Starting THAT Co-op

By Kirsty James

Looking through the photo book documenting the first year of Tyabb Homeschool Activity Teens co-op (THAT), I realised that there were two recurring expressions on the faces of the kids; happiness and concentration. Whatever they were doing – pyrography, cheese-making, polymer chemistry – their expressions were the same. They were learning, and having fun.

Sometimes when we look back on activities, there’s a level of dissatisfaction with the process or the outcome, but I can truly say that I’m thrilled with the way our co-op year worked out. Certainly, things were sometimes a little rough around the edges, but we supported one another and were flexible enough to rearrange the timetable or substitute activities or teachers where necessary.

Our family has been involved in multiple groups over the years, and each met our needs at the time, helping us to forge connections, and teach the kids new skills. THAT has been a great learning experience for parents too. We don’t have a huge budget, so it has been a challenge providing more than 35 different activities, researching options, and sourcing supplies. Each parent has contributed by planning, shopping and preparing activities, or working behind the scenes arranging excursions and managing the finances.

Ensuring that everyone has their say is time well spent. THAT is a direct democracy. We vote on activities and excursions, and use our online forum to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Making decisions together and encouraging people to speak up if they are unhappy with any aspect of the group, has enabled us to create a cohesive community; one from which I have gained as much as my kids. Another significant factor in the success of THAT is our shared sense of purpose. Rather than collecting together a group, then discussing (and inevitably compromising) on what we wanted from a co-op, we came together in response to an email clearly outlining the aims and parameters of the group. Outwardly, we are a disparate bunch, with different backgrounds, worldviews, and educational styles. However, the aims and purpose we share easily overcame any potential issues, and we have benefited enormously from the variety of talents and personalities within the group.

“A ‘double digit’ co-op focusing on STEAM activities, which are too messy, difficult, or expensive to do at home, or which require a group.”

This original mission statement of the group has remained unchanged, even though it has meant painful discussions with parents whose children are too young to attend, or who will not fit well within the group dynamics. We are not inflexible, for example we have made changes to the contribution requirements for parents who have significant additional responsibilities, but the key focus of the group has remained unchanged.

In an article I wrote for Otherways (issue 152), I wrote that I started THAT to create the “regular contact that allows friendships to flourish”, and this has certainly been the case. This year, many of the older teens are moving on to TAFE, but I’m confident that their friendships will continue. I’m also delighted that my 12-year-old is now part of a strong social group, which will hopefully grow with her over the next few years.

We are looking forward to welcoming new members, who have a clear idea of our aims and what is expected of each family. Although I’m going to miss those who can no longer attend, I’m also looking forward to getting to know new people, and to the experiences we will share. Don’t worry about trying to follow someone else’s template; the information I’ve given is about what worked for our group. There’s no point reinventing the wheel, but don’t feel constrained by what others have done. Work out what’s important to you and your kids, then see if there are others who share your vision.

In writing my previous article about the experience of creating a co-op, I hoped to encourage others to do likewise. Being part of THAT has been a highlight of my 15+ years as a home educator. So, if you cannot find a group which meets the needs of your family, I would heartily recommend taking the leap and starting your own.

Written in January 2018

From Otherways Issue 155