By Marsha Ransom
During the ten years that I've been homeschooling, our support group has flexed and changed according to the needs of the group.
When I first started attending meetings, the group had monthly, daytime meetings with planned activities for the kids. Several mothers planned activities around a theme. Someone entertained and read to the toddlers. Someone else would plan activities for early elementary, another for older elementary, and still another for middle school-aged kids. At that time, we didn't have any high school-aged homeschoolers. There were announcements and instructions, and then we broke up into groups to work with the kids. Moms with babies and clingy tots would help when they could. We had themes such as Famous Americans, Mexico, and Nature Study (which included a nature walk on a nearby hiking trail, gathering specimens, and then using all the references that families had brought to identify the goodies we found).
As the membership grew and the kids got older, it seemed that it was more important to have parent-only, night meetings to give the support that is so important. We still had occasional daytime activities, such as field trips or one-day activities, but not on a monthly basis. One day while ice-skating, one of the mothers asked me if I would be interested in teaching a writing class (she knew I had had some articles published). She went on to say that another mother in the group had been given a lot of chemistry materials and was setting up a lab in her basement so she could teach science classes, and that she herself was interested in teaching a craft class. I thought that sounded interesting, and by word of mouth we set up some classes. The only money involved was to pay for materials needed for the classes. Classes were held at the homes of the parent-teachers. This rather informal arrangement of teaching each other's children worked quite well, until the membership grew still more.
One day I received a phone call asking if I was interested in attending a planning meeting to set up a cooperative with a system of keeping track of which parents contributed time and effort, so that our group would not depend on just a few people to keep things going. That sounded good to me, and we met one evening and talked about the various issues involved in making the cooperative fair, keeping expenses and record keeping as minimal as possible, and establishing a few basic rules.
We decided that there sign-ups would be announced in our newsletter, and parent-teachers would be available on a certain night to explain the objectives of their class, to display the books and materials, and to answer questions. Payment is due by a certain date, allowing parent-teachers to purchase needed materials in a timely manner, before the classes begin. Class fees are non-refundable, because they are only used to purchase class materials. If a student can't attend a class for which they have paid, they are welcome to take the materials purchased with their class fee, and use it on their own. Since then, registration has been handled by newsletter announcement, followed by phone sign-up, and then payment by a due date.
Our cooperative is run in a fairly simple manner. There is a class fee that only includes materials needed for the class. There is an additional $5.00 per month fee for children with parents who do not contribute any time/effort toward the cooperative. Anyone teaching a class has the monthly fee waived. Also, this fee is waived for parents filling some other helpful position (making copies, class helper, checking homework, providing child care for a teacher's young children). Students have basic rules to follow while attending classes, and they receive points for cooperating in class, for example: "brought work to class", "was kind to a classmate" and "brought extra credit". At the end of each semester, points earned can be used to purchase small items (snacks, small toys, etc.) in a co-op store. The items for the store are purchased using the money collected from the monthly fees.
Some of our past classes include the following:
- Chemistry Labs
- Hands-on Physics
- Earth Science
- Creative Writing
- Arts and Crafts for Girls
- Cake Decorating
- Winston Grammar
- Self-Paced American History using a personalized reading list
- A "Written and Illustrated by . . ." © workshop.
We've been fortunate to have one member of our cooperative that is a very good record-keeper and is also willing to call members that forget to pay their monthly fees, or aren't keeping up with the promised contribution to the cooperative. Without her, things would have probably fallen apart quite rapidly.
Recently, we sent out a flyer requesting the presence of anyone in the support group interested in helping plan the continuation of the cooperative. We know that there are some who want high school classes, but we are looking for parents of younger kids to express their needs and wants for the future of the cooperative. Some have said that weekly classes are too much for parents with toddlers/babies still at home. We agree that family needs must come first and are open to any and all suggestions. I've enjoyed being involved in teaching classes at the high school level the past few years, while my younger kids have enjoyed taking classes through the cooperative, but now that my older two children are 20 and 17, both graduated from homeschool high school, it's time for me to be involved with planning activities for my younger kids, aged 13 and 9. The younger kids have been
homeschooled since the very beginning and are unschoolers more than "school-at-homers." They have found some of the classes to have so much worksheet type homework required that they aren't interested in taking more classes of that type. We're hoping to move most of our classes from our in-home setting to the classrooms of a local church, to save on wear and tear on the home and nerves of the homeschooler who graciously opened her home for classes the past two years. This simply means that the type of classes, the way parents are involved, and even the location can change as the group's needs change.
In conclusion, being aware of changing needs within the group so that these needs can be met, is the most important factor in keeping a successful homeschool cooperative going.
A Few Helpful Tips
KISS: Keep it Simple Sweetie!
* Start small: two or three classes with about ten kids (let each teacher sets a reasonable number) and grow from there
* Schedule regular planning/evaluation/support meetings for the parents
* Make a written list of duties so that each parent contributes to the effort
* Have a monthly fee in lieu of volunteering for those that absolutely cannot contribute now
* Require payment for materials soon after sign-up, so instructors have the cash to purchase necessary items before classes begin
* Emphasize cooperation at every level
* Keep short accounts: someone needs to be keeping members up to date on a regular basis