I’ve posted a few different times about we started or used homeschooling coops. And I do think that they have their value, for some people and in some situations. And technically we’re not entirely quitting…but I’ll get to that.
For right now, though, we’re mostly quitting homeschooling coops. We’re quitting all the formal, every-week ones. We’ve done coops for the last three years, and I’m just done, for so many reasons.
(For my local friends — this is not about you guys. It’s a complex, family-by-family decision to make.)
Why We Quit Homeschooling Coops
Homeschooling coops can be great. Really! We made a lot of new friends, we liked having something regular to do each week, we liked getting exposed to new ideas and projects we might not have done on our own.
Coops, though, are not perfect. Because people aren’t perfect. Ultimately, this is why we quit.
#1) Too Much Structure
The first coop we tried started off as a disaster (three years ago) because we had no idea what we were doing. Over time, though, we evolved a method that worked well and that most of the members enjoyed. But, it ended up being a little too structured for us. Topics were chosen ahead of time, varied weekly, and the kids had to participate in the projects. My kids weren’t always interested in the week’s topic and didn’t want to participate in the projects, and there wasn’t a backup option for kids who weren’t interested. (And I don’t believe in making kids do things that aren’t really necessary because I don’t think they get a lot out of it.)
A lot of coops have more standard “classes” where kids — and parents — know up front what they’ll be doing each week and kids sign up for classes on subjects they want to do. This might have been a better style for us, but our kids were so young when we started that that’s not what we wanted or what we thought would work.
I’m not knocking it — it worked well for lots of families. It’s a great preschool/early elementary kind of experience. It just wasn’t for us.
#2) Too Much Craziness
We tried another coop over the past year, with the goal and philosophy of being more relaxed in our approach. The summer went pretty great when we went outside and explored nature in a hands-on way. But in the winter, it all kind of fell apart. Kids went crazy when there were so many in small spaces and mostly didn’t do any of the projects we offered them, and it felt like straight-up social time.
Social time has its own value, but wasn’t what we were looking for in this coop experience. Some people left because we tried to encourage a little structure, and the rest of it kind of fizzled out because it was basically just a play date and wasn’t really worth it.
#3) Too Many Different Philosophies
In any group with several families, there are going to be different ideas and ways of doing things. Some are stricter parents and some are more lax. Some are very sit-down-lessons style homeschoolers, and some are very free-for-all unschooling.
This occasionally led to some friction among group members, because we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the group’s direction. Initially, I tried hard to please as many people as possible but found this was often impossible, and that it ultimately wasn’t meeting my family’s needs anyway. It was too much for us, and ultimately not worth it.
#4) Not Quite What We Really Need
I’ve had a vision in my head of what I think my kids really need from a coop experience for a couple years, and have yet to find a way to make that happen. Others either don’t share my vision or it isn’t practical for them to get involved in what I want to do (for a variety of reasons). I’ve come to believe we would do better with a rather small group of 3 – 4 families instead of a traditional “coop.”
Even so, a lot of our friends have big families (as do we), with the average family having 4 – 5 kids. Most of us have kids in a wide age range, from infants to pre-teens, and that presented an issue by itself. Half the kids we were dealing with were under 4 years old, with a good deal more who were 4 – 6. Only 20 – 30% of the total kids were truly 6+, or “school-aged,” and it was almost impossible to support them when we had so many littles running around.
All in all, we had a big ol’ preschool on our hands, while our older kids were wanting and needing more from us and we weren’t really able to give it.
What Do I Want in a Coop?
My vision for coop has always been geared towards my older kids because I don’t feel like little ones need any kind of formal school experience. Social time, sure, but not “academics.”
I wanted something that would specifically benefit my now-7 and 9-year-olds, and this year, probably my will-be-6-year-old, too. (My oldest two boys will be 8 and 6 this summer.)
I envision a situation where they’re meeting with the same small group of kids 1 – 2 times per week for a few hours a day, in an environment that’s rich with all kinds of materials — computers, Legos, K’nex, art supplies (a wide variety), recycled materials, sewing machines and supplies, electronic parts, board games, movies, and all kinds of other things so they can do projects alone or in small groups however they want to. They’d be engaged in meaningful work (plus some social time) and would do multi-day projects.
I’ve found it’s hard to encourage this when they’re young…and that not every parent can get behind this. Most either want to assign their kids projects or encourage them in a specific direction or allow them complete freedom. I ride a fence in between.
Moving forward, rather than participating in a formal coop (at least at this point in our educational journey), we’ll be getting together with individual families to let our kids work on projects they really want to do. One friend and I both have 9-year-old daughters who are both interested in learning to play stringed instruments, and do art. Her passion/education is in art, and mine is in music ed, so it works out to swap skills for the girls.
I feel like this more casual, project-by-project basis will better meet our family’s needs right now, and I’m excited to see what happens this year.
Are Coops Bad?
Coops can be truly excellent. It all depends on what is available to you and how well it meets your family’s needs. You don’t have to do a coop to have a good experience with home education. But it also might be just the thing for you. You won’t know unless you look into it or try it out!
Just know that nothing is right for everyone, and that your needs can change over time, and that there are many different types and styles of groups. Look to see what’s in your area, visit if possible, and see what’s a good fit for you.
You sound very Montessorian in your thought process–in essence you create the environment that the child can excel in, and then set them loose within those boundaries. I have found, as a teacher, mother, and observer, that the Montessori Method in general is applicable to almost every age of child. I especially love the sewing machine idea for a group aged 10-17. My mom gifted me my first sewing machine at around 9, it is a useful skill more kids would pursue if they had one available.
I completely agree with this. It’s *very* difficult to find a good COOP, because they can be so complicated. A friend with good intentions and fantastic teaching skills had started one with the idea of only having experienced high-quality teachers teaching it (originally she called a “community center”), but she ended up having to recruit parents who had poor classroom management skills, because she wanted so badly to keep prices “reasonable for the community.” The problem is we ended up paying too much money for lousy classes where our children ended up having little to no work to show at the end of the semester.
Now this thing is growing beyond my friend’s control with her other friends (who are not very good teachers) trying to take it over. We ended up leaving as my children were getting bullied and picking up terrible classroom habits from classmates (a couple who had never been in a group experience and were very disruptive). I get a lot of pressure to return, but there’s no way I’m going to. Not only has it been a negative experience for my children and myself, but the way it’s growing I can see someone getting hurt and/or my friend getting sued (she has not gotten it insured—despite the large number of people joining now). I support this friend and love her good intentions, but our family wants no part of that kind of drama, and I worry for her.
Nope, it’s just not for us. I like the idea behind them, but I think it ends up not being beneficial overall. We have a pretty large coop in our town but they meet half an hour away. An hour of driving time for me is too much, and if we spend 2 hours at the coop, there’s 3 hours of our day gone, once a week. Also, the way I see it, if I wanted my kids to be taught by someone else, I would send them to public school