How to Create a Learning Cooperative, Part 3

May 6th, 2011 by Dionna | 2 Comments
Posted in Eclectic Learning

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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 (“co-ops”) 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. In part 1 I looked at general options to consider when forming your learning cooperative. In part 2 I discussed the small details that can help your co-op run smoothly. Today I will give you three examples of real learning cooperatives.

We are lucky to have a thriving homeschool community in Kansas City. There are quite a few different learning cooperatives, today I will share a few details from three local co-ops that I am familiar with.

1. My Local Attachment Parenting Group’s Learning Co-op

I am most familiar with this co-op since I volunteer to help coordinate it, so this description will be much more detailed.

Who: Our co-op started out as a co-op for preschool-aged children, but it’s evolved into an all ages co-op. Primarily, though, we still mainly have children under six years old participate.

What: We do not restrict class topics, other than that they cannot be simple “play dates,” there must be some kind of educational or purposeful component. We’ve had classes that teach students how to tie-dye or how to create a scale (to learn about weight and balance), classes that teach children about Native Americans or Chinese New Year, classes that encourage a healthy lifestyle (yoga) or a mess (finger painting).

Field trips qualify as classes, but we encourage teachers to include one of two things: 1) a group discount that parents would not get by taking their own family to the destination; and/or 2) an extra component that families would not normally receive by themselves. For example, I offered a field trip to Powell Gardens in Kansas City to hike. Anyone can hike their trails, but because we signed up as a group, we got to have a guided hike with a naturalist who taught us how to identify different animal tracks and plants. We also had the option of doing a group craft activity (also not offered to people who visit without a group).

Teachers are also free to offer classes for adults.

When: Our co-op operates on a seasonal quarterly basis: Spring (March-May), Summer (June-August), Autumn (September-November), and Winter (December-February). We have a “planning month” in the month preceding the new quarter. It looks like this:

1st-7th of each planning month: Families submit classes to our shared Google Calendar and complete the Google webform that gives our volunteers basic information about each family and their proposed classes

8th-10th: Volunteers compile information from the webforms and make sure each calendar entry has all required class information. We require teachers to include: 1) Who – appropriate age range for class, student and/or attendee minimum/maximums, the teacher’s name, phone number, and email address; 2) What – class description, fees; 3) When – date and rain dates (if applicable); 4) Where – address of the class; and any other pertinent information.

A volunteer also creates the enrollment form (a Google webform).

11th-17th: Families enroll via the Google webform.

18th-20th: Volunteers sort students into classes, determine whether class minimums have been met or maximums have been exceeded, and make student lists for each teacher. If maximums are exceeded, we communicate with the teacher to see if s/he will offer a second class or can simply expand to let the extra students in.

21st-27th: One of our volunteers collects student fees via Paypal.

28th-30th(ish, since February is one of our planning months): Our fees volunteer sends fees to teachers via Paypal.

We do not generally restrict the times when classes are offered, but we do ask teachers not to offer a class when another class has already been submitted. Because our group has stayed relatively small (about 10-20 families participate each quarter), there are usually no conflicts.

Where: Classes can take place anywhere within driving distance. Many classes are held at the teachers’ houses or typical “field trip” locations throughout the city.

If there is interest in seeing examples of and learning how to create the Google forms we use for class submission and enrollment, please let me know and I will create a separate post. I am also happy to share examples of our “Co-op Guidelines” (which includes an illness policy, etc.), if anyone wants to see it.

Miscellaneous: Our co-op does not require member families to pay any fees outside of the fees for the classes. Teachers are not allowed to “make money” from classes, they may only charge fees to recover their own expenses for materials, etc. We do not have a dedicated forum for our co-op, we simply have a folder on our local AP forum, so there is no “overhead.”1

2. My Local Secular Learning Co-op

Some of the homeschooling mamas from our local AP group branched off to form a dedicated secular homeschooling learning cooperative. This is the first time Kieran and I have participated, because the classes are more geared toward older children. The planning/organization details of the two groups are almost identical, because we’re all friends and we’ve learned from each other as our co-ops have evolved. The only differences are:

1) The classes are more geared toward older (school-aged) children – not preschoolers or adults.

2) All participating families must pay a low annual fee. The coordinating volunteers use the fees to pay for web hosting services for their forum, and they use some of the money for an annual party.

3. A Second Local Secular Learning Co-op

We have not yet participated in this co-op, but I’ve read about it and have friends who are involved, so I can give you some details of a co-op that runs much differently than the first two. Below are some of the key differences.

1) This co-op is also mainly geared toward school-aged children, but they do have several classes each session designed for preschool children. They also have classes for adults.

2) The classes are all held on one day of the week, every week, at one location.

3) All participating families pay fees on top of class fees. There are two fee structures. “Member families” pay an annual fee. Their annual fee is higher than the second co-op I described, because they have to pay for a facility rental. “Non-member families” do not have to pay an annual fee, but there is an extra fee added to every class they enroll in. It ends up being a cost-benefit analysis – if you take more than one class per year, it makes more fiscal sense to become a “member” so you’re not paying an added fee on top of every class.

Class fees also go to pay for annual events for the participating families. For example, they host an annual “Unprom.”

This co-op does not host a web forum, but they do have a free Yahoo group for members.

4) Teachers are allowed to make money for their classes. Many teachers are parents, so they charge enough to make back their own children’s costs for taking classes. Other teachers are professionals who make a living from teaching, so their fees are much more substantial than those you would pay in the other two co-ops I described.

Both of the secular co-ops host monthly informational meetings for homeschooling families. They are an incredible benefit to our local homeschooling community.

What does your learning cooperative look like?

What questions do you have about forming a learning cooperative?

Photo Credit: schleicher

  1. Our AP forum volunteer administrator collects donations to help pay for web hosting every year.

2 Responses to:
"How to Create a Learning Cooperative, Part 3"

  1. Melissa @ The New Mommy Files   vibreantwanderer

    I really appreciate this series of posts, Dionna! I’m always thinking about what I’ll do as Annabelle gets older in terms of education.

    The only learning cooperative I knew of prior to reading about these three was a Montessori preschool co-op in Austin. I don’t know too much about how they ran it, but I learned a bit when I interviewed to be their teacher a few years back. I ended up taking a different position, but was so impressed by the idea. There was a handful of families – ten or so at most, I’d say. They rented a space for their classroom and I assume went in together to purchase the Montessori materials. They were hiring a trained, certified Montessori teacher who would work alongside a different parent volunteer as the “assistant” on any given day. It was essentially a Montessori preschool owned and operated by the parents. I thought it was a fascinating concept.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That is awesome Melissa! What a great way to incorporate a learning philosophy without breaking the bank.

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