How to Start a (Small) Homeschool Co-Op

Children (8-9) raising hands in homeschool co-op
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A homeschool co-op is a group of homeschooling families who meet on a regular basis to provide educational and social activities for their children. Some co-ops focus on elective and enrichment classes while others offer core classes such as history, math, and science. In most cases, the parents of the students are directly involved in the co-op, planning, organizing, and teaching the courses offered.

Why Start a Homeschool Co-Op

My family has homeschooled since 2002, and we’ve never been a part of a formal co-op. A homeschool friend invited me to join hers that first year, but I declined because I wanted to spend the first year finding our footing as a new homeschooling family at home.

After that, a large, formal co-op never appealed to us, but we have found ourselves in smaller co-op settings over the years. There are many reasons that a homeschool co-op – large or small – is a good idea.

Some classes simply work better with a group. It can be hard to find a chemistry lab partner at home, and unless you’re doing a one-man play, drama needs a group of kids. Sure, you may have siblings or a parent who can help out, but for activities such as science labs, it can be very helpful for students to work with their peers.

In a co-op setting, kids can learn how to work with a group of students. They can learn how to delegate tasks, the importance of doing their part to make the group activity a success, and conflict resolution.

A co-op provides accountability. You know those classes that tend to fall by the wayside? Starting a small co-op is an excellent way to prevent that by adding a layer of accountability. When my kids were younger, art and nature study were two of those activities that we wanted to do, but we found that they kept getting pushed aside.

I wanted to do a government and civics course with my teens but feared the same results in spite of my best intentions. In both cases, the remedy was to start a weekly co-op with another family or two. It’s much easier to stay the course when other people are counting on you.

A co-op is a great solution for teaching subjects you don’t know or that you find difficult. I was thrilled to have a Spanish-speaking friend offer a co-op in her home when my children were younger. She invited a few other families and offered a Spanish class for young students and one for slightly older kids.

A co-op can be a great solution for high school level math and science courses or electives that you don’t know how to teach. Maybe one parent can teach math in exchange for another sharing her talent for art or music.

A co-op can make the subject more fun for the students. In addition to the prospect of greater accountability, I invited a couple of other families to join us for the civics class because I really didn’t expect it to be the most exciting course my kids took that year. I reasoned that if they had to tackle a boring subject, a couple of friends could at least make it more palatable.

(By the way, I was wrong – the course was surprisingly enjoyable for students and parents alike.)

Homeschool co-ops can help kids learn to take direction from someone other than a parent. It’s been my experience that kids can benefit from having instructors other than their parents. Another teacher may have a different teaching style, way of interacting with children, or expectations for classroom behavior or due dates.

It’s useful for students to learn to interact with other instructors so that it’s not such a culture shock when they go to college or into the workforce or even when they find themselves in classroom settings within the community.

How to Start a Homeschool Co-Op

If you’ve decided that a small homeschool co-op would be beneficial for your family, it’s relatively straightforward to start one. While you needn’t worry about the complex guidelines that a larger, more formal co-op would require, a small, informal gathering of friends still calls for some ground rules.

Find a meeting place (or establish an agreed-upon rotation). If your co-op is going to be only two or three families, you’ll likely agree to meet in your homes. Because one of the other moms was the children’s director at her church, we held our art/nature study co-op there because it gave us more room and plenty of tables for art. 

All of the other small co-ops in which I’ve been involved have been in the homes of the families participating. You may choose to meet at one centrally-located home or rotate between homes. For our government co-op, we rotate weekly between each of the three homes. 

If you’re meeting in the same house each week, be considerate.

  • Offer to help clean up afterward. 
  • Arrive on time.
  • Start on time. It’s easy to get caught up in socializing for the students and their parents.
  • Leave promptly after the class is over. The host family may have school to complete or appointments on their calendar.
  • Ask if there is anything you can bring or do to simplify hosting.

Set a schedule and guidelines. Small groups can disintegrate quickly if one or two people have to miss the class. Set a schedule at the beginning of the year, taking holidays and any known date conflicts into consideration. Once the calendar is set, stick to it.

Our government co-op group has agreed that if anyone needs to miss class, they’ll borrow the DVD set and complete the assignment on their own. We built in a couple of flex dates for the inevitable disruptions, but we all know that we won’t be able to finish the course this school year if we don’t use those days judiciously.

Determine roles. If the course needs a facilitator or instructor, determine who will fill that role. Sometimes these roles fall into place naturally, but make sure that all the parents involved are okay with the tasks that fall to them so that no one feels unfairly burdened.

Choose materials. Decide what materials you’ll need for your co-op. Will you be using a particular curriculum? If you are piecing together your own course, make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what.

In our art co-op, we used curriculum that I already owned. Each of the students was responsible for purchasing their supplies, and the parents were given a list of materials needed. For the government co-op, I owned the DVD set required, and each student bought their own workbooks.

If you’re buying materials to be shared by the group, such as a DVD set or a microscope, you will probably want to split the cost of the purchase. Discuss what you’ll do with the non-consumable materials after the course is over. One family may want to buy out the other family’s share to save something (such as a microscope) for younger siblings, or you may want to resell non-consumables and split the proceeds between the families. 

However you choose to structure it, a small homeschool co-op with a few close friends can provide the accountability and group atmosphere that you may be missing for a few particular courses in your homeschool.