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Do I need a homeschool co-op?
Many new homeschoolers ask this question. You need a homeschool community. Your homeschool community could come in the form of a co-op. But it could also come in many other forms!
Types of Homeschool Communities:
Co-op – A co-op is a group of homeschool parents who meet together to share the load of teaching each other’s kids. Co-ops can be for academic subjects or for enrichment. A true co-op requires all parents to teach, or at least volunteer, in some capacity.
Sometimes the word co-op is used for groups that are actually offering paid classes, so ask questions to be sure you understand the expected commitment level.
Pros of Co-ops:
- They can be an opportunity to meet other homeschool families and see them on a regular basis.
- An academic co-op can be a way to offload a disliked subject to another teacher.
- Enrichment only co-ops can be a fun way to spend one day a week.
- Co-ops are typically less expensive than paid classes, due to their dependence on unpaid labor from parents.
Cons of Co-ops:
- If you sign your child up to take history and science at an academic co-op, then you need to be following along in that same curriculum at home. You lose your freedom of curriculum choice.
- Even academic co-ops do not typically offer math or phonics instruction for young children.
- In an academic co-op, you lose scheduling flexibility. If your child is sick and gets behind, they must make up the work ASAP. You lose your freedom of pacing.
- Enrichment co-ops typically take up a morning or afternoon of your week, without providing academic support. If your child is young, this is not a concern. However, it can be difficult for a middle schooler or high schooler to keep up with their academics if they are losing one morning a week to an enrichment co-op.
- Co-op teachers are teaching because it is a requirement. They may or may not have any particular passion for the age group and subject they are assigned to teach.
- Preparing to teach your co-op class can take away time from your own children.
Support groups – Support groups focus on meeting social needs for both parents and children. They often have mom’s night out, parent meetings where parents can learn more about teaching, and park days where children can play and socialize. Often there are also other social gatherings, such as Christmas parties or valentine exchanges. These replace the class parties that you would find in public school. Support groups typically do not focus on classes. Some support groups also sponsor a co-op, but you could join the support group only and skip the co-op if you wanted.
Many support groups were founded in the 1990s or 2000s when homeschooling was less common and there was a deep need for support. In the 2020s, homeschooling has become far more mainstream and accepted. With the advent of blogs and podcasts, parents can access much more information on learning from the comfort of their own homes.
Pros of Support Groups:
- You will find parents of all experience levels in most support groups. If you are nervous about a specific challenge with your young child, there is probably someone who will listen to your fears and give you good suggestions.
- Support groups are typically pretty inexpensive.
- Support groups offer more unstructured hanging out and chatting time, which is helpful for those who are not interested in outsourcing academics.
- Support groups can be a great way to form relationships with local families.
Cons of Support Groups:
- Support groups in and of themselves do not offer classes. Some offer a co-op, but the co-op is a subsidiary organization.
- Support groups do not necessarily meet every single week.
Paid classes or tutorials – Parents pay a fee for another teacher to instruct their child in a specific subject.
Pros of Paid Classes:
- Parents lighten their teaching load.
- Parents can get a break.
- Paid classes are often taught by people who are passionate about the subject and have experience teaching groups of children.
Cons of Paid Classes:
- The costs of paid classes are prohibitive for some families, especially for those who have several children.
- Even with a paid class, the parent needs to follow up with the child and be sure he is completing any homework that was assigned.
Online classes – Online classes are paid classes that meet via Zoom or some other video conferencing software.
Pros of Online Classes:
- Since you aren’t confined to your geographical location, you can find a highly qualified and passionate teacher.
- If your child has a specialized interest, online can be the best place to find a class to meet their need.
- If you live in a rural area, online classes can provide services that are not offered locally.
Cons of Online Classes:
- As we learned during the pandemic, some children do not do well with online learning. This tends to be particularly true for elementary aged children.
- Online classes cost money. The cost can vary widely depending on the quality of instruction and the popularity of the teacher.
University Model Schools – A university model school is a school where children go 2-3 days per week. During the other weekdays, they work on assignments given by the teacher with their parents at home. This is a hybrid between a traditional private school and an independent homeschool.
Pros of University Model Schools:
- The university model school selects all of the curriculum for you and tells you exactly what assignments to complete at home.
- University model schools provide many of the trappings of school – science fairs, spelling bees, etc.
Cons of University Model Schools:
- University model schools cost money – often nearly as much money as a full time private school.
- University model schools dictate your schedule, far more than a homeschool co-op would. You could miss a week of co-op. You really cannot miss a week of university model school unless your child is ill. There is no going to the beach other than during your designated spring break week.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Community
There are two types of motivation: internal and external. Internally motivated people get their work done whether other people are checking up on them or not. Externally motivated people need some sort of carrot – be it a paycheck, knowing someone else is counting on them, or knowing that they have invested in an expensive co-op or hybrid school and that they need to make the most of that investment.
It’s important to recognize whether you as the parent are internally or externally motivated. It’s also important to recognize whether your child is internally or externally motivated. If either of you are externally motivated, adding an outside class of some kind to your homeschool has enormous benefits.
On the other hand, if all parties involved are internally motivated, your family may be best served by a support group or some other type of activity where the focus is social, not academic. You still need community, but you don’t necessarily need external motivation to get your academics accomplished.
So Do You Need a Homeschool Co-op?
Only you can answer that question! I hope this post has given you information about the various options, and shown you that there are many ways to build community.