Starting a Co-op: 3 Key Ingredients

Starting a Co-op: 3 Key Ingredients

1. People

Getting a core group of families is key to starting a co-op. This one may be a piece of cake for you if you already have some families chomping at the bit to get started. For that matter, you may practically have a whole community of families right at your fingertips! But if not, it’s time to go fishing!

When I first had the idea to start our co-op, I had to do a lot of talking! I had met another mom in our community who started getting interested in the idea, and between the two of us we started spreading the word to people we were acquainted with as well as anyone we happened to meet who might be interested (including people at the park, the supermarket–you know when you see a family with school age kids at the grocery store during school hours they must be homeschooled!–the gymnastics studio, etc.). We also had a group that met for field trips and park days, so we put the word out there–this was before Facebook. In the end we ended up with about 5 families our first semester, and we put all the kids together for one big class that met at my kitchen table. Which brings me to the 2nd ingredient…

2. Place

Ok, this can be either a no brainer, or a daunting challenge. I’ve seen co-ops that fell right into an amazing situation right off the start. There’s a secular co-op in a community very close to ours with more than 80 families that meets in a church for free. Amazingly, that’s not uncommon. Of course, you could also meet in a community center, library, or home, depending on your size. I even know of a co-op that meets in a nursing home.

So how do you find a place? Ask, ask, ask! There’s no getting around it, unless you meet in your own home or the home of another member, you’re going to have to do some phone calling, networking, maybe even set up some meetings. After two years in our house (we expanded from the kitchen table to most of the other rooms!) I knew it was time to find us a place. I called my church, looked into other buildings like the senior center, and ultimately made a list from the phone book of all the churches in the community and started systematically calling them. “Hello, my name is Elaine and our homeschool co-op is looking for a location to meet once a week. Would this be something your church might be interested in? Is there a specific person I should talk to?”

I got everything from absolute “NO!” to “Sure, you can use our (very small) building for this astronomical price that no one could possibly afford.” Finally, jackpot! We got a very nice mid-sized church in a great location for a very reasonable weekly rate.

So don’t give up! Just keep looking! After all, you’ve got important goals to achieve! Which brings us to our 3rd ingredient…

3. Purpose

Co-ops have lots of different purposes. What is yours? Do you want to have a two hour educational class once a week for 3-8 year olds? Maybe you want to offer classes in the arts for elementary and middle school? Perhaps your co-op will be centered around core high school classes and labs? Or maybe you want to go full throttle and offer classes every day of the week for all ages. Whatever your dream, define it, at least for the short term. It may change or expand as time goes on, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Once you define what you want you can start figuring out how to get there.

Once you’ve got these three ingredients you’re well on your way to a very successful venture…or perhaps I should call it an ADVENTURE! Good luck and keep going! The fun has just begun!