Co-ops for homeschoolers are wonderful at any age!
A co-op is simply a cooperative effort by two or more homeschool families who agree to meet together regularly to learn about stuff together. Some co-ops are formally structured, include many families, meet in a church for extra space, and last all school year long to completely cover certain subject areas. Others are very casual, involve only a couple of families, meet in homes, and add supplemental activities to subjects already being studied by each family independently. There are as many variations of co-ops as there are homeschooling families.When my oldest started high school, we joined a co-op with several of the other moms who now make up 7 Sisters, and studied a number of subjects together every Thursday, taking turns teaching based on our own areas of strength and interest. Those mini-class settings were really helpful in preparing my kids for learning under a teacher other than mom, someone who didn't have the same approach or the same weaknesses that I had.When my kids were in the elementary and middle school grades, my sister Allison and
I had a weekly co-op for many years. Each summer we would decide what subjects we'd like to do together in the next year. These years of co-op were often delight-directed, and we had wonderful adventures learning things together with lots of hands-on activities and lots of bonding among the kids.Many homeschool families co-op for science and social studies in the elementary years. But there are lots of other really terrific things to do in a co-op that you might not have thought of before. Here are some of my favorite memories of co-op in our early years:- Packing a wagon to take on the Oregon trail. We researched the amount of space in the average wagon, the list of supplies most families tried to take, and we used representational items of similar size to try to pack our "wagon" (dimensions marked on the floor with masking tape) and still have room for people to ride as well. It was an adventure!
- Book club with costumes and food and games from the book. Allison's two older kids were book-lovers from the womb while my oldest was a later reader. By planning activities based on a book we were able to encourage them all to really think about the material in the book. We also learned about other cultures as we ate food or celebrated holidays based on the reading we did from another time and place. Newberry Award winner Sarah, Plan and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan would be a great fit for this type of activity. Click here to view excerpts from the study guide in our EBookstore.- Making a movie. It required a lot more effort to make movies several years ago, and even so the effort was well worth it. Now that almost every home has an easy way to shoot video, this is a really easy, rewarding activity. Here's a video some of our kids made about Columbus and his journey to America.- Cooking class/basic nutrition. I liked letting the kids make a mess of my kitchen. Allison was not so much a fan of kids in the kitchen at her house. So we did some cooking together at my house, and all of us had fun!- Photography. With lots of kids around, there are plenty of models available. We played with light, perspective and location while the kids were still really young, and they came up with some very imaginative ways to visually capture ideas, feelings, and stories in portraits.- Producing a mini-drama. Dress-up meets story-telling and encourages public speaking skills! It's never too young to get them started on good communication skills that will serve them the rest of their lives...plus give them fantastic memories!- Art/music appreciation. Allison has a degree in Art History, and her love for art made the kids excited to learn about the different styles of paintings or sculpture we studied. We also had fun with an introduction to classical composers; there are lots of great book and CD collections available that facilitate this activity, and we found our kids really enjoyed listening and learning together.- Writing progressive stories. For the reluctant writers in the group, progressive stories are a great way to encourage and empower. Here's a vlog explaining how to do it if you haven't tried writing a progressive story before.- Creating a newspaper. Kids LOVE creating newspapers! Chronicle your homeschooling and family news. Creating a newspaper is a lot of work, however, so doing it with a co-op divides the labor and makes it less intimidating.
My 11th-grade homeschooled son Jonah is in several classes at our local day-school. Here's why:
I love the accountability; Jonah loves the socialization!
Groups are better for some types of learning. They just are.
A class discussion can only go so far with just one or two of you in the room. Our World Lit. class at our dayschool just tried "Aeneid Speed Dating." 27 students made an inner and outer circle, and had 30-second snippets of time in which to compare the notes they'd made on the most important plot elements of Books V-VIII of Virgil's Aeneid before moving on to the next student. By the time they had worked their way around the circle, they had all the info they needed to create a sequence of major plot elements based on the common observations of every student in the class. Fun!!
Book clubs are a really easy way to add some extra social learning time to your homeschool. You don't have to commit to a full one-credit, year-long class with others for literature; why not organize a once-a-month book club with a few friends and add some titles to your book list for the year that might be really good for discussion? The titles in the EBookstore from our Great Christian Writers series really lend themselves to great conversation, and books like Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place, Brother Andrew's God's Smuggler, and John Bunyan's classic work Pilgrim's Progress should not be missed.
Drama productions have been a blast when we've cooperated with other homeschoolers in our local community. (By the way, with Christmas right around the corner, why not download the FREE script for The Christmas Carol War, an original play I wrote for use with young people? You still have time to pull together a group of young actors for a Christmas drama adventure!)
The Ebookstore has lots of resources, many of them free, for starting a drama club or class, or planning a Drama Camp theater intensive for homeschoolers in your area.
Foreign Languages definitely work better in groups. Kym Smythe, one of my "sisters" here, teaches Spanish and Russian classes at our day-school. Our friend Brigid offers French, and I teach a little Latin. For spoken languages, you really have to have interaction with others to practice your conversational skills. Even for Latin, a dead language, we really enjoy working through translations together, chanting noun declensions and verb conjugations as a group.
What group activities do you enjoy participating in with other homeschoolers?
We wanted the kids to earn their transcript credits in Economics, Geography and Consumer Math/Financial Literacy.
We DIDN'T want them to tar and feather us.
So we prayed for inspiration and came up with the following approach that has been an absolute blast so far this year:
We meet every other week for an all-day co-op session.
We are weaving Economics into our study of Geography (Economics on the macro level, looking at systems, supply/demand, GDP, the connection between government and economies, international trade and the like). And we are weaving Economics into our study of Consumer Math and Personal Financial Literacy on the micro level (consumer behaviors, spending/saving, taxes, business models, budgets, banking, financial planning, etc.)
The kids have an hour or so of class time on each branch of study each co-op, and then have a mix of traditional homework (consumer math from a traditional curriculum) and student-initiated learning and lesson-prep. Topics are assigned to each student, and they research and prepare for the next co-op meeting, teaching their classmates what they've learned about the assigned facet of the subject at hand.
For a glimpse into our co-op, check out our blog at HighSchoolGeogAndEcon.wordpress.com.
What are you learning in co-op format this year?
Subjects like Social Sciences are more fun when you study them with homeschool friends in a class or co-op. Our co-op used Vicki's Human Development from a Christian Worldview last year, and the discussions and enrichment activities were so much fun in a group!
Here are some ideas for co-op activities that you may never have thought of:
* Make a movie. Take a book you've read in literature, or a historical event you've studied, and make a movie about it! Here's one our kids made years ago after studying about Columbus.
* Write progressive stories together. Here's a vlog I made to help you get started:
* Produce a mini-drama. Bring to life characters you've met in books you read this year. Have a potluck supper for all the families involved, and sit back to enjoy the show after dessert!
* Try photography. The kids take turns being the model or the photographer. Or they can all take shots of the beauty of nature.
* Write a newspaper. Kids love to tell others what they're doing in their homeschool. Collaborating on a newspaper for family and friends is fun!
* Kitchen chemistry. Google ideas for simple kitchen experiments with common household items and play mad scientists together.
* Cook up some fun. There's usually at least ONE mom in your circle who doesn't mind kids making a mess in her kitchen. The rest of you volunteer to buy the ingredients, and hold basic cooking classes for your co-op.
What co-op ideas do you love for your younger kids?
What if social skills are a little under-developed?
Vicki's Social Skills for Children can help. Click here to see how!
Because I want to smile today (and get out the door to Human Development and Civics co-op on time), and maybe someone else wants to smile, too...
A Homeschool Co-Op Acrostic Poem
honoring the wonderfulness of co-ops!
Hurry up and grab your stuff
Or we'll be late for co-op.
Mommy has to stop and buy
Some experiment we're trying;
Could you grab my totebag, please?
Homework done and in your folder?
Okay, we are good to go.
Only co-op fun could make me
Leave the house without another
Cup of coffee, but I know I
Otherwise will miss the friends,
Openness and fun and learning.
Please get buckled! Off we go.
This week we're all about co-ops for homeschool classes. I'm a big fan of using a syllabus to keep the class on track.
A syllabus is technically an overview of the course of study for a subject.
Some people are organizational mavens who create a super-detailed syllabus...and then intimidate everyone else by trying to adhere rigidly to it no matter what life may bring.
That doesn't sound like much fun to me. I've already adjusted a syllabus for one co-op class this year and completely re-done it for another!
Flexibility is important, but if you don't have a plan at the start you don't have accountability for yourself or good communication of your expectations for the other families who are participating in the co-op.
One other plus to using a syllabus --- your college-bound kids will already be proficient at following one before they meet their first professor freshman year!
Curriculum for one-semester courses and full-year one-credit courses in the 7 Sisters EBookstore come with helpful tools for organizing your syllabus in the front of each ebook. You'll find tips on planning for the chapters and enrichment activities, plus a chart that explains how to earn the credit at average high school Level 2, College Prep Level 3, or Advanced or Honors credits at Levels 4 & 5. Click here to view excerpts.
Here are 5 easy steps to creating a syllabus for your homeschool co-op:
1. Decide what your overall goal is.
Are you trying to complete a textbook? Cover a certain number of key units? Log a certain number of hours in experiential learning? Complete a certain number of projects/presentations for each kid in the co-op? Prepare for a particular event, like a geography fair, or a holiday celebration, or a festival? If you begin planning with your overall goal in mind, you are scheduling your syllabus backwards from the finish line. (Have you downloaded our FREE time management resource, Scheduling Backwards? Click here for a .pdf that will help you tame your calendar!)
2. Divide your goal by how many co-op meetings you have.
If it's a textbook, divide the chapters. It it's hours, divide the hours. If it's projects per kid, take the number of projects times the number of kids and divide that by the number of co-op meetings you have available.....then figure out how you will fit x number or presentations into each co-op! It it's preparation for an event, think backwards from the date of the event and split up the major pieces of the assignment appropriately.
Find out any family trips that are planned, problems with scheduling that anyone foresees, level of commitment to the co-op. It's very frustrating to create a syllabus and have projects or field trips or activities planned and then discover that two out of your 5 families weren't planning to be there that day. It's less of a problem to factor in those absences early-on than it is to handle it unexpectedly down the road.
4. Type it all up in a simple, 3-column format.
DATE -- WE WILL COVER IN CO-OP --- HOMEWORK DUE NEXT TIME
If you don't have specific homework assignments nailed down for every meeting yet, that's okay. Especially if you are team-teaching, you have to leave spots that say things like, "Complete Mrs. Groop's assignment" for a homework slot that isn't yours to decide. It still provides an overview of what everyone can expect, with calendar dates running straight down the left margin for easy reference.
5. Distribute it multiple ways.
Email it to everyone; post a copy on a group, or on a bulletin board if you meet somewhere public; hand everyone a printed copy. Keep a couple of extra copies in your own co-op notebook. Syllabi have a way of growing legs and walking away! They often have to be replaced for students...and their parents.
One last thought:
Are you organized and love this stuff, but you're not the teacher for co-op this year? Your friend who is super-creative and fun and a wonderful teacher is, but she also is random and hard to coordinate with.
Why not offer to create a syllabus for her? You two can have a cup of coffee together as you gather the information you need to pull a syllabus together. Remember that she is not required by law to follow it to the letter! So don't get huffy if she deviates. But you may find you really blessed her by helping that way.
Are you a fan of using a syllabus? Why or why not?
The image of homeschooling on the couch or around the kitchen table is warm and wonderful, and there are still days in our homeschool that look like that. But especially now that my homeschooler is in 10th grade, we are studying many of his academic subjects cooperatively with other homeschool families.
Why? There are several reasons I love homeschooling in community like this:
1. Greater exposure to various teaching styles
If all his life my kid has only had me teaching him, reaping the benefits of schooling that is tailored to his learning style, he will likely struggle after graduation when he must learn on the job or in college classes from someone whose teaching style is quite different from mine. I want him to be exposed to a variety of teachers throughout high school to prepare him for this eventuality.
The curriculum we develop for the EBookstore is adaptable for use in co-ops and classes. Click here to view titles for Literature, Writing, and unique items like Intro. to Psychology from a Christian Perspectiveand Human Development from a Christian Worldview (one of the titles I'm using this year in a co-op!).
Cooperative learning environments give him greater accountability opportunities - following directions from an adult who is not his parent, peer pressure (the good kind!) to do his part in a group activity, responsibility to set an example of perseverance and respect for younger children in the group.
I think I'm a lot of fun. Sometimes my kid agrees. But strange as this may sound, he seems to have MORE FUN when we are learning with other people.
4. Variety of perspectives
Class discussions are a little lean when they happen in your own kitchen with only your family present. They become really lively when people from a number of families engage in them together. We love discussing our subject matter with the others in our co-ops and classes. It deepens our own learning experience.
For this year, we are doing almost all of Jonah's classes with other homeschoolers. Some of these subjects meet in a traditional small co-op setting with a few families. Some meet in a homeschool day-school, or umbrella program...there are different names for it, but the essence is that it's a one or two-day per week gathering of over 100 homeschool high schoolers who take one or more classes there and then complete work for the week at home with mom.
10th Grade Cooperative Learning Adventures for our family this year:
- World Literature (I'm teaching this one, but he's with 25 other students)
- Chemistry (thank You, God, for a class for this one, or I'd be stressing!)
- Algebra II (and thank You, again, God!)
- World History and Philosophy
- Latin I (I'm teaching this one to Jonah and 2 of his buddies)
- Human Development from a Christian Worldview (Have you seen my board on Pinterest for my lesson plans and resources as I develop them?)
- SAT Prep using SAT for Dummies
What are you learning in co-ops or classes this year in your homeschool?
I waxed all nostalgic when I posted about our homeschool co-op last week. Every co-op ends up with stories to tell- some triumphant, some amusing, some will never be lived down...
One of our co-op legends came at my expense over 10 years ago:
We had been studying the federal works projects in the 1930's, so we decided to take our co-op kids to the Conowingo Dam. It started out well enough- only raining a little bit (it ALWAYS rains on co-op fieldtrips). The boys (being good kids who never used fowl language) were enjoying the "legal" edgy talk:
"We're going on a dam field tip..."
"Look, there's the dam river..."
"Do we get to see the dam turbines?"
Everyone enjoyed the dam parking lot speed limit sign: "12.5 mph".
Then came the actual dam tour. Turbines, tiles, offices, turbines, tiles, offices, turbines, tiles, offices...
For kids from kindergarten through 14 years old, it was excruciating. By the time we were able to politely wrap things up and escape, the kids were feeling a little miffed and out-of-sorts. We trudged through the drizzle back to Marilyn's big, black 15-passenger van and clambered in. Being compassionate moms, we allowed the young teens to pop their Joy Electric pop-synth cd on, but our own nerves being fried, we quickly switched it out for Enya.
My 13 year-old daughter had had enough. She began to complain quietly- quickly answered by my scowl...
Her arms crossed and she put on her vinegar expression.
Now, I'm telling you, I work at being a model Mother. I never let a kid know she's pushing all my buttons (ok, everyone quit laughing). Instead, I give my kids back the ownership of their own bad behavior. My daughter was embarrassing herself- not with her words, but with her non-verbals (and we do a lot of homeschooling about Social Skills and non-verbals).
So, I informed her so that she could own it and self-correct: "Joanna, you're embarrassing yourself with your non-verbals!"
What followed next was laughter- the kids all thought that was the most bizarre thing a mother ever said. So bizarre, it must have been meant to be funny.
To this day, "...embarrassing yourself with your non-verbals" is an adage. Even at Joanna's wedding, Dana (Joanna's best friend and Marilyn's daughter) squeezed it artfully into her speech at the reception.
So, while an EPIC FAIL as a parenting ploy, it was an EPIC WIN at being legendary.
(And nobody forgets their non-verbals anymore....)
What is one of YOUR homeschool legends?