How to Start a Homeschool Co-op
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My family has been a part of a few different homeschool co-ops over our 9 years of homeschooling. There have been a few that were not the right fit, but overall they have really enriched our homeschool experience.
There are many benefits to joining a homeschool co-op:
- Social activities for both kids and parents
- Access to teachers who are passionate about a subject
- It builds your personal homeschool support system
- Kids learn to take direction from a different teacher who might have a different teaching style
- Some subjects and activities are just more fun in a group
Homeschool co-ops come in many different forms. On one end of the spectrum, it can be as simple as a few families rotating teaching responsibilities for a subject or two at their homes.
On the other end of the spectrum, it can involve hiring a series of professional teachers to teach a variety of subjects in a church or community center.
At its core, all homeschool co-ops are basically just a way to share the work of teaching our children with a group of other families in a non-public school setting.
Sometimes we luck right in to find a group that matches our homeschool style and goals. Other times we need to start a homeschool co-op on our own.
It can sound intimidating to start a homeschool co-op, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. I set up a small co-op for my children when they were elementary age and it was really quite easy. I will walk you through how to start a homeschool co-op and give examples based on my own experience.
How to Start a Homeschool Co-op
Set the Purpose of Your Homeschool Co-op
The very first step in starting a homeschool co-op is setting the purpose. The purpose will guide the rest of start-up decisions so it is important to spend a little time thinking about your goals.
There are no wrong answers. Being clear about your purpose will help you attract families with similar goals. This can save frustration down the road.
Are you just looking for a way to socialize with other homeschool families? Do you want to create a way for students to explore electives? Is there a specific age or grade level that you want to include? Maybe your purpose is that you need to switch off teaching days with other families so you can work outside of the home.
Example: When I started a small co-op for my children I was looking for a few things:
- Social time for my kids and myself
- Help and accountability for teaching subjects I didn’t teach consistently (fine arts and geography)
- Fun and engaging lessons
Decide on a Format
Homeschool co-ops come in many different formats. A few questions to consider are:
- How many classes or activities do you want to offer?
- How often do you plan to meet?
- Will there be a mix of social activities and educational opportunities?
In general, you want to meet often enough to fulfill your purpose. You also want to meet often enough for the kids to begin making friendships and connections. This might look like park days every Monday and field trips every Friday.
Example: I only wanted to offer two classes in my small homeschool co-op – fine arts and geography. We decided to meet for about three hours every Friday afternoon. The weeks alternated between fine arts and geography. Usually, there was a 1.5 – 2 hours of educational time and 1 – 1.5 hours of playtime.
Find a Location for Your Homeschool Co-op
The size and purpose of your co-op will help determine the perfect location for your group.
If the purpose of your homeschool co-op is purely social you might want to choose a local park to meet at each week.
If there is an educational component to the homeschool co-op then you will likely want to meet indoors. I have tried attending educational classes outdoors and it quickly becomes difficult. The distractions and lack of amenities can make keeping kids on task challenging.
Indoor homeschool co-op meeting locations usually involve either someone’s home or a church.
Meeting in homes is great for small groups. It feels cozy . . . like a homeschool rather than a classroom. It is also a free option which is a big plus.
Larger groups can usually rent space from churches. Sometimes churches are happy to rent out their Sunday School classrooms during the week. If you choose to go this route be sure to ask the church a few questions before signing a contract:
- Are you limited to using a religious curriculum?
- Does the homeschool co-op need to give registration priority to church members?
- Do you need to carry separate liability insurance?
- Will you be billed only for days you use the classroom or will you be charged a set amount each month?
- What are the usage restrictions (food, noise, messy activities, etc.)?
- Are parents required to stay on campus?
Homeschool co-op purpose, size, and budget are a big part of selecting the right location.
Example: My fine arts and geography group was small – 4 – 5 families. We decided to meet in homes. Each week we rotated homes so that no one person had the burden of hosting too often.
Choose Homeschool Co-op Teachers
There are pretty much two options in terms of co-op teachers:
- Parents of co-op students
- Hire a teacher
Choosing parents within the homeschool co-op to teach is an easy choice. They are already committed to your group and are generally happy to teach a class for free, especially if their children are also attending a class for free.
Sometimes you even get lucky and have a parent in your co-op who has lots of professional experience in the subject they will teach. I have friends who are professional writers and teach writing in their co-op. Another has a medical background and teaches anatomy. This is a win-win because they usually charge less than other teachers because their children are also benefiting from the co-op.
A growing option is to hire a teacher. Over the last few years, I have noticed a trend of certified teachers leaving the public and private schools to freelance teach.
This can be a great option because they are generally very passionate and skilled in the subjects they choose to teach.
To find freelance teachers in your area search your local homeschool and mom Facebook groups. If there are not any postings then ask if there are any former teachers or people with applicable experience who would like to teach.
Example: In my small homeschool co-op we decided to use parents to teach. We were all comfortable teaching elementary level fine arts and geography. We switched teaching each week (whoever hosted taught the lesson) and only needed to teach a few times per year. This gave us plenty of time to plan fun and engaging lessons.
Set a Price
The price of your homeschool co-op is directly related to the expenses.
Possible co-op expenses include:
- Location costs (+ insurance if required)
- Teacher fees
- Meetup fee
You want to make sure that you are fairly sharing the costs through the homeschool co-op.
Setting a price is easy and straight forward for small homeschool co-ops of just a few families. It gets more complicated for a large co-op where students are selecting different classes.
If you are hiring teachers, I highly recommend asking families to pay the teachers directly.
Many homeschool co-ops use Meetup to organize all of their classes and events. The site has a calendar and makes class registration easy. It does cost about ~ $100 year though. If your homeschool co-op plans to use this service you will want to charge members a small fee to cover this expense.
Example: My fine arts and geography co-ops did not have any direct fees. Instead, we asked each parent to supply the materials when it was their turn to teach. This seemed to work really well because it let everyone work within their own budget. People could choose inexpensive activities if they wanted to be budget-conscious. We did ask parents to bring common supplies like scissors to some of the art classes.
Choose the Homeschool Co-op Classes
Choosing the classes is my favorite part of starting a homeschool co-op. The possibilities are endless!
You are not limited to traditional school subjects. Feel free to get creative! If your kids are interested in learning something, there is a good chance other kids are interested too.
Possible homeschool co-op classes include:
- Book club
- Fairy Tales
- Poetry and a Movie
- Greek Mythology
- United States History
- World History
- History of Chocolate
- Personal Finance
- Math (any level)
- Nature Studies
- Marine Biology
- Fine Art
- Graphic Design
- Child Development
- Foreign Language
- Computer Coding
- Board Games
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Outdoor Survival Skills
- Field Trips
- Park Days
Related: Useful (and Fun!) Homeschool Co-op Class Ideas
Some homeschool co-ops follow curriculums and others make it up as they go. Either option can work well.
If the co-op is teaching an academic core class like language arts, math, science, or history they usually ask students to do some work at home and the rest in the co-op.
Example: When I started a small homeschool co-op I knew that I wanted to cover courses that I wasn’t consistently teaching at home – fine arts and geography. The other moms and I decided to create our own program.
For the fine arts co-op, each session revolved around one famous artist. We spent a little time learning about their life and examining their art. Then the kids recreated the art in their own way.
The geography co-op was similar. Each class taught one country. We would read stories, watch short YouTube videos, play games, and build Rice Krispies maps to learn about the country.
Agree on Homeschool Co-op Rules
Every family has different ideas about how to best run a homeschool co-op. It is best to agree on some rules right from the beginning.
- Can parents leave during class or do they need to stay?
- What happens if there are behavior problems?
- How much notice is needed to cancel a class?
- How will inclement weather be handled?
- Who is ultimately in charge of the co-op?
- What is the refund policy?
Thinking through some of these issues can help prevent problems in the long run.
Example: My homeschool co-op was pretty small, so it was fairly easy to agree on rules. We did allow parents to leave during class as long as at least one other mom was staying to help the mom who was teaching. We enjoyed being together though, so it was rare that anyone left. Behavior was not a problem because parents were generally there and corrected their own children.
Set a Schedule
Once you have a location selected, teachers have been chosen, and classes planned you need to set a schedule. Plan at least a semester at a time so people can make plans. I have always found that there tend to be fewer last-minute scheduling conflicts when the schedule is set and accessible months in advance.
Setting the schedule for a small co-op is easy. Just sit down with a calendar and mark off the dates you will have co-op classes. Note any holidays so you don’t need to reschedule those classes later. Send the dates to all of the homeschool families so they can plan accordingly.
Setting up the schedule for a larger co-op is a little bit more work simply because there are more classes. To set up the schedule for a large co-op I recommend using a service like Meetup. This lets teachers add their classes to the calendar. Parents can view the calendar from their computer or phone.
If one of your homeschool co-op goals is socialization be sure to schedule some field trips and park days too. Some field trips require advance planning, so it is good to get them on the calendar early.
Example: When I was planning our homeschool co-op for fine art and geography I sat down with the other moms and we looked at our calendars. We marked off the Fridays we were having class and then decided who would teach on which day. Afterward, I sent an email with all of the details just in case someone lost their notes.
Find Members for Your Homeschool Co-op
You need at least one other family to form a homeschool co-op so you need to decide how you want to find members.
If you already have a few homeschool friends and want to form a small co-op then finding members might just mean asking your friends if they are interested.
You are not limited to just your current circle of friends though!
Due to the uncertainty of school next year, more families than ever are looking to join a homeschool co-op. Try advertising your homeschool co-op on local homeschool and parenting Facebook pages.
Be clear on the purpose of the group and intended ages/grades.
Example: I had a fairly large circle of homeschool friends when I started a homeschool co-op so I just talked to friends who also had elementary-age kiddos. We decided not to advertise because we wanted to keep the group small.
Check Your State’s Homeschool Laws
It is always important to know and follow your state’s homeschool laws. If you are not sure a simple Google search (state name + homeschool laws) will help you find what you need.
Most, if not all, states allow parents to hire tutors or select group classes. A.K.A. homeschool co-ops. However, please take a few minutes to look up the specifics of your local restrictions and requirements.
In North Carolina, my state, a homeschool may be responsible for the education for a max of two households. One person who is responsible for teaching all subjects to three families of children is not a homeschool co-op, it is a private school.
A small private school consisting of one teacher providing all of the instruction for a few families might feel like a homeschool, but legally it is a private school. Private schools have different legal requirements than homeschools. This includes administrative paperwork, different testing, fire codes, and building inspections.
The key difference between a homeschool co-op and a private school is that in a co-op each parent is ultimately responsible for providing the education.
Example: My small co-op only taught a few subjects. The parents were responsible for the majority of their children’s educations.
Starting a homeschool co-op can be a great way to enrich your children’s educations. It takes a little research and work to get it started, but in my experience, it is worth it.
Hey Jennifer! This was super helpful! I am looking to begin to start something—I don’t know what it will look like, but I need to do something. Public schools are shifting and as an educator and mom, I know the times we are living in and it is only going to progressively get worse. So anyway, I have questions regarding the end of your article and would love to get some clarity and assistance because my vision is like a molding of coop/private school. Hard to explain in this.
Hi! The best piece of advice I could give about starting a program that is sort of a mix of co-op and private school is to check your homeschool, education, and child care laws carefully. They will all vary by state. One idea is to research what is available in your area already. I know that in my area (NC) there are several hybrid school options, so it is definitely possible here.
What state are you in?
Our church believes we need to have a homeschool coop. Could someone please contact me? Thank you!
Pastor Stoney Drain
Painesviile Baptist Church
I’m sorry, I don’t currently provide consultations, but the process for a church to set up a homeschool co-op is the same as in the post. You are one step ahead because you already have the location and potential members and teachers. Perhaps you could even have a planning committee to help with setting up the co-op. Decide what grade levels and courses you want to include and then ask the church members if they are interested in teaching. I bet you have a wealth of knowledge on a variety of topics right in your congregation! One thing you might want to research is your state’s childcare ratios and the distinction between a private school and a co-op. This distinction varies by state but usually involves the number of hours students are present each week. It usually isn’t a problem for a small family co-op, but church co-ops are usually a little larger.