Last week I wrote a fairly personal post about the “why” behind a Charlotte Mason homeschool co-op, including how I feel this community is not only a gift to my kids, but also to me. This week I thought I’d get down a little more into the nitty-gritty and practical side of it by talking about the “how.”
Our co-op, which has been around since 2014, is currently comprised of seven families with a total of 25 kids. These range in age from two years to sixteen years old and we cover all of the Forms except 6 (as well as all grades except 5th and 12th). Our co-op begins each September and consists of three terms, during which we meet for co-op five times or approximately every other week.
I wrote a little last week about the joining process, but I’ll expand on it today. I emailed the leader of the co-op in April of 2017 when B was still in Kindergarten to ask about joining the following school year (beginning in September of 2017). Generally, their rule has been that once the school year begins, they do not add any more families as all teaching roles have been filled and it would be difficult to shift that and other aspects around.
The first thing the leader did was to invite me to come and watch the co-op in person before I decided if I wanted to join. So I came one Friday morning to her home by myself just to observe (which only solidified my desire to join 🙂 ). Once I told her I definitely wanted us to be part of it, she sent me an information packet and a very detailed application to fill out and return.
Mainly this is to make sure that those interested in joining the co-op align with group ideals. Though the members of our co-op use several different curricula (primarily The Alveary, AmblesideOnline, and A Gentle Feast), we have to have an understanding of and agree to adhere to Charlotte Mason’s philosophies overall in order to be part of the co-op. This is essential in knowing that when each of us teaches in co-op, we are researching our subjects and presenting them to the students in a manner with which we all agree.
The packet also outlined what was going to be expected of me as an active participant of the co-op; things like teaching at least one subject as well as attendance at our monthly book group for moms at least five times a year as a way to show that I was interested in furthering my own education in Charlotte Mason’s methods. Also, attending an event like the Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat (planned by a few of the moms in our co-op) didn’t hurt. 🙂 And it had more practical items like food allergies, emergency contacts, etc.
Prior to the year starting, our leader contacts returning members individually to see if we would like to continue being part of the co-op as well as ask what subjects or topics or changes we’d like to see in the next school year. She also asks us what we think we might be interested in teaching. Then, we have our first meeting in June to confirm the subjects or topics we’ll be covering during co-op time and decide who will be teaching what. Between this meeting and the next, our leader comes up with a schedule for all three terms as well as other related events (things like debrief meetings, family nights, plays, etc.). Then we meet again in July to confirm the calendar and make sure all of the scheduling works for everyone.
At the end of each term, we also have debrief meetings where the moms meet at a restaurant or coffee shop. Prior to these, each mom gets feedback from her kids about the different subjects we’re learning and then we come to these meetings and share that feedback with the other moms. We also gauge if we need to make any changes in subjects, teachers, or the schedule, and discuss plans for the following term.
Outside of these meetings, we also have a private forum online that we all have agreed to check at least once per week. While the in-person meetings are where we do the majority of our larger planning, this is where we hash out the details for subjects, share files, discuss potential field trips and service projects, and anything else that might pop up. And, for fun, we also have a group text message going where we wish happy birthdays, give family updates (particularly this year when two of our families have been traveling a lot so we haven’t been able to see them), and offer prayer requests.
We also work out who will be hosting, and when, either during our planning meetings or on our forum. In the past, the co-op was split into two or three branches to keep each part of it small. This allowed all of the families to host at least once as the size of their groups were smaller (usually only 12 kids at most). However, just after we joined in 2017, it was decided to make the co-op just one branch which makes for a much larger group (32 people when we’re all there). Because a few of our homes are too small to host this many (and because my house is so far away from the others), only the families with larger homes host now. Though I wish I could host, I am so thankful that the other families are willing to open their homes to all of us in this way.
Subjects are fairly fluid from year to year (but not changing within a year), though we tend to stick to standard Charlotte Mason topics. During this year and last for all Forms, we’ve taught Hymns, Physical Education, Picture Study, Composer Study, Shakespeare, Handicrafts, Nature Study, and Folk Songs. On days that our co-op meets, we teach these subjects in the morning, then those families that have students in the upper Forms stay until the afternoon during which time those students are taught Plutarch, Backpacking/Survival Skills, and they discuss Current Events. To a certain extent, whoever is hosting our co-op on a given Friday opens their home to the entire co-op the whole day, so even those of us who have only younger students (like me) are welcome to stay during the afternoon. We often end up doing this if I don’t have any pressing work or chores in the afternoon as both B and C love staying to play with their friends and the time is truly a blessing to me as well.
Though all of the students learn the same morning subjects, we do split some of them by age, which is another reason why we meet in larger homes. PE, Picture Study, Composer Study, and Shakespeare are subjects that we split by age with Form I (grades 1-3) in one group and Form II (grade 4) and up in another group.
We don’t, for the most part, have any formal subjects or activities for the kids who are “kindergarten” and younger (which we call our “Kinderleben” and “Babyleben” groups). Prior to every co-op meeting, our leader comes up with a schedule so that during each subject, one mom who is not teaching during that time is available to be with these younger kids so their mom can teach without distraction (theoretically 🙂 ). This has been semi-successful as a few of our younger kids have a hard time being away from mom (C). However, as they’ve gotten to know the other moms better, this has become easier.
Our co-op also plans a few other things throughout the year to do together outside of our normal co-op meeting time. These include things like field trips, service projects, family nights, and plays. We also have a Young Adult Book Club that meets regularly.
Our field trips are varied. Usually one of the moms finds a local opportunity that she feels would be a good fit for the co-op and posts on our forum with information about it to see if others might be interested. In the past these have included a tour of a local power plant, a Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert (which we’re also doing this year), a trip to see one of the traveling exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum, a visit to the local zoo, as well as a lecture by an astronaut at the United States Air Force Academy, among others. In addition, a few of the older students in our co-op perform in musicals and ballets which many of us attend as well.
A few of the moms also post opportunities for community service. In recent years, this has been performing small concerts at a local senior citizen’s home, helping to pack and pass out boxes of food for Thanksgiving, and meeting at a co-op home to write letters to children at an orphanage in India.
Last year we had two “Family Nights” during the year. The first one was in November just after we started Term 2 and was fairly casual with each family bringing a dish to share for a meal. After we all sat down and ate together, we gathered in their living room where we sang a few folk songs and hymns (and early Christmas carols!), then several of our students performed music on various instruments, recited poetry or Bible verses, acted out scenes from a play, or presented art they had made. It was sort of a way for us to share what we had been learning so far that year.
At the end of the school year, we had a more formal family night where we invited friends and family. At this one, we shared desserts and then once again had a time where students could show everyone what they had been learning, though the presentations were more specific to the co-op as a whole rather than individual students. During this family night, they performed a scene from The Tempest, narrated some of the art and music we studied, shared electronics creations, and sat down to show everyone what our Young Adult Book Club looks like.
In the past, the co-op has planned a Shakespeare play to perform for friends and family at the end of the school year that is optional and open to all students of the co-op in either speaking or non-speaking roles. They chose to perform Hamlet last year, the planning of which has taken longer than originally anticipated so the play has yet to be performed but we’re hoping it will happen some time this year.
Young Adult Book Club
The Young Adult Book Club is optional for students in the upper Forms and they meet outside of our regular co-op time. Right now we have two groups: one for the sixth graders and one for grades seven and up. Each group reads a separate book every month, which has included titles like Silas Marner, Tuck Everlasting, The Giver, and Around the World in Eighty Days. Then they meet separately once per month to discuss the book.
My next post in this series will cover more about how our co-op days are scheduled and what our subjects look like. Please get in touch or leave a comment if you have any questions about today’s post!