Co-ops and tutorials or class centers are one of the trickiest parts of homeschooling. There are so many different kinds. Some of them are amazing communities with great facilities and tons of learning opportunities for a low price and a little of your volunteering. Others are expensive, drop off mini-schools. Still others are tiny communities that struggle and implode when tensions or financial issues become a problem. It’s not like there’s some central guide to whether a co-op is worth your time or will be good for your kids. You have to visit and try places out to find the right fit, if there even is one for you.
I see families struggle sometimes to figure out how much to commit to co-ops and classes. It can be really tricky to figure out if something is meeting your needs.
Ask yourself if the co-op meets your family’s need for social opportunities.
For younger students, this might be the primary question. Even for older students, it can be important. Is the atmosphere at the co-op positive? Are their kids your kid’s age? Is there a culture of making friends there or do kids sit in class and not have a chance to socialize at lunch or during a free time? If a co-op is toxic or socially lackluster, you might not need it. Don’t join for socialization if it doesn’t even exist. On the other hand, if a co-op doesn’t do anything but help your child socialize with their friends, but it makes them happy, then don’t be dismissive about that need to time around friends.
Ask yourself if the co-op meets your family’s extracurricular needs.
This is where many co-ops shine. They put on plays, run robotics teams, or have great cooperative PE classes. They take the intensive planning for some of the “fun extras” off your plate and give your kids options. Co-ops like this are great for any age. However, as kids get older, these opportunities may not be as golden. Many high schoolers will grow out of the parent run extracurriculars of your co-op and need more challenging sports teams, local theaters, and programming courses.
Ask yourself if the co-op meets your family’s academic goals.
Honestly, most co-ops in my experience will not meet your primary academic goals. Even great co-ops are often not that academic. Be critical when evaluating this. If you’re trying to get a solid chunk of academics done, then doing a co-op that doesn’t meet your needs may not be worth it.
If the co-op is academic, consider the academic culture.
I’ve seen several co-ops that offer amazing academic classes for older students, but parents tell me that no one does homework and getting kids to come to class with even minimal preparation is a struggle. If a co-op offers a great sounding writing class, but your student is the only one who will do the work, then it still may not be right for you.
If your student is in high school, ask yourself whether the co-op grew with your kid.
Once kids get older, they need more time satisfying high school academic requirements and tend to spend more time on their own interests. A co-op that may have worked for you for many years might not anymore or might be something you scale back to a single day.
Think about how many days is enough.
For a co-op that is meeting multiple goals above – social, extracurricular, and academic – then there really aren’t too many days to be there as long as you’re happy and getting any other academic work done. It’s especially easy to commit time when your student is younger and core academics take less time. However, for a co-op that isn’t meeting most of your goals, then only going once or twice a week is really enough most of the time. Don’t go out of some sense of obligation to the co-op. Only stay if it’s actually filling some need you have.