Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Posts tagged ‘co-op’

Disturbing Trends in Home Schooling

I am old. I have seen home schooling evolve. When I was young there were very few options. And even the options that were available have changed. Home schooling was a challenge. It was not socially acceptable, but the children that came out of those few home schools did exceptionally well, so many followed.

Churches began advocating for home schooling. It became the ‘good Christian’ thing to do, and some girls grew up aspiring to become home school moms. (I’m glad we made it look so appealing.)

But home schooling is hard work, and somehow we failed to get this across. Maybe because we were having so much fun doing it, and didn’t mind the work. Maybe because we saw it as so important, and didn’t think to complain. Maybe because we enjoyed the time and company of our children. Maybe because we were too afraid to fail. Maybe because we were already those odd home schoolers we stopped judging each other, and relaxed in each other’s homes so we actually formed close friendships and allowed each other to be unique. (And I loved my friends who lived on farms during this time. After my children saw what farm chores looked like, what I asked them to do looked easy!)

Today when I talk to a new home schooling mom the first few questions seem to be, “How can I home school without doing much work?” and “How can I home school and still have the perfect house, body, and lots of free-time etc?” The truth is, to do it well, you can’t. The key to home schooling success is for the children to realize that mom (and dad) takes this serious, and considers their education important. (This is also the key to school success, by the way.) Sure, you can put your child in front of a computer, or send him to classes for home schoolers, but it is not the same. Parental investment is what made home schooling work.

“But I don’t know how to teach Algebra?” So, neither did many of the moms who home schooled years before, so they learned. Some learned along with the child, some studied on their own, and some took classes. Why? Because teaching their children was important. And the truth is, a home school mother needs to know a lot of stuff. If you are young and your goal is to be a home schooling parent, then you should be paying more attention in high school, not less, and plan on going to college, and studying, rather than trying to land a husband. (The husband will come in its own time, and being a hard-worker who is serious about raising good kids usually lands you a better one!) The better educated the parent who will be in charge of the home school; the better educated the children. But that does not mean you have to have a college degree. Many awesome moms did not. BUT, they were willing to work. They learned so their children would learn. They may not have done it when they were younger, which would have made it easier on them, but they did do it. And they are now grammar nazis with red pens, math mavens who can do times tables in their sleep etc. (They also know how to turn learning into fun, don’t get the wrong impression here.)

Home schooling is a wonderful thing. The children who have been home schooled are typically kind, unique individuals who are generally happy in life. This will not continue to be so if home school becomes a ‘chore’ for mom, something she obviously does not want to do because it interferes with other things. It will also not be done well if mom keeps saying she ‘can’t’ teach, because what will be taught is that it is okay to give up and not do the hard stuff. I hate writing this, because I love home school and home schooling families. Everyone is unique, and generally wonderful, but I fear for the future as more and more young Christian girls demonstrate that they did not pay attention in high school and are not going to college because they are going to be home school moms. And then, when their children arrive, they look for ways to get out of teaching them because they need to keep the house clean and do not feel competent to teach. Let me put it this way- if you are going to home school, you are going to sacrifice. There is only so much time in the day. When the children are little there will be clutter, as they get older they will learn to help and it will get better, IF you invest the time in teaching them to do so. (I have actually met home schoolers who do not know how to cook and do laundry. Since they stay at home with mom, how did they miss this? They should be at your knee helping, as they are able, with everything you do.) There will be less time for mom to go to the gym by herself, but more time for mom to join in on whatever game is going on in the backyard, which is not as calorie burning since you must not run over the little ones. BUT, your example, of hard work, of turning work into fun, and just plain enjoying the investment you are making in the lives of your children is what results in adult children who enjoy what they are called to do and know how to cherish people, even when it is not convenient.

I recently read a Ron Paul article on his new curriculum. (I wish I could find the exact one for you.) In it he says, in typical Ron Paul style, that if you do not like how he is doing this, teach your children yourself, as many other home school families have in the past. It seems that even Ron Paul acknowledges that his curriculum is second best to the parent actually teaching the child themselves. I am not saying that you can never use outside resources. What I am saying is that you must be involved. Listen to what is being taught, and comment on everything, good and bad. This is how you pass down your values and how your children get to know you. If you want to educate your children in the way they should go, then they need to know what that way is. (And you need to model it.) If you are not teaching them, then who is? And do you fully agree with them? And if you do, are you teaching them to listen and repeat what someone on a video says, or are you discussing it so they learn to think critically and understand why you, and the person on the video, came to these conclusions. This is your job. Teach your children well, and you will be proud to call them yours when they are adults.

Things Great Home School Co-ops Do

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

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!

Be Organized:
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.

Extend Grace:
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.

How to Ruin Your Home School Co-op

photo by Matija Barrett

photo by Matija Barrett

We have moved around a bit in the last few years and have had an opportunity to try out more than a few co-ops. Some were awesome, others not so much. Here are a few ideas about what to avoid.

Run your co-op exactly like school.

Make the children sit at desks, be quiet and do their work. Hire professional teachers.
While this may seem great to those of us who enjoyed school, to place home school children next to their friends, who they do not see every day, and then to tell them they may not interact is cruel. They do enough work on their own. Co-op is a time for interaction and interactive activities can be incorporated into learning.

Also, these co-ops tend to develop the teacher vs parent dynamic we see too often in the schools. Paying the teacher encourages some parents to have unreasonable expectations, and teachers (for some reason unknown to me) tend to put parents down based on other unrealistic expectations. And their comments do eventually get back to the parent. While it would be very mature for both to come up along side each other, it rarely happens.

Two of the typical complaints are:

“Johnny is very bright, but do they ever take him anywhere to socialize?”
– Interesting fact: Geeks and nerds, even in school, tend not to have perfect social skills. Why would home school kids be different? But in fact they are. Keeping the children who are typically bullied out of the school system results in greater self-esteem and social ability. Now remember I said ‘greater.’ They are still geeks, but now they see this as a good thing.

“Do you know that Johnny can’t read yet?”
– News flash: Even in school there are children who have trouble learning to read. The advantage to home school is that Johnny now receives one-on-one attention and has all the time he needs to work on these skills.

Be disorganized.

One co-op was so disorganized that they began the year with about three times the children they planned for, and did not have teachers for all of the grades. Some kids made projects that day, while others went home with nothing as the teachers went along with their plans as if nothing was out of whack.

Okay, this was excessively bad, and clearly an exception, but the truth is that if new people cannot easily understand how you do things and what the expectations of your group are there will be dissatisfaction, frayed nerves and chaos. Further, having any system where chaos rules means that the pushy get, while the nice people make up for what was lacking. Then the nice people leave. This is not what you want.

Organization and advanced planning are key to a good co-op. This means that board members must be organized and excited to serve, and that you must hold all of your members accountable.

Be really, really nice.

‘Nice’ co-ops understand when your child is sick, or you just had a bad day. They don’t hold you accountable for feeling like you just needed a day to yourself, and they allow you to drop your child off and leave, even though there is a strict ‘no drop-off’ policy.

Now I am not saying that everyone has to be super-mom, but there is a line, and some people take advantage of the ‘niceness.’ When they do you have a choice. You can either keep making the responsible mothers do more to make up for the woman who needs so much times for herself, or you can hold her accountable.

Here’s a little secret: If you can actually get the mother who needs an unreasonable amount of breaks to do her job, she typically realizes over time that she can too do it and feels better about herself! It’s a win-win.

Now of course there are situations where we must go the extra mile for someone, and that is okay. But there are also mothers who would have everyone else take care of, and school, their children for them if possible. This is not home schooling, and it sets a bad example for the children as well, teaching them to be takers, not givers themselves.

Be overly judgmental.

If your co-op uses the phrase ‘I have to question your walk, commitment to home schooling etc’ you are most likely an elitist group. And that is fine if that is who you want to be, just don’t wonder why some people choose to leave your group. Home schooling by nature is unique and every family should do it differently since no two families are alike. Overly judgmental groups like families who do everything just the way they do. These groups will not therefore be very large, and will have many disappointed families cycle through them feeling crushed when they do not fit.

My advice: If you want a more homogenous group then be up front about it so people can make an informed choice. Being blind-sided after your children have made friends by the unwritten rules is hard on a family that does not believe as you do.

Examples of this include: “Our families do not put our children into school sport.” “We do not read books with magic or vampires.” “We court, not date in our groups etc.” …And, if your children are going to do these things then they will not be encouraged to be friends with ours.

Allow the complainers to run the group.

Every complaint is not the same. There are good complaints that must be dealt with, and then there are the others. Some people just like to complain. Typically they are the people who contribute the least; it seems to go hand-in-hand. If you make the parents who teach and contribute jump through hoops every time there is a complaint, no matter how small, your teachers will become nervous wrecks. No one will want to teach, and those who know they are good teachers and have any self-respect will leave. They are not going to work their bottoms off in exchange for abuse.

Set up a system where people who are rarely, or never, at the co-op make all the real decisions.

There are a few ways to do this:

1. Set up a system where the women need a ‘covering.’ So, even though the dads are never there, they sit on the board and decide how co-op is going to be run. The problem: If you ask people to make a decision, they will. But these are people who know close to nothing about the organization… You see how this would be bad. If the fathers are to be part of running the co-op, then they must be part of the co-op, or it will not go well.

2. Allow the elders in church where you meet to be the ‘board.’ Again, these are not people who are intimately aware of how your group works, and the personalities in it. Home school is so unique that it cannot be run from afar, and home school moms are generally compliant, so they will try to follow the ‘rules’ where many other groups feel free to ignore them.

3. Have a ‘front’ board to protect the ‘secret’ board. I only include this because it happened. We thought we picked the board. What we didn’t know is that the church had already appointed a board to do all of the ‘real’ work, and that the board we thought we picked was so the people in the co-op had someone to complain to. Any guess why our board’s presidents quit co-op every year after serving?

Co-ops are relational, so it is important that the people running them are intimately involved. There are so many judgment calls when you are working with volunteers who have obligations to their families that outweigh them coming to your co-op that the group cannot be run from afar, no matter how godly the people who try are.

Exclude the men.

Fathers have a lot to offer and make great co-op teachers and presenters. Since many of them also work, they may need a little more flexibility- say ‘guest speaker’ instead of regular attendee. They may also allow teens to shadow them at work, or set up opportunities for them to shadow their friends.

Social outings and field trips also get more attendance when the men are welcome.

Fathers are great assets and it helps mom when dad knows what is going on. Excluding the men limits your resources, and makes home schooling more of a mom-only thing. If you want husbands on board with your decisions regarding your home school, then it helps if they are welcomed wherever your family is.

We once had a widower who was able to take a year off and continue home schooling his children during that time. He found support in a group of his wife’s friends who were also grieving, and continuity for his children who had already lost enough. (He eventually hired a friend of his wife’s who never married to take over the home school as he returned to work, and three years later they married!) Allowing dads made his transition into the group easy since we already had fathers who could flex their schedules teaching everything from science lab to car repair and gym.

Assume all women are emotional and that women always fight.

Unfortunately this attitude is common in some churches, and because they believe that problems within women’s groups are the norm they do little to fix them. Eoudia and Syntyche’s issues were not ignored by Paul and the church was to help them restore their friendship. (Phil. 4: 1-3) In the same way issues within the home schooling community need to be addressed. People live up to your expectations of them. If it is expected that women fight and do not behave then it is likely they will fight and not behave. This means that the mature women will leave, and you will be left with all of the immature drama queens. Not the best way to raise your children.

So how do you know whether, or not your co-op crosses the line? Look at the fruit!

Does it seem like every time you get a good teacher they leave?
Do the children form friendships that make them want to stay in co-op through high school?
Do the dads feel welcomed and glad the co-op is there for their families?
Does co-op day stress you out, or cause you to look forward to the next one? (Now, let me qualify this. Co-ops are a lot of work, so you should feel tired, but not emotionally drained.)
Does everyone in your co-op help each other, or is there a small group of women who do everything while the others watch?
Do you see people who were good workers begin to be lazy? (This is a sign that they are becoming tired of being taken advantage of.)
Do the children automatically help out when there is clean up, moving chairs or other things to do? (Children ‘catch’ what is being modeled and are a good barometer to measure what you are actually teaching by your example.)
Do the children form ‘cliques?’ (If the parents form cliques and are frequently judgmental you can bet their children will be too.)

Stay strong. Tomorrow I will post about the good things many co-ops do to succeed!

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