7 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting A Homeschool Co-op

You’re ready to start a homeschool co-op! Your kids need connections, and let’s be honest–so do you. You’re looking for support in academics or encouragement in enrichment, and the local co-ops don’t quite “scratch the itch,” so you’re committed to creating an experience that excites you and meets the needs of your kids.

Girl, us, too.

We jumped into creating co-ops together over seven years ago, and Debbie has run several others on her own. Overall, most groups have gone successfully, and we’ve had lots of fun in the process. (Truly–stop researching and start planning! You can do it!)

We also have learned a few things over the years that have shifted our process.

Here are some mistakes to avoid if you’re planning to start a homeschool co-op.

  1. Lacking clear vision

Some years, we would have a meet up with some loose ideas about what we would do and why and invite people into the process. While those experiences were still better than not starting a homeschool co-op, it has been more effective to do some vision setting in a smaller group first, and then share and invite others into that vision.

Bonus secret: if your vision is very clear and extremely specific, you’re more likely to attract families who will be a good fit. We weren’t sure if anyone would show up the year we advertised an outdoor co-op aimed at upper elementary studying Shakespeare, Nature Journaling, and Solfage together–but we ended up with an incredible group of families, philosophically diverse but united in a few key areas.

  1. Being too flexible with collecting fees

I know it feels awful to tell a family who is struggling financially that they have to pay a full year’s supply fee up front. I know it’s tempting to spread fees out or allow exceptions and permit some families to pay on a payment plan.

Think through your expectations for the group before you begin.

Looking at us homeschool moms collectively and generously–we are all committed to doing what is best for our children and are inclined  to back out of an event or gathering or yes, a co-op, if it no longer serves our needs (side note: I personally believe there’s value in honoring our commitments, showing up, and following through in most circumstances!). The trouble with this way of thinking, from the perspective of a co-op coordinator, is that  if a family or two backs out half way through the year, you may not have funding to complete the year.

After one year when we had to scramble to pay a facility fee for the second semester of the year, we now collect all funding before co-op begins and make it clear that we cannot issue refunds.

  1. Doing too much yourself

You are coordinating a co-op, in part, to share the load. The other moms in your group are awesome, too, and have a lot to offer–allow them to take ownership over some segments. Before you get too far into planning, decide what areas you want to  go “just so” and which allow flexibility.

  1. Being unclear on your expectations of moms and of students

Do you expect moms to be present each week, off their phones, and engaged in class? You need to tell them.

Do you expect mom chatter to be saved for before and after your co-op session? Make it clear!

Is arrival time important? Make it clear what time you will start and end, and stick to those times. Co-ops can be flexible (such a bonus to homeschooling!) but being overly flexible to accommodate one or two families frustrates the rest of the group.

How will you handle disruptive student behavior? Have a plan and communicate it (our plan is usually that a parent is available and paying attention, able to jump in and redirect their own child, so it doesn’t fall on whoever is teaching that week to handle discipline).

Co-ops can be flexible (such a bonus to homeschooling!) but being overly flexible to accommodate one or two families frustrates the rest of the group.

Chasing Wonder, Co.
  1. Not allowing plenty of free play time

I know you’re at co-op to get stuff done. You have a plan, projects to do, and lessons to learn.

But your children need a good amount of time to transition to co-op, to connect, and talk or play.  We try to give our students half an hour before co-op and fifteen or more minutes after co-op to connect.

Extra inside scoop: This half hour of “required” play time allows moms to connect, too, and provides a bit of cushion for those who are chronically late. We still encourage families to arrive on time, because this free play time is extremely important, but it does make it easier to respond to lateness with grace.

  1. Not starting because it seems too hard

Truly, running homeschool co-ops has been amazing for our families. Both of us as moms have built lasting friendships through groups we started, and we’ve seen our kids grow immensely through these groups, too. Starting a homeschool co-op can be as simple as inviting a friend or two over weekly to read a picture book together, or do a science experiment, or practice cooking.  If you know you’re ready to do this, reach out and ask your local community. Our favorite spot to make initial connections, outside of our close friend group, is in the local homeschool facebook groups, but church or community groups are good places to connect, too.

  1. Not knowing where to start

How do you know what people would even be interesting in doing together? We find it works best if we pick something that we want to do more of or that we avoid at home. Many years, for me, that has meant nature study! I value it, but I lack the motivation to get outside and do it, so I wrap it into a co-op. We added Shakespeare last year for similar reasons. (Note: we have not been experts in any of the co-ops we’ve run! We remind the other parents that we are lead learners, and we will learn right alongside our children!).

We can help with some ideas! I’ve put together a list of my favorite ideas to use when starting a homeschool co-op. Sign up below to get our list PLUS a bonus weekly planner by topic to use when planning your co-op. Print one of these for each topic you’ll cover in your co-op and use it to jot down idea for each week, plus a box for who’s in charge that  week.