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The Benefits of Collaborative Learning

  • Maggie Hogan Home-School Author, Speaker, and Mother
  • Updated Feb 14, 2002
The Benefits of Collaborative Learning


Part I


What are co-ops? Are they a dumping ground for moms too busy to teach their children, or are they a blessing to moms wanting innovative ideas and weekly interaction with others?  What makes a successful co-op? This 3-part article will address:


  • Different types of co-ops
  • Benefits and shortcomings
  • Starting one
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Nuts and bolts of a history co-op


I’ve been involved in co-ops since my first day home schooling back in 1991. They take time and preparation. Sometimes they are inconvenient or downright aggravating. Why do I stick with them? Because they have been such a blessing to us. Some of my boys’ favorite memories involve co-op activities. Mine, too! However, a group that works well together and provides motivation and a positive learning environment doesn’t happen by chance. Someone needs to organize it.  Someone needs to have a vision and a plan. And someone needs to really, and I mean  really, COMMUNICATE!!


Communication Is the Key!


Define co-op. Not surprisingly, it may mean something different to your best friend than it means to you. Make sure everyone involved is on the same page. Since co-op stands for “cooperative,” the assumption is that a co-op is a group where everyone involved cooperates with one another to make something happen. While that sounds lovely, the reality is a committee is not the most effective means for running co-ops. I prefer when starting a co-op to either go it alone or involve just one or two close friends with whom I already know I work well. After it is planned and organized, I then invite other people who buy into our vision to join us.


Important Issues to Decide


There are many types of co-ops. Some decisions need to be made right away. For example:


  • Academic or enrichment?
  • Meeting monthly or weekly?
  • Who teaches?
  • Fees or free?
  • By grade, age or other criteria?


Then there is planning:  Who’s in charge? An individual, a team, or a committee?

Are the teachers paid? How are supplies handled? (Trust me, there are always supplies needed!)

If money is involved, who collects it and distributes it? (Must be above reproach, efficient, and communicative!) This can get quite complicated. Work it out ahead of time, keeping the following questions in mind.


  • Who chooses teachers?
  • Who chooses curriculum?
  • Homework or no homework?
  • If all parents teach, who decides who teaches what?
  • Who writes letters/communicates with parents?
  • Who substitutes for a teacher who can’t make it?
  • Who sets-up and who cleans-up?
  • Who resolves disagreements amongst teachers?
  • Where will you meet? (See chart below for comments.)






Cozy, convenient, and



Classroom space, tables, chairs, neutral territory, gym or kitchen space may be available.


Wear & tear on house,

sick kids,

lack of privacy,

ground rules important.

Church relations may be strained. How do you pay? What about damages? Clean-up & contact people are vital!



Consider your students:

  • How many should you have?
  • Will they get along?
  • What about age ranges?
  • Do they have similar learning abilities? If not, how do you compensate?


Consider your parents:

  • Compatible worldviews?
  • Compatible educational philosophies?
  • Working towards the same co-op goals?


Wow! There is so much to think about. But lest you get discouraged let me offer this list that several of us compiled showing some of the reasons we co-op.


Advantages of Co-ops

1. Structure.

2. Accountability.

3. Carefully chosen group interaction (aka, socialization!).

4. Children learn to learn under different teaching styles.

5. Children learn to cooperate with children outside their family.

6. Children learn traditional classroom manners (raising hands, etc.).

7. Sharing the teaching load.

8. A support group for moms.

9. Moms can benefit from strengths, talents and interests of other teachers.

10. For older students it provides a great discussion group for literature and creative writing.

11. Sense of identity or belonging.

12. Meet new people.

13. Can be more fun and exciting to do projects and activities in a larger group setting.

14. A little competition is beneficial for some students. It may help them to try harder or do their best work when they know others will see it.

15. May provide a sense of stability during tough family times: chronic illness in family, difficult pregnancy, move, job loss, etc.

16. Teachers may work harder to prepare lessons because of teaching for a group.

17. May bring out the best in teachers.

18. May provide the motivation to keep on going.

19. Helpful when a student is truly desiring to “go to school.” A co-op can be a useful compromise.

20. Great for high school - teaching labs, languages, and having in-depth discussions in literature, government, etc.


Next time - let’s look at some of the disadvantages as well as a 12-step-plan for starting your own co-op.

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 (, 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