Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the second of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for adding classes and activities to your group.
Previously, I covered the basics of how to start a homeschool group. Once you are established, it’s time to add the fun! Have you decided to keep your group small? Or are you going big? Either way, you can expect to have some or all of these types of activities: field trips, classes, and co-ops. Here are some how-to points that can help you with organizing these activities.
Field trips are perhaps the simplest activity to arrange. Many venues have information on their websites about school or group visits. Usually, there’s an option will fit the needs of your homeschool group, but sometimes, you’ll need to ask the venue to tailor a program or create something from scratch. Education departments, at museums or elsewhere, may be new to the idea of a homeschool group. They may need encouragement to go outside their usual form—for instance, grade levels. If a site has a menu of field trip offerings arranged by grade, you can ask them to expand that. So if a program is for 3rd and 4th grades, you can ask them to expand that to include 2nd and 5th grades. I have often talked a museum into welcoming all ages, from infants to teens or tailoring a program to meet our group’s needs. It’s worth asking. Follow these steps to set up a successful group field trip:
1 :: Choose your destination. Museums, factory tours, nature centers—the options are plentiful.
2 :: Make arrangements with the venue. Be wary of places that require an upfront deposit; aim for a location that allows you to pay in full about two weeks ahead of time. Gather information from the venue, including:
- the name and location (note whether it’s different from the venue’s street address);
- contact info for the venue, including your contact’s name, email, and phone;
- what forms of payment the venue accepts;
- a detailed description of field trip;
- cost per student and cost per adult—per person costs are much easier to work with than a group flat fee, which can get messy;
- recommended age range (and whether that age range is flexible or set in stone);
- any minimum or maximum numbers required for attendance;
- expected start and end time; stroller- and carrier- friendliness;
- date for final head count (if you can choose, I recommend two weeks before the field trip date);
- lunch or snack details;
- and parking information.
3 :: Share details with the group, and start collecting payments with a clear due date.
4 :: After your sign-up deadline, contact the venue with the final headcount and pay.
5 :: Final confirmation with venue should be one or two days before the field trip. Be sure you know how the venue will contact you if there they need to make an emergency change the day of the field trip.
Arranging a class is usually going to be more involved than a field trip. To put together a class, you’ll need to add these items to your to-do list, in addition to the field trip steps in the previous section:
1 :: Find and secure a teacher—be sure to get a teacher bio to add to the class description.
2 :: Find and secure a venue—a free venue is best, especially if your group is new.
3 :: Arrange for at least two parents to stay in the classroom with teacher and students.
4 :: If the class is a drop-off, be sure one of the parents staying for the class has all the phone numbers for parents or guardians who will not be sticking around.
Co-ops (co-operatives) can be big or small. They can be casual or highly organized. A co-op, generally, refers to a set of classes/ activities led by parents who do not get paid. Every adult is expected to do something to participate, though everyone doesn’t necessarily have to teach. A group doesn’t have to have a co-op—and a co-op doesn’t have to be part of a group.
- Co-ops should be organized so that the workload is spread out and information is clear and easy to access:
- The schedule should reflect who is teaching what, plus any relevant details about the teacher and class.
- People should know their roles ahead of time—teacher, hall monitor, second adult in classroom, clean up crew, etc.
- Don’t forget behind-the-scenes jobs, like collecting money, posting the schedule, monitoring communications, etc.
- Finding a location may be challenging for this many people. Consider
- social halls (you’d need some sort of real or imaginary partitions between classes)
- church buildings or libraries—many have classrooms available for use or rent
- restaurants or supermarkets with community rooms
- parks (though you’ll need a bad weather plan in place)
There are two basic co-op models, and each has its pros and cons:
SMALL CO-OP AMONG FRIENDS (2 to 6-ish families)
- Location can change week to week or stay in one place
- Simple communication (email may be enough)
- Share the workload (take turns teaching, cleaning, providing a venue)
- Cost of supplies can be easily shared
- A strong sense of commitment to the other families will emerge
MEDIUM TO LARGE CO-OP (More than 20 kids)
- Can grow to 100+ kids
- Lots of different skills and personality types
- Need an official central communication (email is not enough)
- Insurance may be necessary depending on your venue (more on this in a future column)
You’ll also need to decide whether teachers will get paid for the classes they teach, get reimbursed for supply costs, or simply volunteer their time. Co-ops most commonly don’t pay parent-teachers, but a benefit of a large co-op can be a pool of parents with a wide variety of teaching skills.
TIP: Don't give surveys too much weight. Surveys seem like a good idea but they aren’t as helpful as you’d expect. If you ask homeschoolers what activities they want to do, they will want to do everything. Everything sounds wonderful, and they will tell you so enthusiastically (and mean it).
Based on that enthusiasm you arrange activities, and fewer than expected sign up. When the day of the activity arrives, only a portion of those who signed up will actually attend.
Do not take this personally. Expect it.
MELISSA ROBB has seven years of experience homeschooling her now-12-year-old. Since 2010 she has held a variety of positions in her favorite homeschool group (which has blossomed to 320+ member families).