The Nuts and Bolts
We have always limited the group to five or six families. This keeps the numbers at a manageable level but has enough parents (mothers in our case) so the teaching is not overwhelming. When we first began, we had fewer and smaller children so we all met together as a group. While the details have changed over time, our basic format has been for a parent to present the day's topic and then some hands-on learning activity is done. This can be a craft, a game, a play, etc. which relates to what we are studying. Often a parent will also read some sort of book (picture book, historical fiction, work of literature from that time period) as well while the children color (to keep their hands busy).
As our children became more numerous and older we had to change things a bit. Now we meet as two groups, ages 13+ in one group and ages 5 - 12 in another. The younger format remains the same, but we significantly changed the format for the older group. They are now responsible for teaching the lesson themselves. The mothers all meet to plan the topics and then we assign each student what topics he or she needs to prepare. They are each assigned two historical figures to present as well. All total, last year each student presented two different topics and two different biographies. They also did reading from the period in question and J. spent a half hour each Friday reviewing and discussing what they read that week. For instance, last year, when we did the Enlightenment, they read The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spencer, and A Modest Proposal and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
We made our yearly schedule of topics by culling through books on that era. After looking at a few of them, it starts to become clear what the main areas of study for that period are. Unlike many people who teach and talk about the study of history, we never had a 'spine'. We much preferred to use a lot of different sources and pull from each of them. Sometimes our topics were determined by the interests of the mothers that year. For instance, one mother is an architect and we always made sure to cover the architecture of any given period. I often covered the music portion and another mother enjoyed science. We played to our strengths... it did make covering the multitude of wars a little difficult. I don't think we ever resorted to Rock, Paper, Scissors, but one always wanted to be sure to make the planning meeting.
Some Tips from Experience
- Be sure that all the participants are in agreement as to how the co-op is going to work, who will be participating, what the behavior expectations are, and how and when money will be spent.
- Co-ops can be miserable when everyone doesn't participate equally or when family philosophies of parenting and discipline differ wildly. Hash this out ahead of time before you begin.
- Be flexible and plan make-up days into the schedule. Stomach flu happens.
- We all know parenting can be full of surprises and over-committing and over-scheduling just leads to stress. We found creating a lighter schedule allowed us the freedom to move things when necessary.
- Keep lines of communication open. If you have a concern address it right away before it becomes a big deal.
- Plan in field trips and other fun activities.
- We always ended our study with a huge feast. This gave us a chance to prepare food typical to the era and dress in costumes. It also gave the fathers a chance to participate.
- Remember your purpose.
- Because one class, once a week is never going to give a child all the historical information he or she needs to know, be clear about what it is going to do. For us it was to expose our children to the major themes of history, give them an overall picture of historical events, and to communicate that history is interesting and has something to say to them.
Costumes (That year, our history feast was right before Halloween, allowing us to double-up)
Preparing for a Renaissance Feast
Preparing for the Enlightenment
This past year, overwhelmed with the thought of going back to Egypt again, we have all taken a year off. I think most of us have taken the time to cover US and modern history. But, I realized last week, as I was meeting with some other mothers about how to form a history co-op, that the break seems to have worked. I'm feeling ready to face Egypt again. I'm not sure that I'm up to excited yet, but that will probably come.