I haven’t talked about homeschooling in quite awhile. Mostly because a lot of what we do in real life (cooking/eating, crafts, homeschooling, etc.) I think, hile I’m in the middle of it, “Oh, I should blog about this.” Only then I don’t because I’m too busy living it to stop and take pictures and document it. Oh well.
This is big, though. We’re in the process of starting a homeschooling coop locally right now (Columbus, OH). It’s for families with young kids (birth to third grade) and will officially debut in fall 2014. And yes, I said starting. As if I need another project in my life, I’m serving as the leader/organizer of this group. (Although I’m not alone — a few others have stepped up to help out.)
Today I want to tell you a little bit about what this means, and why we’re doing it.
What is a Coop?
A coop, or “cooperative group,” is a group of families who band together to further a common goal. In this case, homeschooling. (I have also run natural food coops in the past, and occasionally still do.)
In a coop, the families commit to coming to the group regularly and contributing to it by bringing supplies, teaching lessons, and guiding kids. It’s basically a way for kids to get group education experience in a non-school setting.
We’re doing a group like this for several reasons:
- To connect with like-minded families
- To have a regular activity schedule/structure
- To keep us on track with our homeschooling/unschooling goals
- To do activities that require larger groups of children, or that are more fun with larger groups
We’re hoping for a group of 10 – 15 families but won’t know until fall who we will have. The group will meet weekly, but only half the meetings will be “required” (half will be field-trip-based and open to come or not).
Why Do a Coop?
Some might wonder why we would do a coop, including why we’d feel driven to start one. So, I’ll talk a little bit more about this.
Connecting with Like-Minded Friends
We have a lot of friends locally. Enough that we don’t see many of them very often — we’re all so busy! We’re hoping to connect more often and on a deeper level with friends who are in similar circumstances right now — who have young children and who are homeschooling (and all the mamas involved are also “crunchy” in some form too — they eat real food, they are interested in natural/home birth, extended breastfeeding, etc.). It’s great to be surrounded by a community of like-minded people where we can relax and enjoy our time, and develop strong friendships for both adults and children.
Being part of the coop will give us the opportunity to meet with our like-minded friends on a regular basis — most often, weekly.
Staying on Track with Homeschooling
Since we take an unschooling approach, we don’t have planned out “lessons” most of the time. Our schooling consists of trips to libraries and museums, cooking together, reading books together, and working on whatever projects the kids are interested in. We spend a fair amount of time helping the kids write lists of their favorite items or writing notes to their friends or family members, and we play “letter sound” games all day long and count to high numbers for fun. (They recently learned to count to a thousand.)
…but. Starting in the fall we’ll have to have actual, documented proof that they’re learning. I can see that they are — I’m astounded by what they learn, at times — but we’ll have to have a portfolio, to satisfy our state’s requirements. Being part of a homeschool coop will help us have the kind of documented “proof” of progress that we need, both from activities in the group itself, and because our friends will help remind us to write stuff down. They’ll keep us honest, and we’ll keep them honest.
Working with Children of Varying Ages
One of the great benefits of alternative schooling choices is that children of varying ages can all work together. There is a group of girls emerging already that enjoy playing and working together — the girls are almost 8, two 6-year-olds, and a 4-year-old. It’s wonderful to see them bonding over common interests and abilities despite their age differences. And in a more general sense, older children can serve in a “mentorship” type role, helping to teach the younger ones (which reinforces what they are learning and gives them confidence), and younger ones can work alongside older children, being challenged to reach higher levels of understanding and being included in more difficult or extensive projects.
We think that these types of spontaneous partnerships are ideal and we’re excited to see them develop. (By “spontaneous” I mean, the children form them on their own. We, adults, don’t “assign” an older child to teach a younger one.)
Encouraging Creativity and Resourcefulness
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed both from watching my own children play together, and my children playing with a larger group of children, it’s that they’re very creative when they’re together. They come up with a project or idea, and they ask for materials or supplies to complete it. They need very little help or direction with this, and often come up with unique solutions to any problems they run across. The more often they are with a large group of motivated children, the more they will practice this kind of creativity.
I believe this is where learning is born — where they learn to solve problems, engage in give-and-take (i.e. socialization… 🙂 ), and learn how to learn. I want to encourage this as much as possible and give them a lot of opportunities.
Using Parents’ Gifts and Talents
Each parent has different gifts and talents themselves. I have a background in music, and math, and a passion for writing. Other parents are passionate about science, or foreign languages, or art. Each adult in the group can use their gifts and talents to provide information and experiences for the children (fun for the adult, and great for the children). This also means that if any of us, individually, feel we are lacking in some particular area, another adult can provide help there. The adults work together to provide the best educational experiences for the children!
Why Start a Coop?
It’s true — there are some existing coops in my area. I knew that when I decided to form my own. So, curious why I would go that route?
Not all the groups near me are accepting new members at this time. Obviously, those groups weren’t options for me, so that limited the choices I had.
Specifically for Young Children
Some of the other groups in the area that are open I felt were a better fit for older children but weren’t able to serve our needs at this time. A lot of the classes that they were offering seemed to be geared towards kids who were more like 8 – 18 years old. It looked really fun, but not for us.
Some of the groups in the area required every week, all-day commitments. I felt this was too much for our young children, some of whom still nap in the afternoon. When creating the new group, I chose to require only every-other-week commitments and morning-only meetings. This allows families with kids of various ages to meet all their needs.
Unschooling/Guided Play Philosophy
We specifically wanted a group where we could encourage children towards free play, or gently guided play. Basically, where we’d offer younger children a choice of activities and then let them go with it where they would (with supervision for safety, of course). For older children, we’ll play a supportive role, helping them to fulfill their own desires and games. Not everyone believes in schooling in this method, and not all groups are geared towards this, so it seemed like a good idea to start my own!
Soon, I’ll be sharing how the group actually works — the format of the group, membership, and some of the types of events and projects we’re doing. It’s my hope that if you’re wanting to start a group, that this information will be helpful to you! If you’re local (Columbus, OH) and are potentially interested in joining for fall 2014, email email@example.com to learn about the public events we have — anyone is welcome at these.
Do you belong to a homeschool coop group, or want to?