What is a co-op exactly?
Co-op is short for cooperative. I looked up cooperative on dictionary.com and found the following useful definitition.
A jointly owned enterprise engaging in the production or distribution of goods or the supplying of services, operated by its members for their mutual benefit, typically organized by consumers or farmers.
So, for the purpose of this article a homeschool co-op is a group of homeschoolers who are working together to provide services that benefit its members. That’s a pretty broad definition, so there are lots of different types of groups that all fall under the co-op umbrella.
Types of Co-ops
There are co-ops that offer instruction and reinforcement in traditional subject areas. Some of these are curriculum specific. For example, many Tapestry of Grace users participate in local co-ops with other users. This gives them a place to do projects together, have discussions, and unit celebrations in a larger group setting.
Classical Conversations is another example of a co-op that sets much of the curriculum for its members. Classical Conversations and other similar groups pay their instructors, so many would not consider those groups true co-ops. But I am including it because it fits into the above definition. The paid instructors are usually mothers of students in the group, and these types of groups have many of the same advantages and disadvantages of traditional co-ops.
There are other co-ops that offer enrichment activities only such as art, physical education, computer classes, foreign language, chess, etc. These co-ops may be large groups meeting weekly for a wide variety of classes or could be as simple as a group of homeschoolers who take field trips together.
Possible Advantages of Co-ops
Since there is such variation between co-ops,all the listed advantages and disadvantages may not be true for all co-ops.
- Opportunity to meet new people
- Extra incentive to work hard
- Good venue for large group projects and presentations
- Wider variety of subjects available than is practical at home
Possible Disadvantages of Co-ops
- Loss of independence in choosing curriculum
- Extra Expense
- Requires additional time and planning
- Forced to rely on other people to be prepared
Finding an existing co-op to join is sometimes difficult because the good ones are often full. Starting your own co-op is always an option. When starting a co-op it is a good idea to start small. Get to know the people you will be working with on a smaller scale before tackling a large project. The success of a co-op is dependent on its leaders and how well they work together and communicate with the members.
It is certainly not necessary to be a member of a homeschool co-op to successfully homeschool your child. However, if the opportunity to participate in a co-op that is consistent with your homeschooling goals arises, I think it is an chance worth taking. You never know all the ways you and your family could benefit unless you give a co-op a try.