How to Plan a Homeschool Co-op 📋📚✅

How to Organize a Homeschool Co-op ~ Our Cozy Den

My family moves around a lot — all part and parcel of the military life. In all that moving, I have organized and run four very different co-ops in the various places that we have called home, with varying degrees of success. I’m going to give you a rundown on how to throw one together, how to choose the overall feel of your co-op, and how to learn from some of the mistakes I’ve made so you can avoid them!

Now — this is a LONG post — and it can get overwhelming if you read it all and your head starts to swim. If you take the steps one at a time, it is really not that bad or complicated. (also note: many times in this post, I refer to “moms”, with the understanding that most homeschooling parents are the mother. If you’re a homeschooling dad, KUDOS to you, and you should be welcome too!) 

Types of Co-ops

Super Casual ~ Families meet up weekly for more of a playdate-type atmosphere. Sometimes they are given an area of study to pursue {today try to find 10 different kinds of leaves in the forest, or today we’re playing viking raiders to act out history}. Many times the students simply play and forge friendships. Very little planning or preparation is needed, and groups usually meet at an outdoor location like a park. This type of co-op is usually 1-2 hours.

Informal Group Classes ~ Students gather together as a group for one class per week. Moms take turns teaching each week on a topic that they find themselves knowledgeable about. The students usually stay together for a presentation/lesson, and break off into age-appropriate groups for crafts and/or experiments (planned & prepped by the lead mom of the week, but overseen by the other moms). This type of co-op should last about 60-90 minutes.

Formal Breakout Classes ~ This is the most formal and organized type of co-op, and the one most people will think of when you propose the idea. Moms will offer classes and choose the age range they would like to teach. Once the schedule is set (see below), moms will sign up their children for slots in the available classes. Each week, 2-3 time slots will be offered (depending on how many people sign up), with each class lasting about 45 minutes. This type of co-op would last 3-4 hours, and may include a break for lunch. Most of the following steps will cover setting up THIS kind of co-op.

Planning Steps

2-3 Months Out 

The more structured your co-op will be, the further in advance you’ll need to plan.

  1. The first step to take is to gauge interest in your local area. Many homeschool communities communicate via a Facebook group or another social sharing website. Put up a quick post and find out if there is enough interest to get the ball rolling.
  2. At this point, I’d recommend creating a private Facebook group and adding everyone who expressed interest. Discuss what your vision for the co-op is:
    -Which kind of co-op listed above are you interested in holding?
    -How many weeks do you want to meet? (I have found 6-8 to be best.)
    -Does everyone understand that a CO-op requires ALL parents to teach in some fashion? {see below}
    -Outline expected financial contribution per family {see below}
  3. In that group, start discussing options for a meeting location. In my experience, churches are ideal locations because they have many necessary features (several classrooms, large meeting space for the whole group, nursery/pre-k rooms for younger kids, kitchen for cooking classes). They are also usually free {especially if one of the homeschool families are members of that church}.
  4. While tossing around ideas for a meeting location, put up a poll to see which day & time works best for the most people. See if people have a preference for morning or afternoon, and which days of the week ~ you won’t please everyone here, so just narrow it down to a few choices that best fit the majority of the group. How to Organize a Homeschool Co-op ~ Our Cozy Den
  5. Once you have your top list of 2-3 day/time options, start calling churches and finding out if they would be willing to let you use their space, and if the facility is available during any of your time options.
  6. Put up a post in the group with the concrete day, time, & location. Now is the time to get a commitment from the people who will be attending. If people are paying a set fee, they would pay now. If they are paying dues per class, they can put down a deposit now. (I usually do PayPal, but mailing a check works too.)
    -Families who are not attending the co-op because it didn’t work out for their schedule should be removed from the group at this time. Welcome the committed families and tell moms to start brainstorming ideas for what they might like to teach! Put up a post with some fun ideas to get the wheels turning {baking, Lego geography (build maps, flags, landmarks, etc!), human body, foreign language, computer coding — the possibilities are endless! The best idea is the subject that each mom knows & loves!}
6-8 weeks out
  1. Get a list of all attending students and ages, including babies/toddlers who will be cared for in the nursery, but not infants who will be carried/worn by mom. Make a chart — either Excel or Microsoft Word, whichever you are more comfortable using. Arrange students by age (TIP: move rows up and down in a Word table by Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+up/down arrows).
  2. Now’s the time to get teachers signed up! This does NOT have to be a hair-pulling-stress-inducing endeavor. Send a private message to each committed mom and ask what subject they would like to teach, which age group, and what material costs they expect to have. I have found that it helps to go ahead and set the age groups yourself, and have the teachers choose one, instead of having several oddball combinations — which can get confusing.
    -Some good age groupings might be 3-6, 7-10, 11-14, and 15+ — or perhaps 3-5, 6-9, 10-12, and 13+ — look at the numbers in your group and try to make it evenly dispersed.
  3. Time to make another chart! I like to start COLOR-CODING here. Grab a bunch of index cards, and use a different color for each age group. Write the names of the classes, as well as the teacher’s name (so you don’t double book a teacher twice in the same time slot). Line them up in columns for each time slot, and shift them around so that you have at least 1-2 options for each age group in each time slot.
  4. If you need more classes, or teachers, post in the group and let the other moms know that you need another class for XX age group and look for volunteers. It is common for moms to teach 2 classes if the co-op meets for 3 time slots. If a mom is worried about the workload, encourage them to double up and tag-team a class. 
4 weeks out
  1. Once you have your classes & time slots planned, you can start signing up students. I love to use Sign Up Genius. (It’s free!)How to Organize a Homeschool Co-op ~ Our Cozy DenStart listing classes, starting with the first time slot. Make sure that moms know that they need to sign up EACH child for EACH time slot. List class costs (if applicable), any supplies that students need to bring, and the number of spaces available. Have somebody look over your sign-up sheet for things you may have overlooked, and when it’s good to go, post it to the group so moms can start signing up.
    -After sign-ups, I find that it helps to message/email each mom with a list of their choices. For example:
    ‘Connor is signed up for the following classes: 1. Lego Engineering ($5), 2. Cupcake Decorating ($8), and 3. Intro to Spanish ($3). Sophie is signed up for 1. World Geography ($3), 2. Cupcake Decorating ($8), and 3. Wondrous Weather ($5). Your total for classes is $32, plus a $10 admin fee per family = $42. $42 – your $25 deposit = a balance due of $17.’
    -This is helpful so moms can see a concrete picture of what they owe and what they are paying for.
  2. Encourage teachers to write down a loose lesson plan about what they will be teaching each week, and start preparing lessons and supplies.
1-2 weeks out 
  1. Confirm that everyone has paid and everyone knows where the meeting location is.
  2. Ask if anyone has questions or needs help from the group in planning. It is a CO-op after all, and us homeschooling moms are always full of great ideas!
Launch Day 
  1. Show up early to make sure the facility is ready to go. Put up signs on doors, so students know where to go (you’ll only need to do this the first few weeks). Put out a sheet of labels and some sharpies so everyone can make name tags. It may also help to have pre-printed name tags with each student’s assigned classes. (The admin fees you collect will cover costs of these materials, along with a donation/payment to the facility you are using.) How to Organize a Homeschool Co-op ~ Our Cozy Den
  2. Tell teachers to show up 15-20 minutes before start time to find their classrooms and set up for the first class. Then direct everyone to the main meeting hall (in a church, usually the sanctuary) for opening ceremonies.
  3. Start time is 10-15 minutes before the first class. We use this time to do a few announcements, and welcome everyone to the co-op. Give some basic directions for those unfamiliar with the facility (restrooms, any areas off-limits, etc). Make sure all the moms know their assignments (I message these out ahead of time, as well as giving them a handout the day of). Say the Pledge of Allegiance, and maybe a prayer and/or song if you desire.  Remind everyone to return all rooms to the way they found it — all trash picked up and chairs/tables returned to where they were. A cleanup crew at the end of the day should be responsible for vacuuming, cleaning up any bathroom messes, etc. Release moms and students to their classes. Let people know you’ll be sticking around if they have any questions. (As the coordinator, I recommend not teaching the first class of the day, so you can be around for logistics if necessary.)

Tips

💰 Require Payment. 💰

In all the co-ops I have done, the one that I tried to do “free” was the most epic failure. The reason? Lack of commitment on the part of the other moms. As the saying goes, they need to have some ‘skin in the game’. My well-intentioned plan to be a blessing to other families and require no financial commitment made it easy for people to sign up and then walk away. I found myself scrambling to shift classes, cover for quitters, and I was making lesson plans the morning of more than once.

⬆️ Bigger can be easier. 👍

Don’t get overwhelmed by larger numbers of participants. The easiest co-ops that I’ve done were the ones with more students (one had almost 200!) More students means more moms, and more hands to share the workload. There are more people to cover down if someone needs to miss due to illness, and more class options for each age group. You WILL need a larger facility, but you can also get creative with classroom spaces. We have used a foyer, the sanctuary, the basement, the fellowship hall — you aren’t limited to just ‘classrooms’.

🌟 ALL. MOMS. MUST. TEACH. 🌟

Don’t let anyone hem and haw and refuse to pull their weight. If they aren’t comfortable teaching a large group, then offer them a small class of 4-5 students. Everyone has something that they are knowledgeable about and they could share. Or tell them they can teach preschool — which is mostly cutting and pasting and coloring. Every mom should have a ‘place of duty’ for each time slot. For example, let’s say we have a mom named Caroline. She’s teaching a class in time slot 2, so we need someplace for her in time slots 1 and 3. #1 she’ll be working in the nursery and #3 she’s doing lunch cleanup. You can also have moms assigned to be: hall monitors (taking kids to the bathroom and back to their classes), assistant teachers in classes that need a little more hands-on help, lunch prep (the session before lunch, have someone in charge of heating food, setting up tables, etc.).

📅 Be clear with deadlines. 📅

Whenever you need the other moms to complete a task, give them a deadline. If you just say “let me know what you want to teach!” — people will ‘think about it’ and it may take weeks for them to get back to you. Give them 5-10 days (depending on how much time YOU have until the launch day), and post a clear date when you need the information. It may also help to print off a calendar for the months leading up to the co-op, and highlight dates (working backward from launch day) for planning/prep, invoicing/payment, student enrollment, schedule planning, teacher signups, commitments/deposits, location/date planning. This will give you a picture of whether or not you have enough time to make it through all the steps, and how long you have to complete each one.

🎉 Have Fun! 💃

Co-ops can be a lot of fun, both for kids and moms! My kids have such fond memories of our classes. My son (now 11) still remembers dissecting a cow eye when he was 6. That’s something we would NEVER have done at home! My daughter Lia (now 9) still speaks a little German she picked up at the co-op when she was 5. The initial legwork of getting everything off the ground is the hardest part. Once the co-op has begun, then you (the coordinator), just need to show up — and teach if you are teaching.

💬 Ask for help! 💬

If you find a particular part of the process overwhelming, ask another mom to come over after the kids are in bed, grab your favorite refreshment and a snack and hash it out together. Sometimes a new perspective makes it all easier! Also, I know you don’t know me and I’m probably far away from where you live — but feel free to message me on Facebook, and I would be happy to help you walk through whatever hurdle you are facing in your co-op planning endeavors!

Tell me!

Do YOU have any awesome co-op planning tips to add? Do you feel inspired to start a local homeschool co-op? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Have a blessed day! ✝️

How to Organize a Homeschool Co-op ~ Our Cozy Den
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