One of the "big" questions I hear from other homeschoolers is whether or not they should join a co-op. A homeschool co-op is a place where classes are offered for homeschool students, usually taught by homeschool parents (most often moms). Occasionally we might have a teacher who is not a parent, if we find someone willing to teach an area out of our expertise. It's a great resource, and a good place to hang out with other homeschool families.
In our area, we have a great co-op. My kids have enjoyed going, and we've made some friends, which has been a HUGE blessing to us since moving here two years ago. However, as the girls get older, I find that while it's good for social purposes, it's not accomplishing things that we aren't getting done at home. In fact, it's making more work for me, because I teach two classes. Truly, I have no criticisms of our group, but over time, I've seen that it has not been working well for our family.
At the CLUSA conference this past June, Nancy Kelly met with some of us to discuss a Charlotte Mason-style co-op, or community. Hers is called Truth, Beauty, Goodness. Isn't that lovely? She described what they do, and told us that her group meets and covers things that we all find it too easy to let slide: Shakespeare, poetry, folk songs, hymns, composer study, artist study, handicrafts, and nature study. Until this year, I didn't know any other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in the area, so I was not sure that we would ever be able to participate in such a group.
However, God answers prayer, and I met my friend Sara at the conference, who lives quite close to me and has 5 boys. They live out in the country off a dirt road with lots of nature and chickens. We have been meeting twice a month for our own little CM group, and it has been LOVELY. I can't tell you what a difference this has made for our homeschool and our family.
We printed off the schedule from the Truth, Beauty, Goodness group, and follow that for the most part. We've made a few small changes; we start later, for one thing, because neither of our families gets going quite as early in the day as 8:30 am. We listen to our composer's music while we do our handicraft, because we're studying Debussy and no one likes just listening to the music. Heh. We're talking about perhaps changing things up a bit and doing nature study in a different time slot, because we've found at the end of our day, sometimes our little people have had enough and we don't quite get to it.
For the most part, though, it's working very well. We've been reading and listening to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. We were fortunate enough to be able to see the play in August, and I think that has helped the kids understand the readings quite a bit. We're able to talk about what we saw in the play, and that's a fun shared memory.
Our poet is Emily Dickinson. I'm using the Poetry for Young People book, and found some riddle poems, which we have enjoyed. (Our first poem was "Hope is the Thing with Feathers," because it has a special place in my heart from the CLUSA conference. There is a lovely song that goes along with the poem, and all the kids enjoyed that.)
We've been using the Ambleside Online selections for most things. Our artist for the term is Renoir. Our handicraft, thanks to Sara, has been calligraphy, and I've enjoyed that a lot. The kids have struggled with it a bit, but it's been good for them. We're choosing our own folk songs, and so far we've learned This Land is Your Land, Mairi's Wedding, If I Had a Hammer, and Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Sara is choosing our hymns, and we have learned Dona Nobis Pacem (in a round - lovely), Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and And Can It Be that I Should Gain.
All the children enjoy our time together, and I have to say that having 5 boys to play with has been great for Isaac. We've all been making our own connections, and it has been such fun! For example, Renoir, Debussy, and Emily Dickinson were all "rule breakers" in their genres. I didn't know that when we started out, and it's been fun to look and listen for the ways in which they break their rules. We learned about slanted rhyme in poetry, and look for that in each poem.
Overall, it's been a great experience. There is one more family interested in joining us, and I'm excited about that. I hope, in time, to be able to include more people.