Homeschool co-ops, enrichment programs, and other options abound in the Kansas City area!
In fact, your head may be spinning from all the choices (see a list of co-op and other program options on our website). You may not even know the questions to ask when comparing these groups…and what exactly is a “co-op” anyway?
In this blog post, we’ll make it easier for you to discover the pros, cons, and variables of joining any of these groups, and how to pick the right one for your family.
(Thanks to Dawn Pittman, one of our Encouragement Day speakers, for speaking on this topic at one of our conference workshops and providing these great tips!)
Homeschool Co-Ops Vs. Enrichment Programs Vs. …
Loosely defined, homeschool co-ops, or cooperatives, form when a group of parents come together to teach their children a subject (or range of subjects).
In this setup, parents are usually the teachers. They share the responsibility for teaching some, or all, of the subjects to their children. Typically parents will stay for the whole teaching time with their children.
On the other hand, homeschool enrichment programs tend to be drop-off centers where parents can leave their children for a certain period of time.
The teachers can be homeschool parents, retired teachers, and so forth. Parents can still be, and usually are, involved in the running of the enrichment centers.
Costs vary widely, especially if you’re participating in a wide slate of classes. The more the parents are involved, the less expensive it can be.
Typical reasons for homeschool co-ops and enrichment centers
- Academic needs.
Some parents don’t feel confident teaching certain subjects to their children, so they look to an outside source.
Outsourcing specialty, or non-core, classes like foreign languages, art, and other options to a co-op, enrichment center or other teacher can be a great option.
For core subjects like English, math, and writing, you can look to a co-op … or maybe even a community college like Johnson County Community College, which has been very friendly to homeschool high-school students.
Another alternative: Create an informal group with one or two other families. You can also take an individualized class through Parks & Rec, music schools, and so on.
- Social needs.
“My 5-year-old is so social, and I can’t imagine staying at home all day with him!”
Even as homeschooling becomes more mainstream, many parents still worry about socialization. While we addressed the socialization question extensively in this blog post, homeschool co-ops or enrichment centers may not always provide “instant socialization” for your children.
For one thing, if they’re as young as 5, the academic-focused teaching in these groups may not be the best fit for your social butterfly.
As your kids become older, socialization will become more important. But 5-year-olds don’t often crave 20 or more “best friends” as they prepare for launching into high school!
Social interactions can come through other avenues like park days, field trips, and visits to friends and family. You can also check out sports opportunities for homeschoolers, and church-based groups such as Awana.
Additionally, In the Kansas City area, we enjoy many homeschool-focused activities at area libraries. Still looking for other options? Try Trail Life or American Heritage Girls for organized meetings.
As you do your research, Dawn recommends the following questions:
Question 1: Why are you homeschooling?
While this question can seem obvious, it’s sometimes easy to forget as you check off your to-do list!
Remember your educational philosophy and then make sure that your co-op, group activity or enrichment program is helping you reach that goal. Perhaps right now your focus (especially for younger kids) is more on building character or learning through play, rather than a highly structured academic setting.
In that case, maybe you can wait for a year or two before joining homeschool co-ops and other organized groups.
Often families will mention the slower pace of life and greater quantities of family time together that homeschooling brings. Use that to your advantage when planning out your school schedule!
Question 2: What style of homeschooling do you prefer?
Homeschool co-ops and enrichment centers make for highly structured environments, more like institutional schools.
While that environment may perfectly complement your high schooler’s desire for focus and specialization, very young children (we’re talking preschoolers and kindergartners) may need a year or two of further development before they’re comfortable in such a space … and often for an extended period of time, like three or more hours.
Question 3: What curricula do you use?
Homeschool co-ops often started when families were all using the same curriculum and wanted to share their collective resources.
Today that scenario may look quite different, especially with so many curriculum choices on the market. Before you decide on enrolling in a specific enrichment program or co-op, try to figure out what (if any) curriculum is required in addition to other enrollment and registration fees.
Question 4: What season of family life are you experiencing?
Your homeschool needs will change as the ages of your kids change.
It can be easy to compare yourself to other families who don’t have the same age ranges as yours. For example, your friend has enrolled both her middle-school children in a co-op, while you still have a number of littles who need naptime and constant breaks.
If that’s the case, you may need to adjust your expectations as to how much you can juggle this school year, especially when it comes to outside activities!
Question 5: Any special circumstances that will affect your homeschool?
Dawn Pittman outlines a number of common scenarios that can make homeschool co-ops and enrichment centers a better fit for your school year: house moves, family adoption and fostering, health care needs, and significant life/family changes.
Sometimes homeschool co-ops and enrichment centers can help you fill the educational “gaps” during those times. However, other families may find that an additional academic commitment is just too much at this time in their lives.
Question 6: What is the total commitment (including drive time)?
Beyond the initial enrollment fees, homeschool co-ops and enrichment programs often require additional costs. These include supplies, technology fees, field trips, maintenance and registration, and more.
Even if the time commitment is only a few hours, Dawn recommends adding some extra time before and after for margin. Be sure to set realistic expectations, both for yourself and your children!
Bonus tip: Sometimes these co-ops and enrichment programs will have early enrollment periods and deadlines in the spring, not necessarily in the summertime when some families start shopping around. Often parents have told us they end up on waiting lists because they missed registration deadlines.
If you’re eyeing a specific program, you should always check directly with them as to their enrollment period and deadlines. Also, ask whether they have early registration discounts!
Question 7: What will you give up, and is it worth it?
Sometimes the time at a co-op or enrichment center can weigh heavily on toddlers and babies with a set napping schedule.
Outsourcing your homeschool will require you to give up (some) control of your children’s education, at least in those areas being taught. It can mean that parents are not as involved and may not be able to keep up with all the instruction.
Finally, will these opportunities significantly decrease your younger children’s playtime? If so, you might want to rethink your approach. More and more research is pointing to the benefits of unstructured playtime for children.
For example, this NPR article explains 5 research-backed benefits of playtime: healthy brain development, reduction of obesity and related diseases, stress and trauma recovery, family bonding, and (well, what do you know!) increased contribution to academic skills.
Final considerations when choosing homeschool co-ops or groups
- Homeschool FOMO syndrome.
“It can be really easy to feel like, ‘All of my friends do that co-op, and if I don’t do it, my kids must be missing out,’ ” says Dawn.
If you’re in that boat, it may comfort you to know that many homeschool graduates never attended even one co-op or enrichment center!
Also, adding a new baby can disrupt your homeschool schedule for a year. It’s fine to take a break every now and then, or lower your expectations for each schoolday.
You can also hire a homeschool teen to come help for a few hours a week.
- Financial concerns.
What if you need additional income? Co-ops and enrichment centers can sometimes help you add a little extra income by teaching. However, this doesn’t have to come through a co-op or enrichment center.
Sometimes you can swap a few hours with another homeschool mom. That way, one of you can work on the side while the other one spends time with all your children.
It’s also OK to treat your children differently. Not all of them may need to go to the same co-op or enrichment center!
- Unrealistic expectations.
One mom told us that she ended up trying three different homeschool co-ops and enrichment programs. Over a period of 15 years, she finally figured out what worked best for her family.
Don’t feel like you have to get everything figured out the first year that you start homeschooling. What may work perfectly for one family (or one season) may not fit another.
Just like curriculum and other items, homeschool co-ops and enrichment programs are one of many wonderful tools at our disposal. We hope you find the right fit for your unique family!
We have updated this blog post, originally published in August 2019, for timeliness and detail.
Liked this post? If you’re new to homeschool, check out our Start Homeschooling page for more information.