Monday, February 22, 2010

What Do You Think About Co-ops?

The Blog Cruise Question for the TOS Homeschool Crew is: What do you think about co-ops? Well, we have not had many opportunities to participate in a co-op. Last Spring was our first opportunity. We had just moved from Missouri to Pennsylvania. I was hoping participating in this co-op would lead to wonderful friendships being built for myself and my children. The night before the co-op we prepared by laying out every one's clothes, and going to bed a few minutes early. We were going to have to be out the door early in the morning and we did not want to be late to our very first co-op. Around midnight, my middle daughter came down with a fever and a horrible barking cough. She and I got very little sleep. Once my husband woke up the next morning, I was able to go back to bed for a small amount of time before he had to leave for work. While I was sleeping we got a phone call by a very frustrated co-op director that we did not show up. When the co-op director returned home she sent me an email reprimanding me for not coming to the co-op because as a parent, I was assigned the role of helping in three separate classes. I had let down three co-op teachers because I did not come. She also informed me that the next time one of my children were sick and not able to come to co-op I would need to find a sitter so I could make it to co-op because I was needed as a helper. She also shared two separate cell phone numbers for me to call in the event something like this happened again (Remember I was new and didn't know the "protocol" to follow in case of an emergency absence). I kindly replied to her (even though I was seething with anger inside) and explained to her that this co-op was not a good fit for our family, and we would be withdrawing. (This also meant the $50 we paid to participate in the co-op was GONE)! I do understand that a co-op only works if parents cooperate (pulling together and helping out). But, I also believe that as a group of mothers, some grace should be extended if you have to miss because you need to stay home to take care of a sick child. I personally do not know of many mothers who would get a sitter for a sick child so she could leave to go help out at co-op, or many sitters who would willingly come over to babysit a sick child. We didn't withdraw because I was "guilted" into staying because co-op teachers were counting on me to help (I am weak, I know). I later found out that this co-op was not only strict in their attendance requirements, but also in a lot of other areas. I felt like I had thrown my children into the strict structure of a brick and mortar school for the time we were there. My son left nearly in tears each session because he had to sit, sit, sit, and write, write, write. This co-op was not a good fit for our family who thrives under the approach of gentle learning that is taught in Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.

Lessons I learned from our Bad Co-op Experience
I learned some lessons from this experience. Next time an opportunity to participate in a co-op comes along I will do some investigating into their schedule, purpose, and educational philosophies. I will make sure I will not be required to get a sitter for my OWN children so I will be able to attend and help out with the co-op. I will also make sure that the co-op directors and teachers are like-minded with our family's philosophy of education.

What I'm Looking for in a Co-op
I think short term commitments to a co-op (rather than semester or year-long commitments) would work better for our family. I also think it would be beneficial to find a co-op to do a nature study together, art lesson, dissect owl pellets or pigs together for a Biology class. I see a lot of benefits to co-ops and I do hope in the near future we can participate one that is beneficial, encouraging, and fun for our family. Even though our first (and only) experience was negative, I haven't given up on finding a co-op for our family. I do believe they can add a great component to your children's educations when you find the right fit.


berrypatch said...

My mouth literally dropped open when I read about your experience. What a nutty policy! I would never leave my sick child with someone else so I could do be a "helper" to a co-op class. They should have "on call" people to help out in those situations. Even public school teachers stay home with sick kids & call in subs! Wow....

I like your ideas for co-ops. That's what I would be willing to do as well.

Laura O in AK said...

What a nightmare experience! I don't know if I could have held my tongue and been quite as gracious as you seemed to have handled it.

Ideally, the philospophy and expectations should have been provided up front BEFORE you committed to anything. The one we joined here in Alaska does just that. Then there are no suprises down the road.

The more structured one we did in Maryland was not so rigid about things. There was one time that I was sick and another mother covered my class (actually she did a double dose of her subject and then I got to do a double dose of mine a few weeks later when she had to be away.) I quit working to avoid the "sick child care" issue altoghter and there's no way I'd leave a sick kid home alone for a co-op.

I hope you are blessed to find a group that better fits your family's needs. Instead of looking, maybe you should just start up a Nature Walk Club with a set time and location. A Catholic homeschooling book had suggestions for a LOT of things like that with the idea that people came and participated as they could.

Nikki said...

I really debated whether or not I wanted to share our experience because it was so negative. But, I do hope it will help others be thorough in investigating a co-op before jumping in like we did.

Sheri said...

Nikki-that is just plain nuts! How sad and I bet you were not the only one to experience the fall-out of their policies.
Funny you mentioned that Co-op you'd like b/cuz darling-I am so very close to deciding if that is what I want to put together and it would be based on CM stuff-no core, but nature study classes with art lessons, music and artist studies with lesson on art/music to complement...stuff like that. I am reading all these posts to see what folks truly want and don't want and will leave the rest up to the good Lord...but I am wondering if having "clubs" instead would be better-like you pay for that club and the teacher runs it for a certain amount of time under the HS group? I am thinking of more possibilities...move next door to me and we can figure this out together! :0)

Nikki said...

I think clubs are a great idea, Sheri! Right now we are in a club (sort of) for field trips. We are emailed the details of a trip, and if we are interested and able, we join in. It's great!
I really, really, really, like the idea of a Nature Study club! Think about all the fun nature hikes, picnics, photography, sketches, etc...The ideas are endless!
Something else that has been on my mind is a writer's club. I got the idea after reading the WeE-book called "Writer's Workshop"

Carol Topp, CPA said...


I agree with your and others that a co-op that requires you to get a sitter for a sick child has their priorities mixed up. Stay away..stay far away.

You offer great advice when you mention looking into policies before joining. Great idea! I would add visit the co-op and talk to some members outside of co-op and ask what frustrates them. You'll learn a lot.

I hope this co-op changes before it drives other parents away.

Don't give up on co-ops all together. They can be a huge blessing.

Carol Topp, CPA
Author, Homeschool Co-ops: How top Start Them, run Them and Not Burn Out

I think you were very smart for carefully examining what you want from a co-op.