Josh behind a treeLast month I wrote about the importance of having Catholic homeschooling cooperatives, in addition other choices for supporting Catholic parents in educating their children. We looked at a variety of options, and maybe you’ve started getting some ideas for next school year.

My suggestion? Start acting now to make this a reality. Here’s my list of the four biggest things you can do this year to give yourself a successful start in the fall.

1. Begin Working with Your Team

Our homeschool co-op didn’t materialize out of thin air.  We started as a group of moms who would meet once a month to get our daughters together on Sunday afternoons. We were doing a Little Flowers Club, but you could set the format however you like.  We ended up adding fathers and sons to the mix because the guys wanted to be involved, too.  Some possibilities:

  • Host a regular park date where kids can play and moms can chat about their school situation.
  • Offer a monthly ladies’ book club or Bible study.  You’ll attract more participants if you allow people to come even if they don’t have time to do the reading.
  • Organize a study hall session, in which moms and dads can swap kids as needed to provide extra tutoring in difficult subjects.

You can probably think of other interesting group activities.  The important thing is that you begin to connect with the parents who would be interested in something bigger down the road.  You need to learn each other’s personalities and strengths and weaknesses now, so that when you organize your cooperative, you assign tasks that are suited to each person.

2. Get Some Classroom Experience

One of the reasons our cooperative has run as smoothly as it has is that all of our instructors are experienced.  One of our moms is in fact a professional teacher, and the kids say she runs the best classes.  Where did the rest of us pick up our teaching skills?  Religious education.

It is not too late to volunteer at your local parish this school year.  Introduce yourself to your DRE or pastor, and ask if you can be put on the rotation as a classroom assistant and/or substitute.  Volunteer to help out with the parish Christmas festival, Easter Egg hunt, or children’s choir.  Do take advantage of the opportunity to be “only” a helper so that you can watch others teach and learn from them.

3. Start Thinking About the Real Needs in Your Community

You will have the most success with your new program if you focus on teaching only the classes that people actually need.  Extras are nice, but parents are almost always over-scheduled, so low-priority classes are unlikely to be well-attended.

As you begin meeting with and working with the other parents in your area, ask them how school is going this year.  What do they need for the coming year that isn’t easily found in your community?  You might discover a need for:

  • Fine arts, physical education, or other extra-curricular activities
  • High school courses in subjects that not all parents are confident teaching
  • Weekly K-8 core classes that parents can build on the rest of the week
  • Group-specific activities such as practicing presentation skills or hosting a science fair.

Some of our ideas came from one mother saying, “I wish we had . . .” and the others chiming in once the idea was suggested.  Some came from Mom saying, “I’m going to teach ________ to my kid, but I really need another family in the class to keep me accountable.”

Our core cooperative classes first came to light when we hosted “Look at the Book,”  a evening get-together where parents brought textbooks that they especially liked, or that other parents had asked to peruse.  A program on display that evening caught everyone’s attention: It met a need we veteran homeschool moms had begun to notice in our homes.

4. Explore the Administrative Side

If you are planning to host your cooperative at your parish, you’ll need to be prepared to follow all the diocesan (and parish) child-safety policies.  It will take time to get parents trained and background-checked, and to make sure you understand and are prepared to implement the necessary policies.

If you plan to use a community center, or host your group at the public library, you’ll need to find out what the hours, availability, and reservation systems are.  If you need to rent a space, you’ve got a financial question to solve: How much will this cost per family, and what can we do to offset the cost for parents with tight budgets?

You Can Do This

Does it take a lot of work to get a homeschooling cooperative or other educational program off the ground?  Sure it does.  But it’s not an impossible amount of work.  If there is a true gap in the offerings to the faithful in your community, there is going to be a group of parents who care about filling that gap for their children.  Don’t sit home pining for something better when you can begin taking steps now to give your children the faith-centered education they need.