How to Create a Learning Cooperative, Part 1
What is a learning cooperative? It is a group of families who share responsibilities in order to provide a variety of educational opportunities. Learning cooperatives (or “co-ops”) can be as big or as small as the group so desires. Co-ops can focus on a specific age group, or they can open up to all ages – infant through adult. Your learning cooperative can take place on specific days (and in set locations), or they can be unrestricted – allowing each “teacher” or “facilitator” to pick the date and location of their classes.
In other words, learning cooperatives can be tailored to meet the needs of any group. But what questions should you ask when forming a co-op? And how do they function from session to session? This series of posts will help your group generate discussions about what you’d like your learning cooperative to look like. Today I will look at general options to consider when forming your learning cooperative. In part 2, I will look at some of the smaller details that can help your co-op run smoothly. And in part 3 I will give you three examples of real learning cooperatives.
General Options to Consider When Forming Your Learning Cooperative
Because your co-op can be individualized to meet your group’s needs, the first thing you need to figure out is what your group needs! Here are some questions to discuss amongst yourselves, you’ll find that your answers may lead you to other questions that I have not listed:
- Philosophy: What is our educational philosophy? Do we want our co-op to be “learning” focused or “teaching” focused? Are we preparing our children for another educational step (i.e., kindergarten)? Do we want to focus on families who homeschool? Does religion have a place in our co-op?
*These questions might sort themselves out depending on how your group is forming. If you have a group of families from church who are looking into a co-op, then it will probably be natural that religion is a welcome topic. If you are part of a group that has been meeting since your Lamaze class at a local hospital, then you might have a wide range of views and philosophies. For families who are looking into joining an existing co-op, talk to a few of the members about their educational philosophy – if the co-op was designed to prepare children for kindergarten and you plan on homeschooling, it might not be a good fit.1
- Age Range: Do we want to focus on a particular age group? Will we have strict age cut-offs, or do we want to call it on an individual basis (i.e., what about a five year old that works well with 3 year olds or vice versa)? If we focus on a certain age group, what happens when a child “ages out” of our co-op? What will siblings do who aren’t in our specified age range?
*There are advantages and disadvantages to either kind of co-op. If you focus on one age range, parents may have an easier time planning activities and coordinating schedules. If you open the co-op up to all ages, you will have a greater variety of classes, but you may not find as many classes that are geared toward your own family (i.e., one session may have more families of preschoolers, but you have older children).
- Discipline/Rules: Can children go at their own pace (i.e., do we believe in child-led learning)? What do parents/teachers do in case of disruptions? Do we believe in non-coercive guidance/nonviolent communication? Do time-outs, yelling, or other forms of punishments have a place in our co-op? What about sticker charts or other reward systems?
*If it is important to your family to be surrounded by families who practice gentle/respectful discipline, then you need to address this before forming/joining a co-op. Not sure whether this point is important? Consider this: what would you do if, during a preschool class, a parent spanked a child for disrupting class? Or put the child in time-out? If your group is not based on a guiding parenting philosophy, you should address whether there are set rules for behavior as well as acceptable discipline.
Set Day/Location: Do we want to have a set day and/or set location for our co-op? If so, when and where? How much can we afford if we need to rent a space? How will we split rental fees – by child or by family?
No Set Day/Location: If we do not have a set day/location, do we need to place any restrictions (geographical or otherwise) on where classes may be held? Do we want to define which days/times classes may be held?
- Format: Will we have “centers” at each class? Separate classes (at one location)? Separate classes at different locations? Will each family be responsible for offering one or more classes? Does each class need to last for a minimum amount of time?
*I will address class format and structure more in depth in Part 2 of this series, but you should start thinking about what your group wants classes to look like in general prior to forming your co-op.
- Money: Will teachers be allowed to make money from their classes, or will they be reimbursed for class expenses only? Do we need to charge members a yearly/quarterly fee? If so, what will fees be used for (snacks, group activities, website maintenance, etc.)? How will fees be collected? How will we be accountable for fees?
- Organization/Expectations: Who is in charge of coordinating the co-op? Will we have a core group of volunteers who organize class, accept payments, etc.? Will we require all parents to take turns with these tasks? Do we need to create a website (helpful for group discussion, idea generating, etc.)? Are parents expected to stay in the class/building with their children? To contribute in other ways during class?
*It will be helpful for members to know in advance what is expected of them and how the co-op is organized. Put someone in charge of coming up with “guidelines” for your co-op. If parents will have specific duties at each class, you should specify the duties and how parents will know when it is their “turn.”
Are you involved in a learning cooperative? Can you think of any other topics that are helpful to consider when forming a co-op? Please share your experiences in the comments, I am happy to update this post with anything I haven’t thought of.
Photo Credit: schleicher
- Several parents on my Facebook page asked about resources to find a learning cooperative. Here are a few places you might consider: Natural Parents Network recently compiled lists of NP groups throughout the US, Canada, and UK, check it out on NPN’s Facebook page; you can also try the “Where in the World” forum on Natural Parents Network Forums or the “Finding Your Tribe” forum on Mothering.com. Other readers have suggested meetup.com, The Homeschool Lounge, and Hip Homeschool Moms Facebook page. You might also have luck with homeschooling forums or Facebook pages, but I do not have any personal experience with any. ↩
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"How to Create a Learning Cooperative, Part 1"
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