I have written several times about our co-op. I thought today that I might elaborate on it for those interested in beginning a co-op. Our co-op began simply as a group of like-minded families who hiked together. Eventually, we started doing some classes together such as African drumming, environthon, and a few other fun classes. Two years ago, we did a physiology class together in addition to a few other families. The physiology class went so well that we started talking about doing more classes. The biggest problem was the space. We needed a space (this seems to be an issue for most co-ops from what I hear). We were also fairly picky. We did not want to use a church if possible due to the diversity of our group. We did not want anyone to feel out of place. We also wanted a space with both indoor areas and outdoor areas. And of course, it needed to be affordable. Last year, we were able to rent a room at our local YMCA. Once the facility was booked, we began working on our classes and the schedule. We met one day a week for 3 hours each day. Most days consisted of a class for an hour and 15 minutes, a break, another class and a lunch period. We predetermined the classes. Parents signed up to teach the classes. Overall, last year went well. We did find that we wanted more freedom with our space and the kids wanted to get together more often.
Moving into this year, we went on the facility search again. We found that our local American Legion rents its facility out. The building is terrific. It has a commercial kitchen and a large open room. My favorite part is the location. The building sits across the street from a local park with a baseball field, a stream, a playground, and picnic tables. We decided to meet on two days a week for four hours each day. The daily activities change and the rhythm remains the same. We begin each day with a morning meeting at which time the kids make announcements about the plans for the day, Next, there is a work period, lunch, a second work period, clean-up and a closing meeting. My favorite part of the co-op thus far is the ownership by the kids of the co-op. The kids run all of the meetings, oversee and participate in the cleaning of the facility, monitor the noise level in the room, come up with guidelines for the group, and teach each other.
So far this year, we have had several lunch and learns, classes in biology, experiments on electricity, art classes, chess club, cooking lessons, PE and more life lessons than I can discuss.
The parents are all required to facilitate in the co-op throughout the year. We love the parents to be there as much as they can to help the kids with projects and to learn along with the kids. There are at least two parents on-site at all times. The community of parents is as strong as the community of kids.
Some of the technicalities that go into forming a co-op. First and foremost for us was finding people who share similar life values and homeschooling styles. Our original group of families definitely shared these things. As we grew, we have found this to be a tad more difficult. This year, we gained several families who recently left a schooling situation and began homeschooling. With homeschooling being new to them, the co-op situation has been slightly tough. They do not know their homeschooling styles yet! Luckily, most of the families seem to be very comfortable with the environment that we have created.
Second, finding the right facility to meet your group’s needs takes time and patience! We knew that we needed more space than we had at the Y. We also needed more freedom. The Y had a lot of people coming and going. This made it very tough from a safety point of view. Having a facility all to ourselves feels safe and free! We can come and go as we want. We can work outside or inside. It also gives the kids a feeling of ownership over the space which has developed into a desire to keep the space clean and beautiful.
Third, you need insurance. Even if you know everyone in the group and you do not think that you need it. I highly recommend that you look into insurance for the safety of your group.
Fourth, deciding what your goals of the co-op are can be tough. What needs are you trying to meet? Initially, we were filling a social need by simply hiking. Eventually, we started meeting the needs of our kids as they became interested in different topics and activities. Your needs should be re-evaluated each year based on your participants. Initially, we planned to start the year off by jumping into classes. We quickly had to re-evaluate since we had a large population of new homeschoolers and newcomers to our community. We decided to spend the first half of the co-op working on self-confidence, group dynamics, and teamwork. In January 2020, this goal will have been met (we have already met it actually) and we will begin to work on more academic classes.
Have you participated in or started a co-op? Any other thoughts or suggestions?