Home Ed Groups – The Co-op of my dreams

Home Ed Groups – The Co-op of my dreams

By Bridget Muhrer

When my family started our first year of home education, I thought we had our co-op set up for the long term. We had a group of seven friends that were all starting at the same time, and we had had lots of meetings and made lots of plans. We knew what we would be doing: we’d have a few activities, and the kids would be as engaged as they wanted. When they were tired of one thing, we’d start another. We’d been friends for years, we’d home educated for kinder together, this was going to be great and would continue for years! 

It lasted less than six months. 

I’m not sure exactly why it fell apart, I think it was a combination of things: there were some differences in parenting styles and home education approaches, some differences in how much effort each of us wanted to put in, and hosting was a burden nobody really wanted. It was so deflating: so much effort in planning and prepping, and it was over so soon! 

Feeling a little rudderless, we spent a term without a co-op, and it just didn’t feel as productive. Our co-op day let me give myself a little tick whenever I had my moments of doubt, ‘At least we did co-op, that was a solid learning day’. It gave my kid the chance to learn from a variety of people who see the world differently to me, and do different things, or do the same things in a different way (which can be revelatory). It filled my cup, and my child’s. Without that day, I didn’t feel as confident. I wanted another co-op! But if things couldn’t work with my friends, how could they work at all? Still, I couldn’t help but daydream about a different co-op. 

My dream co-op was based on the learning outcomes from our first co-op: 

• It would be an outdoor event, which would resolve the challenges in hosting, such as having to clean the house up, kids having Big Feelings about their toys being touched, last-minute cancellations because the host is sick, etc. 

• Every family would bring their own activity to share—something they chose, so they were comfortable with the prep work before the day, the content and the budget. The activity could be anything: a reading nook, a science experiment, finger knitting, an egg and spoon race. The adults could share their plans during the days before the event, so we could make sure we had a nice variety. This would also weed out any families who weren’t looking to actively put in effort to contribute to the co-op, while also stopping others from over- volunteering and burning out. This would be a truly co-created experience. 

• Being in a larger space would also mean we could run all the activities at once, instead of just one or two at a time. That way the kids could free range, skipping over the things that don’t interest them and spending as much time as they want on the things that do. And they would also have the choice to play in nature, if nothing else interested them. The co-op would be a comfortable fit for unschooling families. 

• If we had enough members, it wouldn’t really matter when some families couldn’t make it on any given week (I guessed a minimum of 12 member families would mean about 4-8 families come each week, which felt like a good number to start with). We would all bring an activity, so we wouldn’t be relying on any one person to make the day work. 

• With no hall hire or cost for a host, joining would be basically free – the only cost would be the stuff needed for your activity, which you have complete autonomy over. No one would ever feel out of pocket or taken advantage of. 

I daydreamed about this co-op for a few months, before I found the perfect location: large piece of land, quiet street, semi enclosed, lots of tables and benches, no playground, lots of shade, toilet in walking distance, a tap (for both drinking and water activities). I was excited, but needed some other people to help me set it up. And I had no idea who those people could be. 

Fortunately a few days later I happened to start talking with three women I met at a HEN event – Jane, Megan and Rosemary. The conversation led to me bringing up my dream co-op, and they immediately sounded as keen as I was to see this co- op come to life! We swapped contact details, and Jane went home and created a Facebook group that very night. 

We had our first Open Day in late 2021. We advertised it as a one off, testing the waters, before seeing if any other families would want to join us regularly. We had about 15 families join us, and other than the three women who created the co-op with me, I knew only one family. Very different from my first co-op with close friends… and it was such a beautiful day! Everything went so smoothly and calmly, some families didn’t realise it was our first ever event! The day was a success, and we started doing it weekly. 

Since then we’ve developed a wonderful core group of families who come most weeks. We’ve held a couple more Open Days, which are always busy (and come with a frenetic energy, unlike our usual relaxed atmosphere) … but they don’t lead to many new long-term members. Instead, newbies tend to be invited by a friend who already attends. 

Term 2 this year resulted in a necessary shake up: our reserve was booked by a kindergarten, and after trying out a few alternative locations we realised nothing is as perfect as our original spot. So we’re nomads until the kinder booking ends at the end of Term 3. And we can’t wait for that to happen! The group hasn’t fizzled out with this setback – so far we’re all waiting (im)patiently to go back ‘home’, still passionate about what we created together. 

Looking back on my original co-op, I’m really glad it happened. It offered a lot of learning opportunities and made me consider different approaches than I would have otherwise. It also changed some of my approach to the social side of home education — I don’t need to limit myself to doing this with friends, sometimes the right families are complete strangers when you start! 

For anyone out there dreaming of a co-op, but don’t know of one nearby, summer is a great time to try setting up an outdoor co-op! There are probably so many other families who will be thrilled you did! If you’re not feeling you can do it alone, I highly recommend talking to some people about it, even if they’re strangers, because maybe they are who you need. And if at first your co-op doesn’t succeed, try, try again. 

Maybe the next one will be the co-op of your dreams! 

Otherways 174 (Nov 2022)

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