One of the big questions every homeschool family I know gets is, but what about socialization?! For a long time homeschooled children have been seen by some as socially stunted or “missing out” on peer relationships. Now I could rant for days about the advantages of real world experience instead of being locked in a classroom. We spend almost every day interacting with adults, seniors, and babies. We learn real world social skills from real world travel, errands, field trips, play dates, extracurricular activities etc. Nevertheless, at least to some extent, I understand classroom style learning can be helpful for development. For those facing family backlash, or quite simply in search of expanding social experience I highly recommend finding or starting a co-op. Since there are very few parent led cooperative education groups in my area, I found a few like minded moms and together we are starting our own group!
I hope to share our co-op experience as it evolves and inspire you to form similar groups in your own community through this blog. For me, spending time in nature and teaching life skills seems super important at this age. Thus I chose to partner with a fellow homeschool mom who runs a working organic farm. She agreed to provide the meeting space if I would invest time organizing the logistics to host approx 20 preschool to first graders in weekly outdoor lessons. We met for play dates over the summer and shared ideas on how to run the group while the kiddos got to know one another. While our official “lessons” won’t start till September here’s what I have worked out with the group so far:
1. Group Movement
We hope to start our meeting with yoga or story ballet, something theme related but fun and gross motor oriented for children’s busy bodies. For instance during space week we’ll pretend to be a rocket ship and fly through various moves visiting planets and exploring constellations with movement. I also like movement activities where kids work together (we have a parachute that could be fun) or even something as simple as playing tag teaches kids body awareness, to follow a set of rules, and good sportsmanship. Movement activities could end sitting cris-cross applesauce with the saying: body be still, mouth be still, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel your love. A little cheesy perhaps but everyone calms down and they spend a moment or two in visualization related to the topic we are going to cover before beginning other activities.
I’ve heard many many times that the only learning activity crucial to building a young child’s intellect is reading. I know children don’t always enjoy sitting still through a lengthy library storytime but I think it would be great if at least one short (on theme) story could be presented each time we meet. This is an easy way for those parents who are not super confident about leading the entire group through an activity to contribute and what I love about the fact we have a wide age range is that perhaps as our older students are expanding their reading skills they could actually be the one choosing a book and reading aloud to the group!
I like to start each unit by allowing the child to ask questions and discover details about a topic in their own way. For example, exploration for a human body theme could be taping pictures or words of body parts/organs/bones (dependent on age) to a partners body in the correct location. It could also be matching TOOB figures (which I have a ridiculous collection of) to 3-part Montessori cards and talking through how the items are similar/different. It could be as simple as having watermelon day and allowing the kids to discuss what the watermelon looks like, feels like, how hard or easily it cracks open, whats inside, etc. The kids ask questions, make observations, and learn things based on what they personally find interesting about a topic. Adults may suggest things the kids can try, or ask questions, but this section of the day is child-led learning.
This is where the slightly more traditional “school” activities come into play. As we get to know one another and discover where each child within the group is at we can tailor our activities or split into small groups perhaps to work on things you as a parent feel are important. I believe its possible to spend time practicing things you find essential to your childs growth in a fun thematic way. For example, using manipulatives during say “America” week. Very young children can sort coins into ice cube trays using fine motor tools. Next level kids can count the same items and sort them onto a greater than less than mat. Older children can use them for addition/subtraction practice, probability or to learn coin value etc. From a literary side, the youngest child can use dot markers to stamp A is for America. Next can match figurine symbols to beginning sounds. F connects to Flag…. Kids pinpoke a flag or star out of construction paper (so fun!....and trust me its safe) to improve pencil grip and penmanship. Older kids can copy the pledge of allegiance or write and illustrate a story telling what they love about our country. As a group we can perform skits or puppetshows, make art/crafts, sing songs about a topic, play topic related games, etc.
I believe snack time is less a way to keep kids from becoming hangry and more about lifeskills and fellowship. My vision here is that kids do everything from practicing safe cutting: say cucumbers with large handled crinkle cutter or kid-safe plastic knives they count out slices, take turns serving everyone….. to making green avocado deviled eggs from scratch (cooking/peeling eggs-mashing yolk and avocado-mixing ingredients-piping filling) could go along with Dr. Seuss “green eggs” book . They eat snack with a partner practicing conversational skills, manners etc and clean up everything as a team after.
I have never met a child who doesn’t LOVE experimental learning. And frankly this is my favorite thing to teach. Tornados in a bottle for weather week, Setting off a volcano for dinosaur week, making Oobleck for Dr. Seuss, pourable ice or oil blubber bag for arctic week, walking water rainbow for St. Patricks day, creating sound vibrations by yelling at rice on a saran wrapped bowl for music …..and on and on and on.
7. Sensory Play
I love the idea of giving the lead back to our children for the last part of co-op group. The best way I imagine that playing out is by providing sensory, pretend, or some combination of materials and letting the kids do their thing. For example on a gardening theme maybe they dig in the dirt, collect wildflowers, freely plant seeds. For human body week we bring along/make some doctor toys and they play that with minimal adult guidance. For ocean I have a bin filled with water, shells, aquatic figures. For space play with figures in moon sand and make believe astronauts/aliens. I currently have a box (some shoe size some large tote size) of play materials associated with at least 20 different themes I could bring to meet-ups. Obviously we would limit this a bit on bad weather days to avoid making a mess of our host’s house but as long as we’re outdoors let them play together, get messy, and be enjoy being kids! This could also be amended to a time of free play if parents are more comfortable with that but again, I love to integrate a learning theme anywhere possible so learning happens without formal or boring instruction.
Our curriculum will also be theme based (and I'll match as many weeks as possible to the themes I have planned for us to do at home) but because our setting is on a farm we will also be attempting to take full advantage of our surroundings and dive a little deeper into gardening, community style cooking, farm animals, nature, etc
Hope you find these ideas helpful for your own co-ops and I’ll continue to update as the year progresses and our group finds what works best for us!
Please keep comments contructive
Jessica and Ana
Our Homeschooling Mission Statement: We will strive to be patient, godly examples to our children, integrating biblical principles and morality into every subject. Learning should be fun. We will foster an attitude of lifelong curiosity and play while providing the best possible education we can through books, art, technology, food, tactile activities, and cultural experiences. Learning will not be dictated by hours on a clock but will be a way of life for our families.