The Excitement of a Charlotte Mason Co-op

More and more, we are hearing from homeschoolers who are excited about Charlotte Mason co-ops. Why all the excitement? Well, let’s talk with someone who has been part of a Charlotte Mason co-op for many years, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, it’s good to have you with us again.

Laura: Thank you for having me.

Sonya: Now, you’ve been part of a Charlotte Mason co-op for how long? Do you even know?

Laura: Well, it’s pretty much been the whole time I’ve had children, whether it was a church group or co-op group, so maybe about 15 years or so, give or take a little bit.

Sonya: So you’ve seen a lot about it. What’s all the excitement about? What do you love about your Charlotte Mason co-op to keep you involved in it this long?

Laura: There are a few things that come to mind. One of the first things is just sharing the load. I mean, homeschooling is a beautiful thing, but it’s also challenging. To have other like-minded families and moms that are on that same journey has really been encouraging, especially during the times where I’m just like, “Can I quit? Can I just walk away?”

Sonya: “Where do I resign?”

Laura: Yes, so just having that group of families who are focused on their families and their home education really keeps me going. So that would be one component, just sharing with the other like-minded moms and families. Over the years, I’ve seen the Lord use that in my life, because we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. During the different seasons that I’ve been with our family and with raising the children, the times where I really need the help, the help has been provided. That’s been a way that I have been ministered to through the co-op. Then there have been times in my life where it’s been an opportunity where I can minister to those families—where the roles have been reversed. So there’s just that genuine aspect of community that has been a beautiful thing in our family. I love it when there are moms who are passionate about a certain topic or subject, and they bring that to the co-op and my children get to experience that passion and that love of whatever the topic is. And that’s something that I wouldn’t necessarily have passion about.

Over the years, I’ve seen the Lord use that in my life, because we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. During the different seasons that I’ve been with our family and with raising the children, the times where I really need the help, the help has been provided. That’s been a way that I have been ministered to through the co-op. Then there have been times in my life where it’s been an opportunity where I can minister to those families—where the roles have been reversed.

Sonya: Yes, you might be passionate about other subjects. Can you give an example of a time where that happened?

Laura: Well, we have one mom who really loves science and nature study, and she has a genuine heart to give the children that love of learning in the topic of science. I do not like science. It’s not my happy place. So the bias that I may have towards snakes, for instance…

Sonya: No. [laughs] You have a bias towards snakes?

Laura: Yes, I do not like them.

Sonya: That’s why you won’t touch the pictures of snakes in books? I’ve seen that.

Laura: I have thrown books at my children when a snake has showed up on the page.

Sonya: We turned the page and “ah!”

Laura: For sure. So, I have been inspired to really try hard to not let the things that I’m uncomfortable with transfer over to my children. Having other moms who set that good example of teaching with a passion and those characteristics of helping your children want to be lifelong learners has inspired me to be a lifelong learner. The example that’s set before me through these other moms and families has helped me turn the corner into my own home and try better and be inspired to at least ask questions and help point them in the right direction for things that maybe I don’t necessarily want to pursue, like snakes, if that makes sense.

Sonya: Yes, it helps you at least grow in that aspect. Now, having other moms teach things that you don’t necessarily enjoy, I could see that go one of two ways. One way could be, “Well, that gives me an excuse not to even touch that subject at home,” …

Laura: Which is very tempting.

Sonya: I can see how it could be. But what’s the better alternative to that? It seems like you could be inspired by seeing these other moms, and you could even gain ideas from them and realize, “Oh, well, that’s not as difficult as I thought it was.” Talk a little bit about that.

Laura: There are seasons of life where it’s a blessing just to have somebody, like in the co-op setting, teach your children. I know I have needed that, because we’ve been in survival mode. So I say that it shouldn’t be our default, but it can be a blessing, depending on the season of life you’re in.

I think that’s part of why co-op are so important is you’re all helping each other out and that may just be educationally or academically, but it also may be an emotional state you’re in where you just need a little bit of help and not feel guilty about it. But then you have the place where you may have some insecurities or you may feel inadequate, and you’re seeing these moms and teachers teach well. You could be discouraged and say, “Wow, they’re really great. I’m never going to live up to that.” But I don’t think that’s the right heart attitude, and I don’t think that’s the right example to set for our children. When we see these experienced moms, these passionate moms teaching, we should be inspired. We should be encouraged to try to learn and to try to implement what we can at home, because that’s a really good example for our children. I think that there’s a component of that to where we’re always learning and growing. That’s really important for our children to see, that we don’t know it all and we never will; and I’m sure they already know that.

Sonya: Yes, I think they might. But they learn that you’re not content in that state.

Laura: Yes, and there are things we should try and try to do better, and we might find that we like things that we didn’t know we liked before. And again, that’s one thing that we want our children to learn. That’s why we give them such a wide variety and this feast of ideas, is because we don’t know what will resonate. Even for us, as the teachers and the moms, we should be encouraged to try too and not just settle.

Sonya: I remember you were talking about one of the recent terms at your co-op, you did a family handcraft time, which was, “I’m not going to stand up and teach everybody handcrafts. I want each family to bring their own handcraft and we’re going to allot this time to do it.” I think that’s brilliant, because it doesn’t give the mom an easy out, but yet, there’s the support there. There’s that gentle leaning into it to try something. “Go ahead and bring it, and if you don’t bring something,”—there’s that accountability factor—”if you don’t bring something, you’re going to stand out. Because if not, you’re the only one that doesn’t have anything.”

Laura: Right, that was really beautiful because you have moms who could just bring a pen and paper and they just practiced drawing with their child, maybe something that they saw in the room. It was super simple, learning that skill, even just holding the pencil right and perspective. And then I had moms that were embroidering pillowcases that were immaculate. So the skill level, you weren’t boxed in. But like you’re saying, that time allotment was really encouraging, and one thing I really saw in that handicraft community was that moms who saw projects and wanted to learn about the projects could ask questions from somebody who had already learned some skill. They may not have been professionals or experts, but we all have different levels and abilities. So even just being able to ask somebody, “Hey, how did you thread your needle?” or “How did you do that slipknot?” It was just a beautiful thing to start seeing a community being built around the individual projects the families brought. There was no judging, there was no critiquing, and I loved seeing the kids give that focused attention and see them ask questions and even build relationships with their moms or whoever they were there at the co-op with. To me, that’s the heart of it, you’re definitely enriching your mind with all the academics and the things, but that’s the real investment in the heart when you’re eye-to-eye and asking questions or looking at a snake in a book. That’s the heart.

Sonya: From a distance.

Laura: Yes, from a distance. Big distance. [laughs] To me, that’s the heart of why the co-op is so important. We can just get in this rut of being in our daily homeschool world. To have that change of pace in that co-op just gives you a little bit of life, and then you have the community and the relationships. All the components pour back into the life of your homeschool when you’re at home. It’s just neat to see that connection of how they intertwine.

Sonya: It seems like it would also infuse your child with, I guess confidence is the word that comes to mind. What I’m thinking of is, homeschooling is becoming more and more accepted in society at large. When you say, “I’m a homeschooler,” they don’t look at you like you have two heads anymore like they used to. But we’re also doing a specific type of homeschooling with Charlotte Mason, and so even if you know other homeschoolers, if they’re not doing narration, they’re not doing nature study notebooks, they’re not doing picture study, they’re not doing poetry, your child might get this feeling like, “We’re really odd here, and we’re the only ones who … . Why is mom making us do this?”

Laura: Right. And the mom may feel like that too.

Sonya: That could be, yes. But if you can be in this community of other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, it seems like that would give enthusiasm even when you’re home doing your own thing. “We’re not the only ones doing this.”

Laura: Right, I agree. I’ve seen that over the years, like you said, the confidence. And even for the children, they’re motivated at the co-op to do certain things at home, and then they’re motivated at home because maybe they want to share it with their friends or their teachers at co-op. So there’s just this beautiful thread that ties them both together, and both are very life-giving.

Sonya: I can see why people are excited about Charlotte Mason co-ops. Thanks for sharing about your experience.

Laura: You’re welcome.