Deciding to join homeschool co-ops or support groups can be a tricky decision. Many new homeschoolers join to find other homeschooling families and of course to "socialize" their kids. Homeschool groups can be a blessing or a nightmare. They can be a wonderful experience full of enrichment but they can also add stress. Families need to find the balance and what works best for their situation.
When we started homescooling a few years ago, we joined the only group I found in the area. It was agroup that focused on fun activities, parties, and field trips. They met one to two times a week. The group was a good start for us. My kids made a few friends and had fun at the activities. I learned from the homeschooling mothers that were seasoned veterans at that point. I soaked in all their knowledge. Sadly after a few years, the group changed, it no longer worked for us, and we left. Actually we were kicked out. After helping plan events for the group and growing the groups numbers, a few of the other moms wanted to grow the group in a different direction. Things happened, things were said, and we felt like we could no longer be a part of the group. They were turning the group into a Christian group and we were no longer welcome. We were sad at first, but we remained friends with the families we wanted to and planned our own events. God had a plan for us. The next year we found a wonderful co-op geared for younger kids and we discovered a neighboring Catholic church had a homeschool group. So we joined both groups. It was great for the first 2 years, but then we became too busy. We eventually scaled back, left the co-op, and just focused on the Catholic group.
The last three years we were part of a Classically Catholic Memory co-op. We joined in on the first year and loved it. The 2nd and 3rd year, I helped run the group. We made lifelong friends and my kids learned a lot. Sadly, we had to end the group to families moving away. We didn't have enough moms for teachers, the costs of rent and insurance was too much for the remaining families to continue.
This is our first year not part of a co-op in 5 years! We are still a member of the Catholic homeschool group. A few of the moms there are doing book clubs, a saint & virtue club, a home-ec club, and fun field trips will be planned. I think we will be O.K. Now that my kids are older and have made good friends, they bug to hang out with their friends.
So how do you find support groups?
Many state's homeschool websites have links to homeschool groups in the area. The only problem I have found is that many are outdated and groups have changed or no longer exist. A google search may turn up a few. I found word of mouth to be the best way to find groups. Talking to other homeschool moms is a great way to find out about other homeschool classes, field trips, etc. too!
What do homeschool groups and co-ops provide?
Anything and everything! They other classes for the kids, field trips, parties for holidays, filed days, book clubs, science labs, mom's night out, etc. Groups will vary depending what they are offering. Some groups are more fun based....parties and field trips. Other groups, like Classical Conversations or Classically Catholic Memory, are more focused on education. Before joining a group, it would be a good idea to figure out what you are looking for in a group.
How often do they meet?
This will vary for all groups. Some meet once a week, twice a week, once a month, or twice a month. I have found if it is an education/class co-op they tend to meet once or twice a week. If it's more of a support group, they will be 1 to 4 times a month. Co-ops are more structured since the kids are doing classes.
Things to keep in mind!
Before joining and getting too involved make sure to look at your schedule. Do you have other commitments...sports, drama, church groups, choir, piano lessons, scouts, etc. It's very easy to get over scheduled and stressed out. There was one year we belonged to 3 homeschool groups, had sports, violin lessons, choir, and scouts. It was too much time away from home. We were having a hard time getting school work in. It was crazy!
Don't be afraid to quit if it isn't the right fit for you and your family. Some moms won't click and not all kids will click. Not everyone will parent they way you do. We have belonged to coops where kids were well behaved on field trips, but other groups where kids were horrible and not leaving a great impression of homeschoolers. Don't be afraid to pick and choose who you hang with. We had one co-op that was heavy in girls, so we had to search for friends for my son. Things will work out. God will open a new door for you!
As kids get older, the homeschool group dynamics will change. As the mama, you'll be able to step back and the kids will begin to make their own friends. They'll find kids that they click with. Kids that share their own interests. We still belong to our Catholic homeschool group, but we now pick and choose what we attend,since we have "playdates" with the kid's close friends. We use the co-op for some fun classes and of course field trips!