To Co-Op or Not to Co-Op

Impromptu midday nature hike. File under stuff we have more time for because I committed to having more time at home this year.
Impromptu midday nature hike. File under stuff we have more time for because I committed to having more time at home this year.

When I first got into homeschooling and began to join the online community of homeschoolers, I noticed an undercurrent among the people who had been at it for a long time. “Homeschooling is changing,” they said. Sometimes as a complaint, sometimes in awe of the expanding community, sometimes just as an observation. I took their word for it, and I could certainly see that it had changed from the early days, but I didn’t feel it.

Well, I’m still a newbie by many standards, but I can tell you that I feel it now. Homeschooling is changing. Do I sound like a crotchety old timer? I feel a little like one sometimes.

In the last two years, four co-ops have arisen within a few miles from where I live. These aren’t the sort of homegrown co-ops that meet at people’s homes with a couple of families that were around when my kids were younger (like the one we still participate in). They’re incorporated non-profits with rented space and actual budgets or, in the case of a growing Classical Conversations group, part of a large national group. One of them is for kids to do up to four days a week. Another is for three days a week. The largest, which is new this year, is for only one day a week, but is so large that we’ve gotten some pushback from friends about not joining. As one friend put it, “It’s like everyone you’ve ever met all at one co-op.” Well, not quite, but it does seem that way sometimes.

Did I mention that I feel like an old fuddy duddy? I’m glad these options are suddenly out there and growing. None of them were around when my kids were starting out, which is really a testament to how quickly things are changing and I suspect they’re changing nationwide. But I’m also glad that charter schools in my city are growing and improving. I’m glad that online learning is growing and becoming a viable option for more families. I’m glad that the public schools in my city are improving. I’m just happy that more families, at least in my little corner of the world, have more options than ever before, many of which break the mold of sitting in a classroom all day. However, that doesn’t mean I’m jumping on the bandwagon for any of those things. Especially in the case of interesting new private school models and co-ops that rent their own spaces, these options are expensive. To join that co-op would run us several hundred dollars, not to mention a lot of free work hours from me teaching.

For a lot of the new homeschoolers I’ve met recently, finding a community that meets several days a week in a formal setting is the ideal of homeschooling. I don’t disagree that it can work for some people, but it’s definitely not my ideal.

My ideal is following my kids’ interests and needs on an individual basis. My ideal is having a schedule that’s open and flexible enough to allow us to drop everything to go apple picking or fossil hunting or to see friends unexpectedly. My ideal is learning without an institution. We don’t always achieve those ideals, but none of them are served by being in a group several days a week. That, to me, sounds like school by another name. Potentially a better model of school, but still school.

There is something really inspiring about the way in which homeschoolers are creating these learning communities. Some of them are especially great for parents who work full or part time but still want to find a way to homeschool. However, one of the things I want new homeschoolers to know is that you can do this on your own too. You can educate your kids without a co-op if you want to. You can educate your kids without a curriculum too. I know it sounds crazy, but there’s a certain joy to reinventing the wheel for your kids and learning how to teach them by simply teaching them. Not only that, but there are a million models for making friendships and community in homeschooling. One way is by creating something that requires administrators and accountants, but another is by creating something small. We have gotten so much joy and love out of a free, informal co-op that is run as much by the kids as the adults. We have also gotten more social skills and teamwork skills from doing Destination Imagination than I think could be gotten in nearly any classroom.

So we’re sticking with our group of just a few kids and our activities that we already have. Maybe we’ll re-evaluate down the road, and see if I’m willing to give up a few more days of home school in favor of community school.



10 thoughts on “To Co-Op or Not to Co-Op

  1. This is a really interesting post as I’m just starting my home school (or home education as we say more in the UK) journey and I’m already seeing a lot of very well organised but costly group meetings and classes which is great sometimes but I’m not sure I want to get in to regular “classes” and big group meetings. I much prefer the idea of having a few home ed families and meeting casually now and again or to go out on trips to various places when we feel like it. It does seem like some places are trying to create something almost like a school just in a slightly more casual way.

    My girls are only little now though and maybe things will change but I’m definitely with you in I prefer the idea of a far less structured, rigorous routine than that.

  2. Great post! I see this happening here in AZ too. There are so many options. However, I too prefer the small groups, focused learning, and limited distraction (which my daughter needs because she is highly sensitive). What worries me is that as more of these groups pop up and homeschooling becomes more mainstream, the same parents and students will be met with the same pressures and frustrations that many of us wanted to leave behind.

    1. Kristina, I think that hits the nail on the head. Maybe modern parenting and modern childhood is just inevitably more hectic and pressure filled, but I want to push back against that. Or, at least, to make it more targeted to the challenges and pressures my kids really want. Not just a random slate of stuff imposed by others.

      1. Exactly! And truthfully, I tend to pull away from anything that seems to require group think. I want my daughter to have a personalized education and like you, one that is led by her desires.

  3. Our small five family co-op has been perfect for us. Options are great, but nobody should feel they have to embrace a whole lot of group related bother and fuss.

  4. I have seen the big co-op groups in Texas. The town I was in had one that met 4 days a week and was a private school in all but name. Another had 3 days of private school in all but name and 1 day of fun classes. Both were an all or nothing situation which after discussion with my kids was a no go. The third group was classical conversations which just didn’t fit our family. I am now in the UK and would love to have a co-op for a couple classes a week but have not found this within my travel radius. Having a class for academic writing would be a godsend right now as I have a boy determined he wants Oxford but with the writing skills of an ape (my fault as it is my worst subject by far).

  5. Yeah. My kids are too asymmetrical for classes. Their abilities are all over the place. So this just means fewer people around for us to hang out with. 😦

  6. We’re just starting our second year of homeschooling, and I have noticed that most of the other families we meet have their kids enrolled in a charter or microschool. Like you, I’m happy to see more options for families, but I like the freedom we have to move things around as needed.

  7. We had joined the homeschool 4H club years ago, which here functions as a co-op. We had park days going, and lots of outside activities. The kids and I both came to feel overwhelmed by the time commitments, and out-of-pocket expenses, so we kept the park day and dropped the co-op. A couple of newer co-ops have popped up in the last few years, and I keep hearing how “great” they are, but we don’t feel any need to join.

    That said, I know for many families that the co-ops are just what they need!

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