Cooperatives, also called co-ops, are what homeschoolers call learning in groups. Although many homeschoolers operate just fine on their own, others like to participate in learning circles with other families.
Like school environments, co-ops offer classes and activities and provide ways for children to study and learn together. Unlike schools, however, co-ops allow homeschoolers to control the content that is being delivered, choose their preferred level of participation, keep class sizes small and standards high, plus decide how long they want to remain enrolled.
Co-ops can be big, as in the ones with hundreds of families and dozens of classes running simulatenously. They can also be smaller, having just a handful of students, and only offer one or two different options every year. Co-ops may focus only on certain subjects, or may rotate many different subjects all year long. They may offer classes for certain age groups, or mix all of the students together at the same time. Each is customized to the needs and interests of the families that participate.
The idea behind the co-op is that everyone contributes in some way or other, explaining the term “cooperative”. Some parents may teach and others may assist, and these duties may rotate on some established schedule. Some families may provide supplies and funding, and others may help with purchasing, planning or cleanup. In theory, every parent has a job so that every family reaps the same rewards. In this way, the burden never falls on the same families all the time, and every member of the co-op is able to benefit in roughly the same way.
Co-ops exist in most major towns and cities; some even have several. If a co-op does not exist in your area, starting one is not difficult. With an idea and a small group of like-minded families, a co-op can be planned in a matter of weeks. Once teachers, topics, and location have been selected, and every family’s financial contribution calculated, a co-op can be ready to go.
Benefits of belonging to a co-op are many. For some, the social interaction with other children is what they enjoy most. For others, having access to the talent and expertise of other parents is a major factor. Still others like the chance for students to collaborate and solve problems together, debate topics and discuss ideas. There are often opportunities to showcase student work, as well.
Co-op activities may supplement learning taking place at home or be used in lieu of teaching particular subjects at home altogether. Older students may earn credit for co-op experiences, and projects may be included in student portfolios, too. Few experiences offer such a win-win formula as the homeschooling co-op.