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

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