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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tips for starting a Co-op

I am on my 3rd co-op this year (that I have started on my own), so I thought I would take a moment to share some tips for those of you who are not lucky enough to have a local co-op you can join.  (I will be honest though I would much prefer to join onto one, than start my own, but there are definitely benefits to starting your own as well).
To give you some background, the first co-op I started was for 2 year olds, it was more like a glorified play date.  Myself and 3 friends got together once a week at my house and we did some organized educational activity (hands on, learning through play).  This one was pretty simple to form, I charged like $5 for the year, for supplies, and we rotated who brought snack.  I planned the activities, they were themed base, and pretty simple in nature, but included story time, fine and gross motor and music. 
The following year, I started up a preschool co-op for children ages 2-4 years old (with the help of a good friend). We met at a co-op member’s church.  My friend and I came up with what we wanted out of the co-op, and a general plan on how it would run and costs, we drafted a contract, and then held a meeting with those interested.  For this co-op, we rotated teachers among the mom’s, the lessons were theme based, and set up as centers, for the kids to rotate through.  we charged $20 for family, the contract required 50% participation, help to clean the church once that year, participate in an adopt a family at Christmas for the church, and the remaining funds at the end of the year were donated to the church for use of their facilities.  Most of us already knew each other, and things worked out very well.  We met one day a week, and the person in charge of teaching also brought snack.
The year following, most of the current co-op went on to public or private preschools, we were the only family that was planning to Homeschool for the long haul, so we joined onto another co-op that was already established.  This co-op met locally at a church and included Pre-K through 12th grade!  I was very impressed with this group, and hoped we would find something similar after our move.  We only attended one semester, but would have stayed on for the long haul without a second thought.  If you are in the Frederick, Maryland area and looking for a co-op, I’d be happy to give you their information!
Currently, we found ourselves in a new state, without any homeschooling leads, despite the hours of research I put in.  Finally some doors started to open, but most groups were full, didn’t have co-ops or only geared toward older kids, (I have a 5yo and a 2yo).  So I ventured out to start my own…again…but this time completely blind, as I knew NO ONE else that homeschooled here. 
So here are my tips for starting  your own co-op:
1.   Decide what YOU want to get out of a co-op, what subjects do you want to cover?  Why do you want to be part of one.  Afterall, if you are starting it, you want it to work for YOU.   *I decided that I wanted an art and music co-op, these are subjects that I felt were more fun in numbers, they aren’t key subjects and there is much more room for flexibility.
2.  Research curriculums, or decide if you want to just have the mom’s do their own thing (like the 2nd group I formed).  Keep in mind some mom’s would feel more comfortable following a format.  Draft a contract.  Here is a copy of the contract I have for our current group.
3.  Decide on a meeting spot to hold your co-op, a public location would be best, but I wasn’t able to find anything local, so I opened up my home. (I don’t really recommend this, if you don’t know the people…so make sure you see #5)
4. Find other mom’s who are interested, join join local homeschooling and mom groups/forums.  Post ads on Craigslist or other local ad sites. Word of mouth is great, those interested will probably know others that may be interested. It is my experience that a HUGE number of people say they are interested, but as time goes on these numbers start to dwindle, so don’t be overwhelmed if you get a big response. 
5.  Arrange a meet up in a public place, I used a park. You want to meet the interested individuals, get to know them some, meet their children, see how they interact with the other kids there as well.  This is especially important if you will be holding the groups in your home, or rotating through the other mom’s homes.  Open it up for questions, show what curriculum plans you have, etc…  You may have to schedule more than one meet up, to get everyone there.
6.  Don’t be offended or get your feelings hurt if people decide this is not for them.  This is an important one for me, I found that even the few people I KNEW and was counting on to participate were backing out sort of last minute, others after meeting the group decided it wasn’t for them.  It was hard for me not to take it personal, but I had to remind myself, not everything works for everybody…it’s OK!
7.  Be flexible, even though I said you want this group to benefit YOU, you also want it to benefit others, make compromises when necessary and possible.  Let the co-op work for everyone involved.  (At the same time, know what things you are not willing to budge on, ie sick policy, fees, etc..)
I initially set out to start a 2-4 yo old Pre-K group and an Elementary group, only the Elementary group made it through the first stages, we had our first co-op meeting on Aug 16th, and it was successful.  We will be having our 2nd this week.  There are some kinks we are ironing out, but so far…so good! 
For our Elementary Co-op we have a set Art curriculum (open for supplementation as felt necessary by the teacher), a set music curriculum, and a science experiment to be chosen by the teacher of that class. 
For Art we are using Adventures in Art, it’s a discontinued Elementary Art program that I found on ebay by Laura Chapman.  For Music we are using Pfiffer Music and will be using http://www.classicsforkids.com/ .  We also have an Art appreciation center set up for the kids who finish their art project before the others.  Supplementations will be made where ever felt necessary.

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    1. Wonderful post and some really great tips. Thank you for linking up at NOBH.

    2. The Carnival of homeschooling is up, and this post is in it. Please help us all out by spreading the word.=)

    3. Thank you for this post. I am also considering starting a co op in my area. ~Miss Nirvana @ http://www.nirvanahomeschooling.blogspot.com/

    4. These are some great tips! I commend you for being such a starter and putting yourself out there. It seems like such a big venture to take on. I am new to the NOBH crew and wanted to stop in and thank you for linking up to NOBH!

    5. I'm impressed that you were able to get these co-ops organized, there is so much that needs to be thought of. Your post also made me appreciate our co-op more. We are fortunate to have a co-op that meets once a week and have classes for K-12, plus a preschool group for siblings. We couldn't join just to go to the preschool, it is a place for the younger siblings to go. I love helping out in preschool, but our esteemed leader seems to think I can teach this year, now that I did such a "great" job teaching a geography/global art class on Guatemala last year. Problem is, I am completely blanking on ideas this year.
      Anyhow, thanks for these great tips and for sharing on Throwback Thursday.


    Thank you for leaving a comment, I love to hear from my readers!


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