Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Homeschool Co-ops and Carnivals

I'm taking a break from politics and testing to answer an email. Daisy asked,

I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and I don't think I've ever seen you give an opinion on homeschool co-ops. Have you ever been part of one? Do you think they're useful? The closer I get to homeschooling my own child (soon to be children!), the more nervous and downright confused I am about the options available, and what's right for my family. Any advice/opinions you have would be helpful.
I laughed when I first read your comment about being nervous with all the options available. There was a time when homeschoolers had only a handful of curriculum options and nothing else. That made everyone nervous and confused. Now that we have all these options, we're still nervous and confused. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Anyway back to your question.

Let's first define co-op and support groups so we're all talking about the same thing. For homeschoolers around here, they are different. A co-op is a set of classes offered on the same day either for enrichment or advanced academics. They offer everything from Shakespeare to fencing. The co-ops usually meet weekly. A support group is a monthly mothers/parents meeting for information and networking. I have both co-ops and support groups within a half-hour drive of my house.

I don't belong to a co-op and I never have. Mostly because of time and budget constraints that made participation difficult for our family. With young children, I have found that structure and routine make homeschooling and home life the easiest on everyone. For me, that meant limiting my involvment in outside activites. I had 5 children, 7 and under at one point. Any outing was a three hour ordeal and seemed to be a major disruption to the routine. So I chose to limit them. Especially, the ones that required me to be there and actually participate every week. That was diffcult to do and still nurse a newborn and take care of my toddlers.

As the children have grown, some of the classes have looked inviting, but we've limited our involvment to a homeschool concert band in our area. I've heard mixed reviews from those who have been a part of the enrichment or academic co-ops. Some really love them others have had nothing but problems with them. Differing philosphical views and parenting styles have caused conflicts. But since I don't have any first hand experience, I hope other readers will chime in with their experience.

The second type of group in my area is a support group. That's more of a mother/parents meeting once a month. When I was a new homeschooler I went all the time. (That was before the internet and all the information now available online.) I found them helpful for networking with other families and a good source of information. But after a few years my attendance dwindled to the point where I don't go very often at all. My church, for many years, was made up of mostly homeschool families so that became another source of support and information. Now that we are not attending there, I have thought about going to a support group but so far haven't taken much action toward actually doing it. I do enjoy them when I do go but I haven't made them a priority.

The answers to these questions depends on your educational and family goals. Like all things, co-ops and support groups can be wonderful addition to their education or training depending on how well they meet your goals. Don't feel pressured to join something because everyone else is doing it. Otherwise, your life can become more confusing than it already is. As your purpose and goals become more defined, questions about what to join will become easier to answer.

If others have thoughts on either co-ops or support groups, please share your thoughts and experience.

One "co-op" I have enjoyed being a part of is the Homeschool Carnival. It's all online and just a click away. Palm Tree Pundit is the hostess this week. The carnival has been a great way for homeschoolers to network together online. It's always worth a read.

And don't forget about Sprittibee's Contest for a new camera. Get on over and share your lesson plans and enter her contest.

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