We happened into a homeschooling coop at the start of our second year in Richmond, and at the time it felt like it saved our lives. I was still not feeling very rooted there, having spent the summer in California for work, and the group of people we met through the coop quickly became the fiber of our community there. We were fortunate in that the coop had been running in a slightly different form for many years, and had just been pared down to 10 families with children ranging in age from infant to 9 years old. We benefited from the structure that was handed down, which was flexible, but a good place to start. Classes were taught in teams of 2 in 6 -week sessions, and the arc of the year was decided ahead of time. The year we were involved this meant that in a morning we had 3 class periods - Spanish, taught by a teacher we hired (some kids opted out of this and came an hour later); The Arts (loosely named in order to encompass the various skills that were being shared - culinary arts, drawing, sewing); and Roots and Shoots, which is a "club" that is focused on connecting kids to their local and global neighborhood, encouraging a connection between themselves and people in other parts of the world, and between themselves and the environment. It was started by Jane Goodall, and the projects had a wide range - walking and drawing the neighborhood surrounding the Quaker meeting house where we met; making models of their houses; creating "About Me" pages; sewing puppets to send to soldiers in Iraq via "Puppets for Peace". Around the holidays we planned for a Festival of Lights, where groups of kids hosted different winter celebrations from around the world. The second half of the year we all decided to focus more on science, as well as continue with Spanish. Science topics ranged from moon journaling (a combination of nature journal, art, and creative writing) to the study of various biomes.
We decided things democratically, meeting every month, rotating the job of meeting facilitator and minute taker. We had a treasurer who collected money for the use of the meeting house and for the Spanish teacher. My friend Kimmy, who had been a part of the larger coop before the split and who carried with her valuable insight and a thread of continuity, brought The Box every week, which housed any paperwork we might need to disseminate or refer to.
Once we had decided on areas of interest to focus on for the coming months, we signed up to teach specific things and/or volunteered to co-teach with someone. I highly recommend the co-teaching, as it gives you someone to brainstorm with and provides some backup if you end up having a sick child or need to tend to an unhappy kid for a while during class. Class suggestions seemed to come organically - a puppeteer in our midst suggested the Puppets for Peace, another mom who has experience teaching young kids via the Montessori method volunteered to help teach the sewing for the class, and two of us piped up for a companion science/geography class about Iraq and its biomes (we focused on the alleuvial plain and the desert).
Halfway through the year we decided that it was overwhelming and burning us out to try and teach the 5 - 9 year olds as one large group (of 12 or so), so we split them in two groups, basically along the lines of who was reading and who was an emergent reader, and somewhat along the lines of what combinations of kids might lend themselves to better group dynamics. This worked SO well, but it did demand more of the parents - basically we taught twice in a row, swapping classes as it were. I didn't mind this at all, as it gave me more time with the material I had worked so hard to put together, and I got more one-on-one with the kids. My friend Nancy stepped up to teach the preschoolers for one of the class periods every week, a job that had been rotating through all the parents with preschoolers. The kids loved this, as they really got to know and adore Nancy.
The most obvious benefit to being a part of this coop was the friendship, support, and community we found. After the classes were over, we would all go to a local park with our lunches and hang out for 2 or more hours. We were very fortunate in that we all parented within the same part of the parenting spectrum and were comfortable helping each others' kids resolve the inevitable problems. Of course there were differences and things to be worked out, but all in all it was a really positive group to be a part of.
I don't look to coop time to fill any large gaps in our learning life at this point. I do expect to be introduced to a lot of new things: subjects I might not have thought of exposing my girls to, expertise in areas that I don't share, different teaching and learning styles. There is also the fringe benefit of having a ready-made group of people to go on field trips with.
Ok, that was a lot of babble. I will write about the coop we are a part of here in another post and will try to be more succinct!