No kid is an island: Homeschool co-ops give social opportunities to children who learn at home
Using co-ops to supplement learning is fine from a legal standpoint, but care should be taken to ensure that co-ops don’t supplant a parents' responsibility for directing their children's educations, Kamakawiwoole said, noting that homeschooling laws and regulations vary widely from state to state.
In some states, such as Hawaii, parents must certify that certain numbers of days and hours were devoted to teaching. And in some states, including New York, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, children must take standardized tests.
Other states, including Utah and Michigan, have very loose homeschooling requirements, asking little more than an affidavit from parents saying they will educate their children, Kamakawiwoole said.
Throughout the U.S., though, the chief responsibility for homeschooling belongs to the parent (or grandparent) and can’t be sloughed off to the neighborhood co-op.
“Co-ops are a great opportunity, but parents must still complete their requirements,” he said. “You can’t allow the co-op to become a substitute or take the place of the parental responsibility for homeschooling.”
The Wards have been involved in co-ops since Olive was pre-school age. Like many families, they've floated in and out of various groups and have sometimes belonged to more than one. Homeschooling parents interviewed for this story said co-op involvement was fluid and depended on interests of each child in the family, scheduling issues and changing needs. Sharing educational duties might work well for a while, then become overwhelming. One child might like a sports group; another may prefer art and music groups.
Bea Ward's decision to not to send Olive to public kindergarten came after discovering that the family’s Washington Heights apartment building was within school boundaries for an elementary school designated as “failing,” and slated for eventual closure. School zoning lines changed later, placing the Ward family’s home within boundaries of well-respected public school. By then the Wards were sold on homeschooling, though, and they now plan to teach their 3-year-old daughter at home, too.
“New York City is the best place in the world to homeschool,” Bea Ward said. “When we were studying Egypt, we saw the Temple of Dandur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum of Natural History is an endless resource for us.”
Olive is especially fond of the museum’s Discovery Room, where she and her friends enjoy gazing through telescopes and into microscopes. She can’t decide whether she like co-op activities or learning at home with her mother best.
“I like them equally, I guess,” Olive said. “I really like going places with other kids and playing with friends. When there are kids there that I don’t know, I can make friends really easily.”
For Kristen Chevrier, whose five children have been schooled in her Highland, Utah, home, there have been many co-ops over the years. One was highly structured and required her to teach a subject area for the group two days a week, as well as provide schooling for her own children on the other three weekdays.
“It was stressful, and I think there were things in my own homeschooling that suffered,” she said.
Less formal co-ops were more successful, she said. Taking teaching turns with other parents one day per week worked well, and allowed children to benefit from the educational specialties of other parents. Chevrier loved teaching an all-encompassing theater class, in which children wrote plays, built and decorated sets, learned about costuming and stage makeup, then produced their plays.
“Being in a group gives kids a great opportunity to get to know other kids,” she said, and added that some educational activities simply work better in groups.
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