Tuesday 14 May 2013

Our Co-op Experience

At the beginning of my homeschooling journey eight years ago, I used to read about the many interesting co-op experiences that the American homeschooling families have, and wished that there were homeschooling co-ops where we live.  I imagined that I would be able to enjoy educating my son with like-minded people.  However, since there was no such arrangement near us, I had to find my own way which eventually morphs into our own unique approach, which you read about on this blog.

In the past two years, I have seen an increase in the number of co-ops started in various areas near us.  Last year, we spent a fair bit of time with one particular group and I even taught art for a term to the children there.  At the start, it was a lot of fun -- new people, new friends, new environment, new way of learning (this particular co-op hired 'specialists' to teach science and maths).  Nonetheless, after six months, I felt the need to reevaluate our participation there for various reasons, including the type of social experience Tiger was having there, as well as the difference between the goals of the co-op and our family's educational goals.

The biggest concern that I had, which made me decide to discontinue with the co-op, was that it started to feel like and was being treated as a parent-coordinated version of a private school, with the accompanying (unspoken) requirement that all children who attend the sessions learn at the same pace.  This inevitably gave rise to motivational issues and disruptive behaviour in some children who were not able to keep up but whose parents dropped them off at the venue (as they would at any school) and thus were not on site to support their learning.  The atmosphere and environment of the co-op had become counterproductive to the types of learning that I want Tiger to be exposed to, so we don't go there anymore.

Despite our discontiuity at the co-op, the experience of having been there and taking the time to reflect upon our experience was helpful in the sense that:
  1. it helped me to make careful consideration about the types of environment (people, atmosphere, attitudes) that Tiger is exposed to;
  2. it helped to bring about more clarity and further refinement of our family goals;
  3. it gave Tiger an opportunity to start learning about the different types of environment that can result in different outcomes and behaviour;
  4. it gave me confidence that our home environment is the one that provides the most flexbility and effective learning experience to meet Tiger's evolving educational needs.
I think there are some benefits to joining a co-op where learning is coordinated as a group, for example when there is a group of children who are following the same curriculum or are preparing for the same examination.  The sameness in progression required to take the examinations on a common date or to achieve a shared learning objective makes a co-op arrangement useful for peer group motivation as well as for cost-sharing of materials and instructors.  There may exist certain benefits for such an arrangement to take place at a later stage for Tiger, probably at high school level, and the experience of shared learning may not necessarily have to be in the form of attending a class at a physical location.  Online classes and discussion forums are two possible ways to experience share learning that is not limited by geographical locations and chronological age requirements.

"Kids propser best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them."

Based on our experience, I'd say this:
If you are lucky enough to find a co-op near you that shares your ethos for education, it would be a wonderful opportunity to explore; otherwise, a formal co-op arrangement is neither crucial nor essential to the success of your homeschool in your child's elementary years, more so if your vision for your child's childhood is one of natural exploration and learning at his/her own pace.

This is especially true if the child's home environment is warm, loving, and nurturing, and is one that provides plenty of well-rounded learning opportunities to support the development of a balanced individual.  Therefore, I think that a formal co-op for an elementary-aged child does not add anything substantial to the experiences that he/she is already getting at home.

"If you can light the spark of curiosity in the child, they will learn without further assistance, very often."

While I still keep my eye out for co-op opportunities, I have not yet found one that provides a high enough "value", as I have mentioned here, to entice us to commit to the large amount of time required outside of our home environment when it is already meeting Tiger's current need for an individualised, one-to-one educational setting.

Again, I can't emphasise enough that this is my personal view, based on our personal experience with one particular co-op group, evaluated using our family's goals and values.  There are certainly many different types of co-op experiences that others will no doubt have, so I strongly encourage you to read about them from the other contributors:
  • As co-ops are not common in Australia, Erin shares how she is Creating Synergy.
  • Bernadette sees Beneficial Co-op(eration) and tells why she looks forward to organising or joining a co-op in the next few years.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/14/13
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #17
3) Collage Friday - Math, Appliances, and Other Goodies
4) TGIF Linky Party # 76
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Didn't Go to Nashville
6) Share it Saturday
7) Sunday Showcase - 5/18/13


  1. Co-ops are such a difficult question. We don't go to formal US style co-ops but do go to two groups both monthly. I teach science at one and have found that the best way to co-ordinate this is for everyone to read about the same topic and then I teach and do practicals with the children. In terms of time taken, this takes so much more preparation time than teaching my own children although it means that we keep going at a steady speed.
    The other group has a vague theme for the year. I don't think that my children really benefit from this as it is usually unrelated to their other learning but they have friends in the group and enjoy seeing them.

  2. I totally agree with you, Sarah Elisabeth. Your experience is very similar to mine, in terms of extended preparation time to teach the co-op as opposed to teaching my own child at home, and having to really consider whether the effort to attend a co-op is really worth it. Next week I'll address the social aspect of group interaction (via a post relating to the more informal setting of groups).

  3. True. The co-ops we've been involved in have been very informal and therefore enjoyable experiences. One was for art and was weekly and the other was once a month as a home school mom's support meeting. Both were positive. I think if it had required huge chunks of preparation time we would have quite too. Good insight thanks for sharing.

  4. This was very well said. I found the first co-op we participated in fun, but too much of a time commitment to be valued over our time at home. Some of the lessons were excellent and my kids still talk of them, but many were over their head or too brief a time period spent on the topic to be of much good.

    The co-op we currently participate in only involves two other families and it is focused. Each week we have a lesson and do an activity on the same history subject. Each of the families continues to learn about the subject during the week at home. It makes for interesting discussions between the kids as they typically use different resources to learn the same things.

  5. Chareen and Julie - thank you both for stopping by and for sharing your experiences. It seems to me that a semi-formal, small-group arrangement works better than a large class that resembles too much of a public/private school setting. It's a wonderful experience to meet up and learn with others who share the same approach, but finding such families locally is quite a difficult task to start with. :-)

  6. Very interesting to read your experiences, Hwee. You've raised so many interesting points. I know what you mean about some co-ops seeming like private schools. Which is fine - I'm all for having as many different options as possible available to families, since we all have such different needs. But like you a co-op isn't for us right now. I'd forgotten about the option of online classes, they are also a good way of meeting homeschool needs.

  7. Lucinda - thanks for dropping by! Yes, I'd like to see as many options as possible being accessible to homeschooling families, as our needs are so very different. A wide variety of choices can only be a good thing, since that will support as many families as possible. :-)

  8. It's interesting reading about these sorts of things. We don't go to anything, apart from activities in our village, and none of those have anything to do with home schoolers. Good to know my children aren't missing out on too much!

  9. Yes, Claire. Our own experience with co-op tells us that we are doing fine with the way things are. However, for some families co-op can be very useful. It really depends on individual family's situations and needs. :-)

  10. I really appreciate your thoughts about co-ops. We were in the same co-op for three years and have just stopped. I found, that as my children grew older (and this co-op was purely enrichment - not academic) our educational goals didn't match with those of the majority of families in the co-op. The older my kids got, the less they had in common with the children there, so it was time to make a change.

    Sometimes I think things are good for a season, and I appreciate what you say about evaluating and learning from the experience.

    Great post, with so many good links -- thank you!

  11. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Mary! :-) As you've rightly pointed out, certain things are suitable for a season, then we have to move on to other things. This is especially true in finding a good match for our children's changing needs as they grow.

  12. That has always been my understanding of a formal co-op, more like a parent version of a private school. I'm assuming much of co-oping has to do with the people involved and their vision.

  13. You're right, Erin. Some co-ops are more formal than others, and very much depends on the families involved.

  14. Well said. We have done a few homeschool classes here and there, but not in a true co-op, as all parents don't participate in teaching, etc. But we've stuck to "light" classes like a fun American Girl (history) class, an interior design class (for my high schooler), LEGO classes, etc. I really have no desire to do any other sort of classes, and thankfully, I figured that out pretty early on, as it sounds like you have!

  15. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts, Jamie! Indeed it sounds like an enrichment type of class is a better fit for most families, since that gives children time to learn something together without feeling the pressure to keep up with a strict pace. It seems increasingly clear to me that for academic endeavers, it is best to do it alone or with a few others.


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