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Educational Co-ops: The Inside Scoop

  • Maggie Hogan Home-School Author, Speaker, and Mother
  • Updated Mar 15, 2002
Educational Co-ops: The Inside Scoop

Please read The Benefits of Collaborative Learning (Part I of this series in which I state the many advantages of co-ops) before starting with the disadvantages!

Disadvantages of Co-ops

  • Unrealistic or unmet expectations. (I want more . . . I want less . . . I want . . .)
  • Parents surrender control of certain subjects to someone else.
  • May not like other teacher’s choice of materials or teaching style.
  • Children are influenced by other children. Socialization again!
  • Dealing with the discipline of others’ children. Very touchy!
  • Integrating students who do not interact well with others.
  • When money is involved problems may arise. Guidelines should be written down and observed.
  • Sacrifice of time: preparation time and co-op day itself. (It always takes more time than I think!)
  • Some teachers work harder than others which may lead to resentment.
  • Weekly time commitment to be out of your home as well as preparing for class and correcting papers.
  • Feels too much like trying to reinvent “school.”
  • Tara, 14, said “You might not be able to spend as much time on a subject as you’d like because you have to move on with the class.”

My friend Beth had organized an elementary level co-op for several years. Her kids went into high school, they moved, and her husband changed jobs. They enrolled their children in a private Christian school. I asked her to reflect on her years of co-opping. This is what she wrote me:

Letter from a Friend

Dear Maggie,
You asked what I would do the same or do differently in regards to co-ops if I were starting over.

Five things I would do again:
1. Insist that all those who have their children in the co-op work, whether teaching, babysitting, or bookkeeping.
2. Limit the number of children to 10 in each class.
3. Only have children participate that are "referred" by someone I trust.
4. Not have it in anyone's home. A neutral place was better for us.
5. Have one person or a small group of people in charge of the curriculum. Too many cooks spoil the broth!

I think one of the things I would do differently is to encourage our co-op to have more of a sense of community by having get-togethers outside school times, times with the dads (that no one ever sees), picnics, etc . . . I also think I would have a workshop for potential teachers in order to teach them how to teach. I know that could run into pride issues but there are some home-school moms out there that I wouldn't want teaching my children.

Now that I have been away from home schooling, I can greatly see the benefits of co-ops. My kids’ new principal, who did not like home schoolers to begin with, was not even going to consider us unless our children had been in a co-op. Co-ops also require your children be accountable to someone other than mom or dad. In a co-op, children learn how to juggle many different teachers with different teaching styles. Co-ops allow your child to work in a group setting with children around their own age. They also learn to deal with "jerks," bullies, and other undesirable traits other children have (never our own children!). Teachers tend to put more effort into teaching groups of children than into teaching just one. These are just a few of the benefits I have found this year. I would never home school without co-ops again!


Additional Advice from My Friend Betsy

  • Don’t do it because you want the easy way out.
  • Don’t do it out of peer pressure (from your friends or your kids’ friends!).
  • Don’t do it because of a lack of confidence.
  • Do it when you know it is the right thing for you and your children.

Tips for a Successful Co-op

  • Pray.
  • Plan.
  • Organize.
  • Communicate.
  • Choose teachers wisely. Just because someone is both willing and knowledgeable doesn’t mean she will be a good teacher.

Questions to Consider Concerning Teachers

  • Do they like kids and have a good rapport with them?
  • Do they communicate effectively with both kids and parents?
  • Will they follow through?
  • Are they organized enough to do a good job?
  • Do they handle conflicts in a Biblical fashion?
  • Are they knowledgeable (or at least teachable) in the field they will be instructing?
  • Be discerning in your choice of a “treasurer” to handle all the finances.
  • Take personalities into account (both of kids and parents).
  • Expect the best but plan for the worst.

12 Steps to Co-op Planning

  • 1. Pray.
  • 2. Decide your goals.
  • 3. What kind of co-op will meet those goals?
  • 4. Whom would you like to involve?
  • 5. Who’s in charge?
  • 6. Make plans. Call meetings.
    A. Organizational - Brainstorm. Flesh out specifics. (Probably need two meetings.)
         Where, when, how, what, supplies, curriculum, etc.
         Write up all agreements and get copies to everyone!
    B. Informational - if involving people not at first meeting. Important distinction - are they registering or applying?
  • 7. Pre-meeting with kids and parents before first day of class. Go through expectations, rules, etc. very carefully. Communicate!
  • 8. First day of class - smile! (We open in prayer and discuss co-op manners.)
  • 9. Keep people informed - communicate some more!
  • 10. Don’t let problems simmer. Deal with issues as soon as possible.
  • 11. Pray some more.
  • 12. Have fun - attitude is almost everything!

Coming soon . . .
Part III
Nuts & Bolts
I’ll share with you how my co-op operates and give you peek at a typical day.