There are a lot of different kinds of co-ops in homeschooling. I think most people immediately think of the kind that has an official space, a somewhat large price tag, and a wide array of class offerings for kids of various ages. That’s not the kind we do.
We’re in a couple different small cooperative groups, but the one that’s probably the most important to us is our co-op that began last fall for kindergarten. We have four families and eight kids… oops, eight kids and one tiny new baby makes nine! We meet once a week for a morning that usually stretches well into the afternoon as the kids run around and the mothers sit and talk. We are so blessed to have this group of families we get along so well with. I can’t imagine how we got so lucky.
Here are some of the amazing things that make that co-op tick:
1. We pick topics that can go in a million different directions.
We’ve had topics like water, food and tools, which have led us to art projects, show and tells, cooking, hiking, planting, storytelling, measuring and pretty much everything else you can imagine. None of us are concerned with teaching some checklist of information so we let opportunity and inspiration guide us to find interesting experiences to have together.
2. We’re a community.
We’re not just a class that meets once a week. Honestly, the things we study are secondary to the kind of socialization we want to encourage. We’re friends. We eat together. We share our books, our food, our homes and our lives. We don’t just want to share teaching the kids, we want to be a group of friends.
3. We think about the big picture.
It’s not that we’re against details. Details are good. We’ve worked out systems. For example, for each topic we do, each mom teaches one morning about it at her house and provides a snack. But we spend a lot more time talking about the things we think matter. We planned to spend a week together up front each year just being together. We also agreed to pick a place to explore several times a year so we could see it in different seasons. We think about ways to encourage teamwork or heal friendships when the kids hit a rough patch.
4. We trust each other.
We trust each other with our kids. We trust each other to iron out the details and make decisions. We can make decisions together because of that trust.
5. We seize the moment.
It was hot out this week so instead of starting our first topic like we had originally planned, we went to the water park. Last year, when there were performances or other opportunities, we changed our plans to take advantage of them. If there are teachable moments, we all take advantage of them.
6. We put as much time into the grown-ups as we put into the kids.
Let’s face it, this co-op is as much for the grown-ups as it is for the kids. If the moms didn’t get along, things wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work as well. We make sure to have Mom’s Nights Out so we can hang out without the kids. This year, we’re reading books on the topics we chose for the kids. The first topic is “heroes” and the grown-ups are reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.