Articles for March 2015

Simplifying the Homeschool Coop

Mom and Emily in science together.
Mom and Emily in science together.

It’s been a decade since we started homeschooling science at our local science museum . . . OMSI.  There is this really wonderful homeschool program that grew from four kids to 210, now featuring fourteen different classes and levels of science instruction across six branches of science.  All kinds of different homeschoolers take classes there . . . all different philosophies of education, religious/non-regligious backgrounds, curriculum users, sizes of families, ages, and neighborhoods.  Every week, for 24 weeks of the year, the group comes together for class instruction, 20 parents take turns helping out in the classrooms, and everyone else grabs a hot drink, then finds a corner to read a book, chat, email, or knit.

IMG_0173I have to keep my Tuesdays simple.  So, I wear a red sweater every week; keeps my morning routine simple and everyone can find me.  I stand in the same corner of the foyer, wear the same name badge, and drink the same green tea.  I pull around the same black roll-around with my red clipboard.  After 288 weeks of classes, I have simplified the science morning routine so that I can enjoy greeting 210 happy young scientists and their parents. Why?  Because I am the coordinator of all these excited families and I don’t want to be bogged down with complexity.

A decade ago I wanted a science class for my son and niece.  I wanted more than what I could do in the kitchen, and I really was not excited with the workbooks that turned science into fill-in-the-blank exercises.  I wanted science to be exciting.  More than studying the clouds, planting seeds, and using vinegar and baking soda to create volcanoes.  So I turned to our local science museum.  (Local . . . 2o minutes from our home.)

DSC_0986What they offered was the opportunity to pull together 12 students into a “school” and sign up for science classes in their labs.  What I thought was a simple little science coop for my kids and a few friends just exploded.  By May, I had 100 kids on a waitlist to join us.  The museum was amused, as they could never pull any size homeschool group together from within house.

I’m still the coordinator of the group.  By keeping the co-op simple, it keeps going.  I get to meet with friends, chat about so many different types of curriculum, and use my former-teacher-skills to coordinate and inspire young scientists.

My tips for keeping any co-op simple:

  1. Post a website with the information.  Cuts down on the simple questions that can be easily looked up.
  2. Single registration form.  One method of paying.  One due date.  One list of guidelines everyone follows.
  3. Accept help from the other parents.  Find ways to use their talents and offerings; greeters, name tag makers, door monitors, website assistants.  The first year was the most awkward.  I felt funny asking for help.  Then I realized, it was easier with their help, it pulled friends together for a common goal, and everyone wants to keep groups inexpensive and low-key.
  4. Plan it out.  The program runs with few issues because we create a plan through OMSI, we meet about the classes, select topics, and choose teachers.  I try to not procrastinate or do things the day before.  Some times things pop up, like a sick greeter or a closed parking lot announcement.  Planning ahead allows for a smooth morning.
  5. Streamline registration process.  All checks come in by due date.  One check goes out to the science museum.
  6. Keep a bag/roll-around stocked with an office.  I restock the night before.  Grab in the morning.  Sort when we get home.  There are pens, stapler, hole puncher, extra name tags, my clip board, snack, first aid kit, scratch paper, our laminated rosters and signs, my name tag, a few dollars for hot tea, my recharger for phone and computer (incase I need to look up a registration form), and our binder with current registrations.
  7. I wear the same red shirt/sweater each week.  Everyone knows to find me and I don’t have to think in the morning about what I should wear.
  8. Pack our snacks/lunches the night before.  We usually make a double trip out of the morning, swinging by Trader Joe’s or another errand on the way back home.
  9. The kids are are learning how to pack their own science bag for the event.  Packing their notebooks, pencils, and name tags the night before.  I even encourage them to keep an extra granola bar in the side pocket, just like I do.
  10. Gas in the car the night before.  (Always happens that the car is low on the morning the train stops on the intersection.)DSC_0079

Classes are wrapping up for this year, and I already have friends asking if we are planning for another year.  Of course!  Homeschooling wouldn’t be the same without our Tuesday homeschool science classes.  I still have Emily in middle school and she has been waiting for her turn in the chemistry lab.

(Classes are already full for next year . . . sorry!

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