Monday, September 14, 2015

What I've Learned About Co-Ops

This is my thirteenth year of homeschooling.  One of our boys has graduated and is in his first year of college, after taking two years off, in an honors program.  Our second son will graduate high school at the end of this school year, and our youngest son is in fifth grade this school year.

We became involved in a small co-op, that was just starting out, in our first or second year of homeschooling.  After two or three years, the lady who ran that co-op decided to leave, and I and another lady decided to take over because we didn't want to lose the co-op; both we and our children enjoyed it.  We ran it for about three or four years and then passed it on to someone else, but we continued to be involved in co-ops every year.

Now, let's define what a co-op is and what its definition is.  In our area, all of the co-ops we've been a part of, which is a total of four over the years, have been run the same way, and from what I know from talking to other homeschoolers in other co-ops, it seems that the majority of co-ops in our area are run the same way.  That is that moms have to teach or be a helper in a class and classes consist of children in several age groups or grades (i.e. Pre-K -- K-5; 1st - 3rd; 4th and 5th or 4th thru 6th; 6th - 8th or 7th & 8th; and 9th - 12th grades).  Each class is similar to a school classroom as far as a teacher teaches the subject and there is a helper in the room to help in whatever capacity is required.  The main differences between a co-op classroom and a regular classroom is that if kids are wiggling, it's okay, if they are drawing while listening to the teacher, it's okay, and the teacher tries to include activities that work for all of the learning styles, which means the class requires listening skills, visual skills, and hands-on activities.

Now, here are two definition for the word 'cooperative', (co-op for short), 1) involving mutual assistance in working toward a common goal, and 2) a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.

As I thought about the meaning of the word cooperative, I began to think that the co-ops in our area have stretched the definition and created something similar to school, and I have to admit, that we chose to homeschool for several reasons:  because our boys were facing issues in the Christian school we had them enrolled in that I didn't think we needed to deal with; because we want our boys to grow up knowing and believing in the one, true God and we wanted that to be part of their everyday learning; because we want them to know the truth of history; and because we want them to be able to learn at their own pace according to their interests.  (The first two reasons were our original reasons, the last two reasons have been added over the years.)

Our two older boys have enjoyed these co-ops throughout their school careers, and our youngest enjoys them too.  However, for me, this year, I began to desire something different.  I want our youngest to experience some of the things that our older boys experienced when they were younger that are currently missing from our homeschool.  Also, I was struggling with some of the things going on in our current co-op, mostly administrative things.  Then a friend came to me and expressed similar thoughts, and we began talking about what we really want and we started writing ideas down and brainstorming.


So, what's new?  Our brainstorming session actually turned into a plan; a plan we were going to begin next school year, and that we were praying about.  Then God stepped in and set the timing for us.

My friend and I each had a homeschool mom call us and ask us for help because the Governor of PA shut down some charter schools, and the one they were going to send their children to was now not operating, and school was to begin by the end of the week.  After these conversations, I called my friend and she and I were talking about this situation, when we both received the same text from a mutual friend asking about getting together once a week for a physical education activity.

We saw that as three affirmations that our plan was a good one.  We also saw it as God telling us we need to start it this year, not next year.  So, we got together again and finalized the plans.  Then we spoke to the ladies, and they loved the idea.

Today was the first day of our new homeschool group, which we are not calling a co-op, even though it actually is what the definition of 'cooperative' says it should be.  We are using a Unit Study approach and including kids from 1st to 12th grade, although our current group is 4th through 12th grade students.

Now let me tell you what we did today, as this is the plan for each week:
At home, before we had our first meeting today, each of the families involved, read an assigned section of The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli.  This is a book about Medieval times.
Today, I taught an English lesson based on the book, discussing literary elements and which ones are in the book.  Then I gave them two short writing assignments that must be completed in two weeks, as next week we will not have English.
Next, another mom taught History, and she went over the feudal system and how people each had their specific place in the community from the King, to the Lords, Barons, Earls and the Clergy, to the Vassals (knights) to the Peasants.
Then another mom taught Art, and she had the students make their own hardcover books that they can write and/or draw in because in Medieval times, the monks made their own paper and books.
Then we had a lunch break and after lunch, another mom taught a physical education class, where the students played two games that children in Medieval times played.  That ended our day.

The plan for next week will be:  one mom teaching Science, two moms working together to teach Geography, one mom teaching Music, lunch, and then everyone can go home or just socialize for an hour or two.

During week three, we will finish the book with:  me teaching another English class, another mom teaching an Architecture/Art class, another mom teaching History, lunch, and one mom teaching cooking Medieval food.

A week later, we will be going on a field trip to a museum that will be having a Medieval theme exhibit.

So, that's the new plan:  all moms participate and work together for a common goal, all activities are related but include multiple subjects; all students work at their own level but everyone gets to participate together and learn from each other and help each other.  And, we are a small group, and we plan to keep it that way because we meet at a mom's house and rotate houses each week so that it doesn't become a burden to anyone.  We all bring supplies and share our resources.

The results of the first week, according to the students:
1)  It's fun, and I can do more here independently than I can at the other co-op.
2)  I really like it because it's more relaxed than the other co-op and I was able to talk to other people, and I liked that it was on a Monday because it gave me something to look forward to over the weekend, and now it helped me to feel like doing school the rest of the week.

The results of the first week, according to the Moms:
1)  It is fun and relaxing because we participate, but also have some down time in between and there's no pressure about time frame as long as we end by our end time.
2)  It is more community-like and less stressful.

We are all looking forward to continuing this homeschool group.