In the years I have been homeschooling, I have lived in 7 different cities and been a part of many different types of homeschool groups. While my experience has been different from place to place, I have some pretty strong opinions about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of homeschool groups or co-ops.
Let’s dig into 6 different kinds of local homeschool groups to better understand how they can serve you or destroy you as a homeschooling family.
Homeschool Group Type #1
Homeschool Playgroups are just what they sound like – a group of homeschool moms, bringing younger kids to a common area to play while they chat and swap stories and ideas. You most often find yourself in one of these early on in your homeschooling career when you only have small children and more time in your homeschooling day.
I was a part of a playgroup for several years when my oldest 4 kids were little (ages 8 and under). These are beneficial for moms who are feeling lonely because homeschooling has changed their lives and friendships, or for someone like me who had moved to a new town and wanted to make new friends.
The cautions of joining a homeschool playgroup are twofold.
- The moms. There are always bad apples in the bunch. These are the moms who don’t like their kids, don’t like homeschooling, complain about everything, and end up making others in the group uncomfortable or seriously doubt themselves.
- The kids. You know the ones…they scream, run, bite, kick, are mean and rude, and their moms never do anything about it. They make playgroup miserable, and you always hope they won’t show up.
You can try creating your own playgroup with your own set of friends, but if you are like me and YOU were the new girl in town, that isn’t feasible and you have to take what you can get. And once people start making “playgroup rules” it often spirals downward quickly and people get all sorts of sideways to each other. It’s better to just disband rather than make playgroup rules.
You will also find that moms with older and younger kids will not want to join in and bring their little ones to your playgroup. You may think this is rude of them, but trust me, they don’t have the time and energy for a playgroup, or the drama it often creates.
Homeschool Group Type #2
Relaxed Homeschool Group with Classes and/or Field Trips
This is where the most recent of my homeschool groups falls. There is a small membership fee, a handful of parent-taught classes happening once a week, plus there are a few activities and field trips scattered along the way. The rules are simple (like don’t let your kids run loose in the church building where we hold classes), and there are not a lot of expectations. For me, as a large family homeschooling mom, this is my sweet spot when it comes to homeschooling groups. I ain’t got time for a lot of expectations, rules, plans, and schedules. I need flexibility and calm.
The biggest caution with this type of homeschool group is if it is TOO relaxed. If you are paying for classes that don’t happen, it is a waste of money. If there are no real plans for any of the activities promised, it is a waste of time. And, if you are throwing your kids into a free-for-all homeschool group mess, you are going to regret it. “Date” the homeschool group before making a full-blown commitment to avoid something that may be more altercation than education.
Homeschool Group Type #3
I see this as a different animal from the relaxed homeschool group. Typically, these groups are MUCH more organized, cost more, and require more from you as a parent. As a large family mom, I avoid these groups like the plague.
One group I looked into in a major metro area required a hefty membership fee, an individual class fee, and required me to work during the co-op in some capacity. That meant I either needed a babysitter to take care of my babies and toddlers while I worked, or I would have to take them along and be a stressed-out mess.
You really have to weigh the pros and cons with these groups. Is that Spanish class worth 4 hours a week of crazy town? Can you afford to pay for the classes plus a babysitter, or would your money be better spent buying a video, audio, or online curriculum that will suffice?
The best part of these groups is that they offer classes you may feel uncomfortable teaching your child, thus taking a significant load off your shoulders. It’s up to you to weigh the cost and decide what you can and cannot handle.
Homeschool Group Type #4
Program (or Practicum) Based Homeschool Classes
This is different from any of the groups above in that it is a set program of study, followed by everyone in the group. Sometimes it takes the form of a community school where kids go to classes a couple of times a week and are at home the rest of the time. Sometimes it is offered as a supplement to a particular curriculum. And sometimes it is meant to replace parental teaching altogether in favor of something that looks more like a charter school.
One very popular form of this model is Classical Conversations. You can also find many groups that affiliate themselves with a certain curriculum like My Father’s World or Tapestry of Grace, but these tend more toward the “relaxed homeschool group” model.
While a practicum-based group has never appealed to me because of my eclectic, spontaneous tendencies and my inability to follow a set schedule, many moms feel safe within the confines of a program-based homeschool experience.
Here are a few cautions I have about this type of homeschool group…
- Too strenuous. Some families find this type of program exhausting to keep up with. If you are dealing with a lot of stress in your life or you like a more relaxed homeschooling atmosphere, program-based homeschool groups are not for you.
- Too elitist. Unfortunately, some families involved in program-based groups come off as arrogant and puffed up by all the knowledge the classes have stuffed into their children’s heads. Beware of a group that touts itself as the premier educational experience and scoffs at all others. Homeschool groups should never be elitist.
- Too expensive. Often, program-based groups are expensive (this is not always true, so do your research first). It may be worth the cost, but you need to be certain what they offer corresponds with what they charge.
Ultimately, these groups should be worth your time and money, and offer enrichment to your homeschool, rather than cause a drain on your family.
Homeschool Group Type #5
Homeschool Clubs for Kids
Often, these groups are subsets of larger homeschool groups, but occasionally, they are startups by some ambitious homeschooled kid interested in a certain topic searching for others to enjoy that interest with him. They are almost always interest-based and rarely cost much of anything.
The biggest caution I have with these is that you should never leave your children unattended with a group of kids you have never met in a club you know nothing about. Is the club organized? Are other parents involved? Is the material age-appropriate? Does anything seem “off” about the group? (I know, that one is totally subjective, but sometimes you need to “go with your gut.”)
I also believe it is imperative you don’t run willy-nilly to every homeschool club or team out there. I’d encourage you to read my post on Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Your Kids to gain some insight into how to make wise choices for your family.
Homeschool Group Type #6
Homeschool Mom Support Group
In many respects, this type of homeschool group is at the top of my list of “must-have homeschool groups.” In most instances, moms are doing the lion’s share of the homeschooling, and it is draining. A solid homeschool mom support group can be a breath of fresh air, and a spot of encouragement just when mom needs it the most.
But, as with everything, these too can be wrecked by a “bad apple.” If the bad apple is the leader, leave…immediately. You will never get what you need from a group that is led by someone with poor theology, a negative outlook on life, or a draining personality. BUT, if the bad apple is one of the moms in the group and the leader is steadfast, the negativity and drain that person may have will never be enough to influence the group.
If the group has no leader, be aware of the undertones of the group’s dynamic. You want to avoid drama, cliquish issues, and husband-bashing if it happens on a regular basis or seems to involve a majority of the women in the group.
A homeschool mom support group is worth participating in if you feel refreshed, encouraged, and inspired at the end of the meeting. For many years, the mom’s group I attended was what kept me going. Those years I spent in that group continue to influence my homeschooling today. It was definitely time well-spent.
So, as you might have gathered, I don’t think homeschool groups are absolutely necessary, nor do I think they are a colossal waste of time. It is super important you count the cost, consider your needs, and make choices that are specific to your family’s needs.
Looking for a homeschool group in your area? Check out the listings on HSLDA’s website!