Now it is always easier to identify the mistakes (yesterday’s post), and it is good to avoid them, but there are a few things that make a co-op great.
Here are a few that we have observed:
Handle problems early and firmly:
No one likes confrontation, especially a busy home school mom who already has enough to do. But, if you want your co-op to run smoothly and not be a place of drama and chaos there are a few things that need to be nipped in the bud. Tardiness, a habit of no-shows, talking behind people’s backs, not doing your job etc are all things that cannot be tolerated if the co-op is to run smoothly.
Be Up Front About Your Expectations:
One co-op I attended reviewed Matthew 18:15-17 before the beginning of each co-op session. The leaders then explained that, if you had a problem with a person the Christian thing to do was talk to the person, not your friends. If the problem could not be resolved then the board was there to help. Under no circumstances should one parent be complaining to another parent about someone else’s behavior. This was the best co-op environment I have ever experienced, probably because we were continually reminded of this rule!
If the co-op is not organized the parents do not feel the need to be organized either. The best co-ops are run in a way that impresses people when they arrive. New people then strive to be all that they can be as well.
Reward the People Who Work:
While most co-ops have every parent doing something, not every job is the same. Typically the person teaching and the board members do the bulk of the work. Make sure they are thanked and rewarded. It does not have to be much, just make it special. This is where those moms who make awesome homemade cards, crafts or bake come in handy!
My favorite co-op handled things this way:
If you taught, you did not have to clean up and your children were able to sign up ahead of parent’s children who did not choose to teach.
My least favorite co-op handled things this way:
Every job was the same. Bible study was a job. They had almost every mother trying to sign up for Bible study and had to beg for teachers each session. Since every job was the same there were no thank-you’s etc for teaching, but if a parent in the Bible study complained the board was right on top of it since the women in the Bible study had bonded, while those who taught had been busy taking care of the kids. Do you see the problem?
Have Time for All the Parents to Bond:
Good co-ops have activities that are just social on a regular basis so the families may get to know each other. What you do is not as important as how you do it. Make sure the new families get to know the older families and you will do well. Field trips, park days, and parties fill this gap. Just make sure to remind the older members not to group up and leave the new people feeling left out.
Set Up a Way for New Home School Families to Talk With More Experienced Families:
Some co-ops have meetings designed for new families to ask questions, but in my experience these are poorly attended. The most successful ‘mentoring’ I have seen occurred in a co-op that rotated classes (three classes in three hours with multiple classes to pick from each hour). Every hour there was also a ‘prayer and fellowship’ room. In this room we prayed for the co-op, the families, and any specific needs, but we also talked and shared our lives. Every new person spent one of their hours in this room, which enabled people to get to know them. The older moms could then choose this as one of their hours, or not. Board members too were required to be in the prayer room for one of their hours to answer questions, and to be available should a board member be needed.
Set up a System to Deal With Parental Absences:
Since every parent has a job when a parent is unable to attend something will be left undone. There must therefore be a system in place for people to fill in. There are many ways to do this. Parents in prayer can know that they may be pulled out to help should the need arise. Board members may be ‘unassigned’ so they may fill in as necessary, or there can be a meeting before each co-op where jobs are ‘shuffled’ as needed so everything gets done.
Have a System in Place for Dealing with Misbehavior:
Both parents and children are capable of doing things you wish they had not. Instead of acting like this surprises you and floundering around wondering what to do about it make sure there is a set plan in place that everyone knows about. This will eliminate any confusion as to what will be done if the behavior continues, and will let the other mothers know that you are not being arbitrary or unfair since everyone was aware that this would happen. Also, document what has occurred. One a board member’s job became recording what time a certain mother pulled into the parking lot. She was in charge of the nursery, did not want to move positions and frequently arrived up to an hour late. You cannot leave little children under-supervised that long…
Accountability is needed if a co-op is to run well.
In one co-op one of the positions was ‘clean-up supervisor.’ This woman checked the rooms after they were cleaned to make sure nothing was missed. Nothing was ever missed, likely because people knew the room would be inspected. This was not the case in other co-ops we have visited. If you wish to keep using the space you really need to leave it better than you found it, because any mess remaining after you leave will be blamed on you. Plus it is just good stewardship to help when you can, especially if the space is free.
Even If the Space Is Paid For, Bless those Who Provide It:
A giant thank-you card from the children, homemade snacks, a cash donation, or volunteering as a group to help in some capacity are all ways you can thank the people who allow you to use their facilities. Thank-you’s and good stewardship go a long way in keeping your co-op in the space you have, and cover any ‘mistakes’ or inconveniences caused by your group.
You never know what problems you may have inadvertently caused, so extend grace when the Sunday school leaves your space a mess, or uses your supplies by accident as well. As long as these are rare incidents, know that your teachers may have done something at some time as well, and extend grace.
When the problems re-occur speak to the person in charge with the assumption that this was not done on purpose and allow them to take care of it.
Keep the Co-op Social and Fun:
Learning can be fun and interactive, and co-op is the place to make that happen. Choose things that children find interesting and fun and keep the home work to a minimum. These children already do school work at home. Going to co-op should not feel like they are being punished for seeing their friends with more work than they can reasonably do. This is not the time to work on a PhD thesis, but a time to learn to learn in a group setting in ways that encourage team building and creativity.
Home schooled children are great in groups as a rule. They do not have the competitive need to be the best, and often marvel at what another child can do. Let them use the skills they have to create and innovate whenever possible. What you will often hear is, “Johnny’s great at art, let’s get him to do the drawing.” “Sarah knows how to make catapults (a common home school skill), let’s see if she can figure out how to get the levers to work.” This is how people should work together in business, and it’s fun to see the children learn to work in their own strengths, and appreciate the strengths of others.
Co-ops are a great way for home school families to interact and learn in a relaxed environment. The key is to keep them relaxed and fun for the adults as well by running them efficiently.