Homeschool co-ops are a great way to socialize and fit in some group learning. If you’re sold on the idea of co-ops, but there isn’t one in your community, what can you do? Start your own homeschool co-op!
However, you might have come to this article and not know what a homeschool co-op is, so you don’t know if you want to start one or not. If that describes you, then check out What is a Homeschool Co-op? (And Should You Join One?)
Starting a Homeschool Co-op
The easiest way to start a homeschool co-op is to ask your homeschool friends or local homeschool group if anyone is interested in starting a co-op with you. Maybe you have some friends in mind that you want to ask. Or perhaps you know some homeschoolers who share your family’s values and ideas or who have similar-aged children.
If you don’t have a local homeschool group, check our blog post of Canadian Homeschool Support Groups on Facebook. Get connected with a local group, make friends, and then consider starting a co-op. It might be best to meet up several times to get to know other homeschoolers before committing to running a co-op. Co-ops need everyone on board to run smoothly.
What are all the things you need to consider when you are starting a co-op?
Different Types of Co-ops
Co-ops aren’t all the same. There are many different types ranging from social groups without teaching to very academic groups focused on one subject or curriculum. You will need to decide what type of co-op you want to start.
The first type of co-op is a co-op that focuses only on one subject. This works well with nature study, science, and art in particular. However, one thing to consider is that you have to have enough people who want to do one subject for the duration of the co-op. You could choose to use a single curriculum or a variety of curriculums or ideas to run this type of co-op.
A second type of co-op is perhaps not really a co-op by the strict definition, but it is a group that meets up for social time. The group might meet up at a park, the pool, a hiking trail or member’s houses, and they might switch it up depending on the season or week by week. This type of group doesn’t need as much thought or work to put together.
Variety of Subjects
The third way to run a homeschool co-op is to have a variety of subjects where parents sign up for a slot of whatever subject they want to teach (or organize a speaker/teacher to come in and teach). Some co-ops are so large that they can have multiple classes at once running for different ages. Other co-ops are smaller and kids get taught as a big group, or divide up with one group being taught one thing at their level and then switch (this takes two teachers and usually two different areas of a building to accomplish well). For this type of co-op a parent could follow a curriculum to teach it, or they could teach based on their own general knowledge and skills.
Using a Particular Curriculum
Another way a homeschool co-op can be run is to use a particular program or curriculum that is designed for co-op use or that has guidelines of how to use it in a co-op. Most curriculums and programs have rules about how their product can be used in a co-op setting. Check the rules first and make sure they are followed. This might be the easiest way of running a co-op in terms of decisions. You just follow the program.
Something to consider when starting a co-op is whether you are starting a secular co-op, a neutral one, or a faith-based group. If you are a faith-based group, would you have a statement of faith that members need to agree to? Would you expect any beliefs to be reflected in the teaching? If you are a secular or neutral co-op, how do you feel about faith-based materials being used or taught in your co-op? Make sure all members are clear as to what the expectations are.
What will be the various roles needed in your co-op? Decide who is going to cover the various roles such as teaching, set-up, clean-up, nursery, snacks, communications (like emails or messages/texts/Facebook group posts about group news like if its canceled that week or what to expect that week). Do you need all these roles?
You will need to have a clear understanding of how many times and in what capacity each parent is going to be volunteering. You will also need to consider what you are going to teach or what is your role in the co-op?
You will need to have a list of rules in place to make sure your co-op runs smoothly. Have rules for things like set up, clean up and if children are allowed to be without parental supervision. You will need to consider if you will have rules around child protection if parents are not staying with their children. You will need to consider adult/child ratios and how many families can join your co-op.
Another consideration is what will happen if the person leading or in charge that week is sick. What will your group rule be for that? In our group, we handled this by asking if anyone could cover, and if not, then we met up for a park time or hike. Once or twice we canceled altogether as so many families were sick. Which brings us to an important consideration…what to do about sickness.
Will you have a sickness policy? Or will you just allow families to make their own choice. The reality of groups is that sickness is going to circulate regardless. I think its a good idea for families to remain at home until all family members have been free of fevers and throwing up for at least 24 hours. However, everyone is going to have a different comfort level about this. Its wise to discuss it ahead of time before a family shows up with some of their children and others at home in bed and someone in the group has an issue with that!
Consider who will be covering costs and managing finances. It can be difficult to collect money from others the day of co-op. You don’t want to be chasing people for a few dollars each. I find it works best and is simplest for each parent to cover the costs (if any) of what they are planning and it will mostly even out by the end of the year. Parents can decide what they are comfortable spending when it’s their turn to organize or teach.
Another approach is to plan only free or cheap activities. You could also have it be mandatory for participation for people to e-transfer ahead of time the funds needed for an activity. Other groups charge a membership fee that covers costs for the year, but it can be difficult to know ahead of time how much to charge. Your group could set a budget together and stick to it.
Finding a Suitable Date and Time
What day of the week will you meet, at what time, and how often? Schedules can get tricky and some people are more flexible than others.
Fridays seem to be a popular day for co-op as its the end of the week and everyone is ready for something different.
You will also need to decide on the time of day to meet. Mornings are nice because kids are fresh and its not nap time for littles, but afternoons are nice because you can still homeschool in the morning…who wants to come home and homeschool after a morning at co-op?! Babies and toddlers can always nap on the go if needed and if parents are flexible. Playpens could be set up or parents could use baby carriers or strollers. You will have to ask your own group members what they are willing to do.
Another thing to consider is are you going to meet weekly, biweekly, monthly and the benefits/drawbacks to that (if you are only meeting once a month and your family is sick, you’re going to have to wait a whole other month to go again.)
What is the age group of the children in the co-op (is it for any age? Just high school? Just elementary?) Consider the kids that are available and then make a decision on what your co-op would look like. Keep in mind that many homeschool families have a variety of ages of kids they are homeschooling. Some even have a child in every stage or almost every stage!
Think through snack times and have a plan. Is there going to be one? Hungry kids are cranky and don’t listen well, so I highly recommend it. Should parents bring their own, or will there be someone in charge of bringing something? Are allergies a consideration, either due to the location where you are meeting and their rules or due to a group member? I recommend sticking to simple: every parent brings their own children’s snacks and water bottles. Keep the snacks nut and peanut free. Check with group members and the location you are meeting at to see if there are any other specific allergen concerns you will need to avoid.
Finding a Location for Your Co-op
One of the most important parts of starting a homeschool co-op is finding a location. However, finding a location for your co-op can be tricky. Here are some options and things to consider:
Using member’s homes and either picking one or two families that will always host, or rotating through member’s homes, is one option. The drawback is that the home needs to have a space big enough for all the co-op members, and some families don’t want to host that many people in their home.
Outside is a great option, but you have to consider weather as well. Will you cancel if the weather is unfavourable that week? Or will you adapt with the theory “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing?” Will you have another option if you don’t want to or can’t meet outside that week, like a member’s home, the library, pool or other public space you could meet at for an alternate activity?
Churches are a common space for co-ops to use. Oftentimes churches have policies about community use of their spaces. Be sure to inquire about insurance and how that works. A group member might already belong to a church which helps open the door for communicating with that church about using their space for the co-op.
It is important to fully understand what is expected of you when using the church’s space. Which areas is the church allowing you to use? Are some spaces or items off-limits? Check if there are any rules about noise or children running around. Is it expected that you are to vacuum when the group’s time is complete? Make sure to check the bathrooms one last time before leaving and make sure everything is presentable. Churches can be very generous, often letting groups meet there for free, but you don’t want to lose that privilege! Be sure to also check if there might be/will be dates or times that the space you are using won’t be available.
Check with your town or city about using a community center. Often these are available during the day. However the cost of using these spaces might be prohibitive. You also have to consider if the building is always open, or who in the group will pick up the key or if there will be someone available to open the building for you.
Another big drawback of using a community center is that someone will have to be in charge of collecting the money for using the center. I suggest having it be a one-time payment per family for the year, preferably done by e-transfer, regardless if the family is able to come every week. You don’t want the headache of chasing down people to pay up.
Also, be sure to check which areas of the community center you are able to use, what the expectations are for clean-up, and inquire about if you need insurance or is it included.
What To Do About Insurance
Check with the space that you are using about insurance and what is available or required. If you need insurance, a popular way for homeschoolers to get insurance is to join Homeschool Legal Defense Association Canada (HSLDA). All groups who register for free with HSLDA gain access to a private secure insurance link on their website where competitive group insurance is offered through other companies. There are also various perks and discounts available to those who decide to go this route. Contact HSLDA Canada for more information.
You certainly don’t have to follow a particular curriculum to run a co-op. You don’t even have to follow a curriculum at all. Your co-op could simply meet up for social time, field trips, outdoor time, hikes, or other activities. You could have each parent decide what they want to teach based on their own skills or general knowledge. However, if you want a little more structure, there are many homeschool programs that offer co-op options. Make sure you follow the rules of each curriculum with regards to use within a co-op setting. It’s not fair (or legal!) to use homeschool curriculum in a group setting without permission of the publisher and following their particular rules or guidelines. When in doubt, ask!
Check with your favourite curriculum to see what options they have for co-op use. Some popular curriculums with co-op options that I am aware of include:
Curriculum for Writing
Brave Writer is a publisher of homeschool writing curriculum. Check out their rules and guidelines of how to use their products in a homeschool co-op setting.
WriteShop offers homeschool writing curriculum for primary through to high school grades . They offer guidelines on how to use their curriculum in a co-op setting on their website.
Institute for Excellence in Writing is a curriculum provider for teaching writing. They offer help on how to use their products in a co-op setting on their website.
Curriculum for Social Studies
Northwoods Press is a Canadian company that provides Canadian social studies curriculum and books. Their guidelines for using their materials in a co-op setting is as follows: permission to reproduce worksheets is given to the original purchaser for a single homeschool family. Families in a co-op should each have their own copy of the curriculum in order to use reproduced worksheets in homeschool or a co-op class. The teacher of a co-op class may use Northwoods Press curriculum for lesson material, but is not permitted to make copies of worksheets for multiple children in a co-op setting.
Notgrass is a curriculum provider of history and geography curriculum. On their website they offer guidelines and ideas for how to use their products in a co-op setting. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Creating History is a curriculum provider from Canadian teacher Mike Zietsma. They offer their high school level Canadian Civics Course in co-op format! Check out our review of this course. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Curriculum for Nature Study
Exploring Nature With Children offers nature study topics for a whole year of nature studies. From their website: “I am delighted for the Exploring Nature With Children curriculum to be used with co ops, I just ask that it is not shared, either electronically or by making copies. If the participants would like their own copies, I do offer a discount for co-op members. Please contact me directly at: email@example.com for further details.” Exploring Nature With Children also gives guidelines on how best to use their curriculum with a co-op! Note: this curriculum is Christian-based
Treehouse Nature Study is another nature study program. They offer a group license for co-ops or groups. They have a page on their website outlining how to use their program in a co-op setting. Note: this curriculum is made by a Christian company.
Homeschool Nature Study is another option for a nature study program. They offer a membership and say on their website to contact them for co-op pricing.
Curriculum for Science
Apologia is a curriculum provider that produces curriculum for many subjects including science. Science is often one of their curriculums that people choose to use in a co-op setting. You can access their guide and information about using Apologia curriculum in your homeschool here. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Journey Homeschool Academy offers science and Bible courses. They have a page explaining use of their curriculum in a homeschool co-op setting. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Science Shepherd is a video-based homeschool science curriculum. They have a page explaining how to use their program in a homeschool co-op setting. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Curriculum for All Subjects
Gather ‘Round is a unit study curriculum offering a vast array of units at levels from pre-school to high school! They offer a Group License and guidelines for how to properly use their program in a co-op setting. Note: this curriculum is Christian-based.
Curriculum for Art
Art can make a great co-op class! Masterpiece Society offers a variety of art programs from preschool to high school. From their website: “You can purchase a co-op license by contacting me at: alishagratehouse [at] gmail [dot] com. The price is $150 (2.5 times the retail price) and it may be used for up to 25 students. If you have 25 students in your class, each student is only paying $6.00 instead of the $60.00 they would if they each bought their own course. If your classroom or large co-op has more than 25 students, you’ll need to purchase a second license, which is good for another 25 students.”
There are probably lots of other curriculum providers who offer ways to use their programs in a homeschool setting. You can also do a search by subject and “homeschool co-op” like “science homeschool co-op” and see what you come up with. Remember to contact your favourite curriculum company and see what they have to offer for co-ops!
Common Challenges with Homeschool Co-ops
Any group of people mixing together has the potential for conflict and problems. By carefully planning and having clear rules and clear communication, a lot of problems can be avoided or dealt with easily. Some of the most challenging situations when running a co-op include:
Teaching Multiple Ages
If you have a larger co-op and lots of parents willing to help, then this will be less of an issue for you. You could split up the children into ages or levels. However it is probably best when starting a co-op to start small…which presents the problem of dealing with many ages and levels. My best advice is to pick something to teach that can be taught at different levels and have different expectations. For example if you are doing an art project, introduce the project first, then expect the older students to take it further. Consider breaking up the older and younger students into two groups if there is enough space and help to do so. You could also break up the older and younger students into two classes- one plays/hangs out in a separate area while the other does the lesson at their level, then switch.
Having Enough Help
It can be difficult to find enough help to run a co-op. Start small and simple and you won’t need as much help to keep things running! Remember, only add to the co-op once you are sure you have enough parent volunteers!
Homeschool co-ops are going to have costs involved. Your group will have to decide how best to handle this. Warning: don’t get stuck funding something up front and chasing people down to send you the money! Have clear expectations of how costs will be handled in your group.
These are just a few of the more common challenges you might encounter while running a co-op. Remember: there are also so many positives to running a co-op! Thoroughly think through how your co-op will run and then enjoy the learning time together!
Free How to Start a Homeschool Co-op Workbook
Want this list in a printable format? Grab our how to start a homeschool co-op workbook free!
Final Advice for How to Start a Homeschool Co-op
Remember: keep it simple and start small. Make sure all the expectations are very clear to all co-op members. Once you have experience and if things are going well, you could decide to add to it then and expand on your ideas. You don’t want to get started and realize that you over committed to a huge project. Co-ops are supposed to be fun and enjoyable most of the time!
Homeschool co-ops can be a great addition to your homeschool and if there isn’t one available to you, starting one can be a great opportunity for you and your family.
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