A Peek into a Homeschool Co-op

Back in August, four families decided to do school together in a co-op style of educating, with moms each assigned to a class and kids grouped by ability. On the first day of school at the start of September, nine children arrived at my doorstep at 7:30 a.m., ready to hit the books and expand their brains, pushing hard until noon when our official school day was done.

{If you read to the end of this very long post, you’ll see our daily schedule, and that despite the seemingly rigorous routine, we have a ton of fun!}

Monday through Thursday we follow a very structured program, with every half-hour increment planned carefully and little time wasted. Friday is a no-school day, reserved for field trips, outings, family time. This type of co-op is not for everyone, but I’d love to share how we do it, because depending on your goals for educating, it just might work for you.

pumpkin seed counting

A homeschool cooperative is a group of families who choose to work together on a consistent basis in the educating of their children, a “mini-school” of sorts. Some co-ops meet once a week, some once a month, and in my case, every day, with each child having one or two others working at their same level.

But first, why co-op? I’ll give you my goals, though there are many more out there that are equally valid. I’ve homeschooled solo in the past, just me and my kids. That was a great season, and rather laid-back without the intense structure under which I currently operate. But my needs have changed and this season calls for
1) efficiency, 2) accountability, and 3) positive social pressure.

Regarding efficiency, I had to be honest about my many obligations. I have another job that consumes quite a bit of time, and streamlining is critical for me. Afternoons require a free block of time to work on the business I run with my husband, and though I work from home, I can’t, in fairness to my kids, have my work constantly interrupting their education. Those dedicated blocks of time are vital to our overall family productivity.

Why couldn’t I just be efficient on my own? First, more teacher-parents means the same number of teaching hours yields a multiplied teaching time with the other teachers than on my own. The first grader learns to read during the same period the second grader is taught to write, impossible on my own (at the same time) with the level of care I want. Co-oping lets me leverage time. Second, there is the matter of accountability, addressed below–would I be efficient without a structure forced upon me?

learning to balance

Accountability was an issue I had to candidly face. I’m prone to procrastination and distraction, and without those little hands knocking on my door by 7:20 a.m., I can assure you I wouldn’t always be dressed and ready to tackle all that a day holds in the life of a busy homeschooling/business-woman mother and wife. I’m willing to share my house, give up some privacy, and add to the wear and tear around here, to ensure that rain or shine, we do school.

I believe in the discipline the children are presented with, the order that follows, the resulting self-regulation that begins to take hold. I lose some flexibility, a Holy Grail to many homeschool parents. If I don’t feel like doing school, or my kids want a day off, or there’s an enticing rabbit trail to follow, it’s too bad, the others are showing up. But really, when you look at how much free time we have compared to regular-school counterparts, it’s a small sacrifice.

soap making

Positive social pressure is the last goal I’ll discuss. I wanted an education model that included daily work with peers. Not a once-a-week or monthly interaction, but day-in, day-out. I’m not wanting public school, but I am wanting to meet my kids’ spoken wishes for friends to work with and my own desires for them to experience a healthy social pressure.

Friendly competition is a marvelous thing for pushing a child to their best limits. Iron sharpens iron, and for our little co-op, the small sparks that fly tell me that we are helping to work out each other’s character, we are showing the other a different way to think, we are growing together more than we would alone.

language lessons

What does my schedule look like? It’s changed throughout the year slightly, as one of the moms had a baby and is now homeschooling at home, so we currently have six kids here each day instead of nine. But, here is what we started with, four families hoping for the best education for their children. You’ll see that the students range from K/1st to 4th grade, we cover all the core subjects, and each mom has the opportunity to teach her own child throughout the sessions. (The moms are called “J,” “K,” and “L,” since that’s what each of our names begins with.)

Our Homeschool Co-Op Schedule

7:30-8:00

J teaches Abeka 1st grade phonics lessons to the K/1st kids
K teaches Abeka 2nd gr. phonics lessons to 2nd level kids
L teaches First Language Lessons to the 2nd/3rd level kids
Independent: 4th grade does independent reading of chapter books

8:00-8:30

J teaches Five in Row and First Language Lessons to K/1st
Independent: 2nd level kids do Abeka 2nd grade cursive handwriting practice
K teaches Writing with Ease Level 3 to the 2nd/3rd level kids
L teaches Writing with Ease Level 4 to the 4th graders

8:30-9:00

J gets K/1 started with Abeka 1st grade cursive handwriting
L teaches literature to 2nd grade with various chapter books
K teaches Writing with Ease Level 3 to 2nd/3rd level kids
J moves from K/1 to begin teaching First Language Lessons Level 4 to 4th graders
[note–on Mondays, this time slot is devoted to a Baking Class run by K]

9:00-9:15

Kids take a snack break– our early start gives us very hungry kids by 9 a.m.

9:15-9:45

K teaches Abeka 1st grade Spelling to the K/1st kids
J teaches Abeka 2nd grade Spelling to the 2nd and the 2nd/3rd level kids
L teaches Abeka 4th grade Spelling to the 4th graders

9:45-10:45

L teaches Singapore Math 1A to the K/1st kids (they go til 10:15 only, as they need an extra break)
J teaches dual classes of Singapore Math 2A to the 2nd level kids, and Singapore Math 2B to the 2nd/3rd level kids; a lot of back and forth between groups.
K teaches Singapore Math 4A to the 4th grade kids

10:45-11:00

Kids take an outside break–riding bikes, digging in the dirt, playing with the kittens, etc.

11:00-12:00

J teaches History to all kids: Story of the World, vol. 2, Middle Ages on Monday/Wednesday
K teaches Science to all kids: Apologia, Exploring Creation with Botany on Tuesday/Thursday
[note–an art teacher comes every other Monday during this time slot]

gingerbread house making

And that’s the end of our school day! We do assign homework every day. Always reading, and a small amount of spelling and math. One of the moms has been good about helping us schedule field trips with other homeschool families. We’re planning a trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland in March. And the final quarter of school will see us taking a break from Story of the World to do an Oregon Trail unit, culminating with an overnight trip to Baker City, Oregon to visit the Oregon Trail Museum and surrounding area.

We took time off from Botany during the cold winter months to do a human body study, and built our very own bodies as we studied each organ!
body building

Links to the curriculum I use:

Abeka phonics, spelling, handwriting
Five in a Row
First Language Lessons
Writing with Ease
Singapore Math
Apologia Science
Story of the World History

Lists of chapter books each level has read so far this school year (and wrote reports, created posters or other visuals for, and presented before all the students):

2nd grade
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Minstrel in the Tower by Gloria Skurzynski
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
Courage of Sarah Noble

2nd/3rd level
They read some of the above and also:
Ramona’s Father by Beverly Cleary
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Heart of a Shepherd by Roseann Parry

4th grade
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling
Turn Homeward Hannalee by Patricia Beatty
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Perilous Road by William O. Steele
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Swiss Family Robinson (unabridged) by Johann Wyss
Chronicles of Narnia

Yes, that is a lot of reading! These particular kids are generally great readers, and we do expect a lot in the way of good literature. This heavy of a reading schedule may not work for every child, but if it does, don’t miss the window of opportunity! A few of the kids got through books they were struggling with by having a parent co-read with them or listening to parts of the book on audio CD.

A P.S. on pitfalls–True, a lot can go wrong with a homeschool co-op. I’m sure some of you have horror stories. Here’s a short list of some red flags to watch for as you consider whether you’d want to commit to something like this.

Having different goals.
Not being willing to compromise on curriculum, schedules, discipline, or pace.
Having differing student or teacher expectations.
Disagreements over the role of faith/biblical teaching in education.

P.S.S.–I don’t have time in this post to cover the many other benefits of a homeschool co-op, but want to quickly acknowledge that I love for my kids to learn from other teachers, to experience varying teaching styles and other parents’ areas of expertise. I so appreciate the daily fellowship with other moms, and I really adore all those kids!

How do you homeschool? Do you work with other families? Share your journey in the comments box!

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13 Responses to A Peek into a Homeschool Co-op

  1. I was very interested to read this. We live about 30 minutes to 45 minutes away from most other homeschoolers, so doing a daily thing probably won’t work for us. A group of us are giving an art class co op a go here for the next 4 weeks, meeting once a week. We are excited about it. I want to do more things together, so hopefully everyone will have a positive experience with this first session. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas, schedule.

  2. Jen says:

    Halfmoon Girl, Your art class co-op sounds like a wonderful thing! Most homeschool families do want to meet on some level with other families, and I’ll bet it’s a great success.

  3. Renae says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! We just participated in a science fair with other homeschoolers. We all worked so much harder and learned so much more because of many of the things you mentioned.

    It makes me consider and ponder the future of our little homeschool…I’ve really enjoyed working with a couple other moms this year writing and sharing lessons (we do that online), but I also want to tap into the resources here in our community. The accountability issue is really big for me, and I’m looking at running a business on the side, too. :O

    Glad to hear what you’ve been up to, Jen!

  4. Miss Nirvana says:

    Thank you for posting you homeschooling co-op day. I am looking into starting a co-op in our area. I do not think that I want to do a daily one. I am thinking more along the lines of twice a week. How did you go about finding other homeschooling families? We have found plenty, but all the ones we found want a religous teaching, and we want a secular experience for our kids at this age.

  5. I coordinate a weekly coop, we run two classes with a long break for visiting. The goals of the coop shift around with the families involved, the families that use A Beka want a more laid back social time, the families that have older kids want academic classes that have big deadlines and sound important, like a research paper class, speech or civics.

    We’ve varied a lot over the last 8 years as to what we’ve tried, drama, sewing, flower arranging, science experiments (make the mess at the church, not kitchen) art…we only meet 16 weeks though, sometimes prep for co-op takes longer than for home.

    here is our website http://www.eagleswingscoop.org/

  6. Jen says:

    Renae, I’m sure your kids loved the science fair; we have one coming up next month. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who needs accountability. :-)

    Miss Nirvana, the finding of the families can be a challenge, I agree. In my case, these families were already good friends of mine and it was a natural fit. I wouldn’t want to advertise, personally, because this is in my home. But if you’re meeting in a public place and want to draw more people, you might post something on your homeschool chat board/website (do you have one?)

    It’s good you recognize the difference in the religious approach–that’s an important issue to be in agreement on. Best of luck finding the right fit!

    Christine, thanks for the link to your co-op! Sounds great. The “extras” are not really part of my co-op (with a few exceptions like art) because the goal with these families was to only do all of our core work together, because of our time constraints. There are other homeschool co-ops in my area that do a great job of offering those extracurricular choices that we could join as time permits.

  7. Makita says:

    So awesome! Just discovered your blog via the Secular Carnival … so glad that I did. :)

  8. Jen says:

    Makita, I didn’t know there was a Secular Carnival, but glad you found me and enjoyed your visit!

  9. Pingback:   Homeschool Recess

  10. Kristen says:

    We have just begun our hs journey. We have been a part of two coops so far – a social coop for younger kids every Tues afternoon, and a French coop every 2nd Friday.

    I find it challenging with my eldest. He has not really connected with any kids at the social group and he doesn’t really like going. I usually drag the kids there anyway but he ends up doing something on his own, rather than interacting with the others. He is a very social guy, so that isn’t the issue, but I feel disappointed that he has not been able to make any friends there.

    The French coop has been great, although my kids know a lot more than the others so they find it quite basic. Again, my eldest doesn’t want to go AT ALL.

    I would like to run a 5 week coop for a study on honeybees in May – June, but I am only going to invite one or 2 others to join us.

    Your coops sounds amazing – how structured it is, and how much gets covered!

  11. Jen says:

    Kristen, I love that you have a French co-op, and the honeybee study sounds awesome too! Do not worry about your oldest son not liking the co-op, he’s only six!

  12. Having participated in weekly, monthly, and twice-monthly co-ops, this was really interesting and creative– since I’ve not heard of a daily co-op. I like how you identified specific reasons and goals for the co-op experience. I like how your group shares the teaching load. While it requires a daily commitment (and you are losing some flexibility as you say), it also means that you are getting your work done and it isn’t falling on one mom to do it all– love that! And you are doing a quality job– those are excellent reading lists and curricula choices. Your co-op is giving me some food for thought on how to share a teaching load, though, because– why do so many homeschoolers do so much by themselves when we can help each other? Thanks for sharing this!
    P.S.– love how your blog is designed like a magazine!

  13. Jen says:

    Anna, thank you so much for your input on this topic of co-op! Yes, the sharing of the load is a big piece of this way of co-oping that I just love. I didn’t mention in the post that I’m a teacher by trade and have previously taught in both public and private schools, so I’m used to strict schedules and this actually feels super easy and laid back compared to what I’ve done as part of a school system. Thanks again for commenting!

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