Seven and a half years ago, we joined one of our local homeschool cooperatives. All these years later, we still love it! As I sit here this morning the sounds of co-op float around me. Children in various classes (the Kindergarten P.E. class just left the gym), moms visiting, and kids switching between classes every hour. Lately it seems like I've been asked a lot of questions of how our particular cooperative operates. Here's a bird's eye view of our co-op day....
We arrive at a local church a bit before 9 a.m. The morning classes will begin at 9 a.m. and end at Noon. Eric will have logic, history-"Famous Teenagers", and finance. Emily's morning classes are logic, cooking, and early American history. Ellen will go to Bible, P.E./health, and science. I will teach high school debate class until 10:30 and then enjoy an hour and half of visiting with other moms. At noon, we all break for lunch. Each week is different for our family. Sometimes the kids pack their lunch boxes, sometimes I go out and bring back McDonald's or Subway, and other days (like today) I throw a family meal into a grocery bag and assemble lunches while the kids are still in class.
Lunch time is a favorite time of the day. Though not everyone stays for lunch, most families do. We set up tables and chairs in the gym of the church and 25 or so moms and 60 or so kids all eat together. Usually there are footballs flying over head, wheels (as in ripstiks, skateboards, scooters, roller blades...) zooming by and babies crying because it's nap time. In the midst of the chaos, moms seem to enjoy the few minutes they have to connect with one another.
After lunch, our co-op day is only half way finished. The afternoon is an entity all to its self. People come and go and not all of the children are in class at the same time. The afternoon classes are "extracurricular" type of classes. Ellen does Girl Scouts, tumbling, and guitar lessons. Emily goes to 4H, Girl Scouts, dance and occasionally art class (if she has a project from an earlier in the week lesson that needs to be finished). Eric has 4H and occasionally art as well. However, if you want to find Eric, most often, he will be outside surrounded by younger kids playing ACFL (After Co-op Football League). During all of this, the moms take turns cleaning the building or sitting together and learning from each other. We usually finish up and venture home between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. tired but happy.
I had a friend once ask "Isn't 'Co-op' just Christian school?" at the time my answer was "Yes." Later, I realized our homeschool cooperative is a lot like a Christian school in some respects and quite different in others. We meet just one day a week to offer classes that would be an asset to our own individual home schools without reteaching the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic). We are purposefully a small group...usually 25-30 families which supports a community environment. We don't charge large fees nor do we get "paid" for the classes we teach....instead we share our skills and ideas with each other. Our children are not always with "same age" peers. Some classes are taught to children of the same age and others include several ages and learning levels. We don't require that members sign a "belief statement"... most moms are in close agreement on Biblical issues but sometimes we get some lively discussions over personal preferences. We require an application process...not to block people from coming in but to keep the number of families involved at a manageable number. Probably the biggest difference between Co-op and a Christian school is that by definition we are a cooperative where we all work together to accomplish a goal...rather than a school where different people have different jobs for different pay.
Today I heard my friend, Christy, say "if we wouldn't have had this co-op, I'm not sure I would have made it as a home school mom!" I agree! Co-op is one of the highlights of our homeschool experience. Though I'm tired, as I am every Thursday evening, I am so thankful for our cooperative experience!