Elementary Lessons: Our Mini Homeschool Co-op
I always thought I wasn’t a homeschool co-op sort of person.
I’m an introvert. I have my own very strong opinions about what is and what isn’t a waste of time. And I hate being overscheduled or overcommitted. Moreover, I think kids should have plenty of free, unstructured play time – why not schedule play days instead of extracurricular school activities?
However, it turns out I have a homeschool co-op. Kinda. It’s a mini co-op, and it provides accountability and community without eating up excessive time.
If you don’t want to join a structured group or you think you’re allergic to homeschool co-ops, hear me out. Think outside the box. Look at all the options.
In the three years my friend and I have been sharing the load in our homeschools, I’ve both taught and learned in ways I know would not have happened if I were trying to be a one-woman-show – and so have my kids.
Why homeschooling with friends is better than homeschooling alone.
When people are showing up at your door (or you’re supposed to show up there) at a certain time – you’re going to do those lessons, whether you feel like it or not. Instead of being in charge of getting the entire show on the road, gathering the people, and getting everyone going, you harness the power of an appointment and a group to achieve consistency. It’s a trick, a hack, to make yourself be consistent.
In our three years of doing a small, in-home homeschool co-op with only one or two other families, I’ve noticed these benefits:
- Consistency: It’s on the calendar and people are showing up. There’s no better motivator for being ready and making something happen.
- Excitement: The kids’ lessons are with friends. Sure, sometimes they still have bad attitudes, but they do much less readily when lessons are shared with friends.
- Energy: Not only do the kids’ energy feed on the others, but my energy rises to meet the challenge of a table full of children, ready for the next chapter. We have a group dynamic that is more full and alive than if it were just the same two or three of us everyday, all day.
- Fellowship: Having friends reading the same books, drawing the same art, and completing the same homework (they do copywork to written narrations, based on age, at home) normalizes this humanity-rich education and makes them feel part of a group rather than an individual odd duck.
- Connection: Group narrations have been a revelation to me; they are so much easier than individual ones. Each student picks up on and remembers different bits. With 6-7 different minds working on the material and remembering past readings, someone is bound to make some connection to share that is unexpectedly delightful – not every time, but much more often. And, everyone around the table (myself included) benefits from their inspiration and memory.
- Did I mention consistency? Because that’s huge.
Not only do the kids have friends who are learning the same things, but I have friends who know my kids and whose kids I know. I know I’m not the only one who gets mad math doodles, sloppy handwriting, kid-snark. I know I’m not the only one who has a hard time pulling myself into gear in the morning to start morning time. I know I’m not the only one who second-guesses my decision to hold back or move forward in math.
That’s right: You’re not the only one, either.
Having a little homeschooling circle where we share the dailiness of life, the small things, the mundane things, is where and when real bonding and encouragement happens.
The benefit of teaching a homeschool co-op
In a lot of ways, our homeschool co-op is like a second Morning Time. We have songs, we do art, we read together and narrate. We sit around a table, coloring and reading and listening and sharing a life of learning together.
What we do in Elementary Lessons, I know many of you do during your family’s Morning Time. It is the best format and atmosphere for these sorts of studies.
But there are a few benefits to doing them with others instead of adding them onto our own family Morning Time.
First, logistically, we can start off our day with a more devotional sort of Morning Time, yet one that doesn’t take long. It’s easier to get started when you don’t feel like you’re going to have to plow through everything once you sit down. After getting our day off on the right foot, we have time to get up, stretch, get a drink, start some math, do some individual work and check off some things before coming back to the table for lessons (and that only twice a week).
Without other people showing up, I know I would often skip calling people back to the table. But they do show up so we do sit down with our stacks of papers and books.
And, once we’re all around the table, I bring a better version of myself to those lessons than I would otherwise. Perhaps sad, but it is true.
Find the tricks that help you get in the groove – and that might just be making lessons into something more official. For some reason, because other kids are there, I am less likely to skip things. Because I’m teaching other people’s kids, I’m paying better attention and pulling out the stops to stay cheerful and light rather than simply grind on through the stack.
On the flip side, having lessons with others helps my kids, too. They see me not only as mom, but also as a teacher – their peers are listening and following instructions and so they are less likely to give pushback and more likely to follow along.
With a group of kids, we can have class discussions, group narrations, and review games – making the information stick better and making more connections than if it were only one-on-one.
With our Elementary Lessons mini homeschool co-op planned and on the calendar twice a week, I don’t feel guilty about not doing those readings or lessons the other three days. I also don’t procrastinate and tell myself we’ll move this reading for tomorrow – which will probably not actually happen. It keeps our lesson time concentrated and potent and moving and frees up our other homeschool days for more individual attention or other things.
What homeschool subjects we share in our mini homeschool co-op
When my friend and I tossed around the idea of sharing the homeschool load, it was pretty clear to us what we should do together.
We do our own, individual whole-family morning times to build family culture and start our days with truth. We do math and phonics and handwriting one-on-one. What we needed was a reserved time to do those lessons that are hard to pull together in the middle of the homeschool hours, especially with babies and toddlers in the mix, interrupting every 3.2 seconds. Even though we don’t have babies or toddlers any more, now we’re pulling together those middle kids and making sure they get what they need apart from the younger and older sets, whose needs are more obvious.
So here’s what we’ve done. It’s changed very little in the last three years. After all, if it’s working, why change?
- History: read aloud, narrate, color related coloring pages, memorize a timeline song (and sometimes the Kings & Queens of England song or Presidents song, too)
- Science: read aloud, sketch
- Bible: Covenantal Catechism
- Shakespeare: 5 Steps to Shakespeare for Kids
- Plutarch: Anne White’s guide
- Artist Study: Simply Charlotte Mason Artist Study
- Geography: continent-drawing, map work, Halliburton – we’ve done various things
Plus, we do review games during the last week of each term:
- Hangman Review
- Jeopardy Review
- List as many nouns from the last term as you can remember and then quiz each other about a handful
I’ve written about some of our Elementary Lesson Plans here.
How our mini homeschool co-op works
So, providentially and with a little scheming, we live on the same street as our close friends who also have 5 children similar ages. How could we not homeschool together when we don’t even have to get in the car to do so?!
Instead of driving (unless it’s raining – or snowing), we make a fun spectacle for the neighbors – parades of children up and down the street, often more than twice a day.
Because our houses are so close, we swap kids. School-age kids come to my house and my little ones go to my friend’s house. She reads picture books and has all sorts of imaginative free-play materials and they make a mess of her house and learn sharing and social skills. That is, they get to be 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds.
The elementary-aged kids tromp down to my house, sit around the table, and color, listen, narrate, and such. We make good use of our 90-120 minutes with short lessons, keeping a good clip.
Even if it took a short drive, however, it would be worth it. At least, that’s what another friend has decided who now joins us. With a division of labor, the kids get better, more, age-appropriate attention, and we moms conserve our energy and make the best use of our time.
That’s what co-ops are all about – so look around and see if you have unconventional ways to share the load with friends.