Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our homeschool co-op

Someone wrote and asked about our weekly homeschool co-op. Here's the skinny:

We have seventeen families, with 45 or so kids in grades 3-8. Every child takes writing and an elective. Over the years the electives have included documentary production, logic, electronic art, hands-on geography (with water tables and scale models), urban planning, stage combat, Shakespeare, and stop-motion animation. This term's options include chess, film analysis, art, and debate. Interesting stuff, classes we'd probably travel to participate in, but are relieved to coordinate in one place at a reasonable price. There is a math team (MOEMS) for 4th and 5th grade girls and a visual math class and a chorus after lunch.

We hire teachers for each class. I particularly value this for writing, because by the time a child reaches age ten I think it's hard for parents to teach writing. That has nothing to do with parental ability, and everything to do with the fact that writing is inherently personal. No matter what the topic and no matter how objective a mom may be, a kid is going to take a mom-critique too personally. It's life.

I like having hired teachers because it allows my kids to work with adults who aren't Mom. They learn with the same group of children from week to week. Invariably there's a kid who is disruptive, one who can't keep up, and another who's way ahead of the crowd. This is good: learning to deal with annoying people is a life skill one can't live without, and learning where you fit on the yardstick of ability is useful, too.

One of the less-spoken-of benefits of co-op, though, is the benefit to the mothers. While the kids are in class we have chatting time and book groups and parenting discussions. Next week, for example, I'm going to present the ideas in Martin Seligman's new book about the research on what one can do to foster a sense of well-being in life. My book group just finished reading Conversations With Great Teachers.

When your child is very young you know you need a support group; when your kids are pre-teens it's far less likely you'll still have one. But whether you homeschool or not, it's important to have friends off of whom to bounce key questions like "How much of this is normal adolescence, and how much of it is that we need to see a psychiatrist tomorrow?" I get that kind of feedback at co-op. It's a good thing.

As for the logistics, you need a core group of 3-5 people to figure out the basic structure, and to do the planning and scheduling. There are other groups for planning speakers for moms, hiring teachers, coordinating payments, setting up a refreshment schedule and so on. Pretty much every mom has some job; it is a co-op, after all!


  1. Tried to find the book about great teachers. Who is the author? Was only able to find one about great thinkers.

  2. Bill Smoot. If you click on the title within the blog post, it should take you to the right page on Amazon.

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  4. I am happy to see that your group read my book, Conversations with Great Teachers. I can tell you that doing those interviews was one of the more inspiring experiences of my life. They are a fascinating cast of characters, and I am humbled that they were so generous with their time.