"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).

For many families, homeschooling works better when one or more classes can be shared with a group. Parents and their children decide to regularly gather in each other's homes or a rented facility to cooperatively teach academic subjects like math or science or extra-curricular courses like art, sports, or drama. Better known as homeschool co-ops, these groups generally have anywhere from five to 50 member families with homeschool parents volunteering to teach particular areas of skill or interest.


However, what do you do when your community doesn't have a homeschool co-op available for parents? In this month's "What's on Your Mind," we tackle this question and also offer creative ideas for group gatherings.

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Q: What are the best ways a mom could start a small homeschool co-op that would be more age specific to meet her own child's social needs? Plus, what are some good ideas a small homeschool co-op might do as a group?
- Alesia F., Oklahoma

A: Here are five helpful steps to starting your own homeschool co-op:

1. Get Help
To start a successful homeschool co-op for children close in age to yours, the first thing to do is recruit the support of a few, like-minded homeschool parents. Because every homeschooling family is busy and no single person can run a homeschool co-op, choose three or four organized homeschool parents who display great leadership skills and an enthusiastic desire to get things accomplished.

2. Pick a Purpose
With your group of leaders, decide on your homeschool co-op's goals. Do you want to get children together to socialize, save money as a group when participating in field trips, serve the community in an event, or provide academic and instructional classes for your children? Whatever your overall purpose, your administrative group needs to establish a mission statement and a firm set of rules for both parents and children to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. For instance, how often will you meet and where, will membership fees be charged to cover expenses, will outside teachers be hired, and will every parent need to commit to teaching, supervising, and helping with clean up tasks?

3. Spread the Word
Get the information on your homeschool co-op out to the homeschooling community. Put up flyers and speak to church leaders, local librarians, youth agencies, and other places that cater to homeschooling families. Use the Internet to find local homeschool groups online and send emails with your mission statement to their leaders. You can even create a website for your homeschool co-op with pages for announcements, calendars, discussion boards, photo galleries, and more!

4. Host an Information Night
Send out a general email to the homeschoolers in your area to gauge interest and communicate your co-op's purpose to potential members. Be sure to tell interested parents more about your goals at this time and have any guidelines or rules printed to hand out at the meeting. Offer a sign-up sheet for your first planned activity or class, as well as an expectation worksheet to clarify what each family desires from the homeschooling co-op.

5. Plan Activities
The activities planned for your homeschool co-op should support the goals previously established. However, like the flexibility in your own homeschool, there are many things a homeschool co-op can do collectively as a group. Pick a name, create team sports, design T-shirts, publish a monthly newsletter, and participate in field trips. The possibilities are endless! In fact, even the running of the homeschool co-op itself can be an excellent learning opportunity for children.

In addition, here are some other ideas and topics you may wish to do as a homeschool group:

Archery
Art
Auto maintenance (don't forget "powder puff" mechanics for girls, too)
Band
Book reports
Chess
Colonial history
Community careers (get people from the local community to discuss their jobs)
Computer skills
Destruction (you'll be amazed at what children learn when taking apart old appliances)
Drama
Drawing (see AOP's LIFEPAC Drawing Basics® with Thomas Kinkade)
Heroes of the Faith (George Muller, Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, and more)
Life skills (cooking, wilderness survival, first aid, etc.)
Music
Photography
Physical education
Pioneer history
Robotics with construction toys
Science fair projects
Science labs
Shop/woodworking projects
Sign language
Simple motors
Speech
State history
Team sports

What about your family? If you're currently involved in a homeschool co-op, what activities have been rewarding and enriching for your children's homeschool education? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comment field below.