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

There are many reasons that a homeschool co-op – large or small – can be a beneficial endeavor for parents and students alike.

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 beneficial for students to work with their peers.

In a co-op setting, kids learn how to work with a group of students. They can practice vital skills such as delegating tasks, doing their part to make the group activity a success, and resolving conflicts when disagreements arise.

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. You may find that you have good intentions, are continually pushing aside enrichment classes such as art and nature study.

When you're meeting with a few other families, you're more likely to follow through on the classes. It’s much easier to stay the course when other people are counting on you.

A co-op is a great solution for teaching difficult subjects or skill-based electives. A co-op can prove to be the perfect way to tackle subjects like high school level math and science courses or electives for which you lack the knowledge or skill set.

Maybe one parent can teach math in exchange for another sharing her talent for art or music.

If you know a parent with a unique skill, such as photography or fluency in a foreign language, they may be willing to offer group classes for a fee.  

A co-op can make the subject more fun for the students. In addition to the prospect of greater accountability, a co-op can make a boring or difficult subject more fun for the students.

While the class may still be dull or complicated, the prospect of tackling it with a few friends can at least make the class more palatable. The students might even find the course fun with an instructor and one or two students who display enthusiasm for it, or who have a good grasp on the topic and can explain it in easy-to-understand terms. 

Homeschool co-ops can help kids learn to take direction from someone other than a parent. Kids 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 and 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 gather in your homes. You may also be able to use a room or two at a  library, community center, or church.

Wherever you meet, 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 all the parents have agreed to the calendar, stick to it.

Make arrangements for students who have to miss class to make up the work. If you're completing a DVD course, perhaps students can borrow the DVD set and complete the assignment on their own. For other classes, you may consider making copies of materials or having another student take notes for those who are absent.

Be sure to build a few flex days into your calendar for the inevitable disruptions such as inclement weather or times when multiple students are sick or unable to attend class.

You will also want to determine how long and how often each class will meet and set start and end dates. For example, will this be a year-long or single semester co-op? Will you meet one hour twice a week or two hours once a week?

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.

For example, if you're teaching an art co-op, one parent may already own the curriculum that you'll be using, so each student would just need to purchase their own supplies based on a materials list provided by the instructor.

For a DVD course, one parent may already own the DVD set required, and each student would need only to purchase 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 wish to resell non-consumables and split the proceeds between the families. 

Identify age-ranges. Decide what age students your co-op will include and set guidelines for older and younger siblings.

If you're teaching a high school chemistry course, it will be distracting for parents and younger siblings to be chatting in the corner. So decide from the beginning if younger siblings will need to stay at home or if there is another room where they could play under the supervision of a couple of parents.

You may also want to consider ability-level rather than age. For example, a wide range of ages could learn a foreign language together depending on what level of reading and writing are involved.

However you choose to structure it, a small homeschool co-op with a few families is an excellent means of providing the accountability and group atmosphere that you may be missing in your homeschool.