We just got home from a long, fun day. We picked blueberries and toured a small museum specializing in a local historical statesman. Afterwards, the kids waded in the creek on the museum grounds while we moms chatted about our plans for the upcoming school year, nutrition and books we’ve read recently. As always, we’ve come home from this excursion a little tired from the sun and activity, but without feeling rushed or stressed. The day has been enjoyable and educational. We do something like this every Friday as part of our Charlotte Mason co-op.
When homeschoolers hear that I’m involved in a CM co-op, they’re always intrigued and want to know how that’s done. The co-op grew out of our local CM mom’s study group. Some of the moms had been involved in our area’s more general homeschool co-op that’s run similar to a traditional classroom, with parents teaching classrooms of kids out of textbooks, but these moms wanted something different – something more low-key, more like the education Charlotte Mason wrote about. We thought it would be nice if our co-op day could support our CM efforts and atmosphere instead of being a social day that took a day away from lessons. We hoped we might help each other get in those “extras” that our busy schedules sometimes squeezed out: nature study, art, music. I should say, I didn’t start this co-op, I just fortuitously fell into it. When the moms talked about doing a CM co-op and started scheduling activities, I wasn’t planning to participate because one of my children was involved in classes at another co-op. It was only after the schedule of activities had been printed that I realized I’d be able to be involved.
Our co-op meets every Friday, usually from noon to three, unless we have a field trip that requires more time. Two Fridays of the month we do field trips, one Friday we do a nature study at a local park, and the fourth Friday we do a structured series of lessons that includes picture study, composer study, folksong, handicraft, and drawing. We’ve visited a coal-mining museum, a grain mill, a nature preserve run like a zoo, a historic farmstead, and an underground cavern. Our children have seen mozarella cheese form after adding rennet, learned to knit, sifted through sand looking for fossils, and woven a basket. When the school year was over, the older students didn’t want to stop meeting together every Friday, so they initiated the production of a Shakespeare play, rehearsed at our usual time on Fridays, and then performed it for friends and family at the end of the summer.
What makes our co-op run so smoothly? Small group size, moms committed to CM, and low-key structure contribute to making the group work. First of all, not just anyone can join. Our co-op is only open to moms who are actively striving to provide their children with a Charlotte Mason education, and we have a 13-family limit – that’s how many we averaged, and we felt that adding any more families would make the group too large to afford the intimacy that fosters friendships in the group. To join, a mom needs to commit to attending at least one mom’s study meeting in a semester (we meet every six weeks, so there are three meetings in a semester) and have read at least one book about the CM method. It can be a book about the CM method by any of the current popular interpreters, although in our study groups, we study CM’s original books. There are dues to pay for craft materials. Each mom is expected to take over one area of teaching on the last Friday of the month when we do our “lessons.” We have one mom who loves botany, one who loves art, one who loves crafts – in most cases, there was a mom perfectly suited to head one specific subject. We’ve also been fortunate in having a mom who’s great at calling around to various local attractions and organizing field trips.
Our kids range in age from 4 to 16, and that hasn’t been as much of a problem as it would be in a tradional classroom-setting co-op. Half of our students are older, so there are big kids to help keep track of little kids. The age gap sometimes means that we have to do a subject twice – for instance, we might do a picture study geared for junior/high schoolers, and then another one geared for preschoolers. But, in general, having kids of all ages has been a positive thing. There is positive role modeling as younger children see older children discussing favorite books, performing Shakespeare, and getting up in front of the group to recite a poem. Little ones are applauded by the respected high schoolers when they get up and recite a poem from memory. We see older kids learning to nurture, and preschoolers forming bonds with teens. My five-year-old daughter looks forward to seeing the high school girls who give her hugs as much as she looks forward to playing with the preschool buddies she has in the group. My daughter normally rarely leaves my side, but when we go on co-op field trips, she often runs on ahead of me, happily holding hands with one or another of the “big kids.”
Because all the moms are actively striving to understand CM, we know that lessons will be taught in a way consistent with CM. The CM method tends to draw thoughtful, reading moms with a perspective of children as persons, and I’ve found that we automatically seem to connect in other areas, too. It’s almost as if CM itself draws moms who are already kindred spirits. This means that, as fun as it is for our children to go places and see their friends, the moms look forward to visiting as well, and we have lots to talk about while we practice “masterly inactivity.” In fact, we’ve enjoyed getting together so much that we moms started a book club that meets every six weeks, to coincide with our CM study group (so now we’re meeting every third week). Some of the teens have joined our book club and have enthusiastically added to our discussion of “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
I think it’s important to note that our co-op grew out of our mom’s study group, not the other way around. We had already been meeting and discussing CM’s books and ideas for a year before we started the co-op. We knew that we were all committed to the method, and that we wouldn’t have people joining simply because it was a convenient opportunity for them to jump in on a few field trips. We know that when we ask each other about math programs or reading difficulties or discipline, the other moms will be as interested in going to the source to see what Charlotte Mason would have recommended as we are. I hope this gives some idea of how a CM co-op can work, and inspires you to start a group of your own. This has been a great experience for us. I hope to see more groups like this arise in the future so that others will have the same opportunity to learn together and support each other in their CM homeschooling.
© 2010 by Leslie Noelani Laurio