One of the scariest parts of homeschooling is the feelings of isolation that come about because all of those stay-at-home moms you were friends with and had playgroups with now are sitting in carpool taking their kids to and from school, participating in class events, volunteering as the classroom mom, the Library helper, etc. or have gone back to work now that their little ones are in school.
The homeschool mom has lost her tribe of friends to hang out with and the homeschool kid has lost his/her friends to play with at the playground. What now?
Co-ops are excellent ways to meet people and make friends. And there are so many different types of co-ops that it’s hard not to find something that fits you and your kiddos’ interests and needs.
What if there isn’t a co-op near you? You have a two options.
If you’re homeschooling out in the country then don’t be afraid to travel to the nearest town. Even living in (well, ‘near’ really) a big area I often drive an hour to get to an awesome co-op. It is completely worth it.
But if driving that far isn’t an option or you just don’t want to drive that far, then start your own! If you are looking for those social opportunities then there is a really good chance others are looking too. What kind of co-op should you start?
Today let’s talk about one of my favorite types of Co-ops:
The Open, Year-Round Co-op.
This co-op is a no-commitment, all year long (12 month or just “school year”) co-op. The way this co-op works is every week on a certain day, at a certain time this co-op meets. You really only need about a 2-hour period. It is usually geared towards a certain age group (i.e. “Kinder” co-op for ages 7 and under) but remember that homeschoolers are typically at all different levels so you can make the age group fairly broad.
Each week a different family plans the activities for the group. Activities, topics, and meeting location changes week-to-week based on the planning family.
It is possible that for the first few months your family will be the primary planning family for this co-op, but I promise you that once people see how much fun this co-op is you will be able to sit back and reap the rewards. The key is promoting it within your local homeschooling community with lots of pictures of the fun activities each week to build interest.
I suggest keeping topics neutral of religious and political topics because this is an open co-op and should welcome families of all backgrounds. But you know your community best, and what kind of group you are most interested in finding.
The two year-round, open co-ops I have participated in are Kinder Co-op and “Big Kid” Co-op. The Kinder Co-op was ages 7 and under; “Big Kid” Co-op was late 3rd through about 8th grade although participation was primarily 4th, 5th, and 6th.
Here are some of the activities we have done in each group (to give you ideas):
Kid Summer Olympics
All About Airplanes
*A good start with the kiddos is to include a story, an activity, a craft, and a snack.
**Basing Kinder activities around holidays can be a good way to plan also. Don’t forget those holidays that are less obvious like Pi Day (March 14), Dr. Seuss’s Birthday (March 2), and Grandparent’s Day (First Sunday after Labor Day). You can always look up Fun Holidays.
Bigger Kids Co-op:
How Animals Learn
The Black Plague
What Causes Flooding
*For bigger kids, it’s a good idea to take a topic and narrow down to a part of that topic. For example, the Princess wanted to do Medieval History. That’s a lot to cover in a 2 hour period so we covered only the Black Plague. Pick a topic that has a lot of activity components- a game, simulation, etc., a project like craft, art, cooking, etc., some light reading (don’t overwhelm them or bore them by reading a lot), a video if you have access to the internet or video player.
**Try to cover subjects that a lot of homeschools miss at home. For us, that’s usually art, history, and science. Creative writing is a good one too.
Be creative and encourage other moms to be creative. This is an opportunity to learn fun and interesting things. This is an opportunity to engage your kids as well as others.
Planning where to have the co-op can often be challenging especially if you live far out. My favorite place is to choose local parks and playgrounds. When the weather is good, this works out great because younger or older kids not participating in the co-op activities can play during co-op; and before and after co-op participating kids have the opportunity to play and get to know each other better through play. And moms (or dads) can spend that play time talking and getting to know each other.
Of course, I have hosted at my house and been to other people’s homes. If your home is small inside, host it outside. One mom hosted at the airport. Look around you. There are plenty of places if you just look and be creative. Consider your group size, time, day and activities and maybe you can meet at the local Chick Fil A or mall. I don’t think there is any shortage of ideas of where as long as you are open to thinking outside the box.
Keeping the co-op “open” allows people to plan around their family. When they don’t feel obligated to attend because they might miss something important like a lesson in a series or they haven’t invested money in a specific curriculum they don’t feel bad for missing because a family member is sick or Grandma and Grandpa came to visit that week or it’s vacation time. Don’t worry though. If the co-ops are fun and interesting, families will keep coming. My kids look forward to our weekly co-ops and so do I.
There is always the possibility that you will not click with the other families for one reason or another. That’s ok too. With the co-op being “open” you don’t have any obligation either. Maybe you have to try a different approach to find people that are more like-minded so you find people you can click with. Or maybe you stick with this co-op because another benefit of it being open is that other people can (and hopefully will) join as they hear about how awesome it is and if you’re open in your heart to meeting new people, you will eventually find someone that fills that gap for you.
Good luck with your open co-op! Next week, we will talk about the Subject-specific co-op.
If you want information on any of the co-op topics and their activities mentioned above, feel free to contact me. If you have ideas to share, please comment here. Co-op topics are always much appreciated!