Encouragement Homeschool

Working Homeschool Moms – Let’s Talk About Co-ops

Among homeschoolers, conversations of co-ops and other groups are popular. This can be a touchy subject–with some finding themselves needing to make a difficult decision about joining or leaving a group. Many love their co-ops, but some are avidly against the entire idea. When addressing the unique challenges that face working homeschool moms (or dads), co-ops and other groups may be something to embrace…or to avoid altogether. In all honesty, and after experiencing it for myself, utilizing co-ops may or may not be a helpful thing for the working homeschool family.

Do you work and homeschool?  Check out our working homeschool moms resource page that contains more articles about how to balance homeschooling and working.

Close up of kids painting

What Is a Co-op?

According to Google, the word co-op actually means “a cooperative society, business, or enterprise.” In real life, though, the term co-op is kind of a gray area. As far as homeschool co-ops go, some are more of a social group, and others are a structured series of events. While all have children and their education as the focus, unless you are involved with a major curriculum-based group, most co-ops look very different from one another. Some cost a good bit to join and require huge time commitments, while others are completely free with much less effort. Some have much parent involvement, while others are pretty disorganized. Some meet once a week every week to cover all subjects, while others focus on field trips or elective-type classes on a monthly basis.

In a picture-perfect world, these co-ops are designed to increase your child’s learning and social skills development. Many co-ops tout providing your children with opportunity to cultivate friendship and acquire unique life experiences. These groups are a great place to allow one’s child to do those messy things that you would never dream of doing in your home–like the explosive science experiment or the day-long painting project or covering those subjects you have no knowledge of. Co-ops also give your children a taste of learning from adults other than yourself–which for my children can be quite helpful for accountability. Families join in hopes of not only providing an outlet for their children but also of finding a place for parents to connect with other adults. It can be a wonderful place for mothers to meet with other like-minded ladies–a safe place to find comfort and encouragement for those days that we need a shoulder to cry on. With the right group of people, co-ops can be a huge blessing and can be super fun for your kids.

But sometimes co-ops can have negative consequences too. When getting a large group of primarily women together, whether or not the group is faith-based, certain things have great potential to appear and often do. Drama, gossip, and bullying can easily grab traction and spread rapidly. Even things like comparing one’s child or an over-competitive nature, whether intentional or not, also commonly creep in. It can be a place that is more toxic than one would expect. The potential for children to gather into cliques–which I personally have great distaste for–may happen regularly. At times, the behaviors of some children can easily be compared to those in other more traditional school systems which I am trying to avoid. As working homeschool moms, we need to decide if this is something we want to invest in or not because frankly, in the end, it may cause us more trouble than it’s worth. We left the school system for so many reasons, and we may discover that a co-op provides the perfect setting for certain behaviors and junk to reappear.

And then there is the topic of time. I’ve stated several times, working homeschool moms tend to be a breed completely separate from others. Time crunching is something we understand all too well. Our finely tuned schedule requires meticulous attention to detail in order for it to all flow smoothly. Joining a co-op or group does not just mean adding in an extra one-time couple of hours to your already busy schedule. In many co-ops, there is actually a lot more that comes with it, and it has potential to squash any of that left over flexibility you have available. You will most likely acquire weekly responsibilities where you not only have to deal with your kids but other people’s kids too. Your children will have new tasks to complete–some which may require a lot of time. You will have one more place to rush to frequently.

Overall, you may have to neglect other priorities to make it all fit neatly into your week. Other parts of your planned schooling may even suffer to meet the demands of your group. There will come weeks, sometimes several in a row, where you just won’t be able to make it to the meeting or gathering or you will just want a break. Things will be scheduled at the last minute, and other families may or may not understand why you won’t be able to suddenly change your schedule to fit with the group. And (gasp!) you may even being judged for working. {Long sigh…} In the long run this all can be a serious energy sucker and will be counter-productive to your original reasons for joining the group.

Being a part of a homeschool group or co-op is not an easy decision or something easy to follow through on in working homeschool families. This post is definitely not intended to be negative toward homeschool co-ops and other groups. I know many who find their groups to be a huge asset. And if I had the opportunity to join certain ones, like my friend, Tanya’s, I would. Instead, this post is meant to be real. I was in a co-op and found it to be an increasingly difficult thing for our family. I so wanted it to work, and I did my best to stay positive, ignoring certain things. The curriculum choice was part of the issue–it was based a large amount of rote memorization. Due to my children’s learning difficulties, rote memorization is a problem. But, it was the social dynamics of the group that finally pushed me away.

If you feel the pull to join a co-op, I urge you to consider what I’ve mentioned. It may be more beneficial to join clubs with specific interests which are closer to your children’s ages than it would be to join a large co-op or group (although I am on the hunt for a field trip group). In my experience, dropping out of our co-op was a wonderful, freeing decision. It has allowed us a huge amount of flexibility that we did not have for a long time. Instead, my children participate in church activities (including Awana and youth group), 4-H, sports, and music lessons. In the summer we do other things as well. But I am only responsible for my own children. And I can end it at any time if it becomes too much. This takes off a huge amount of stress. There is no more feeling pressure from other parents and no competitive junk to deal with either. I’m not homeschooling to impress anyone, so it’s nice to have that tension lifted.

I may go back to a co-op someday, but I just don’t see how it will benefit us at this time. I am too selfish with the time I have to share it, even if that means less social time for my kids and me.

Do you work and homeschool?  Check out our working homeschool moms resource page that contains more articles about how to balance homeschooling and working.

Are you a working homeschool mom involved with or considering a co-op or other kind of homeschool group? Please share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear from those who have had great co-op experiences as well as those who choose to steer clear of them. 

About the author

Heather

Heather is a Christian gal who lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she married her high school sweetheart in 2001. She has 3 children ranging in ages from 4-12. Asperger's and sensory processing issues are also in the mix. At this time, Sonlight is their main curriculum which Heather and her husband find nice for the working homeschool family. Heather juggles the responsibilities of being a part-time RN and police officer's wife. She has a reputation of creating kitchen disasters, but loves collecting new recipes and learning about natural, holistic living. Also in the family is a bunch of animals like chickens, goats, a few dogs, and cats....

7 Comments

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  • Co ops – well, well, well. I’d love to participate but as a working parent there isn’t much time or flexibility for me to do so. However, I do participate in some of the field trips or activities of several. It’s a mixed bag for us as we have kids that seem a bit older in most cases. We’ve also looked at Tutorials where parents don’t teach – however, there is a fee for these.

  • A few years ago I would have said co-ops are worth the added trouble, but now that I have had the experience of being in one, I disagree to a point. In theory, the idea of a co-op is nice and I am sure there are great ones out there, but I have found that when you get a bunch of parents involved in anything other than a simple playdate, competition, jealousy, cliques, and yes hurt feelings with adults and children tend to come into play. My advice for anyone thinking of joining a co-op is to look for a smaller group. This will help with “clique” issues. Also, be picky! If you want a secular or Christian faith based group, don’t join the other. If you want this, or that, then wait to find this or that type group or heck create your own. But most of all, if the idea of co-ops don’t work for you then own it and don’t feel bad about it. There are so many other things that kids can get involved in 😉
    ~> Great article btw. I think the topics of co-ops are on a lot of homeschooling parents minds, especially working ones. Definitely a post that I plan to share with a homeschooling working parent group I am a part of.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I quit going to co op last year. I kept coming home after the once a month co op in tears. Enough was enough ! This year I am not involved in any at all and my sons and I just go it alone but it has been a much better year for us than the other years we were in a co op. The LORD helps so much when we ask for direction on what to do in theses situations 🙂 Thanks for sharing this. It was a help to me. Blessings ~ amy

  • My daughter has used co-op for several years with her homeschool teens. She also teaches at co-op. This way subjects she needs help with, such as human anatomy or biology, can be covered by someone who is better equipped, and she can help them by teaching art history, studio art class, and creative writing.

    She has also been involved with a different co-op in the past that she couldn’t wait to get out of. How well it works depends on the people involved in it.

  • Wow! So sad to hear such negative experiences. I am really thankful for our group. I appreciate the support of ladies in the same situation as me. Being able to ask “how they handle…” Or “how they liked….curriculum.” Being able to problem solve with others or discuss changing state laws.

    I’m only homeschooling one (out of two) of my kids right now so it’s just him and me most of the time. The co-op gives him the opportunity to get together with others kids and practice listening to someone else for instruction. I also appreciate the field trips. Sometimes it’s just plan a lot of work to plan a field trip for my “group” of one. In our group someone else may plan one that interests them and we join. Or I may plan one and others join us.

    And while sometimes it would just be easier to stay home and keep plugging away at stuff, I’m always glad I went.

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