As a new homeschooling mama, I loved the idea of a homeschool co-op. The opportunity to gather with other homeschoolers, to provide opportunities for my kids to hang out with friends, to have other moms teach some of the classes for my children while I taught classes- all of this sounded like an awesome idea.
However, when we began our first homeschool co-op, I learned quickly that my idea of a co-op and the actuality of the experience weren’t exactly the same. Co-op days began to be days we dreaded instead of days we looked forward to. My co-op mornings were rushed and often overwhelming. And I quickly realized that I needed to make some changes if homeschool co-op was going to be successful for us.
Now fourteen years into my homeschooling journey, we’ve had some very successful co-op times. And I’ve learned a few things that really helped out homeschool co-op days run more smoothly. After you read through these tips, you can download the printable Getting Ready for Co-op checklist that I’ve included, laminate it, and hang it where you can use a dry erase marker to check off your preparation for each homeschool co-op day.
Make sure the co-op is a right fit.
This is a crucial one, ya’ll. We’ve been part of co-ops that were a great fit for our family and some that just…weren’t. In one homeschool co-op I tried to juggle an infant in a sling while helping in a room of kindergarten and first graders who were doing lapbooks. This was particularly a problem because the room was teeny tiny. And over the course of the semester that we did co-op, the infant began to pull up and was not happy being confined. Instead she wanted to crawl around the room eating paper, picking up scissors, and pulling up on random children. For our season of life, that co-op wasn’t a good fit.
In contrast we’ve experienced a co-op where the kids truly looked forward to going and learning with friends and where I had the opportunity to help in their classes as well as time to visit with other homeschooling moms. And I know from our experience that days when we were headed to this co-op ran ever so much more smoothly than days headed to the other. If you’re trying to decide whether a specific co-op- or any co-op- is right for you, here are some things to consider.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to co-op on time.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like mornings. I just don’t. One of the benefits of homeschooling to me is that we can start our day a little later. But co-ops generally start earlier. Our high school co-op starts at 8:30am. That’s just too early, people. My first inclination when we had to get to co-op so early was to sleep as late as possible, get up, and dash off to co-op. This typically resulted in a crabby mom, stressed kids, and a family late to co-op.
I learned pretty quickly that getting up earlier- even if I lost a little more sleep- was better for all of us. When I began setting the clock about thirty minutes earlier than I really wanted to get up, we were able to get ready with much less stress and rush. And, we actually made it to co-op on time…most of the time.
Plan and prepare lunches the night before.
If you’ve been a homeschooling mom from the beginning, you’ve probably not had the opportunity to pack school lunches. I hadn’t. And our first ever homeschooling co-op had a no peanut rule. This was a big deal for my kids who lived on peanut butter and jelly. There were definitely mornings when we were rushing to get out the door, and I was still scrambling to find something peanut free that these children could eat for lunch!
I learned that it helped to make lunches- as much as possible- the night before. I laid out the lunch boxes and let the kids help me put some snacks in them. I made sure that we had deli meat and cheese sticks and yogurt in the fridge and left the lunch boxes open so that all we had to do in the morning was stick in ice packs and the cold food- that was already prepared- and we were off.
Lay out clothes…for the kids and for yourself.
I’ve always been pretty relaxed about what my kids wear out of the house, as long as modesty principles are observed. But when we began getting ready on our first co-op day, I realized that I had probably not thought this whole “what to wear” thing out. I wanted the kids to wear clothes that were clean, without damage, and that fit. Although I thought this would be pretty simple, I was mistaken. And we spent quite a bit of time discussing- okay, arguing about- what was appropriate dress.
After that I learned that clothes needed to be laid out ahead of time the night before. This way we could have any “discussions” ahead of time, and co-op morning wouldn’t be spent in a fluster of trying to find something appropriate to wear. I began laying out my clothes at night as well because I decided that I had enough to think about in getting four children ready and out the door, and I didn’t need anything else to have to figure out in the morning.
Check backpacks and supplies that night before co-op.
This was another of those tricks and tips I’d missed because I had never sent the kids to school. For our first co-op the kids were responsible to bring a backpack with their required school supplies. Most of these were just standard school supplies- such as crayons and pencils- but occasionally teachers of a specific class would ask for additional supplies- a binder in which to put notebooking pages or glue because the kids were working on a lapbook. Even though I expressly said for the kids to keep their supplies in the backpacks all the time so that they would be ready for co-op, somehow this didn’t always happen.
I learned to check backpacks each night before co-op. This ensured that the supplies actually stayed in the bag. I could do a quick check that all the basic supplies were there. And I could add any special supplies that a teacher had requested- like toilet paper tubes for a craft. Doing this the night before saved us from scrambling to find those toilet paper tubes when I happened to remember while walking out the door to get into the car.
Teach kids the routine of getting ready for “school”
Kids who have always been homeschooled may not have ever had to experience the getting ready for school routine in the morning. If you’re a structured homeschooler, you may have some form of this routine in place. But for laid back homeschoolers like our family, that routine was one my kids weren’t familiar with.
I’ve always loved routines. Because once you help kids to develop a routine, things can run so much more smoothly. We use routines for getting ready for bed, for beginning our day, for starting our schoolwork, for mealtimes. So it was natural to develop a routine that the kids could follow on co-op days. Once we did this, our mornings flowed more smoothly and we could arrive at co-op less stressed and ready to learn and have fun.
I’ve got a freebie that you can pick up to help kids learn a getting ready for “school” routine for co-op days. This checklist has things that need to be done the night before as well as on co-op mornings. You can print the checklist out, laminate it, and hang it where the kids- and you- have it as an easy reference. You can even use a dry erase marker to check off your list each week on co-op days.
Homeschool co-ops can be a fun, learning experience for the whole family. But co-op days can also be stressful and overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. These tips- and the printable checklist- will help your homeschool co-op days run more smoothly.