Wondering how to start a homeschool co-op? Starting, and sustaining a homeschool co-op is a lot easier than it might sound.
How to Start a Homeschool Co-Op Step by Step
Starting a good homeschool co-op requires some advanced planning and thought from those who are involved. It's this preparation that truly makes a co-op useful for its members. No matter what, remember that there is no one single right way to organize a co-op. With that said, a successful co-op is dependent on being well organized.
Step 1: A Core Organizing Meeting
The first thing you need to do is to have an organizing meeting. Generally, this is held between two or three moms who are all like-minded in terms of what they'd like to see in a co-op experience. This meeting should be used to hammer out important details and key philosophies in how the co-op will run. You should also create a list of goals so that new people to your co-op will understand what it is that they can hope to get from the co-op experience. Be careful not to get weighed down with the nitty gritty at this meeting, but work on general philosophies and a broad picture. Questions to consider and things to think about at this meeting include:
- What is the general philosophy of the co-op? Some co-ops are organized around a religious philosophy and members have to sign a statement of faith. Other co-ops are organized around a philosophy of education such as the trivium.
- What will the co-op provide? Do you want your co-op to teach mostly academic subjects at the high school level or instruction in the fine arts? Do you want your co-op to require homework. . .or should the classes be self-contained? Start with your immediate needs. . .and build from there.
- Who can teach? Do parents share the responsibility of teaching, or does the co-op hire teachers to help teach subjects? What other responsibilities might parents have?
- How often will the co-op meet? In addition to deciding how often, this is the time to get out calendars and decide on specific days and times.
Step 2: Have an Open Meeting
There are many co-ops that successfully run with just a few families. There are also advantages to joining a bigger co-op. It really depends on your needs. Assuming that you want more families involved in your co-op, your next step is to have an open meeting where you invite families who you think would enjoy a co-op. The purpose of this meeting is not necessarily to plan but rather to communicate. This is a good time to do the following:
- Give out a calendar of dates that the co-op will meet.
- Let people know the goals that you had in your initial planning meeting. Be open to hearing other goals, however, realize too that not every single person is going to agree on every single thing. Better to have some of the details laid out rather than attempt to appease the masses.
Step 3: Details, Details, Details
You have your dates, you've decided what you're going to do and who is teaching what. Now make sure that all of the details are hammered out:
- Does your group have insurance for where you are meeting?
- How is the group compensating the host?
- Where will materials be stored?
- What should people do if they cannot come?
- What is your well-child policy?
- Make sure to note any issues related to the space you're using. (For example, which entrance can you use, etc.)
Common Co-op Pitfalls
There are many successful co-ops started every year. There are also co-ops that dwindle and die out every year. Watch out for some of these things that can really hinder a successful co-op.
- A one person wonder: People who are in leadership need to delegate before they experience burn out!
- Gossip: Gossip diminishes a group's ability to solve problems in a meaningful way. Nip gossip in the bud.
- Lack of goals: Some parents feel like they want to be relaxed and too much planning kills the spirit of learning. While that might translate well into a home environment, too little planning in a group leads to chaos.
- Kids who don't get along: While you might love Johnny's mom, your son might not love Johnny. At the very core, a co-op should start with kids that get along relatively well. Sometimes this is difficult to deal with but being aware of potential issues on the outset can alleviate some of the stress.
Is Starting a Co-op Right for You?
Co-ops can be great opportunities for kids and parents alike to experience quality socialization for homeschoolers. Before starting, really defining your goals will help you know whether or not starting a co-op is right for you.