Are you familiar with the term "co-op"? It's short for cooperative and it can have different meanings. For example, farmers can have a co-op where they share machinery, seeds, or fertilizer. Or, they can have a farming cooperative where they share the burden of marketing, distribution, and transportation of their goods. Farming is not the only area where cooperatives are used. It is any group of people who get together to meet a need and everyone is in some way invested in the group.
So for the homeschool world, a cooperative (or co-op), means a group of homeschool families who get together to provide activities or classes for their children.
Now within that broad definition you will find many types of co-ops for your needs. Some homeschool co-ops provide core classes. Some families may get together and learn that Dr. Reynolds is a physicist and is willing to teach upper level science classes. Mrs. Smith might be an author and decides to teach a writing course for the co-op. Other parents fill in classes where their talents lie and soon you have a co-op. Then they divide the children up among them and teach. So as a parent, you teach an area where you are talented and your children get to take classes from others where you might be weaker. Win-win!
Some co-ops get together mainly for the fun stuff. You might see a mom teaching a cooking class, while a dad is organizing a Lego class. Your children could benefit from taking guitar lessons, foreign languages, P.E., ASL, etc. Since parents offer to teach classes based on their strengths, the classes that are offered each semester will vary.
We have been blessed to be part of a very unique co-op during our homeschooling years and that is a fine arts co-op. My husband and I decided long ago that we very much wanted music to be part of our children's education, but that is a teaching area that I am extremely lacking in! However, I do have a degree in early childhood. So for the last several years, I have happily taught the preschool classes, while my daughters took band, choir, music theory, dance, art, and guitar. In most any co-op setting, there will be a need for a nursery or preschool class in order to provide childcare for all the teachers. If this is an area you enjoy, you will always find a place in a co-op.
Homeschool co-ops usually meet once a week and can be quite large and very organized. Several of the co-ops in our area feel like once-a-week private schools. The kids wear name tags with their schedules on the back and move from class period to class period throughout the day. They usually eat lunch in a cafeteria-like setting and it really feels like a day of traditional school. I have found behavior better at co-ops than in traditional school settings because of course, everyone has a parent on campus at all times. The entire thing is run by parents!
Co-ops don't have to be a large, organized thing. One year, a friend and I got together and taught science to our collective 5 children. We took turns teaching. We took turns hosting at our houses. And the children enjoyed each other's company and benefited by learning from another adult. Remember, a co-op is any group of people cooperating to meet a need. If you have a few homeschooling families in your area, you are on your way to having a co-op! Remember to lay down ground rules and agree on things before you begin. Be flexible, and enjoy the benefits of learning from and with others. We have made some great friends through co-ops. (It's important for the homeschool parents as much as the kids!)
If you want to see a list of co-ops that may already be formed in your area, here is a good place to start looking. Just click on your state.