It is hard to believe that I have been homeschooling now for more than a decade. It has been a journey full of life lessons on discipline, leadership, and communication. I can easily say I fall into the “been there done that” crowd when it comes to mistakes and pitfalls and I have had to learn to put kindness above tact in many situations. I have said often that homeschooling my children has taught me more than I have or will ever teach them.
Now I am an “old timer”. I’ve been doing this more than half my parenting years. Not only that, I have graduated out one child out of our homeschool who is now in college and in another year I will have another homeschool graduate. I am full of wisdom and assvice (often unsolicited advice) to fellow homeschooling parents and potential families thinking of this option. Sometimes I over share because I don’t want someone to experience the drama or problems I either have seen, been a participant in, or suffered from. And this is what this post is about.
Run Your Homeschool Co Op Like Traditional School
Homeschoolers are rebellious by nature. We already are going against what is traditionally expected of us by not sending our children to private or public schools. Often it is micromanagement, overly testing, tons of homework, and rules that land parents in the school office withdrawing their child from school so it is probably not a good idea to set up a homeschool co op that simulates a school classroom experience.
A Homeschool Co Ops primary focus for elementary age children should be about socialization. Some of you reading this need to read that again. Let me be blunt – the primary focus of a homeschool co op until age 12 should be about SOCIALIZATION and not subject learning or discipline. And let me also say the socialization is not just for the children but for the mothers and fathers as well. Learning about a specific subject and gathering knowledge is the whip cream to the sundae and the cherry on top is the communication skills and self discipline with parental guidance children earn.
If your co op is not fun, if you dread those mornings you have to go, if you are praying that one of your children runs a fever or has green snot just to avoid showing up you may be in a situation where the focus is not really about what is good for the whole but the ideals of a few. You should not be relying on homeschool co op for elementary age students to fulfill one of the core subjects that should be taught at home. It should be a supplement, a bonus, something extra and it should be fun and engaging.
If you are a leader and reading this and thinking “Damn, I’ve always got families doing this and its hard to find volunteers” it may have less to do with them being lazy and not wanting to put in their fair share and more about not wanting to be micromanaged and having to follow a bunch of rules about how to do a particular job. I’ve found with children and adults that if you make it fun and interesting and involve them in doing something they enjoy it makes the whole entire experience worth while.
As for discipline – co ops should be about learning to communicate, developing manners, and developing healthy relationships which can be achieved without a bunch of rules. This can happen with all kinds of children no matter where they are at on the developmental curve. They do not have to be policed and their behavior does not have to be micromanaged. Their are going to be kids who are hyper and can’t sit still and kids that hide behind hair or slouch in their seats as to not to be noticed. This isn’t a time to make a judgement, this is the time to engage these children in personal ways that build their self esteem. When there are serious discipline issues – they should be addressed but they should be done so with grace and love especially if they are not your child.
Be A Dictator And Judgmental
Age and experience has made me more flexible when it comes to nearly everything in my life but especially when it comes to parenting and homeschooling. Luckily those very early years I was just fumbling with figuring this whole homeschool thing out with five young children and was not in a leadership position until my youngest was two and even then I was green. I lacked focus and self discipline but one of the things I struggled with (and sometimes still do but these children are still teaching me) is judging other people’s journeys.
Experience is the greatest teacher. Failing and making mistakes in your journey provide you with the best lessons. Owning your mistakes and being open to suggestions has benefited me and has led me to be a better parent, a better human being. Sometimes this required me to make personal changes and realize I was doing it wrong. Flexibility without being a flake is key when leading any group. And when leaders of co ops or homeschool groups turn to other parents for support or help they need to choose parents that exemplify certain characteristics but also the experience and enthusiasm to lead.
A sure fire way to run people off from a co op or group is to let someone get involved in leadership who is going to be judgmental of other people’s parenting styles or homeschool. I used to think it was religion and politics that divided homeschoolers and while it does I have found that judging others on how they parent or how their kids are educated is an even bigger divider. Families in a homeschool co op or group shouldn’t be burdened about what the collective you thinks is a “proper education”. Most of those who homeschool do so for a multiple of reasons and often education is not the first reason on the list. What works for your child, may not work for someone else. If you can’t make peace with how other people choose to do what they feel is best for their children leadership is NOT for you.
I admit there have taught kids that got on my nerves due to certain behavior issues or quirks. When I gave it time and saw why they behaved a certain way I found them to be endearing and often learned that they had exceptional qualities that I enjoyed being around. Children will be the first to point out a fake and they recognize insincerity faster than most adults. They know when an adult is judging them and if someone is truly invested in them. If you want to run a co op or a group be sure you can come to it with love and passion for children and not with a mission of molding children in what you think they should be.
And now I am going to get to the heart of one of the biggest issues I have seen destroy many homeschool co ops and groups and that is being a dictator. Co Ops and groups need leaders with passion and enthusiasm and people with a strong countenance to withstanding bullshit but this doesn’t mean you get to be the boss over a bunch of other parents and their children. Co Ops and Groups are about the “whole” not a few. It is about servicing a community, not an individual. Control freaks need not apply for leadership positions and shouldn’t be asked too. Micromanaging causes discord and resentment. Policing grown adults on their duties and responsibilities will not only lead to leadership fatigue but it also makes people not like you. And as a leader in this capacity you need to be trusted and yes, liked.
Be A Tattle Tell
I have belonged to several co ops over the years and the most effectively run one I have attended has very little policing. I have gone to the organizer of the co op over multiple issues and sought her counsel and the first year I was a participating family I realized how she effectively handled conflict and communication. If you had concerns you were to direct it to the person before bringing it to her. Whether it be a teacher or another parent you were to seek out that person privately and discuss it. This is not a novel concept and one I wish other co ops and groups would catch up on.
One of my huge issues recently was “people” or “other parents” had complaints about me or one of my children yet they never came to me personally. While I do have a strong personality, I believe I am open minded and know my children are not angels. Also, I know that I am full of flaws with tons of improvements to be made. However in a group situation it makes people feel suspicious and untrusting of others when it is made out to be multiple complaints. Who wants to be in that kind of environment?
Some issues may not need to be brought directly to an individual and be brought to a leader or teacher instead for it to be worked out. But hear is the truth – most people do not bite. With some tact and kindness approach the person it needs to be directed to first rather than tattle telling to a co op director or group leader. When you tattle all you are doing is breeding discord and mistrust.
Totally Ask Those Who Lack Experience To Teach or Lead
I’ve been parenting for over two decades now and have successfully taught co op classes, been a 4H Leader, hosted multiple science and nature camps for children, successfully ran a family outdoor group, and have even taught VBS. I’ve planned more field trips, parties, and homeschooling events then I can count and I happily tell you that I am now just a participant. I will give people money and help in a multitude of ways but I admit, I got burn out but frankly I am considering getting back into the fray of it all because some people lack the experience to lead and it is HURTING the homeschooling community.
I love seeing a new homeschool parent on the scene who is eager to jump right in and plan a field trip, teach a class, or plan a party and I think they should more than have the opportunity but before given a leadership position in a community they need more than a few years under their belt. People need to demonstrate their character and prove themselves to have integrity and trustworthy. It is easy to hand off the reigns to someone who is eager when you are tired and burned out but when people who are not well vetted in the community are handed power they often hurt families and the community as a whole. I have seen this happen time and time again and often times the really eager beaver wanting to help often has ulterior motives that involve control.
Also, I can tell you as a mom of many and a mom in her 40s it does not beseech you to place young mothers with little homeschooling experience (or parenting) in leadership positions. For one, they just don’t know. Bless their hearts. Seriously though, these moms who are still getting carded to buy their wine do not need to be telling other parents who are older and been doing it longer how to homeschool or hand out parenting advice. If the child they are homeschooling hasn’t been that long out of diapers they have no business to be placed in any kind of authority. Nothing breeds resentment like having someone who thinks they have it all figured out telling a mother who is on her fourth or fifth child that she isn’t doing it right or that “if only” they did XYZ there wouldn’t be this issue.
Homeschooling social issues can be complicated. I believe they don’t have to be. I have the privilege of being a part of some pretty incredible homeschool groups run by some fantastic parents. I belong to a co op for middle school and high school age children that has worked well for my family. However with the sweet there is often the bitter and we need to ask ourselves and each other what we can do to best improve our communities and prevent good things from going sourer.