United Church of God

A Guide to Homeschool Co-ops

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A Guide to Homeschool Co-ops

Every family must assess their needs and abilities when considering their children’s education. This informational guide may be beneficial if you are considering homeschooling. It explains what a co-op is, how it works and how to join or start one.

If you’re a parent or teacher who is considering sharing skills, providing social opportunities for your children and networking with other parents while teaching your kids at home, a homeschool co-op could be a special opportunity!

What is a Homeschool Co-op?

The choice to homeschool your children can present both challenges and blessings. Teaching children a broad variety of subjects across multiple grades can be daunting, so many parents have turned to homeschool co-ops to supplement their children’s education.

A homeschool co-op is a group of families who meet regularly and combine resources to help meet the educational and social needs of their children. Many families choose to combine traditional homeschooling methods with membership in one of these groups, and some church congregations have even started their own co-ops.

The purpose of a homeschool co-op is often multifaceted. A homeschool co-op can be a much-needed resource for homeschooling parents who need subjects taught that are outside their comfort level or time available to teach. These groups often offer classes such as physical education, art, speech, language arts, writing, math, government and science. Especially at the high school level, having a co-op that offers higher-level math and science (with labs) can be an incredible help for parents.

For students, co-ops offer social interaction and the opportunity to work with other students in group situations. Learning how to work within a group is a much-needed life and career skill. Team learning can be especially hard to practice in a home setting with few other students.

A homeschool co-op can function in many ways. Some homeschool co-ops are geared towards facilitating social interactions for kids. These co-ops may keep it very simple and offer more social opportunities: play dates, field trips, dances, art classes, karate, gymnastics, etc. The primary design is to give parents and kids the opportunity to do group activities. Additionally, co-ops can help negotiate lower prices for classes within the community which might be too expensive for individual families. One homeschool mom shared, “Our family has taken part in gymnastics classes, taekwondo, archery, 4-H riflery, ballet and other classes through co-ops that were able to get us a much lower price that made those classes affordable to us.”

Other co-ops are run more like a school setting. They will offer an array of classes that are on a schedule. Usually, you can sign your student(s) up for one or multiple classes within the co-op. One example is a co-op that was run by a professor from a local university. He ran his group like a college, allowing students to sign up for courses scheduled throughout an eight-hour day. Students could sign up for a one-hour course or up to eight hours of classes. This is one of the more structured examples—most co-ops have a somewhat looser structure.

What is it Like to be in a Co-op?

No two homeschool co-ops are exactly alike. There are many options to consider when choosing a group for your family or starting your own.

A homeschool co-op varies in curriculum and classes. Co-ops will usually offer a range of classes for a range of ages, elementary through high school. For the younger ages, subjects such as art, physical education, history and science may be the main focus. For older students, co-ops can provide help with classes such as science labs, SAT prep and advanced math. Subjects that are taught well in a one-on-one setting, such as reading, are usually taught at home.

Classes in the co-op are usually taught by parents who have an affinity for or expertise in a subject. The number of subjects offered will depend on the size of your co-op and your pool of students. Some co-ops offer a very defined focus, offering only classes such as science or math. Most often, a wider range of classes is available.

The curriculum is often chosen by the person teaching the class. Some major homeschool curriculum companies commonly used in the co-op setting include: Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), Apologia Science and Math-U-See. Finding a curriculum, however, is not difficult. It can be more challenging to narrow down which of the available options to use.

Meeting frequencies and locations may differ by group. Most co-ops meet once per week. The students gather for the class portion and complete their coursework at home throughout the rest of the week. It’s rare that co-op classes entirely replace at-home learning. Most parents enroll their students in a few co-op classes and teach the rest at home. Many parents find value in choosing the curriculum and personally teaching their children as much as possible.

Homeschool co-ops often meet in a local church building that has open classrooms available during the week. Some co-ops meet in homes. For specific classes like archery or taekwondo, participants meet at those specific locations.

Joining a Co-op

It’s important to consider the pros and cons of joining a group with a religious affiliation. Some home-school co-ops are secular, and others are labeled as Christian. Since there are benefits and disadvantages of each, it’s important to determine which would be the best fit for your family and the unique considerations that come with our beliefs in the Church.

The secular co-ops try to leave faith out of the equation. This can make it easier for those of various faith backgrounds or those without a religious background to join. You are not required to attend a specific church or share a set of faith-based beliefs to be a part of the group. Much like a public school, these groups will represent many different beliefs and lifestyles.

Christian co-ops can be geared towards members of a particular faith. The group organizers can define them however they want. Some are more general “Christian” co-ops that are open to people of different faith backgrounds. They tend to focus more on common values and shared morals. However, even these types of co-ops often include an agreement which must be signed to show that you agree with and support their “Statement of Faith.” This almost always includes a statement about belief in the Trinity. Sometimes it is possible to negotiate an alternative agreement with the organizers. However, this is not a given.

The membership cost should be considered when joining a group. There is usually a fee associated with joining a co-op. This could cost something like $25 per family per year or $25 per student per year. In addition to the membership fee, there is generally a “class fee.” Some classes may be relatively inexpensive, charging $10-25 per student per class to offset the costs of supplies. Other classes, especially classes with labs, may cost several hundred dollars per student. Many groups fundraise to help offset the costs of running the co-op and to keep membership costs down.

Some co-ops are almost as expensive as private schools. These tend to be run more like a private school. Others may charge tuition of well over $1,000 per student per year with a fee schedule based on class credits.

Because of the costs associated with joining a co-op, some parents have considered starting their own
homeschool group. However, depending on your budget, joining an existing group can save time or may be more convenient if a family already has many other time commitments.

Starting a Co-op

Starting a local church co-op can be very beneficial to families in your congregation. If homeschooling feels overwhelming, you may have considered starting your own co-op to share support with other families and develop lasting relationships. We interviewed two homeschool moms who shared how their respective congregations started homeschool co-ops and how these groups benefited families in their areas.

The Candlesticks Academy

Liz Creech, a pastor’s wife and mom in the Indianapolis, Indiana congregation shared the following:

“The co-op began after holding a meeting to gauge interest. Parents and a few additional adults in the congregation were willing to offer their time to provide classes for the kids, so we decided to go for it. We began in the middle of the school year, which was not ideal, but decided to use this as a time to iron out any bumps in the co-op organization and process. We meet at the Indianapolis church hall and supplies have been provided by the parents who are teaching a certain subject. The children decided on our logo and name.

“This year, we met once a month. Ultimately, we decided to have 40-minute classes with a five-minute break in between. Classes begin at 10:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch. Children age five and under meet in a separate classroom to work on age-appropriate skills. Ages 6-13 work in a large room together. The subjects offered are history, science, art, language arts/writing and community service. Sports are offered and coached by volunteer parents. This past winter and spring the kids played basketball and learned the fundamentals of that. All children are welcome to join us for any part of the co-op that they can, even if they are not home-schooled.

“Parents or local brethren sign up to teach a class with an agreed-upon theme. We have had different countries be our theme, Women’s History Month, etc. We all use different curriculums to homeschool our children, so no specific curriculum for the co-op is used.

“The children are expected to be respectful, helpful and engaged. They love spending time together so keeping their attention means teachers also must be engaging and encouraging. All students are on different levels academically, so floating assistants are extremely helpful in the workspace.

“We will be holding a meeting at our next co-op to discuss next year’s plans. Making sure everyone is on the same page is vital to the success of the co-op. Not everyone is expected to teach each week; it is really designed for just the opposite. However, all parents should be active participants in helping the co-op be edifying for all.

“One issue we have had is that parents or children who do not homeschool have had hurt feelings regarding the co-op. They feel as if they are being left out of the fun. Navigating this has been slightly difficult as they look at it as a church activity when it really is not meant to be. However, all children are welcome to join us at any time they are able to. We certainly do not want to cause a rift between homeschooled and non-home-schooled children at church.

“We have had few costs associated with the co-op thus far due to parents handling supplies. We will most likely need to fundraise for next year to pay for any field trips, supplies or extras needed.”

Ripple Homeschool Co-op

Valerie Creech, a homeschool mom in the Cincinnati East, Ohio congregation shared the following:

“The purpose of Ripple (our co-op) is to get together with those of like minds and form lasting friendships while covering core subjects in a fun and engaging way. A few of us who homeschool in the congregation were thinking about joining a different homeschool co-op together. After looking into it I decided it was not the best fit for our family. It was quite expensive and there were so many activities that we would not attend, due to our beliefs.

“At Ripple we wanted to provide the option to get together once a week during the school year. Twice monthly we rent a free room from a civic center for two hours and have more structured time. We start by introducing the theme for the day with a game/skit or short lesson on the topic. We break into groups and have three or four stations set up to provide hands-on experiences to cover our curriculum. We end each session with a group activity. We held a meeting at the beginning of the semester to decide themes for each week. We choose core topics trying to provide fun, engaging activities to supplement learning that is done at home, while also honing in on talents/passions that our moms/teachers have. Some of the topics we have covered are: Feast of Tabernacles show and tell, Mayflower (Thanksgiving), space, 50 states, Ohio, health, service, simple machines, famous artists, etc.

“I set up a Facebook group to organize and plan our events. The moms of the group take turns leading our meetings, setting up the Facebook event and planning the group activities for the day. In the Facebook event we post a schedule and activities we plan to cover. Moms volunteer for stations they would like to run and plan the activity and bring the supplies. The weeks we don’t meet at the civic center we plan field trips and service projects.

“I have limited participants to Church of God families. Although our main subjects are not biblical lessons, God is at the center of everything we do. I also wanted this opportunity to be a time for friendships to be nurtured. Church is our life and I wanted my kids to be surrounded with others striving to follow God’s way. Anyone of school age is welcome to participate, although most of our lessons have been geared towards elementary/middle school age. Depending on the subjects we have different stations set up to try to engage the children at their levels. I’m hoping to be able to provide a better setup for high school age students next year. Any younger siblings are always welcome to attend.

“Because I wanted all in the congregation to be able to attend and we have been blessed to rent a room free of charge, we have not had a fee to participate. After running the co-op for several months, I have found that it is not easy to provide supplies for around 20 children without any dedicated funds. We decided it would be best to do a fundraiser to help offset the cost of supplies and field trips, for those who need assistance.

“The mission statement for this particular home-school co-op reads as follows: ‘At Ripple we strive to be a small stone in creating a fun, safe space where lasting friendships are formed and minds are engaged. We do this by providing opportunities to get together with others of like-mind, covering core subjects with activities that complement learning at home. Twice a month we have more structured time to focus on a theme with hands-on activities that complete our curriculum. The other two weeks each month learning is done through exploring the world around us with field trips and service projects.’”

Additional Notes

There are some aspects of starting a co-op that can be challenging. In most areas, the members are so spread out that even if you have multiple families
homeschooling, they are not close enough to get together regularly. To help remedy this, some parents have joined online support groups, such as “Train Up a Child,” a Facebook group for Church of God families.

Other families have been unable to start a co-op because of the time commitment it requires. Because homeschooling can already be expensive, perhaps the best way a congregation can support families in smaller or more spread-out church areas could be to help members afford a local co-op rather than start one for in their local UCG congregation.

Perhaps the best way to overcome these challenges is to collaborate with others. As discussed earlier, some UCG homeschool co-ops welcome families from other Church of God groups. In some cases, you might be able to start a group with others in your neighborhood who are willing to be respectful of your family’s beliefs and scheduling needs for the Sabbath and Holy Days.

Consider checking with your local library. While it isn’t an official co-op, many homeschool families meet regularly at the library for classes such as chess, Spanish and robotics. Some may even meet to plan field trips. A librarian at a local public library may be a good resource for locating other homeschool parents in the area and group activities your family could join.

Despite the potential challenges, a homeschool co-op offers many benefits to its members. Choosing to educate your children at home is no small task, but working with a group of others with similar goals can help make it easier. So if you’re interested in starting or joining a homeschool co-op, we’d encourage you to take the first step! We pray that your homeschool co-op journey will be a blessing to your whole family.