How to Start a Homeschool Co-op
Having homeschool co-op each week is what keeps us homeschooling. It's the highlight of the homeschool week and one of the best investments of my time! My kids look forward to this every week and we have created so many great memories together! There are many ways to do a homeschool co-op. My homeschool co-ops are hands-on unit studies focusing on science and history. I have started 3 homeschool co-ops and have participated in numerous other ones that had ranged in style, purpose, and operation. Have you considered starting a co-op? If you're not already part of a co-op, you can start your own no matter where you live. Read below to find out how I did it!
What is a Homeschool Co-op?
Meet up with 1, 2, 3, or more homeshool families and decide to teach and learn something together. You now have a homeschool co-op!
Are you involved in a homeschool co-op?
A co-op can be as simple as you inviting over a couple friends from church and doing art lessons together with your children each Friday or the first Wednesday of each month. I want to emphasize that that is all that a co-op has to be.
-It doesn't have to have a name.
-It doesn't have to use a planned-out curriculum. It doesn’t have to have a curriculum at all actually.
-You don't have to have a mission statement.
-It can be as natural and as informal as you inviting over friends for a playdate. Or, it can be as organized as meeting in a church every Thursday for an entire semester and having parents teach elective classes.
-You can put a lot of time and planning into a co-op or you can wing it. You can formalize it with an official name, a leadership team, a mission statement, t-shirts, and more...or you can simply meet just like you were having a park meet up playdate each week.
In this article I will share options you can consider before starting your own co-op, no matter what the size or type.
Some of the Best Advice on Starting a Co-op
This provides great, practical advice for any homeschool co-op!
Why Would I Want to Start a Homeschool Co-op?
1) It's fun! Our homeschool co-op is the highlight of our homeschooling week!
2) It keeps me on track. I don't lag behind or get bogged down on one subject and stay there. We have a schedule to follow and other people are holding us accountable.
3) It encourages me to be creative. I love doing fun projects with my children, but when the dishes pile up, my children are begging to get fed, etc., I just never get around to them. When I have other people relying on me to plan great lessons or when someone else is planning a great lesson and I just have to show up, we actually get around to those great activities.
4) It fosters friendships between our families and leads to wonderful memories. You will be surprised at how families continue to cultivate the relationships they have formed beyond the weekly co-op meeting.
5) It provides a way for us to do larger presentations. It's a lot easier to put on a play or do a historical re-enactment if you have more than one child.
What's Your Purpose?
All types of co-ops definitely serve a purpose and fulfill a need. What need do you have?
You don’t need to write a purpose statement or statement of faith to start a co-op. I have never written out either of those. You do, however, need to decide what the purpose of the co-op will be. Will your co-op offer academic classes, enrichment classes, a social outlet, or maybe all of the above? Will you be learning science and history together each week? Will you only offer fun extras like pottery, choir, or robotics? Will you be meeting once a month to go on local field trips? Will you meet every month to hold presentation events such as a science fair, international fair, art fair, and more or maybe to have holiday parties?
The purpose of the co-ops that I have started have always been to provide some great classes for our children along with also providing encouragement for the moms. Each mom is responsible for helping. Science and social studies are the primary areas of focus.
I have participated in other types of co-ops. For a while I was part of a "park co-op." We met together weekly at the park for social time. We also held holiday parties together and had a few extra events like a science fair and a field trip to the state capitol. Another co-op I participated in was strictly focused on academic purposes and ran more like a business with about 50 families enrolled. Class choices were what you would expect a typical school to include: sciences, literature, history, art, and more.
What will be the purpose of your co-op?
Starting a homeschool co-op can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be, especially if you share the work. Starting a co-op frequently just requires someone (like you) to take the initiative of saying that you will start a co-op. It is always best that you not carry the load yourself, though. Try to find at least one other person to help with the planning. Work together to find ways to delegate work to everyone who is participating in the co-op. Your co-op may eventually grow to include many families. I have found it to be best to retain a small leadership team (3 people is probably the max) no matter what the size of the co-op.
Carol Topp’s book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out discusses some topics to cover at your initial planning meeting:
the 4 W's and the C
Who Should Join My Co-op?
Who is in your co-op can really make or break it. It definitely matters who is part of your co-op! Just because a homeschooling family lives next door or goes to church with you does not mean you should start a co-op with them. You do need to be selective.
First and most importantly pray for wisdom and discernment before you commit to co-oping.
After praying, seek out other families who:
1) Are like-minded.
- I'm a Christian, so I want the other moms in my group to also be Christians.
- I expect my children to try to behave and follow directions. I want the other children in our group to also be respectful and to follow directions. Our children are far from perfect and all of our children are works in progress, but we're all at least trying to train them.
2) Are helpful. You'll be splitting responsibilities. You want people who will jump in and help wherever is needed and keep their eyes open to the needs of others.
3) Have similarly-aged children. My co-op lessons are geared toward a particular level, though both older and younger children can participate. Siblings join in as well, but each family has at least one child within a similar age range. Ages and gender of children are important considerations. Part of the point of the co-op will be to provide a social outlet for your children, so make sure to find a group that your child(ren) will enjoy.
How Many Children Can You Have at a Co-op?
How many children can you have at a co-op? That depends on your goals and your location. If you’re meeting at a large park for social time, you probably won’t have to limit your numbers. When my co-op met in homes, I limited the size to about 14 children since that's about how many chairs you can squeeze around a dinner table that seats 8. Our third year we had between 33-36 children and divided the children into groups of 10-11. They rotated between stations. That took a lot more time in planning.
How Can I Get Other Families to Join My Co-op?
The first co-op I ever started was with playgroup friends, some of whom I had met at church and some of whom I had met at library story time. I knew them casually. I suggested that instead of our kids simply getting together each week to play with Hot Wheels cars and toy train sets, maybe we could structure their play time to include some "educational play dates."
After we moved to a small town, I started my second co-op by promising to plan out the initial schedule for the first year. I asked the few homeschooling families I had met at library story time and church. I asked them to ask any other homeschooling families they knew to join us. I posted about the local Homeschool Facebook page & Yahoo group.
Maybe you are blessed to be in an area with many other homeschooling families, you can be a bit more selective. Offer a free spring or summer session allowing any homeschooling families to join you at your house, church, or other available area. Post an ad on-line or at the library. At your first meeting discuss what people would like to do and learn. After having a few informal meetings, you should be able to determine who will be a right fit for the purpose you have in mind.
How Can I Advertise for My Co-op?
Here's what I sent out to the local homeschool e-group.
Christian-based, Hands-on Unit Studies Co-op
Are you interested in participating in a Christian, hands-on unit studies co-op that is both extremely fun and educational? This co-op is geared toward upper elementary aged children and their siblings. We will meet in [my city] every Wednesday from 9:30AM-12PM starting August 26. There is no cost to participate in the co-op and the lessons will already be planned out. You will be expected to share in providing materials for the activities each week, and we do try to keep the cost of supplies to a minimum.
The co-op focuses on science and history themes and incorporates Bible, drama, art, cooking, PE, and more! This year we will be studying Native Americans, the Five Senses, Frontiersmen & Frontier Life, Astronomy, Leonardo da Vinci, and Simple Machines. We will build a teepee, create and crawl through an ear, learn how to track coyotes, cook pioneer food, build and test catapults, and more! We also schedule monthly optional field trips and unit presentations.
Space is limited. Please e-mail me at [my e-mail address] soon if you have questions, would like to see example lessons, and/or would like to join us.
You should probably start a homeschool co-op if...
you read science books or historical biographies as bedtime stories.
How Frequently Do You Meet and Where?
Our co-op meets every Wednesday from 9:30AM-12PM. Last year we met at various people's homes. Our second year we met mainly at my house and at one other mom's house (whenever she was planning the unit) because we have the most space. I like meeting at my house because I always have extras of items just in case someone forgot something they were supposed to bring. I don't have to lug around mixing bowls and other heavier items. My younger children can roam around the house without me needing to be concerned. Our third year we had over 30 children in our co-op, so we met at a church.
We don't meet the week of Thanksgiving or during the month of December.
We also have an end-of-the-unit presentation that we alternate between it being a dinner on a Friday night (and including spouses, siblings, and grandparents) and as a lunch immediately following co-op.
For each unit we have an optional field trip. Usually we're the only family that attends the field trip.
There are other ways to organize co-op. Some co-ops meet monthly. Some meet bi-weekly. Some meet at churches, libraries, or civic centers. Some groups meet once a week and stay together all day and eat lunch together. They spend some time planning the next week together and allowing the children time to play.
You should probably start a homeschool co-op if...
you have mold growing in your refrigerator...on purpose.
How Do We Plan What We'll Study?
Meet together with the other moms and find out what interests them, what they've already studied, and what they want to study. You can either do this in person or via e-mail. You can look over the co-op lessons I've posted and start from there. Lay out what you're doing over the summer. That allows for everyone to search out materials, books, etc. over the summer when most homeschooling parents have a bit more free time.
I plan each lesson the week before I teach it. I e-mail out the lesson to everyone in the group. That way they know what to study that week and what supplies they'll need.
What About the Cost?
When our group was smaller I didn't charge for the co-op. Moms are assigned to prepare and bring items each week, so that kind of distributes the costs. (To be honest, I do usually spend more money than anyone else, but that doesn't have to be the case.) We do try to keep costs low, though.
I think people would be more dedicated to attending if they had to pay for it. I have heard that some co-ops have each family pay a certain amount of money, and this money goes into an "account" and is used to reimburse whoever purchases supplies. That is what we did our third year. Each family paid $3/child/month. Moms still brought certain supplies but some larger items (regional foods, art supplies, microscope slides, etc.) were able to be purchased by the person planning the unit using the money paid by the families.
What About Supplies?
Each family brings the following per child: a bottle of Elmer's glue, glue stick, tape, pencil, pen, box of colored pencils, and box of markers. It's best to buy these at the beginning of the year when school supplies are less expensive. They can either leave them at my house or bring them when needed.
As far as other weekly supplies go, we divide up who brings what. We re-use, recycle, and scrounge creatively whenever possible!
You should probably start a homeschool co-op if...
you've been able to cut down on your heating bills because your wall-to-wall bookshelves provide such an efficient layer of insulation.
Punctuality and Attendance
Punctuality is very important. We start when the first family arrives, and we always end teaching at 11:45am. We clean up for the last 15 minutes. Almost everyone still arrives late, but they would probably show up even later if we didn't start on time. Don't wait for everyone to arrive or you'll never get anything accomplished.
If I lived somewhere where I knew more homeschooling families, I would make a rule about attendance. Maybe if a family misses more than 3 co-op meetings, they need to drop out of the group.
Babies and Toddlers
Babies/toddlers are another issue. I don't have a perfect plan. One year we had a "nursery" for children 3 years and younger. We rotated who was in charge of the "nursery" each week, and that was a job everyone loathed. Plus, when one mom was not able to come a particular week, we didn't have enough mom helpers to assist with the older children.
This year our babies and toddlers are with us. The toddlers participate some and run off and play as well when they want. We have a few buckets of blocks we can pull out so the toddlers can be near us. We pass around our babies whenever we're needed to lead a particular activity. I like this way better. As soon as children are about 18 months they really can participate in every activity. Their project will never look like what it's supposed to look like, but they will learn that learning is fun. I am always amazed at what my little ones have learned simply by us including them in what we do.
You should probably start a homeschool co-op if...
your child has ever tried to teach herself calculus or physics.
What if I Have Older Children?
One family in my co-op has high schoolers. She leaves them at home when she comes to the co-op. They're expected to do their work on their own. At another co-op I know about, the teenagers meet together in a separate room and do their own co-op with one mom while the younger children and other moms have the co-op in the main part of the house.
Rules and Procedures
This year we're having many new families join our co-op, so we typed up co-op procedures for the group. This is what we e-mailed out to everyone.
- HOMESCHOOL CO-OP PROCEDURES
- Operations: We are a Christian hands-on unit study-based co-op. Our lessons are planned so that families with children of all ages can participate and learn together. Each week you will receive via e-mail the lesson plan for the following week. The lesson will contain who is responsible for each activity and what supplies will be needed. Some families study the unit topic in depth throughout the week and use those topics as their social studies and science curriculums. Other families consider the co-op lessons as extra-curricular. It is fine for your family to do either, though your children will of course get more out of what we're learning at co-op if they are learning about it at home as well.
- Homework: The only assignment your children will have outside of co-op will be to prepare an age-appropriate presentation for the end of each unit. The children are not graded on their presentations but are encouraged to participate. Topics differ depending on the unit and will be assigned at the beginning of the unit to ensure ample preparation time. Topics range from presenting on a particular person, country, animal phylum, etc. to demonstrating a science experiment or displaying a drawing or lapbook. The end of unit presentations will always include a themed meal as well. These will alternate between Friday evenings from 6:30-8:30pm and post co-op lunches ending around 1:30pm. All presentation dates are currently posted on the co-op calendar.
- Time & Location: We will meet each Wednesday from 9:30am-12pm at [location]. We will typically end activities at 11:45am and will clean up until noon. We try to stay punctual so you can plan the rest of your day without worry. We will have lots to learn and do, so please arrive at 9:30am or a few minutes earlier. Please try to be on time each week.
- Cost/Supplies: There is no monthly cost for this co-op; however, supplies will be needed for activities. Accordingly, we ask that you provide $3 per child (ages 3+) per month to cover the cost of supplies that will need to be purchased. Any amount not used will be returned at the end of the semester. You may pay per month or for the entire year (7 months). Please understand that we will also need for you to bring household supplies (like mixing bowls, markers, etc.) each week. In order to keep the supply costs down, you may also be asked to bring items that you may already have around the house such as spare fabric, flour, paintbrushes, etc. Some weeks you will need to bring markers, scissors, a pencil, a pen, glue, and/or a glue stick for each of your children. If you don't already own those, it might be a good idea to buy them now while school supplies are less expensive.
- Attendance: If you will miss a co-op meeting, please let the unit coordinator know at least one week in advance. In the case of illness, please notify as soon as possible. The coordinator's email and phone number will be included in the unit information.
- Parent Expectations: We strongly encourage all moms to participate with their children and to help during all activities. Typically each mom will be assigned one activity each week. That means that the group will be relying on you to be at co-op that week and to be prepared to handle that activity. Again, please let the mom who is planning the lessons know at least a week ahead of time if you will not be able to come. That way we will be able to plan and prepare for those who are there. Please keep in mind that unless we hear otherwise, the entire group will be expecting you to show up on time and to be in charge of the activity to which you were assigned. If an unplanned issue arises (like a bad illness), just let the mom who is planning the unit know as soon as possible so that we can plan to cover for you that week.
- Child(ren) Expectations: Children ages 4 and above will be expected to participate in all the activities. They are to show respect for the other children and adults and are to be attentive and polite. Children ages 3 and below may participate in the co-op activities if desired, or they can stay with their mom and/or play quietly. An unsupervised nursery room will be available if needed.
You should probably start a homeschool co-op if...
you want to make lasting memories & meaningful friendships that you and your children will cherish forever!
Need Free Units Already Written out for a Co-op?
My Lessons on Squidoo
Over the years I have posted over 35 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at Fun, FREE Hands-On Unit Studies Hub or Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies Blog .
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!