A homeschool co-op is basically a place you take your children one day a week to attend classes with other homeschool students, and they usually have homework to complete over the week.
Sometimes co-ops can be located with an Internet search, and other times co-ops are only by word of mouth. Ask other homeschoolers if they are aware of local co-ops.
There are different kinds of co-ops.
Parent-led co-ops are exactly what they sound like. The parents do the teaching, planning, and organizing. These co-ops are generally less expensive to participate it because you are not paying anyone to do anything. Parents are usually required to stay for the duration of the co-op day.
There are also co-ops with professional paid instructors. These co-ops offer the flexibility of dropping off your children and having a little less teaching to worry about for the week. These co-ops can be quite expensive.
Some co-ops offer core classes and science labs. Some only offer arts programs, and some offer a little of both. A co-op might be a good place for your child to get P.E. or a high school science lab.
How do you decide if you should join one?
Well, first you have to find out if there are any in your area. It is much better to find one closer to home than to drive a long way because you are more likely to spend time with friends made who live closer to you, plus it's just easier on co-op day not to have to trek across the state!
Find out what classes they are offering. Do they match up with what you have planned for the school year? In other words, is there any benefit to being a part or are you just adding to your students' work load?
Do the co-op fees fit into your homeschool budget?
What are the benefits?
--Forming good friendships (for you and your children)
--Opportunities for classes you might not teach at home
--Opportunities for your child to be taught by someone who is passionate about a subject you don't like
--A chance to get out of the house and have a change from the normal school day once a week
--An opportunity to bless others with skills you may have to share
When we first heard about co-ops we were frightened off by the descriptions of sign-up day and the frenzy to get your students in the classes you wanted. I'm not up to that kind of competition. Not all co-ops are like that.
When my OS started high school I knew we needed to join one so that I could avoid science labs at all cost! We were in a new place and we just took the plunge with most advertised co-op around. It was big, a little expensive, and overwhelming, but they were offering classes we could use so we took the plunge. We made it through the year, despite a horrible pregnancy for most of it, and came out blessed.
The following year we heard about a smaller co-op which met very close to where we live. Having mingled with area homeschoolers, we knew some of the families already. It turned out to be a good fit for us as well as providing classes we needed. As I mentioned in a previous post, if it weren't for co-op we would never have had the opportunity to use the IEW writing course which has made a big difference in my boys' writing. We have been blessed with friendships, opportunities to serve and be served, connections that got us involved in other things we may have missed out on otherwise.
Maybe a co-op isn't what you need. Maybe you just need a support network of moms or a group that meets for field trips. My advice to new homeschoolers is to get connected with other homeschoolers. Even if you want to spend your first year focused on getting things in order and getting into a routine, making homeschool friends is beneficial in so many ways--play days for the little ones, a comfort zone for older ones, a time for you to receive encouragement to help you continue on your homeschool journey.
I hope this and my other homeschooling posts will help you in thinking about what should and shouldn't be a part of your homeschooling plans for the coming years.