More lessons from a homeschool co-op

Faye had so many good lessons she learned from her homeschool co-op, I’m splitting them into two parts. here’s more great lessons learned from someone in the trenches of a homeschool co-op.

6.  Sometimes kids won’t like the class you are teaching; some may even decide to drop out after a few weeks.  Try not to take it personally.

7.  A co-op with mixed ages provides amazing opportunities for older kids to learn how to be around, and help, younger kids.  My little guy made so many connections with the older boys; it was wonderful.  And, having the older kids play with my son was a huge help to me.  Bonus–I may have found a future babysitter!

8.  There is nothing like a good game of Twister to shake things up a bit.  Read my Twister article to learn about our fun!

9.  It may take some effort to stick with a co-op.  After all, you probably had a routine before you joined the co-op, but don’t give up.  A co-op can really liven up your weekly schedule, not to mention all the new avenues can open for your kids.

10.  The more you can help, the better the co-op will be.  If you have a few extra minutes, see if something needs to be set up, or cleaned up, or put away.  If you have an idea for a class/program/field trip, share it with the planning group. One of our co-op families held a “tie dye” day and invited everyone to their house for a day of messy, creative fun.  I will never forget the site of all those tie-dyed shirts, blowing in the breeze on the clothesline.

11.  If one idea doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to toss it or tweak it.  We had started a MathCounts program, but for some kids that just didn’t work.  So, another mom gathered some awesome math games and brought them to the co-op for the kids who were a little intimidated by MathCounts.  The result?  The math games were a HUGE hit; kids were helping to get their parents out the door on time, so they wouldn’t be late for math games!

12.  Let your kids have fun, and don’t force them to try everything.  Sometimes just being exposed to new things will pique their interest in something different, which may encourage them to give it a try.  A co-op should be educational, but it should also be enjoyable.

I completely agree with everything Faye learned, especially #10 on everyone helps and #11 on staying flexible. They are so important in a homeschool co-op and so easy to forget! Thanks for sharing your experiences Faye!HSCo-opsCover

If any of you want to learn how to start a co-op or run the co-op you belong to in a better way, order my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

Carol Topp, CPA

Lessons learned from a homeschool co-op

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC Examiner.com, has a list of lessons she learned while being in two homeschool co-ops this year.

When we joined two homeschool co-ops last year, it completely changed our homeschooling life.  For one thing, I had to be sure not to plan anything else on co-op days, because we were already busy.  Sometimes this made scheduling field trips a little tricky, but the juggling was well worth the effort.  Another big change was that on co-op days, we all had to get up at a scheduled (earlier!) time, so that we could be out the door on time. We aren’t big morning people around here, but I think the change did us good.  And finally, it brought more friendship and support into our family and into our lives, which was perhaps the biggest blessing of all!  There were many other things that I learned, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them:

1.  Kids who are not used to daily “school” may not always have pencils, pens, or paper.  Be sure to bring extra!

2.  No matter how hard you wish, if your co-op is exactly 18 minutes from your house, you will not be able to get there in 10 minutes.  Leave early (or at least on time).

3.  Even if you are the “teacher”, sometimes you will be late (refer to #2 for the solution to this problem)

4.  A big roll of paper and a box of crayons are indispensable for keeping little ones occupied.  The paper may come in handy for other uses (see #1).

5.  You probably already know this, but kids NEED time to run around outdoors.  If your co-op doesn’t have access to an outdoor space, try to find a way for the kids to take a walk or play some indoor games.  Getting the wiggles out is very important.

More of Fay’s lessons learned coming soon.

Meanwhile, if you would like to learn more about starting or running aHSCo-opsCover

homeschool co-op, order my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

Carol Topp, CPA

Should a co-op be a separate organization?

Carol,

We have one entity (group) that works outside of our association, this is our checkbook2Co-op group. This group does take in money – I believe it’s run out of a separate bank account. I know our Co-op group has a board, and bylaws but not an EIN number, which I know is very easy to get. What are they benefits of us staying as one group? My question is: should our Co-op group run their funds separately like this?

Sandy in TX

Sandy,

Your co-op could be organized as under your association or as a separate group. It’s really up to you. Since they have their own separate board and bylaws, perhaps they are really operating as a separate unincorporated association already. You could be officially separate if they obtain their own Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

There might be advantages to staying as one group. There are fewer volunteers for the board positions, consolidated financial reports, and shared workload. The co-op could remain a part of your organization, but with a separate checking account and its own budget. It could be self-sustaining financially, but still part of your association. Many church-run schools operate like this, financially self-sufficient, but still under the umbrella of the church.

Carol Topp, CPA

Planning a Homeschool Co-op

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC Examiner.com, has a great list to help start a homeschool co-op (edited slightly for brevity):

Although it is wonderful to be able to plan lessons, activities and programs that best meet your child’s needs, sometimes banding together with other homeschoolers can be a huge blessing!  Planning a homeschool co-op is a large undertaking, but with some good people and a strong foundation, it can benefit you and your family in many ways. Whether you want to have a group for regular field trips, or you are looking for a way to provide some structured school time in a group setting, a homeschool co-op could be just the ticket.

If you are interested in starting your own homeschool co-op, I would like to offer some suggestions.

1.  Start with your homeschool support group and friends.  Who would be willing to help you get things started?  2-5 people is a good number for a planning group (more than that and it might seem impossible to find a time when everyone can meet!).

2.  Spend some time brainstorming about what the “ideal co-op” would be.  Would you meet once a week, or every morning?  Will the group be for just a certain age group (ie: only elementary-age)?   Do you want to offer set classes, with textbooks, tests, homework, etc?  Or perhaps something more relaxed, like clubs and projects?

3.  Once the group has ironed out a general idea of what the first year could look like, you will need to find a place to meet.  This may prove to be one of the most daunting tasks!  Try the local library or community center, a church or firehouse, or maybe even an empty business.

4.  After you have secured a space, it is time to invite homeschooling families to join you!  It can be tempting to hang up flyers and spread the word via homeschool yahoo groups and blogs.  However, a word of caution.  I have heard many, many stories about co-ops, and the one thing that resonates over and over again is the importance of having a group of like-minded people.  Now, that doesn’t mean that you all have to believe in the same things–far from it!  At our co-op, we enjoy having new points of view for the kids to consider.  However, if it is important that the co-op be Christian-based, that might not be a good match for someone who is agnostic.

5.  For your co-op to grow and thrive, people have to be willing to work together, to pitch in, and to get along.  It is an “army of volunteers”, and if the adults/kids don’t get along, the co-op will suffer and perhaps never get off the ground.

6.  Once you have a location and a few families have indicated interest–YEAH–you are in business!!  Meet with your planning group and decide what classes/clubs/projects you want to offer.  Some ideas to choose from:

  • Art/drawing
  • Science
  • History
  • Foreign language
  • Physical education

7.  Finalize which classes you will offer, decide on a start date, then work out registration details and fees.  If there is a fee to use your facility, all families will need to divide that expense. Many facilities will also want you to carry a separate insurance policy (for one local co-op, it is @$35.00/family/year.)

8.  Do an Internet search to find forms you may need/want to have (registration, emergency info, family info, student info, etc.)  The planning group can share these tasks so no one person feels burdened.

9.  Plan a park day for families to meet, get everyone registered, order your materials, and you’re on your way!

10.  You might also consider getting a website set-up exclusively for your co-op.  Homeschool-Life.com offers a low/no-cost website service for homeschoolers, and it allows you to have group registration, to use message boards, to provide event reminders, etc.

11.  Be sure that everyone who chooses to participate is willing to help with some aspect of the group, whether it is teaching a class, cleaning up, watching the little ones, or helping as needed.  “Many hands make work light” is certainly a true statement when it comes to a homeschool co-op!

12.  Resist the urge to “do everything” in your first year.  It will be tempting to do this, believe me!  Try to offer just a few things to the group (no more than four).  See how that works out, ask for feedback, and your group can grow from there.

It is a tremendous amount of work to get a co-op up and running, but the rewards cannot be overstated.  As the group grows and expands, your kids will have incredible opportunities for learning, friendships, and fun!  If you have experiences with, or suggestions for a homeschool co-op, please share them in the “comments” section below.  I am sure there are many good ideas right here in our own community!HSCo-opsCover

Faye might be right that it is work to start a homeschool co-op, but there is help.  My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out will walk you through the start up and  running your group.

Also my website www.HomeschoolCPA.com has many helpful articles on starting a group, getting a checking account and buying insurance.

You can do it! Just get some help from those who have gone before you!

Carol Topp, CPA

Observations from the Midwest Homeschool Convention

On April 16-18, 2009 , I attended the Midwest Homeschool Convention here in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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I did two workshops, one on Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (named after my book of the same title) and the other on Micro Business for Teenagers (my upcoming book).

Here are a few of my observations:

Homeschool leaders from across the country all have similar problems:

  • No one wants to work or join the board
  • Older, experienced hoemschool mothes are not coming to meetings
  • There is a need for a clear vision and purpose. Leaders want to be everything to everyone.
  • Policies and bylaws are sorely needed to elect new board members, deal with conflict, and to prevent burnout

Meeting and talking to attorney David Gibbs of the Homeschool Legal Advantage was a highlight.  We look forward to a wonderful working partnership helping homeschool organizations. Individual families have long had access to legal advice, but now there is a need for homeschool groups to have access to legal advice also.

Some homeschool leaders lack business sense. I heard about fund raising disasters, mistakes with charging fees and offering discounts, etc.

Meeting some of my virtual friends in person was fun.  And I’m so sorry that I missed some of you! I was stuck in my booth (I shared a booth with Mary Hood, the Relaxed Homeschooler) and didn’t get out much.

Here were some of the questions that were asked during the Homeschool Co-ops workshop:

  • What does your co-op charge? Is it by student or by family?
  • How often does your co-op meet? How long each time?
  • Do you interview potential members?
  • How do we ensure everyone is like minded?
  • How can we encourage members to help out more?
  • Do you group grades/ages in your co-op?
  • What classes do you offer?
  • Ho do you “fire” a volunteer?
  • How do you elect a new baord?
  • Can a co-op keep the same director/leader forever?
  • Why collect a registration fee?
  • Where do you meet for co-op classes?
  • What is a typical rental fee?

Aren’t those great questions? I’ll work on answering them on this blog in the future.

I will also be presenting this workshop and several others at the Home Educators Association of Virginia convention  June 11-13.  Stop by my booth and say hello if you attend the convention!

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Carol Topp, CPA

A Homeschool Leader Gathering

Do you ever wish that you could gather with other homeschool leaders just to receive encouragement, share resources or bend someone’s ear?

020327_1397_0003_dsms1 Last month, 12 homeschool leaders from seven different homeschool groups gathered on a cold winter night in Cincinnati, Ohio just to meet and support each other.

We had coffee, cookies and laughed, gently reproved and empathized with other leaders.

We came from a diverse background.  Some were experienced homeschoolers-one with 15 years of leadership under her belt! Others had only been leading their group for two weeks! We had unschoolers, classical schoolers, virtual schoolers and traditional homeschoolers (whatever that means!)

After we exchanged names and information on our groups, we listed what challenges we face as homeschool leaders.  Here’s what the leaders listed:

Collecting money
Doubling in size in one year
Four of five board members leaving
Facility cost
Undefined roles
Low commitment from board members
Communication
Establishing policies
Parents test limits
Clean up building
New director
Late or unprepared teachers
Need a larger facility

Any of these sound familiar? I think these are common problems.  Sometimes the other leaders had helpful answers and suggestions; sometimes they just offered sympathy and encouragement. Everyone needs someone who can say, “I understand.”

I shared some resources including:

  • My website, HomeschoolCPA.com, for articles and ebooks on running a homeschool organization
  • The Old Schoolhouse magazine’s Homeschool Leader Yahoo group, a wonderful place for homeschool leaders to pose questions and get answers from leaders across the country

I hope you find these resources helpful too.

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Is it a homeschool co-op or Mary Poppins?

Image result for mary poppins image

I started my website HomeschoolCPA to help homeschool organizations, but sometimes the lines between a family homeschool and a homeschool organization get a little fuzzy. Here’s one example of the new and creative ways the people are homeschooling today.

I am considering starting a homeschool with a group of 5 children. They are all from different families and none of them is my own. I have a Masters degree in education and am comfortable working as an independent contractor. I plan on teaching these children in one of the boy’s home with the parents’ blessing. Is this legal? What do I need to do to set it up? Would the parents need to set up a homeschool co-op? I am having difficulty finding information about this for Maryland. Thanks for your help!

Mrs. A in Maryland

Dear Mrs A,

Congratulations on your new venture. Teaching other people’s children is certainly a legitimate business. You will be a modern day governess. (like Mary Poppins!)

I do not believe the parents need to set up a homeschool co-op. But you need to set up a small business. I recommend these steps:

* Pick a business name, although you can use your own name

* Consider opening a business checking account to keep your business and personal expenses separate (it helps at tax time)

* Have a written agreement with the parents about your duties and your fees (i.e. how much and when will you be paid)

* Keep good records of all our expenses, especially mileage. Read my Small Business Start-up Guide available to download here: Small Business Start Up Guide

* Set aside 20-30% of your income after expenses (i.e. 20-30% of your profit) to pay income tax and self employment tax. You will probably also need to make quarterly estimates payments to the IRS.

I’m not familiar with Maryland’s homeschooling laws, but here in Ohio we must notify if someone other than the parent does a majority of the instruction. Maryland may have a similar notification rule. You might want to do a little digging on-line and ask the families that are hiring you about Maryland’s homeschooling laws.

Best of success to you!

Carol Topp, CPA

Finding a co-op

I’m a homeschooling mom of 5 who lives in Brooklyn, NY. I’m looking to find a co-op where I can have my kids learn maybe 2 days out of the week. Any ideas on how I can find one?
thanks!

Diana,
I recommend that you go to my website www.HomeschoolCo-ops.com and click on the local co-ops link.  There I list two websites that have lists of co-ops by state and city.

A to Z Home’s Cool
Go to your state page and put “co-op” in the browser search

Local Homeschool.com
Search by “Type” for “Co-op” or “Cooperative.” You can further
narrow the search by including your state and/or county.

It may take a bit of hunting, but if you contact a few local groups, they can steer you in the right direction.

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp

P.S.  to homeschool webmasters: If your website lists local co-ops, drop me an e-mail and I’ll link to your site on my Homeschool Co-ops website

A happy co-op member

Homeschool co-ops can be a great addition to your homeschool efforts.  But too much of even a good thing can become overwhelming.

Joanie over at Missouri Homeschool Daily Log blog has some excellent advice about benefiting from the advantages that homeschool co-ops offer without over doing it.

In the beginning I was all for homeschool co-ops and still am now.  Over the years I have gathered experience about what works and what doesn’t in a co-op and for my schedule.  As far as your schedule is concerned I would caution you to not jump in with both feet and offer to teach more than one class. As a matter of fact I would suggest that you attend the first year/semester to get a feel for it before volunteering.  I can not stress this enough especially if you are a new home schooling parent.  Remember you’ll be preparing all your children’s material and then the material for your co-op class once a week or so.  The first year of home schooling is like riding a bike with training wheels.   One class can dominate your home school week placing a lot of strain on you.

Teaching others is a wonderful gift for all involved if the class is well behaved. I enjoyed teaching the classes tremendously and in the process discovered that I have natural born teaching tendencies.  In a group of people, however, discipline is always an issue.  When you look for a co-op make sure that they have good policies in place.  A co-op with good policies will run smoothly and be a joy to all.  What are some good policies?  Policies that I would look for in a co-op would be a clear statement of what their goal is as a group, fair discipline issues established for students and teachers alike, a statement of faith if you are looking for one to be in agreement with your faith, and attendance requirements.  Even loose establishments that just meet for play time need to have some simple policies to prevent hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

If you are homeschooling for religious reasons one of the biggest assumptions that I made was that everyone was homeschooling for the same reasons.  Do not assume that everyone feels the same way as you. Be a careful guardian, fully ascertaining the atmosphere of your co-op.  Attending a few times before deciding to join may be wise and most co-ops will have no problem with you doing so.

Co-op groups can certainly be a blessing to all involved, yet we need to remember that as home schoolers we are not without faults.  This article is intended to be wise advice and not at all a discouragement from finding a co-op.  When I started I wasn’t ready for issues that cropped up and it side-lined me for a while.  Now that the dust has cleared I know what to expect and also more of what I’m looking for when it comes to a homeschool co-op.

Such excellent advice! I thought I heard myself talking as I read Joanie’s post because everything she said I heard over and over again from co-op members as I wrote my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start them, Run Them and Not Burn Out.

If enough experienced people repeat the same advice, we can prevent a lot of frustration and burn out.

Here’s to happy co-ops!

Carol Topp