big ideas!

Of course, it isn’t always pretty. Some days somebody is grouchy and someone else is totally unprepared, holding back discussions. Some days somebody grumbles about map work or too much reading. Some days I am not adequately prepared and I find myself stumbling through co-op instead of leading it. I pray.

I’m finding that I must spend hours ahead of time reading and listening and thinking in order to generate the best possible class time. This isn’t quite as low maintenance a course as I’d first thought. But I do find myself looking forward to Mondays. And I’m learning so much myself about Old Testament history!

Guess what? That notebook idea I mentioned earlier? Well, it turns out to be a really good idea. They are, in essence, building their own reference book on this time period. But . . . it does have one little hitch. These young teens have had little or no experience in doing this and they are having trouble staying organized. I find halfway through the first semester that I need to be checking these notebooks often or some of them get terribly far behind. Once I institute a weekly notebook accountability check, work improves dramatically.

Winter Blahs

First Semester Hands-On Projects are due in December. I remind them. I remind them some more. Then the week before they are due I get a few panic phone calls: "Can I have more time? I forgot!" Hmmm . . . how much slack do I give here?

After a little grumbling, the projects are complete. Wow! Each of them did an outstanding job! Turns out they loved doing them, once they got going. And were they proud of their work!

January is difficult. Everyone, myself included, is having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. I ease up on some of the map assignments and cut back a little on the vocabulary. I bring in the new geography card game, World Wise, and we spend a happy hour playing that together. Maybe chocolate would be a good idea . . .

A Happy Ending

Some of the timelines are turning out far better than I had dreamed. A couple of the kids are very artistic and have put great time and care into their timelines. They inspire the rest of us! The maps have also been a worthwhile endeavor and I am proud of their accomplishments in this area, as well.

I can’t believe how much we all have learned this year: about God, history, geography, work skills, research, and how relevant all this is to our everyday lives. We rush to complete notebooks, finish memorizing a few things for geography class, and make plans for our end-of-year party. I collect final notebooks and projects and am so pleased with how far this group has come. Thank you, Lord, for another successful year co-oping! Oh my, it’s spring again - time to make plans for next years’ history co-op . . .

Materials We Used the Most for History

  •  Diana Waring’s "Ancient Civilizations" and the Bible Study Guide
  •  Ancient Civilizations and the Bible Study Guide Map Pack
  • Diana Waring’s What in the World’s Going on Here, Volume I
  • Student Bible Atlas
  • Rand McNally Historical Atlas of the World
  • A good Bible Commentary
  • Usborne Book of World History Dates
  • Kingfisher History of the World
  • Assorted library books on each major time period covered, i.e. Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.

Materials We Used the Most for Geography

  •  The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide
  •  The Answer Atlas
  • Conquering the Continents Paper Map Pack

Maggie Hogan is a motivational speaker and co-author of The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, Gifted Children at Home, and other resource books. She and her husband Bob have been home schooling their boys since 1991. Involved in local, state, and national home-schooling issues, they both serve on boards of home education organizations in Delaware. They are also owners of Bright Ideas Press (www.BrightIdeasPress.com), a home-school company dedicated to bringing the best practical, fun, and affordable materials to the home-school market.

Maggie's e-mail address is Hogan@BrightIdeasPress.com.