The Washington Times
August 17, 2008

Washington Times Op-ed—Parents Share Teaching Load in Co-ops

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Almost all homeschool families have been asked two questions. The most common is “What about socialization?" The assumption behind this question is children need to spend large amounts of time with their peers so they will grow up to be responsible adults. Sounds intuitive, but the opposite is true.

Where do we spend most of our lives? It’s in a world of adults of different ages and backgrounds, not the peer-segregated environment of an institutional school. The more time children can spend with responsible adults learning how to be socialized into the world they are going to live, the greater chance they have of being productive and responsible adults themselves. It’s not wise to focus time, energy and resources encouraging 9-year-olds to learn from other 9-year-olds. Additionally, few homeschooling families live in isolation today.

The next question most homeschoolers hear goes something like this: “I suppose I could teach my children basic subjects to perhaps grade school, but what about the more complicated subjects of high school such as higher math, science and other complicated courses?”

This is a legitimate concern for most homeschoolers, and true to form, many homeschooling parents have responded to this need. The growth of the “homeschooling co-op” is a direct answer to both these questions.

Most are familiar with “support groups,” which were very popular in the early days of homeschooling. Typically, homeschooling moms would meet with their children in a park and participate in a myriad of activities supervised by the parents. The primary purpose of “park day” was to provide a change of scenery and social interaction for both mom and the children. The activities tended to focus on crafts and physical education.

Joining a support group is an excellent way to enhance a homeschool program, especially for younger children, but a homeschooling co-op is more than a support group. A general definition of a co-op is a group of parents sharing educational responsibilities by teaching each others' children in certain subjects.

The co-op might meet at a public library, a church or in a home. Co-ops vary in size from being very large to very small with perhaps just two or three families. Typically, one parent will teach a group math, another parent will teach science, while another parent teaches history or language arts. Co-ops also can be formed for specific purposes such as music, drama, speech, debate or sports.

Parents in a co-op often compensate for each other’s weaknesses and benefit from each other’s strengths. Co-ops also provide an opportunity for teenage children to experience life together and be part of a team.

One co-op I’m familiar with is the Catoctin Academy located in Lincoln, Va., which is run by longtime homeschool parents Scott and Jane Woodruff. The Woodruffs have homeschooled three children: One child is in college, one is preparing to attend college and another is being homeschooled through high school.

The co-op meets one day a week from 2:30 to 8 p.m. There is a teaching block through the afternoon, followed by a break for food and physical education, and then a teaching time in the evening that focuses on participation by the fathers. All the parents signed up for the program are required to teach a subject or portion of a subject during the 35-week academic year.

The purpose of Catoctin Academy is to provide instruction that is competently delivered by caring parents, while at the same time providing an opportunity for the homeschool children to develop life-long friendships. On the rare occasion when an instructor from outside the group is enlisted to teach a particular course, the parents chip in and cover the expense. Grades are given for each subject and transcripts are provided to the parents if they wish. The grade levels offered are seventh through 12th grade.

When I asked Scott, who also doubles as an HSLDA contact lawyer, why he and Jane started the program, he said: “We wanted to incorporate the benefit of individualized instruction by a parent while at the same time utilizing the dynamic of a more formal classroom setting. We purposely keep our co-op small so we can work with the character of the student as well as their academic pursuits. We believe that the success of the co-op program, like homeschooling, is dependent upon parental involvement, especially the involvement of dads to participate in the instruction as well.”

The bottom line on co-ops is that they are meeting the needs of parents and children as they enter the middle and high school years. They are an effective supplement to a homeschool education. Parents are shown they can continue to provide a quality education to their children without having to send them to an institutional or more formal school setting, with all the distractions, negative peer pressure, expensive administrative overhead, bureaucracy, shuffling between classes and waste of educational time.

The potential for co-ops is enormous. Dedicated parents teaching relatively small groups of middle- to high-school-age children once again will prove that the homeschool movement is responsive to needs and able to successfully prepare children for their adult responsibilities.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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