Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Co-Ops
I have been part of a CM co-op for the past year. Last summer, I sent email invitations to about a dozen moms. Most of these moms were regular attendees at our local Charlotte Mason monthly support group. I also chose to invite those who had children within a certain age range.
My initial idea was to provide friends for my 11 year old grandson who had had some tough family issues during the past year and had only been homeschooled a couple of years previously. He had not had opportunity to make any good friends. (This goal was met far beyond my expectations, but more on that later.) Not everyone could accept the invitation, of course. I really believe that God had a hand in putting our group together because it has worked unbelievably well.
Our group consists of 9 families and 18 students. Ages range from 9 years to 16 years, with the predominant group being around 11 & 12 years old. We all feel the Lord had a hand in blending us into such a cohesive group because the kids got together well, and the moms just LOVED being together AND watching the kids have such wonderful learning experiences.
Before the school year last year, we met twice to put the fall semester together, then again in December to plan the 2nd semester. Every time we meet to plan another semester, the main request we all have is for more time, more classes, more ‘free’ time for the kids to interact and play outdoors.
Each family who participates covers expenses for classes. We all paid a small amount to cover the color copy expense of the art prints. We try to keep costs to a minimum, but this year we purchased art supplies for pencil drawing and pen and ink. Everyone got the list well in advance of the semester’s start, and we made use of 40% coupons at Hobby Lobby as much as possible! Families could easily share some of the supplies, and some families already had some of the things needed, such as nature notebooks, copies of Shakespeare plays, and even the Latin program we used. For those who didn’t, we tried to make group orders to save on shipping costs. Some families have as many as three children participating in co-op, so we don’t want to make it cost-prohibitive for anyone.
What they Did
For our “Big Events” of the year, the Shakespeare play and the trip to Houston museums, our event co-coordinator mom got us some fantastic group prices. It truly pays to call and talk to someone at the event location because we paid much less for tickets to both museum exhibits than shown on their websites. For the play, we just decided to look at it as a cultural and educational experience for our kids that would be worth the expense.
Although we understand the concept of short lessons, we’ve really had longer time slots for our subjects. We do this because we only meet once a week, and because most of the children are old enough to work longer without becoming restless.
We started out with a 30 minute Latin class (for beginners) but it was just impossible to do everything in such a short time, so we now run 45 min. to an hour, which seems contrary to CM’s method. However, within the hour we have 4 to 5 very varied activities, so it constantly changes the pace and the type of brain activity needed. We sing, chant, recite while standing. Then we sit down and look at the previous lesson’s homework, introduce the new lesson, and see if anyone has questions. Homework answers give everyone a chance to participate IF they have done the work at home. We go around the room for “popcorn” answers–pop up with the correct answer very quickly. The students really enjoy this opportunity to show their ability. Then we have a tale of Roman history, which holds them spellbound. Sometimes the story lends itself to a re-enactment style narration, and the students really enjoy wielding swords and shields.
Art & art appreciation also work better if the teacher and students have longer to work. We’re blessed to have a mom who is not only an art major, but also very talented in art. They worked mostly in pencil and pen & ink. The kids learned so much last year. My 15 year old son absolutely LOVES this class, but the really great thing is that we had some kids who had never realized they were artistic that discovered they had some talent and really got into learning art skills. One mom reported that while the family was on vacation, they stopped at a visitor information center that had a long bridge to the center. One of her sons remarked that it would be a great scene to sketch, so the family made the effort to plan time for that when they came back through there on the return trip. Her remark was that that son would never have noticed or thought of sketching if it had not been for the art class that gave him the interest.
The teacher made 12 x 18 prints of our artist appreciation paintings, and they were beautiful. The highlight of the year was a field trip to Houston to see a wonderful exhibit of French artists from the 1800s that was on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The kids were able to see the ‘real thing’ of some of the paintings they had studied. This same field trip also took in a traveling exhibit of the Roman Empire and artifacts in another nearby museum. Our Latin class hadn’t exactly reached the era of the Empire yet, but it was still extremely interesting.
Shakespeare is the only class we divided into 2 groups by age. The high school group only had 7 students, but they really meshed well together. We read 2 plays, one per semester. We chose the first play based on the opportunity to see it performed by a professional acting troupe during the semester. That was a very positive experience (Romeo & Juliet), and the high school students also had a Shakespeare project to complete during the semester that would be on display or be presented at the closing program. Everyone chose a different type of project: costuming dolls as Romeo & Juliet, writing a ballad of R & J with music & performing it, making a web page, creating a board game based on the play, writing and illustrating a children’s version of the story, and making a comic book version of one act of the play. The kids really stepped up to the plate on this assignment, and the results were awesome. Meanwhile, the younger group also tackled Romeo and Juliet. The mom who was teaching this group had some trepidation about doing a ‘love story’ with kids from age nine to twelve, and mostly boys at that! However, the swordplay was more than enough to keep them happy. She would have them bring their wooden swords to class, lead them all outside, and they would act out a street fight from the previous week’s reading. Needless to say, it was a big hit; actually, we chose a comedy to do the second semester–As You Like It–and it wasn’t nearly as popular with this group because there was absolutely NO sword fighting!
For the second semester of Shakespeare, the high school kids re-wrote the play, As You Like It, to abridge it so they could put on a play for our closing program at the end of the school year. The re-writing itself was a huge task, and they learned a lot about Shakespeare by trying to condense the play and retain the sense of the plot while keeping Shakespeare’s original words, or course. The play was a huge hit at the program. Parents (especially dads) were amazed to see their children act so well. We definitely saw some budding thespians!
Nature study was our other class. This one required the most tweaking of all. The church where we met didn’t have any ‘nature’ nearby. The nature mom brought in interesting things each week for the kids to observe, sketch, and learn about. Still, it didn’t seem to spark a lot of interest (we had several kids who’d never done nature study, so were kind of resistant to the concept of nature notebooks). We moms knew the problem was that nature study isn’t really meant to be done inside all the time. Finally, we hit upon a working plan. We met every other week at some nature outing–a nearby college’s nature trail, a pond that belonged to one of the families, the Forestry Museum’s nature trail, etc. Several of these walks were led by a wonderful Christian state Forestry employee who has an enthusiastic attitude. She had wonderful activities planned for the kids each time. The in-between weeks, we call show and tell and ask the kids to bring something interesting from home to share with the other kids. If it isn’t something they can bring it, they can bring their nature journal entry about it and share that. We also had several field trips with the Forestry lady as our guide that were wonderful outings. We saw a red-cockaded woodpecker colony, pitcher plants in a bog, and long leaf pine tree in all its growing stages. [Using experts is highly recommended by Charlotte Mason--CL]
Involving Moms in true Co-op Style
Four moms actually taught classes, one mom was our events co-coordinator, getting tickets, planning the closing program meal and arranging trips, etc., and the other moms handled snacks each week, and helped out in classes with hand-outs, stapling, etc. We will have 2 more moms teaching new classes this next year. We also bring lunches from home and share fellowship while we eat.
Showcasing the Accomplishments
Just a bit more about the program at the end of each semester: This was an important event for the children. They really enjoyed getting the opportunity to ‘perform’ for parents, grandparents, and friends. Again, we tried to vary the style of each program; for the program in November we had a dinner theater style. Everyone brought finger foods from home, and two of the moms set up an elegant buffet style table. We met in the fellowship hall of the church where we met each week, so we had nice round tables, tablecloths, centerpieces on each table, and classical music in the background. At the close of the spring semester, we planned an outdoor picnic and planned to put on our play outdoors because the setting of “As You Like It” is pastoral, the enchanted Forest of Arden. However, we rained out and had to fall back on Plan B, moving inside again. For this meal, we all pooled money to purchase pizzas to make it simpler.
For the program at both of these events we had Latin recitations, chants, and prayers, lines memorized from Shakespeare, and skits from the plays. And of course, at the spring program, the older class put on their play to wrap things up. There were also displays of the students’ art, their nature journals, and the Shakespeare projects of the first semester. Even the students who did web pages were able to bring a laptop computer to give a presentation of their work. Latin students received Certificates of Completion of year one of Christian Latin.
The programs were to showcase the accomplishments made during the co-op’s year of study, but many of the results could not be ‘shown’ so easily. I mentioned that I hoped to provide friends for my grandson. That goal was realized when the group of boys that were the ages of eleven and twelve became a ‘club.’ They played together at each other’s homes, and had enormous fun on the playground during breaks at co-op. They had a special ‘currency’ for purchases of homemade swords, hats, packs, and spy gear.
A benefit that I hadn’t expected was when a similar bond formed between the older teen boys. There were only four in this age group, and my fifteen year old son was one. They were half of the high school Shakespeare class. (All the boys sat at one table, and all the girls sat together at another one.<smile>) Somewhere about middle of the way through the co-op year, these guys became buddies. The bond formed during art class and came about over a joke about an art eraser they were sharing. (It’s too complicated to go into here, but the eraser came to be called “the community eraser,” and they made T-shirts to commemorate the event!) They called themselves “The Community.” It made a tremendous difference in several ways. I saw a definite rise in self-confidence based on this feeling of having friends who were supportive. When we began Shakespeare, there was a large amount of resistance about having to ‘act’ out anything. By the second semester, these same boys were reading As You Like It with (very bad) French accents and actually got into the stage production of the play after the girls in the class came up with the idea. These guys began getting together outside of class for bowling, movies, and working on special video/computer projects. I was very glad to see these friendships develop, and feel they were a special outcome of our co-op.
It was an awesome year! Everyone finished the year feeling very excited by all aspects of our group and looking forward eagerly to next year. We wrapped things up for the 2nd semester by the end of April, then we moms got together twice in May to plan next year! Well, actually we met once to plan, and once to just enjoy getting together at a local tea room with delicious lunches.
Next year we’re adding a Great Books discussion group and a speech class. Art skills class will be doing watercolors this year. We kept all the classes we had last year, also. We expanded our time together, and everyone is looking forward to another great year. We are excited to be privileged to be part of such a great experience.
I wanted to tell you enough to encourage you to go for it. I believe it’ll be an experience that will bless your family.
Joan E. Adkins
I am part of a CM co-op and we have only met once so far. Most of our students are in high school so we are only meeting once a month but for a very full day! All the Moms are participating fully which has really encouraged the students. We have a nature study for an hour with an assigned item to locate such as a bug or a flowering plant or a tree of choice. We provide reference books for us all to use as we look at and draw our item and add interesting tidbits of information into our Nature notebooks. Although I enjoy being in wild settings I was VERY surprised that we used an hour in nature study during our first meeting!
Next we change gears to poetry. We have challenged everyone to begin work on a poem for recitation at a poetry recital to be held in a few months and spent some time discussing this and will in the months to come give each other constructive feedback.
We listened intently to one piece of music by one specific composer and looked at one painting card from one artist which we then entered into a art notebook.
We corporately took a walk and then enjoyed our own packed lunches. We then began the reading of The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame with Ernest Shepard illustrations, while doing any quiet handicraft of our choosing. Specifically that illustrator because our 2nd book of the year is slated to be Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne and illustrated also by Ernest Shepard.
After the reading we have time for individual work whether it is finish up an entry in the one of the notebooks or continued work on handicraft or stretch and chat while just a few from the group [none of us know who will be selected] separate to prepare a narration using one of many narration styles [compiled on slips of paper and placed in the hat from which they must draw three and choose their preference] Our final activity of the day is to listen appreciatively to the narrators as they give their presentation.
I have been involved with co-ops of different natures throughout the 16 years I have been home schooling and I have never had a more enjoyable non-stressed day as our first CM co-op which we cooperatively renamed a knot meeting having enjoyed lively discussions on the meanings of different small group words and chose the one that made us smile with the play on words “We’re knot meeting today!”
The primary reason for success in a co-op seems to be agreement between the families on styles of learning and behaviors. Picking a cohesive group that can work well without stressing out it’s more sensitive members or suppressing its most enthusiastic members is not easily done. Small groups work better than big groups and the leaders really need to be on the same page spiritually and educationally and time comitant-ly [Is that a word? It is certainly a heart felt definition!]. Plan carefully and do not be afraid to change it when and if it needs to be changed!