Homeschool co-ops come in many sizes

Homeschool mother Beth at Learning Together blog discusses at least five different homeschool co-ops that she has been a part of.  Five co-ops! Does that sound overwhelming to you? It might be until you read Beth’s descriptions.  Many of the co-ops were very short term or very small with just a few families meeting in a home.

Multi-family Enrichment Co-op

This Co-op met for 8 weeks in the fall, and then met again in the spring with a new set of classes. It was a wonderful experience, exposing my children to a variety of skills and subjects that I might not have attempted – and lots of friendships were planted there.

Multi-Family Curriculum-based Co-op
A little over three years ago a group of friends met together to discuss starting a weekly Co-op based on the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. This Co-op started out with 13 families but has now grown to 18 families, and meets every Friday from 9:30 – 2:30 at a local church where we rent classroom space.

Yearlong Academic Co-op
I have done yearlong science co-ops with both my elementary and middle school kids. When Sarah was in 8th grade and Eric was in 6th, we did Apologia General Science. To keep us moving along and to make things a little more fun, we met with one other family every other Friday to do the experiments together.

Small Multi-Subject Co-op
Those co-op experiences led me to pursue even more similar situations, as I saw lots of good things happening both for me and for my children. A friend and I decided to get our 2 girls together twice a week for writing and Latin – I taught writing and the other mom taught Latin.

Short-term Co-ops
Years ago, when my oldest daughter was really into the American Girl books, I hosted an American Girl co-op at my house, which met once a week for 10 weeks. We read the books of one of the American Girl series.

HomeschoolCo-opsCo-ops can come in all shapes and sizes.  If you cannot find a co-op in your area that meets your needs, why not start your own?  My book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn out can get you started.

It is available at Amazon, BN.com and other on-line retailers.

Read more here.


13 Reasons Not To Join Our Co-op

My guest blogger today is Carren Joye, leader of the Academy Days Homeschool Co-op in Alabama. She shares a great article on when you are not ready to be part of a homeschool co-op.

13 Reasons Not To Join Our Co-op

Homeschool co-ops are not for every homeschooling family, and we certainly do not expect our co-op to necessarily be perfect for your family. As a matter of fact, we would rather you determine that our co-op is not a good “fit” before you make the commitment to participate for a full 14-week semester. The following 13 reasons why you may not want to join our co-op are based on feedback from former members for whom our co-op did not work out.

If you experience any of these situations, please, please, please do not join our co-op!

1. If you have a full time job or a busy extracurricular schedule and already have limited days for “book learning” at home, then you will find co-op way too time-consuming. Co-op takes a full day out of your week because you must be at co-op if your child is there. You certainly do not have to teach, but you can serve as a class helper or co-teacher or on the clean-up crew for part of the day. Our co-op is truly a “cooperative” effort, so we rely on everyone to make it work successfully, and we expect members to honor their commitment when they join. If you already don’t have time for co-op, don’t sign up!

2. If you are moving or will move this year, or if you have health problems or family obligations to help parents or other relatives, focus on those priorities first until this season of your life has passed. Do not add more stress to your life by committing your family’s precious time and energy to our co-op. If you and your children will not be able to meet your weekly obligations, you will let yourself, your family and the co-op down.

3. If you already know that you may miss three Thursdays per semester, please do not join our co-op as you and your children will already miss a full quarter of classes — and that’s before illnesses! Of course, we understand that illnesses and emergencies occur unexpectedly (and we do not want you to attend if you are sick), but we also respect the time and effort that facilitators put into their classes each week. They deserve the mutual respect of having students be in class and on time, barring unforeseen situations and illnesses. We ask parents to honor their commitment and make punctual attendance a priority.

4. If this is your first year homeschooling, you really need to take a year to adjust and find out what style works best for your family. Co-op is not a substitute or alternative to schooling at home. Indeed, jumping right into a co-op before adjusting to homeschooling may overwhelm you and your children.

5. Similarly, if you are joining co-op as a substitute for school or so you won’t have to teach your children at home, then co-op will not meet your needs. The parent is still the primary teacher for classes taught at co-op because the parent knows her children better than any teacher ever could. While our classes are designed to provide students with specialized instruction, co-op classes do not absolve parents from their responsibility for their children’s education. Parents still must ensure that their students keep up with homework, and they may need to assign supplemental coursework at home. Additionally, parents administer tests at home and determine final grades.

piccwhand6. If you homeschool because your child could not learn in a classroom environment or if your child does not do well in a group setting, you probably will not be pleased with our co-op. Although classes typically range between 4 and 10 students, as with the creative writing class pictured at right, we still group students by grade/age and expect “classroom manners” — although, since most are lifetime homeschoolers, they don’t always know to raise their hands! Also, whiteboards, tables and chairs make our classrooms very efficient for teaching a class, but give the classes a bit of a school-like feel — however, with homeschoolers as teachers, our class activities are usually more out-of-the-box! Additionally, with even a small group of families, we must rely on some rules and guidelines to maintain order and efficiency. If you unschool, you and your child may not feel comfortable even in our relaxed setting.

7. If you homeschool because you feel no one else can adequately teach your child what he needs to know in any given subject, you will not be satisfied with any parent who teaches a specialized co-op class. If you join our co-op, accept that others may not teach a subject the way you would and relinquish some control. At home, focus on subjects not taught at co-op to maximize your time. Alternatively, accept that you will be supplementing at home to a certain extent. If you’re not okay with either option, you should not join a co-op at all.

picscikatie8. If you are joining co-op for purely socialization reasons, you will likely find the classes too academic. All high school classes and most junior high classes require homework. Also, a few classes, such as the Apologia sciences pictured at right, require lessons at home during winter break in order to finish the course in one year. Even kindergarten and elementary classes have lessons incorporated into their activities and games. Also, while our children see each other at other homeschool events and clubs, our co-op does not schedule field trips or clubs. You would do better to join one of the many local homeschool support groups for socialization opportunities.

9. If you are joining co-op for rigorous, college-prep courses, you may find the classes not challenging enough. Unlike some co-ops, we do not administer tests nor do we assign grades. The parents remain the primary teachers of their own children. Kindergarten and elementary classes have neither homework nor lesson plans to follow at home. However, while most high school courses are college-prep, a weekly class for only 14 weeks cannot possibly cover all there is to know in a particular subject. Depending on the subject, you may want to supplement at home by assigning extra books or research.

10. If your junior high or high school students already have a full load of schoolwork at home or are members of another co-op, our classes may interfere with their ability to complete their schoolwork. Please focus on one co-op at a time.

11. If you have babies and toddlers in your family, you may want to wait until they are a little older. Although we do maintain a small nursery, the co-op may interrupt their feedings and nap schedule. Plus, little ones usually get sick more frequently than older children, which could cause your family to miss a lot more of co-op than you want.

12. If your child is undergoing obedience issues or social or behavioral problems, this is not a good time to join co-op.
Focus on the character growth of your child before putting him in a situation for which he may not be ready. This applies to all children, whether preschool, kindergarten, elementary, or high school!

13. If you are on a tight budget or live a good distance from our location, you may not want to make the financial investment. Class fees are minimal (between $1 and $15 for all 14 weeks) and cover supplies only, but fees do add up for a large family. Also, gas prices may be prohibitive if you live a considerable distance from Grace Community Church in Millbrook.

No co-op will fit every family. Before joining our co-op, or any homeschool co-op for that matter, you should consider what the Lord may have planned for your family this year. Ask yourself if participating in a co-op right now would enhance or exhaust your family at this season of your lives. Also, examine your reasons for joining a co-op. Consider what you expect from participating in this co-op, and ask other members if this co-op will likely meet those expectations. If not, don’t worry. You definitely do not need a co-op to homeschool successfully!
About the Author:
Carren W. Joye is the author of Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families (ISBN 0-595-34259-0), Alabama State History Curriculum for grades K-9, and A Stay-at-Home Mom’s Complete Guide to Playgroups (ISBN 0-595-14684-8). A homeschooling mom of four children, she has founded four successful playgroups, a homeschool support group, homeschool covering, and homeschool co-op. For more information on her books and state history curriculum, visit her web site at www.carrenjoye.com.

Preschool homeschool co-op

Angie at the Homeschool Classroom has a great post about starting a homeschool preschool co-op.

Starting a Homeschool Preschool Co-op

Although many parents come to homeschooling after their children have already spent years in a public or private school, there are also many parents who begin thinking of homeschooling before their children have even been born.  Still others come to their interest in homeschooling when the preschool years hit.

In our society, preschool has become the norm for so many. It seems as soon as a child is three or four, people start asking, “Are they going to preschool?”  Although all of my children did at least some preschool outside of the home, this is a perfect age for the homeschooling experience.  Still — some families long for the opportunities that an outside preschool has to offer, even though they long to homeschool.

For those families wanting the best of both worlds, a homeschool preschool co-op might be the perfect solution.

What is a homeschool preschool co-op?

A homeschool preschool co-op will look different from group to group.  However, the basic idea is that it will be a small group of parents (typically mothers) and preschool aged children who meet for preschool together.

Angie’s post goes on to share some great tips on getting started. Read the rest here

My book,  Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, can also be a great place to get started in launching a preschool co-op. Read a sample chapter Your First Planning Meeting at HomeschoolCo-ops.com

Here’s a neat idea if you would like to start a preschool homeschool co-op.  The founders call it Joy School and give you activities, music CDs, a schedule and manual. Yes, there are fees involved, but it might be worth it and is definitely cheaper than a commercial preschool.

Carol Topp, CPA

13 benefits of homeschool co-ops

Heart of the Matter has a great article written by Katie Kubesh on the benefits of homeschooling with co-ops.  She surveyed several co-ops members and here is what the received by being in a homeschool co-op:

  1. Kids enjoy the variety of resources and materials provided
  2. Parents do not have to do as much research and footwork on their own; they are able to share with other co-op parents
  3. Co-ops gives homeschooling families the opportunity to bond with other families in their city or state
  4. Co-ops keep homeschooling families on schedule
  5. Co-ops keep homeschooling families accountable for their studies
  6. The extracurricular activities are fun for both the parents and kids, including football games, craft parties, theme parties, field trips, etc.
  7. People who belong to co-ops sponsored by their church appreciate the opportunity to share their faith and bond with other parish families and the pastors, who sometimes participate also
  8. Co-ops that offer classes or unit studies give students the opportunity to learn a broader range of topics and/or to learn a subject their own parents may not be comfortable teaching, for example higher level mathematics, music, or foreign languages
  9. Students are exposed to different types of teachers
  10. Students are held accountable by someone other than their parents
  11. Parents provide each other with support and encouragement
  12. Students have the opportunity to interact with kids of all ages, not just their grade or age level
  13. People who belong to co-ops have a wide selection of experiences. Some belong to large co-ops that include over 200 families. Larger co-ops are able to teach many classes (one offers 80 different classes from preschool through high school with subjects ranging from science, math, history, art, music, foreign languages, drama, and public speaking) and sponsor many field trips and other activities. Some larger co-ops even offer courses that students earn college credits for.

Isn’t that a great list?  I especially like # 9, 10 & 11  because those are the main benefoits I recieve form my homeschool co-op.

Katie goes on to explain the benefits or large and small co-ops.  Sometimes small co-ops grow into large co-ops and the leaders find themselves managing larger groups of people, in a larger space and handling more money. This website
has a lot of tools to help homeschool leaders including articles, ebooks and audios. My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out can also help a homeschool co-op leader run a successful co-op, whether small, medium or large, without burning out!

Carol Topp, CPA

Economy drives more parents to homeschool

A homeschool co-op in South Carolina, has grown to 345 students from a small home-based study group!  Wow!

It is a great story and pretty familiar to me. I have heard of a lot of growth in homeschool co-ops lately.  My own homeschool co-op had a waiting list of 25 families this year. We couldn’t accommodate them all, so we helped them start a new co-op. I gave them a copy of  Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out and my ebook Money Management for Homeschool Organizations. They are now going strong with 28 families their first year!

From the Greenville (SC) News online:

Upstate Homeschool Co-op sees increase in students

With 345 students enrolled this school year, the Upstate Homeschool Co-op has seen its numbers swell dramatically since it first began as a small study group in Suzanne Brown’s Taylors home for her three oldest children.

Now, the co-op, which meets twice a week at Taylors First Baptist Church and offers enrichment and academic classes to students 4K-12, is seeing longer waiting lists and has doubled its high school courses to meet a growing demand as the economic recession continues to tighten household finances and more parents become dissatisfied with public school education.

I bet they are a blessing to many homeschool families, but their leaders may also suffer from growing pains!  I emailed their director, Suzanne Brown to tell her about HomeschoolCPA, its Leader Tools and my newly launched  ebooks and audios. She may need some help to manage a group of that size! You might too!

Carol Topp, CPA

Handling funds for big events like a senior formal

Hi Carol,
I’m the Treasurer for our local Home School Co-op and we are in the process of implementing some policy and procedures. My question is: What would be an effective policy for the handling of funds received by the various age-level activity coordinators?
Some activities are free or have a very small fee, while others are big events with tickets being sold and expenses incurred (High School Formal)..  Should there be a set amount that does not need to flow through the checking account and the coordinator be responsible for the collection of fees and the disbursement of funds, or should all monies flow through the checking account and expenses paid by the Treasurer?
Thank you,
Terri K
Terri,

Excellent question!

In general, I recommend that all activities under your co-op flow through your organization’s checking account. It might make more work for the treasurer, but it provides accountability and oversight of the program that will bear your name.

That being said, I am treasurer of a separate graduation ceremony fund for my homeschool group.  We (the parents of the graduates) set up a separate checking account just for the graduation ceremony.  I believe it was so that only the parents with graduates were funding the graduation, not the entire student body/homeschool group.  We have to stay on budget because there is no “slush fund” from the larger group to fall back on if we overspend.

There is no set amount to help you make a determination.  I would base my decision on the nature of the activity.  If it is recurring (like our graduation ceremony) then perhaps a separate account could be set up; if it is only a one-time event like a field trip, then keeping income and expenses part of the larger group’s system would make sense. Also consider the fiscal responsibility of the leaders of your separate activity.  If no one cares to handle the money in a responsible manner, then don’t let them open a separate account.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

IRS Intimidates Homeschool Group

I have helped several homeschool groups obtain tax exempt status with a 100% successful track record (no one has ever been denied by the IRS). One homeschool group even received their tax exempt status letter from the IRS in only three weeks!  That’s amazingly fast for the IRS; it typically takes 3 months!

But recently a homeschool group in Texas e-mailed me for help. They had applied for tax exempt status as a 501c3 educational organization.  I did not prepare their application, but looked over their website and they appeared to be similar to hundreds of homeschool organizations across the US. But the IRS was going to deny their application, keep their $750 application fee, bar them from applying again and claimed to be building a file to be used against other organizations like them seeking tax exempt status!

This was horrible and could have had a huge negative impact on homeschool co-ops and support groups across the US.  I recommended they speak to the attorneys at Homeschool Legal Advantage. There is a time and a place to hire a lawyer and this was it!

Homeschool Legal Advantage recently e-mailed this update

https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:CampaignPublic/id:8078.2491060969/rid:4166d5ca89236cc41a5c872dd1372e97

As you can read they were a great help to this homeschool organization and resolved the matter quickly with the IRS.

The article mentioned the difference between 501c3 and 501c7 status and you may find that  a bit confusing. Additionally, the groups use of the word ‘co-op’ confused the IRS as to their purpose. What is right for your homeschool organization? How should you present your group tpo the IRS when applying for tax exempt status?

Feel free to email me to arrange a private consultation via telephone.  Each group is unique and an individual consultation will be very helpful

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. I was so pleased to meet the attorneys with Homeschool Legal Advantage at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinati in 2009. They were so helpful in desiring to work with homeschool organizations as well as indiviual families.

Homeschool Co-op Featured in the News

I love it when a local newspaper reports about the success of homeschool co-ops.

Here’s  a great story from the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegraph

An environment for sharing: Home school co-op helps students and instructors

by Cristina Waits | General Assignments Writer
Published: October 20, 2009
Elizabeth Castleberry, a 14-year-old home-schooled ninth-grader, observes sugar burn Monday during a Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op chemistry lab at Belton Church of Christ. Clint Bittenbinder/Telegram
Ian Wardlow, right, a 16-year-old home-schooled 10th-grader, pours baking soda Monday into a test tube held by teacher Rebecca Stryker during a chemistry lab experiment at Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op at Belton Church of Christ. Clint Bittenbinder/Telegram

BELTON – Longtime home-schooler Elizabeth Castleberry says going to a classroom has its perks.

While she enjoys staying home for most of her studies, the 14-year-old says chemistry is a course that would be hard to replicate at home. So when her family decided to join Helping Hands Homeschool Co-op this year, it meant Castleberry could get hands-on experience with lab equipment as well as the chance to work with an experienced high school science teacher.

Both are opportunities she says she’s enjoying.

“The whole hands-on experience makes it easier to understand chemistry,” said Castleberry, who conducted five experiments with teachers and classmates Monday. “Co-op gives you more of a class experience. And it’s also a lot of fun to get out of the house.”

Though many students are also involved with youth sports, music lessons and clubs, the tuition-free co-op offers classroom experience that’s hard for home-schoolers to get otherwise. With courses ranging from core academic to special interest enrichment, the co-op is made up of 185 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who meet Mondays at Belton Church of Christ for 10 weeks each semester.

Like at home, parents teach classes in a wide variety of subjects such as astronomy, Latin, tae kwon do and sewing. But unlike home, every parent doesn’t have to teach every class. And children have the opportunity to learn from teachers who are not part of their families.

“My children have benefited from the expertise of others,” said Colleen Stafford, volunteer co-op administrator. “It takes a load off me. I don’t have to teach (my children) the lesson. I just oversee them carrying out their assignments. They’re getting much more than just me teaching them at home.”

Read the rest of the story here

I like the emphasis on learning from each other.  That;s the siprit of a true co-op! Did you catch the “tuition-free” description!  Wow  No wonder they have 185 students involved!

You too can start and run a successful homeschool co-op.  Start by ordering my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out here.

Carol Topp, CPA

Pros and Cons of Homeschool Co-ops

Homeschool blogger, Spunky Homeschool, asks about the disadvantages of belonging to a homeschool co-ops and her concerns.

The Pros and Cons of Co-ops

Are you in a homeschool co-op? I joined one last year so my son, a high school junior, could take a Physics class; we enjoyed the experience and signed up again this year. There are quite a few co-ops in our area and they appear to be a growing trend among homeschoolers around the nation.

But I do sometimes wonder what the co-op trend means for the future of homeschooling. Will the government jump in and require those that teach other families to be credentialed; or God forbid, will the teachers union step in and demand that mothers be unionized. A few years ago, I would have laughed at that thought. But that is exactly was is a occurring with in-home health care workers in Illinois and mothers who do in-home daycare in Michigan. Right now this seems to be happening only with those workers who receive state aid, something our co-op does not do. But some co-ops may have members who do receive some sort of state assistance for their children and that’s where things could start to get muddy.

Like Spunky, I know the blessings of belonging to a homeschool co-op and the disadvantages. When I wrote my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, a friend noticed that my chapter on the disadvantages was longer than the advantages of a homeschool co-op! Ha, ha!

I just believe that homeschool co-ops are like marriages, it’s best if you go in with your eyes wide open!

I work hard to help homeschool leaders run the best co-ops that they can and be a blessing to their members, but not burn out anyone-leader or member!

Read through some comments or post your own here at Spunky’s site.

Carol Topp, CPA

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