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Having a homeschool co-op near you can be such a blessing. You can share the load of teaching your children; if there are other parents who have strengths in certain subjects that you don’t have, you can draw off of their strengths and just help each other. You can cooperate, which is what a co-op is, but it can also be a challenge in trying to figure out the rest of your week’s work for your school schedule. If you have co-op on one day a week, how do you figure out what to do the rest of the week? Today, joining me is Laura Pitney.
Sonya: Laura, thanks for joining us again. You’ve had a lot of experience with co-ops, and you helped us a lot with our own co-op materials, the Charlotte Mason Together series. Let’s talk about how we balance a co-op one day a week and what we’re doing the other days of the week for our own schoolwork.
Laura: It’s a tricky balance, but one of the first things to figure out would be the purpose of your co-op. Is it to get the full curriculum done in one day with the other families? Or is it just the enrichments or complements to your main home school?
Sonya: It seems like the first thing you should do is see which subjects are being taught. Some of them might be one and done. For example, if you do nature study there, you probably can check that one off.
Laura: Right. You don’t necessarily have to do it at home, but you might. If something pops up during the week, you have the freedom to enjoy that time.
Sonya: Absolutely. But then there are other subjects that you’re only covering a component of that particular study in the group setting. For example, a picture study. They might show the picture and discuss it, or they might read the biography and discuss it and narrate it, but there’s still the component of displaying that picture for the rest of the week.
Laura: And that would be more of the complement, so it would be getting the main lesson, or part of the lesson at the co-op, and then using the review or reinforcement during your home time during the week. That’s a great example of that.
Sonya: When you say during your “home time,” I’m thinking you can still follow the lesson plan guides, and when it says “This is time for music study” during the week, if you already had the piece covered during your co-op, you can still play that music in the background.
Laura: Right. Or that’s a great opportunity to ask good narration questions, or have your children act out something or draw a picture, depending on the subject. But it’s a good opportunity to draw out of them something they remember.
Sonya: So it’s almost a little touch, another review, if you will, just to make it so it’s not, “They do that at co-op, we don’t do that at home.”
Laura: Right. That’s the beauty of the co-op setting. It’s like you said, it’s using the strengths of the other moms and families who are there, but then you get to gain confidence as you bring it into your home and still stagger it where it needs to be in your schedule. But then you’re growing in your abilities to ask good questions and connect with your kids. Sometimes you don’t always get to directly connect with your kids in the co-op setting, because usually there’s a lot of things happening.
Sonya: Yeah, you might be teaching one class while they’re in another one, or you’re teaching one age group and your older ones are elsewhere.
Laura: Right. So there’s value in still having music study time in your regular schedule at home as well, and if you get the main lessons at the co-op, it’s a good time to connect with your kids. One of the goals we have is that we want these picture study, music study, poetry, and all of this to become a lifestyle for our children and part of our home atmosphere. So relegating it to “That’s something we do there one day a week,” is going counter to what our goal is.
Sonya: Right. Another thing that you can do at home is the Home Extensions—we call them Home Extensions—in our Charlotte Mason Together co-op materials, where we give ideas for those extra touches at home.
Laura: Right. There’s a lot of freedom in that, because if you’ve already got your main lesson done, and then maybe you were really drawn to something that was taught, those Home Extensions give you ideas and more lesson plans, if you will, for how to go deeper in that subject. So they’re very beneficial to pour more into your child over those topics.
Sonya: We don’t want to overload.
Laura: No, not at all.
Sonya: It’s not like we’re doing the whole lesson again. It is just another little reinforcement, so as you said, I love that word “complement.” The two can complement each other. So let’s think through a few other school subjects. We’ve mentioned music study, and how you can do the focused listening time at the co-op, but then at home, we’re going to listen to that music during the week and have other potential ways to respond.
We talked about picture study, where you’re displaying that picture all week long and you can still talk about other aspects that the children notice.
Let’s talk about poetry. I’m just going off of our Charlotte Mason Together lesson plans, but if in the co-op setting they are reading through a new poem and they are discussing it, how do we complement that at home?
Laura: One of the things that you can do is practice a poem they want to memorize. They could even take the time to illustrate what they saw in their minds when it was being read at the co-op to make another connection. One of the beautiful things about doing a co-op is the opportunity the children may have to recite or speak in front of other children. It gives good life skills.
Sonya: It’s good public-speaking practice, absolutely.
Laura: That may be something you want to practice at home, so you set them up for success, and they want to recite it in front of their peers at the co-op. Practicing, memorizing, and possibly reciting at home is a way that you could do a Home Extension for poetry.
Sonya: And in our lesson plan guides we’ve got poetry scheduled twice a week. Once for reading a new poem and once for practicing it, so you could easily use those two time slots to do those types of things at home.
Okay, let’s talk about hymn singing. To me, this is an easy one. We’re going to sing the hymn at the co-op. We’ve got it scheduled for two days a week in our plans, so the other day of the week sing it at home, no problem. That’s an easy one.
Handicrafts. How did you work that out with your co-op?
Laura: Handicrafts are challenging but not impossible. When you’re in a group setting, you have a wide variety of skill sets, ideas, and creativity, so we’ve done it different ways. This is just figuring out the flavor of your co-op. We’ve done one specific skill as a group: all the children, all the parents, we’re all conquering whatever the handicraft is together.
Sonya: So for example, crochet. Everybody’s going to do crochet.
Laura: Correct. We’re going to work on learning the stitch and all of that together. The downside to that is some people are more advanced and some are beginners, so it’s hard to keep the pace with everybody together. You may have to break up into groups based on skill level. There’s got to be some margin there to figure out how to accomplish the lessons if you’re wanting to keep the pace with everybody. Because some kids get bored, some are frustrated, so it’s finding the right balance with that.
Sonya: And especially in something like handicrafts, because it is so skill-based, where something like picture study is not skill-based.
Laura: And you may have children who pick up on it right away, and then you may have the mom who’s like “This is so frustrating.” Figuring out the right balance is a little tricky but not impossible. The other way we’ve done it, which has really been the happy place we’ve settled on, is we all do the same skill. Let’s take crocheting for example. Each mom, or parent, is overseeing her own children. So if you have a family who has crocheted before, that family can do more advanced work, and then Mom is there to help. If you have beginners, then the mom-beginners can tag team to figure it out. As the leader, I can walk around and help answer questions and supervise, and if somebody gets stuck, I can help. That’s when the lesson plans came in handy, as well as our videos, so if I don’t necessarily know a skill, I can educate myself and then be able to help.
Sonya: And you can pair beginners with experienced moms.
Laura: Correct. The key to that is that each mom is overseeing her own children, so she brings the supplies and troubleshoots. It just takes the burden off the one leader to have to help everybody.
Sonya: So it sounds like you really just say, “This is our handicraft time, and you are each responsible for what you’re going to do during that time.”
Laura: Right, because handicrafts are usually one of the first things to fall off the list during your home schedule. It’s hard to make that time to sit down and do a handicraft; so giving that time allotment during the co-op time, allows the mom-guilt to disappear because we know we can do it at co-op. So that is where we have landed.
Sonya: I would assume, then, that because they are overseeing it, in a sense, that it is an extension from the home.
Laura: Correct, reverse.
Sonya: So it really goes both ways. I love that. All right, and I assume the same thing could be done with art instruction?
Laura: Yes. So we’ve alternated, where we did handicrafts one quarter, semester, term, and then the next one was art instruction, same format.
Sonya: Let’s go to literature. Reading aloud a good book to a younger age group, I think that could be one-and-done in the co-op time. There wouldn’t really be a Home Extension to go with it, unless you wanted to dig deeper into something that was said in it, but that would be optional. And for the older kids, they could use one of our new literature discussion guides, the Great Book Discussions, and actually do that during co-op time. For the little kids, I think in my own case, having one book going during co-op is not enough. We would want to have our own family read-aloud that we’re doing on the other days, and it doesn’t have to completely coordinate. In fact, it would be good if it was completely different from the one that’s happening in co-op.
Laura: I agree with that. We’ve done it different ways, but what you’re saying makes sense. We’ve also done it where we’ve gotten the seasonal-type things plugged into the read-alouds that are the one-and-done at co-op and made some special exceptions such as a tradition day. Or we’ve tried to coordinate what was happening on our calendar. That’s a good opportunity to plug in for that as well, but the times we’ve done a read-aloud book with the older kids in the co-op, it’s been so fun to see them connect and talk about it. But then, our family read-aloud is still our own family read-aloud, which there are connections there too, so it’s really a beautiful thing.
Sonya: I don’t want to give the impression that we’re doubling up, that we’re increasing the workload for the parent. Rather, it’s that we’re doing the same subject on two separate tracks, if you will, and the co-op track is only happening on the one day each week. It’s the other days of the week that we’ve still got our literature component going at home. So it’s not like, “Let’s go to co-op all day, and then we’re going to come home and do our own lessons the rest of the day.” That would be overload. I assume you didn’t do any of these Home Extensions on the same day.
Laura: Co-op day is co-op day, and so whatever day that is, then the other four days we do our regular home routine.
Sonya: As we talk about that regular home routine, then, let’s talk about that schedule. One of my big concerns with doing a co-op that focuses on the enrichments, and you know we’ve talked about this before, is that Charlotte talked so much about using different parts of the brain as you go through your day’s sequence of lessons. That picture study and music study and poetry and handcrafts, those add such nice change of pace. If you take all of those out and put them all on one day, are you left with only read-and-narrate during the day? That, to me, is counterintuitive.
Laura: Right. I 100% feel the same way; we need those breaks. We need those enrichments in our schedule to help keep everybody lively and focused. The way I have it planned, if we’re going to read and narrate, then we’re going to review art study, and then if we go do math, then we might sing a hymn. I still try to incorporate at least the time slot that would be the enrichments class. It just may be a gentle touch to use a different part of the brain, and then that way we can get back to the other focused studies.
Sonya: So it might not be as long a time period as what is specified in the lesson guide.
Laura: Correct, but it does do that little switch for the brain.
Sonya: I like that idea. That’s great. Thanks for helping us think through how to balance co-op and time at home. Do you want to give any encouragement for people who are thinking about participating in a co-op?
Laura: I would love to. When I think about the reason why you do a co-op, there’s so much value in the community there. Sometimes you get so isolated with your home and your children and the daily grind. Even when you’re dreading going to co-op, you’re so happy once you get there. There’s just something about being connected to other people and having that community and support. You don’t always realize you need that. But you need it, and so I would encourage anybody considering either starting a co-op or joining a co-op to pray about it and weigh the benefits against what you feel like it might take away from your home. But you should at least give it a try and plug into a community.
Sonya: You and I have talked before in another conversation about what to look for if you’re looking to join a co-op, so our readers can follow a link to that post. Thanks so much, Laura.