Why is the homeschool community so pushy about its co-ops?
When I tell someone that I homeschool, do you know what their first question is? “What co-op are you in?”
They automatically assume that I am a member of a co-op if I tell them that I homeschool. I can’t escape this assumption.
Yet, after trying various co-ops, I’ve given up on the co-op experience for our homeschool. They don’t work well for us.
I used to be afraid to admit that I homeschool without a co-op, but I’m letting go of the feelings of guilt and obligation surrounding co-ops.
I’m finally learning that it’s ok to homeschool without a co-op.
It’s taken me years to admit this to myself and feel at peace with our decision. The guilt still creeps in occasionally, but I just remind myself of a few truths whenever I struggle with whether I should be in a homeschool co-op.
Co-ops are rarely truly free.
While many co-ops are free or low cost, I find that there always seems to be added expenses such as snacks, backpacks, and bags. Or there can be the expense of supplies for co-op class -things you need to purchase for your children’s classes or things you need to enhance a class that you are teaching. Whenever I’ve taught or helped teach a class, it never fails that I need to pick up a few supplies and not all of them have been reimbursed.
The co-op curriculum may not perfectly fit your style.
Depending on the type of co-op you join, you may need to adjust your curriculum or your year plan to fit around the co-op classes. Some co-ops follow certain curriculum while others teach enrichment classes that are an “extra” enhancement to your year. Either way, you might need to reevaluate your plan for the year to make room for the subjects and curriculum being taught in the co-op.
There might not be class options that interest each of your children.
If you have more than one child that you are homeschooling, you might find it an added challenge to select the classes that best fit each child. What might work well for one child might not work at all for a child with a different learning style. A co-op might not offer what each of your children need for a particular school year. And if you need to be present during the co-op day, your children might need to take “filler” classes just to have a full schedule during the day.
Getting out the door each week might be more trouble than it’s worth.
If you’ve ever had to pack up several children and get them out the door in a timely manner, you know the struggle involved. No amount of planning the night before can make it easier when the baby suddenly has a dirty diaper, the toddler throws a tantrum over her shoes, and older children start arguing. It can be utterly exhausting to get out the door and the value of the co-op might not offset the work it takes to get there on time each week.
Co-op moms can form cliques.
You are now an adult and you thought you were safe from the middle school mess of cliques and mean girls, right? Wrong. I have found that co-ops tend to foster this type of mentality. There are lots of comparisons as moms form smaller groups within the co-op. What should feel like a unified co-op begins to feel unfriendly as a whole because some members have segmented themselves into smaller groups.
No one needs added drama.
Each co-op I have participated in has had its fair amount of mama drama. There is always someone upset about something or someone who is frustrated with another member. When you put a group of tired moms in a room together, the result is not always pleasant and gracious conversation. You might want to skip the added drama and stress that comes with a co-op.
Your time is valuable.
A true co-op requires that all moms volunteer in some way. This means that you’ll spend time prepping lessons, teaching, cleaning, or watching little ones. I don’t know about you, but since I spend all my other days teaching my own children, I don’t want to spend extra time teaching everyone else’s children or creating more lesson plans.
You can provide a tailored education.
Homeschooling allows you to provide an individualized education for each of your children – working at their pace and addressing their learning styles and learning needs. A co-op is like a tiny school in many ways. The classes are geared for the middle of each age range, which means that they might not always address your child’s educational needs.
Flexibility and free time are valuable assets in your homeschool.
Co-ops can cause you to feel tied down to a set schedule. They can also use an entire school day, leaving you only 4 days (or less) at home to complete schoolwork. One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility to tailor your schedule, have time off whenever you need it, take extra field trips, and allow your children lots of time for free play and exploration.
Co-ops can lead to burnout.
Did you think a co-op would save you from burnout? That’s not always the case. In some ways, I think a co-op can contribute to burnout, because you have to prepare extra lessons and plans for the co-op classes that you teach or co-teach. Having to be at the co-op every week can be tiresome and finding a substitute if you are sick or out of town can be challenging. Co-ops can feel like another responsibility piled on top of the huge undertaking of homeschooling. This added responsibility can lead to feeling tired and burned out.
You know your kids best.
God gave you those kids, and if He called you to homeschool them, then He’ll equip you for that job. You really can homeschool your own children well without a co-op. No one knows their needs, learning styles, and learning challenges better than you do. Therefore, you are well equipped to address all of their needs and challenge them to continue to love learning.
A friend of mine said something to me that has really stayed with me for several years. She said, “God didn’t call you to homeschool everyone else’s kids. He called you to homeschool yours.”
Wow! That was such a great reminder to me that my first job is my own family. I know my kids best and I’m called to educate them first and foremost.
For now, I’m devoting myself to the task of homeschooling my own family while finding enrichment activities outside of formal co-ops.
Now, don’t get me wrong! Homeschool co-ops can work well for many people.
They can provide a sense of community and support. They allow you access to people with expertise or passion in certain subject areas. They give you a chance to teach a class on a topic you enjoy. They allow your kids to fellowship and spend time with other homeschool friends. They can help keep you and your children accountable and motivated through the homeschool year as you meet together with other like-minded homeschool families.
Co-ops can be an asset to your homeschool.
However, they aren’t necessary for homeschool success. You can effectively homeschool without a co-op. Your kids will be ok without the co-op experience and you might find that your weeks are more relaxed without having that one more thing on your to do list.
Don’t feel guilty if homeschool co-ops aren’t quite your style.
Be brave! Skip the homeschool co-op and create a custom education for your children. And take a few extra field trips (and days off) while you’re at it!