CO-OPS: Thinking about a play group?

Each day of our lives we make deposits into the memory banks of our children.

One of the strongest draws for us to home educate our children was the chance to make memories. Reading everything together, observing garden insects, singing geography practice, and math cooking lessons were all sweet memory-bank deposits. Even so, we thrived with other families. On good days we relished the new play-life of others. On the tough days we reassessed and corrected courses. But the question of sniffles, the certainty of fever and the surprises of life on either end of the phone killed many a playdate. Our banks had their fair share of disappointment deposited.

Then, a ballet mom probed, “Are you in a co-op?” Those were some of the sweetest words I’d ever heard. Joining a co-op brought some needed stability and support in our daily walk.

Seventeen years into homeschooling, we have participated in co-ops ranging from park playgroups to national corporate co-ops. As homeschooling has grown, we no longer get strange looks when the word “co-op” pops up. But we do get questions. What is a co-op? What all do you do? Is it hard? Is it expensive?

All co-ops are truly “support groups”. And, while that may foster images of chairs circled around a box of Kleenex, co-ops are far more. They are strength in the thick of life’s fray.  

Most organic of all homeschool groups is the “Playgroup”. So natural, in fact, it’s hard to see why anyone would bother with planning one. But children and time are fodder for more than just friendships. While we have many wonderful memories, we also have memories of breaking bones, flying stair rails and hiding atop venomous snakes. (Remember. I said seventeen years.) When you consider all that can happen, and add to that the stress of differing (often unspoken) family preferences and expectations, a bit of planning on the front end of any co-op is a good investment.

Some wise things to consider when birthing a Playgroup co-op:

  1. Worldviews: Family worldview is the most powerful determiner of cooperation as it shapes expectations and hopes. Is your group’s background religious, secular or all inclusive? 
  2. Place & Time: Playing at the park means looking for clean(ish) bathrooms, shade, tables, parking, good weather and trash cans. Playing at home means routine hospitality, parking on someone’s lawn, stashing sensitive toys, crating excitable dogs and setting ground rules. Furthermore, playing at the same home routinely means considering a separate liability policy just for the co-op. (Remember those memories listed above? Children are living proof of the Chaos theory.) State Farm Agent and Homeschool Dad Keith Williams shared “Without it you risk bankruptcy in addition to potentially unmet financial needs for the injured.”
  3. Ages & Group Size Limits: Playgroups generally include all the children in a family, but you may be wanting to limit the distraction of one age group (say under two) to give focused attention to another group. You might also decide on a size limit for your group, particularly in the early years of a co-op. More families = more challenges.
  4. Rules: Do parents stay with children? If not, how often can they be absent during the co-op? How will misbehavior be handled? What level of runny noses and other questionable symptoms are acceptable? Covid also brings new considerations: Are immunizations required? Will you follow CDC’s masking guidelines?
  5. Activities: Will you do only free play? Will families rotate to teach games or songs? Is there a place for older kids to do board games, if desired?
  6. Communication: What will you use to message others? Should parents notify only when they aren’t coming?
  7. Photos: Will there be a place to upload pictures for sharing? Will it be a publicly accessible?

Last week my family shared a fabulous day on the Chipola River and finished up our time by exploring a new restaurant. (More in Friday’s post.) The experience made me curious about the possibility of seeing Homeschool Field Trip Groups in the North Florida area. Along with the considerations above, these groups should consider:

  1. Destinations: What types of field trips do our families want? History, Art, Outdoors, theater, etc.
  2. Driving: How far are families willing to drive, and how early/late?
  3. Carpool: If families carpool, what are the requirements to be a driver and the driver’s expectations? (experienced driver, no phone out / seatbelts/ music, etc. Who will pay for gas and how?
  4. Meals: Will lunches be packed to eat picnic style at a rest stop? At a drive through? A mix?
  5. Purse: Who will be in charge of money for group pricing? When must they have all of the money?

Keep in mind that hiring a person to organize field trips can have some legal considerations when it comes to insurance. Again, consulting your insurance agent would be wise.

There has been a strong uptick in social media posts from parents moving to our area looking for playgroups. Click here for a list of a few local groups.

If you are interested in forming a playgroup and are looking for members, you may want to look at the FB pages listed here (scroll down).

And if you have a playgroup to add to this list, please contact me via the comments section below, on the Tallyhops FB page, or email me at joy.tallyhops@gmail.com.

I hope this encourages you and your friends in your homeschool journeys.

Blessings,

Joy

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