Tailor Made Co-ops

Because I am vertically challenged, clothes off the rack almost never fit me. If I want clothes to fit just right, I have them tailor-made. I found the same principle to be true in my family’s home schooling adventure. Our family required a custom fit.

When we first began home schooling 22 years ago, options were few. Now, home school co-ops offer a variety of classes. There are DVD and online classes as well. Still, the available options do not always meet a home school family’s needs.

Ten years ago I faced that dilemma. Two co-ops existed in our community and a DVD course was available, but none of those options were the right fit for my high schooler. Knowing my teenage son needed more than I could give him, I tried to craft a solution.

Teaming with other moms of sons near the same age, we formed our own co-op. Our biggest academic challenge at the time was chemistry. We hired a retired teacher to teach the class, while we helped with the experiments and administered the tests. It worked so well the first year, we continued for two more years, adding several more classes such as writing, history and literature!

We discovered the natural competitiveness in boys fueled more scholastic effort compared to when only mom saw the test grade. They started to compare scores and suddenly began trying harder. After three successful years, the co-op ended when the boys graduated.

A tailor-made co-op came to the rescue again when I needed help with my youngest two students. Being at the tail-end of a large family, they were sometimes short-changed when I focused on the needs of their siblings. So, we needed help to enrich their educational experiences.

We decided to gather weekly for a science class with another family. The other mom and I selected a textbook to use and established our syllabus together. We traded off teaching and gathering supplies.

In our weekly class times, we completed art projects, experiments or activities that enhanced the science we studied at home. Knowing that we would be at our friend’s house to study together on Wednesday mornings kept us on track the whole year. The result was our best year of elementary science. Our tailor-made co-op was a perfect fit!

There are numerous co-ops in Texas, many of which you can find listed at thsc.org/homeschoolgroup , but if you can’t find one that fits your family’s needs, don’t be afraid to create your own. Then, keep it going as long as it meets your home school goals, whether for creative outlets, the tough subjects, or all-girl or all-boy “distraction-free” learning.

Keys to a Successful Co-op

  • A Good Core Group

To have a successful co-op, partner with families that share similar goals for home schooling. If you have wildly different approaches or expect different outcomes, it will not be a good fit. When two or three like-minded, core families establish the rules and manage the expectations, other families can join if your approach meets their needs.

  • Excellent Communication Among Parents

From the start, it is vital to discuss everyone’s goals for the co-op. Establishing student expectations and parental responsibilities will help prevent problems. Some questions to address include:

  1. Whether grades will be given
  2. Whether parents can drop off their students or they must stay
  3. Which curriculum will be used
  • Reasonable Division of Labor

Not every parent likes to teach, nor should every parent have to! There are other responsibilities such as coordinating the calendar, group purchases, planning field trips or activities, and finding ministry opportunities. If all parents contribute, this lightens the burden for everyone.

Advantages of the Co-op

Co-ops offer several advantages for the busy home school mom.

  • Accountability

The set calendar and planned syllabus help students stay on schedule academically. Before we established the co-op, a family crisis could derail our year. But, the co-op helped us push through, stay on track, and finish classes well.

  • Group Participation

A rich level of discussion occurs when more students are involved, particularly with high school students. Students talk about what they believe and how to defend those beliefs, which develops maturity and thinking skills. At the same time, they are exposed to other people’s thoughts. Because the co-op is in our home, I am present to hear what my students are exposed to, and we are able to discuss these ideas later.

For instance, we discussed the Civil War this year. During the discussion, we discovered a wide variety of opinions from the girls in our class about the causes of the war, the quality of the Lincoln presidency, and the results of the war. This forced all the students to think more deeply about their positions and to decide if they could defend their viewpoint. My girls and I had great conversations after class talking through their different ideas.

  • Variety of Classes

With several moms teaching subjects, we can offer more variety than I could individually. For example, this year we took a dual approach to Biblical studies. In the first semester, we examined inductive Bible Study methods. In the second semester, we did an in-depth study on a Biblical book, which is something I had desired to do for several years.

  • Higher Standards

For many students, knowing that someone outside their family will seei their work heightens their efforts. This year, we added group critique to our writing co-op. Consequently, my students learned editing skills and are now more careful with their own work.

  • Home Environment

Because our “class” takes place around the dining room table, we maintain the unique flavor of home schooling. Chatter breaks out after class and my daughters enjoy the sweet friendships they have developed through the co-op.

It might seem daunting to begin a co-op, but it is worth it. I am grateful every time the Lord has helped us find a solution. If your home school needs to be “taken in” a little here, and “let out” a little there, try tailoring a co-op of your own to find a perfect fit!


Author: Susan K. Macias. Published in: Review – Spring 2017. This article is reprinted with permission of Texas Home School Coalition and the author. It originally appeared in Review magazine. Visit THSC.org