Are your high school students in a homeschool co-op? Is it a good fit for your family? Homeschooling co-ops are one of many options families consider during the high school years along with outsourcing and dual enrollment.
Homeschool co-op options vary widely from one community to the next. Some co-ops are primarily social organizations with peer activities such as dances, sports teams, theater groups, book clubs and science fairs. Other co-ops focus on academic courses for core subjects such as English, math, science, social science, or foreign languages. Some co-ops allow families to outsource one or two courses but others function more like a full school experience where students attend one or two days a week and then work the rest of the time on work assigned by the co-op teachers.
As you consider a homeschool co-op, here are some common benefits and drawbacks to consider.
Homeschool Co-op Benefits
Many teens begin to crave a lot more in the way of social group experiences as they hit the high school years. Some older homeschoolers complain of loneliness if they spend a lot of time at home. While a wide range of social options exist in my communities outside of homeschool co-ops, co-ops can be an easy way to make friends. College admissions offices tend to especially scrutinize the applications of homeschool candidates for evidence of social connections and co-op participation is one way students may use to demonstrate community involvement.
Motivation and Accountability
Probably the most common complaint from homeschool parents during the high school years is a lack of student motivation. College prep high school academics require more time and dedication than learning in the early years. Topics like chemistry and geometry typically require real focus and persistence. While some teens are naturally academically motivated and hardworking, it is fairly common for teens to struggle at times. Many parents find kids are more accountable and motivated to put in work when they are in a group class or with an outside teacher. Outside classes can offer a chance to practice key study and classroom skills such as participating in class discussion, accepting feedback, taking notes, studying for tests, and participating in group projects.
Deciding to homeschool high school doesn’t necessarily mean you want to take on the challenge of teaching every single high school subject. Whether it is pre-calc, research papers, bio lab, or AP Latin, it is not unreasonable to decide that you don’t to be responsible for every subject at home. Homeschool co-ops can be one of the less expensive ways to outsource the teaching of some high school topics. Outsourcing can help students learn to be comfortable with different teaching styles and outside teachers often write students letters of recommendation for college.
Homeschool Co-op Drawbacks
Experienced homeschoolers get used to having a lot of schedule flexibility. We can decide what hours of the day and times of the year work best for homeschooling and let homeschooling fit in with rest of our lives. Any significant outside schedule commitments, whether they are dual enrollment or homeschool co-op, take away from that schedule freedom making it more difficult to travel and take advantage of community events.
Lack of Customization
When students are in an outside course they typically are expected to do the work at the level and in the way the teacher expects. This doesn’t allow for a lot of differentiation for students who may need more challenge or who may need more time on topics they struggle with. If your student tends to learn at a different pace or in a different way than what is typical, it is advisable to see how much flexibility there will be in the homeschool co-op. Homeschooling allows you to make every assignment fit the needs of your learner, but that’s very difficult to do in any group education situation.
Quality of Teaching
Homeschool co-ops vary dramatically in academic rigor and the quality of teaching. Co-ops may draw from the wide variety of backgrounds and experiences of homeschooling parents which can bring in many strong teachers. Some co-ops hire retired teachers or adjunct faculty members. Other co-ops have as the only qualification a teacher’s desire to learn along with their students. Families who have approached homeschooling with a great deal of academic rigor may find the approach of their local co-op to be lacking. Because the options are so variable it is important to evaluate the offerings of your local co-op and make your own decision.
Homeschool co-ops are an option worth considering. They can be an economical way to outsource high school courses and connect teens with a peer group. Homeschool co-ops vary widely, however, and they don’t fit the needs of all homeschool families.