By request... :)
Homeschool Co-op is not an unfamiliar term for most people that know anything about homeschool, but many don't know exactly what it means. I know I didn't. I had a clue, but didn't know the full extent to what it could mean.
In fact, there really isn't a clear definition because not only do states differ in their requirements, so do the individual co-ops. Some are merely for socialization, some include education, some religion. Some meet twice or more a week, some meet once a month, some meet less frequently. The individual co-ops are about as different as individual homeschooling families. Some have outrageous dues, others have small dues, or possibly none (although I don't know of any in that category). Some require a statement of faith and proof that you are an active member in your home congregation... some don't.
With that said, I am going to focus on Alabama because that's where I live and those are the laws I know. To find out what the homeschooling laws in your state are I suggest visiting HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association). That link will take you to a map where you can choose your state to find out more.
In order to homeschool in Alabama, there are only two choices:
- 1) Be a certified teacher
- 2) Join a cover school that is governed by a church... generally referred to as a church school.
So for general conversation purposes in Alabama, co-op, cover school, and church school are all fairly interchangeable.
As for our cover school, we meet twice a month on a Christian university campus. The children are split into two groups K-3rd grade and 4th - high school for two classes (currently history and art). Then there are other classes for the high school kids (currently auto mechanics (with a college professor, I believe) and something for the girls... can't remember right now). There is also a PE class that is separated by age.
The art and PE classes are taught by the same teachers at each meeting (the teachers are HSing moms). The history class changes teachers (more moms) at each meeting. As a first year homeschooling mom, I am not on the teachers list, but am on the assisting list. If the teacher needs something, the 1st year moms help her out during the class.
Our on-campus days also include lunch together (can bring or buy) and a devotional time with the university staff and students. There is also a bit of free time after lunch where the kids play on the campus playground together, too.
It is a very family friendly atmosphere. There are families that bring their non-school aged children for the day as well. Personally, I enjoy the one-on-one time with Will and my MIL enjoys having Nathan and Witt for the day, so I currently only bring Will.
The parents (and other children) are welcome to sit in the back of the classrooms if they like or are to congregate in the lunch room if they want to socialize.
We also have after-school activities: field trips, 4H club, and annual staff. I believe there are two school parties each year and an end of the year awards ceremony/graduation. The mothers can also participate in Secret Sisters. One of the mothers has also organized an organic foods buying club! OH MY! I was SO excited to hear about that!!!
As you can see, our on-campus days are FULL of exciting things! It is an hour drive each way for us (but I really enjoy the drive with just one child! He is a good traveler and an excellent conversationalist!). Some families travel longer distances, some shorter. There are closer church schools, but this one seems to fit all of our needs and beliefs. So far, we are very pleased. Very pleased.
Now, our church school isn't just about meeting twice a month. They also take care of records, transcripts, etc. All the families are required to join HSLDA. Alabama laws are very lax. Let me repeat... VERY LAX. You know those teaching options I mentioned above? Those options coupled with a 180 day school year requirement are it. That's all. There are no required subjects, no standard testing requirements, no meeting with an appointed person to make sure your kid is learning requirements. Nothing. It's actually kinda nice, but I can see where some people might abuse the openness of the laws.
HOWEVER... that does not mean that we won't or don't do any of those things. We keep records of his school work. This blog would also serve as proof if anyone ever takes me to court for not teaching my kids. The church school keeps records of our curriculum and activities. We also assign and keep up with grades (that are assigned by the homeschooling parents). I haven't heard anything about standardized testing, but I'm sure we could get it if I wanted it.
HSLDA is the go-to place about all the laws regarding homeschooling. When our church school was set up, they consulted heavily with the HSLDA folks. We have many more requirements than other church schools in the area, but I like it that way. I like knowing my bases are not only covered, but above and beyond what the law expects. I feel safe that way.
So, I think I've covered everything on how our co-op/cover school process works. I'm happy to answer anything that I might have missed or elaborate more where you'd like me to. What questions do you have?