One of the best things we have done for our homeschool is become part of a co-op. We have found community, friendships, and lots of fun! Of course it takes time, and trial and error, to find the co-op/community that is a good fit for you. Or you can start one yourself. But where do you start?
Today I’m sharing with you how to start searching for a homeschooling co-op. I’ll be sharing my own journey in finding/creating a co-op and the questions I asked myself before beginning.
What kind of co-op are you interested in?
The first thing you want to start with is by asking yourself what you are looking or hoping for in a homeschool community. Think of the things you are wanting in a co-op, what works with your schedule, what do you have the capacity for, and what your children enjoy.
Do you want a co-op just for community and socialization?
This is usually everyone’s #1 reason for joining a co-op! The dreadful misconception that homeschooled kids are “unsocialized” and have no friends is the farthest thing from the truth. However, many families still want to join a co-op to get them out of the house and hang out with like-minded families. Finding a co-op was important for myself as well as my kids. They wanted to play with other kids and I wanted to find some friends too. It has been so amazing to have these other homeschooling moms to confide in, ask questions, and join together for field trips or fun holiday parties. My kids have also made some great friends of all ages.
How big or small of a co-op would you like to be a part of?
The size of the co-op is definitely something to think about. Do you want something smaller and more intimate, or are you fine with big groups with lots of families? I knew from the beginning that I wanted something small, simple, and manageable. For now, we like to keep our co-op to 20 kids or less. Since most of our kids are still fairly young, this seems the most manageable for us and is easier when providing crafts and activities. Keeping it small also allows us to easily communicate and plan field trips, change meet up days, or add new ideas. Even though I like to keep it to 20 kids or less, families are always leaving or joining throughout the years, so we are still always meeting new families.
How active/often do you want to participate in a co-op?
This was another big factor for me. I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to go to a co-op every week and wanted something very simple to participate in. Our co-op meets biweekly, so every other week, and that has been the perfect amount of time for us. Sometimes families meet for extra playdates or fieldtrips in between, but all together we meet only twice a month. Our lessons are failry short, maybe 45 minutes and then we just let the kids play or explore after. Holiday parties was also something that was important to me. Kids love to be able to celebrate with their friends, and many who were in public school previously, miss those days the most. They love to get together and do crafts and games for each of the holidays.
Where do I look for a co-op?
- Social Media: It gets a bad wrap sometimes, but social media is a great source to find a homeschool community. Reach out on Instagram or Facebook asking if anyone knows of any local co-ops or is interested in a play date with other homeschoolers. This is how our co-op began. I met ONE mom through Instagram, and realizing we were in neighboring cities, we set up a play date at the park. Then she invited a friend, and I invited a friend. I met more local families on Instagram and invited them too. Our first year with everyone was just a year of play dates at various parks and simple holiday parties, until we decided to do something more structured.
- Facebook: Obviously pulling from the first one, social media, but I wanted to share a few ways you can find current homeschool co-ops on Facebook. Type into your Facebook search bar “homeschool co-op in [city/county]” or “[city/county] homeschoolers.” You can be as specific as you want and see what pops up, such as “Catholic Homeschoolers in [city/county.]” More than likely a few different homeschool pages will come up. Ask to follow the group. You can learn a lot of information or gauge the group by looking at the details of the group (if listed,) and any comments or posts. Go to one of their meetings or play dates and see if it is the right group for you.
- Wild and Free Website: Go to the Wild and Free website (bewildandfree.org) and click the drop-down menu in the upper right corner. At the bottom of the list clip on “Groups.” It will share what the community is all about, help you find any groups close by you, or help you start your own. Wild and Free does not use a certain curriculum or have any requirements for their groups. It is simply a place to help join homeschoolers together and create community. I first joined a Wild and Free group years ago. It was great and I met some amazing homeschooling moms, but we ended up leaving the group because it was pretty far away from our home and I still had little ones.
- Church Community: Ask around at your church if they have a homeschool group/co-op, or any other homeschooling families that would want to go on playdates and possibly start your own group.
- Start your own: If you can’t find one you are looking for or are wanting something specific (book clubs, nature groups, play groups) start one yourself! You can reach out to a few others on social media or at church and meet for play dates, nature walks, or field trips before setting up something more structured. You can also utilize the Wild and Free website to start your own to find local families who are looking for a group also.
Curriculum to use if starting your own:
If you are planning on starting your own co-op and are wanting to do something more structured, choose a simple curriculum to help plan your meet ups. You can use as much or as little as you want, but make sure it is appropriate for multiple age ranges to do together. **When using any curriculum for a co-op make sure it is allowed by the company to use for multiple families or purchase a small co-op license.
This is a great nature curriculum that goes with one book, Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature by Rachel Williams. The curriculum has many different nature topics you can choose from and multiple printables (anatomy pages, coloring pages, copy work, experiment and craft activities) that you can use for your group. We used it this past year for our co-op and could probably use it for another year because it offers so many nature topics.
Each of these guides would be so fun for a co-op of younger kids (early elementary- ages 4-10.) You can choose one guide to complete in your group or do all 3 to complete one school year. Each guide has fun picture book suggestions, videos, experiments, art projects, and field trip ideas. Our co-op is going to be using Me and My Place in Space this Fall and we are all so excited!
Bundle with all three guides HERE!
Seasons Afield is a nature and science curriculum for grades K-4th. This curriculum guides you through a year of nature study using the four seasons. It provides great picture book suggestions, handicrafts, music, art history, and field science. This would be great to use as a group learning about nature through the four seasons in a year.
Chickie & Roo has some great nature studies for many different states. You could choose the nature guide for your state to use as a group together. We live in California, and I hope to use the California Nature Study guide with our co-op one year soon. They don’t have all the states yet, but do offer quite a few. Chickie & Roo also has a new book out called Nature School that would be great for a co-op as well. This book teaches all about different biomes: Temperate Forests, Deserts, Seashores, Grasslands, and Wetlands. It is a beautifully done book!
How our co-op worked this past year:
I shared above how our co-op started, very organically with lots of play dates first. We did a full year of just play dates at different parks and some holiday parties before moving on to something more structured. This past year we used the Slow Down book and curriculum very loosely. All of the kids in our co-op this year were under the age of 9 so we wanted to keep it simple, fun, and short. We all agreed that meeting every other week worked best for all of us and we chose a day that worked for us all too. We usually meet at the same location (a local park,) unless there is another fun place that goes with our nature topic (pumpkins at the pumpkin patch, dragonflies by the river, tadpoles by a local pond, etc.)
I choose different topics from the Slow Down book, that worked with our seasons, and put them with each meet up date. Then each of the moms of the group were able to “sign-up” to teach that particular topic. It was totally optional if they wanted to run a lesson, but we have a lot of creative moms in our group, so they loved helping. Each time we met up we read the 2 pages from the Slow Down book on our topic, guided a drawing tutorial in their nature notebooks, did a craft or game/activity, and provided snacks. It was totally up to whoever signed up how much or little they did, and they provided anything needed for their lesson. Many times, us moms let the kids run our meetings and that was AMAZING to watch. If it was their topic day, the kids would read from the book, teach the others the drawing, or show them how to do the craft. It taught them how to read loud and project to a group, lead step by step lessons, and help others participate. The kids did such a great job when we let them lead and they LOVED it.
** A quick note about choosing dates and topics, I only planned 4 months at a time. It ended up being the fall and spring. Be aware of the rainy/cold months and take those off instead of having to cancel and move around dates a lot. This coming year we are going to take a big break in December and January.
Another fun part of our co-op was our nature journals. Each child was to always bring their nature notebook and colored pencils. THESE were the nature journals my kids used. Each meeting we taught a simple directed drawing. If the kids took their notebooks home and did something more to their page (labeled the anatomy, wrote a sentence on what they learned, wrote a story or poem, etc.) they got a small prize from our prize box at the next meet up. This gave them the initiative to do more on their own and have a “deadline” of sorts to have it done by. This was totally up to my kids if they wanted to do more or not, but the prizes were a big motivator. Our prize box consisted of fun things from the Dollar Store: pencils, erasers, stickers, candy, and small toys.
Throughout our school year we also hosted holiday parties, went on lots of field trips, and other fun days. We had an extra “Favorite Book Character Day” that was a lot of fun. Each kid dressed up as their favorite book character and filled out THIS printable I made. They presented it to the group, telling everyone about their favorite books and characters. It was really fun!
**Check out my “Nature Co-op” highlight on my Instagram to see lots of fun craft and game ideas we did for certain topics. (When searching for ideas yourself, head to Pinterest! Type in “[topic] crafts for kids” or “[topic] unit study for kids,” etc. and lots of fun things will pop up.)
Co-ops don’t need to be stressful and overcomplicated. It takes time to find what you are looking for, but it is out there. And if it isn’t, simply start you own. We have had so much fun and made some of the best friendships in our group. My kids definitely have more friends than I did at their age. LOL
If co-ops and other homeschool communities aren’t for you that is OK. Don’t feel pressure to join one just because others do. You can still do everything a co-op does with just a few friends or one other family. Children socialize in so many different ways, this isn’t the only source.
Overall, do what is best for your family and your homeschool. I believe that homeschool co-ops should be an “extra” that compliments your homeschool rhythm and journey. It should be enjoyable by all, the kids and Mom. 🙂
I hope this post was helpful in finding you a great homeschool community or the confidence to start your own. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great rest of your week!