Last week, we attended the Valentine’s Day party at our homeschool co-op. The kids brought their decorated boxes and their valentines to hand out to their friends. I brought our lunch and some goodies for the moms in our co-op as well.
I love our homeschool co-op. We’ve been a part of this amazing group since our oldest (who is a fourth grader) was in kindergarten, so basically all of our homeschooling time. My children have had the benefits of learning from different adults, taking interesting classes, making incredible friends and experiencing new things because of our co-op. We have parties, field trips, special events like history and science fairs, as well as 2 weekly classes per trimester, clubs, recess, and special speakers.
A while ago, while visiting a very popular homeschooling blog, I read the author’s advice to avoid participating in co-ops. Among other reasons, she stated that co-ops take too much time away from necessary at home learning and that time spent in co-ops would be better spent completing the week’s assignments or doing other family oriented activities. I could not disagree more. Our homeschool is largely focused on academics (it is a SCHOOL after all). We follow a pretty tight weekly, monthly and yearly schedule with allotments for things like sick days, playing hooky and field trips, to make sure we still stay on track with our yearly starting and ending dates which are in place to make sure we complete the curriculum we’ve chosen over the course of that year. We take our schooling seriously and our schedule and goals reflect that. But, academics are not our only focus.
Our co-op meets needs that we simply can’t within our four walls. If we are speaking strictly academically, my children take classes I couldn’t offer nearly as well from home. They take music from a certified music teacher, Spanish from a fluent, Spanish speaking teacher, art from trained teachers with passion and talent for the subject that I lack, and other classes from teachers with different life experiences, perspectives and teaching styles than me. I am so grateful for these teachers and their gifts and we would be at a loss without them. However, that is not even the best part of our co-op.
Speaking beyond academics, there is a whole world our co-op unlocks for my children that I simply do not have the keys for at home. My children are navigating the world of friendships through co-op. They each bring their own unique personalities to this navigation and for some making friends is easier than others, but all of them need the skills and benefits of making friends and having friendships. Our lives are richer for these friendships and for the sometimes bumpy experiences of navigating friendships, too.
My children are also inspired by others through our co-op. Through discussion in class, on the playground, at snack or lunch time, they interact with their peers and with adults and often leave with inspiration ranging from wanting to try skateboarding, travel to a new place, write a new story, to even joining a friend in his invention of a real working light saber. This exchange of ideas and knowledge is as old as time and is important and necessary. I am not capable of providing this for my children. Who knows what seeds will be planted and passions sparked through these exchanges?
Co-ops can also provide excellent accountability for academics and behavior. My children rarely have homework at their ages, but the upper level classes do often have homework and they have accountability to complete assignments because they are not due just at home, but also in class, to an external teacher for external benefit. My 4-year-old’s co-op behavior has improved greatly this year since he started with the preschool class. Peer modeling and accountability have been great encouragers for him, not to mention that he genuinely adores his preschool teachers and behaves very well for them.
Lastly, our co-op is enriching not just the lives of my children, but mine as well. Last week, my kids brought home their Valentine’s boxes all packed with notes and treats from their friends, but I brought home a bag, too. Our co-op does an optional mom’s Valentine exchange as well, so I brought home a bag filled with candies, trinkets and a note of appreciation written directly to me. That bag is a pretty good picture of what being is this co-op means to me:
These women, these families, are gifts, trinkets and embodiments of real time encouragement and strength. They pray for me and my family when we face hard times, they share ideas with me about curriculum and field trips and the best places to find great deals on family vacations. They teach my children well and are patient with them and with me. They are our tribe. We meet for coffee, or do crafts, hang out at our kids’ birthday parties, and this year we even met for brunch on a Saturday morning where we laughed, talked and just enjoyed each other’s company. These relationships enrich our homeschool experience and make our path so much easier to navigate. They remind me that I am not alone and that I have wise, faithful friends in my corner.
Homeschooling can be so difficult and so lonely. Our co-op has definitely added some ease to this lifestyle as well as some much valued companionship. I know that sometimes it is truly not the right season to be involved in a co-op. I also know that not everyone lives in a place where great co-ops are available. However, if you do and you can? Join one! Do the work! Make the time! My opinion is that you and your family will be better for it. And if you are currently in a co-op that is not working well for you, by all means you can find one that is, but you could also maybe be a catalyst to change. There may be other people feeling like you do and you could perhaps play a role in turning the tide. If there are people there who you have invested in and who have invested in you and your children, it may be beneficial to “fight” for those relationships rather than starting all over with new ones.
Homeschooling has been a great gift to our family. Our homeschool co-op is icing on the cake!