Tag Archives: back-to-school

Starting a Homeschool Co-Op: Getting into the groove

22 Oct

By Renée Gotcher

Last month I wrote a post about starting my own homeschool co-op for the first time — a tween-age Girls Book Club — after my sisters and I addressed the question of co-op schooling in our “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” column. Since that time, our book club co-op has had two more meetings in October and are planning a fictional character costume party at my house on October 31 (rather than a “halloween” party).

Here’s an update on the progress of our new co-op and what I’m learning as the co-op coordinator…

Content

The girls have now finished reading two of the four books in the Secret Keeper Girl fictional series. So far, the girls are really enjoying the books and are very engaged during discussion time. Because we had such a large group of girls (13), we have split them into two groups — one for 9/10-year-olds and another for 11/12-year-olds — and thankfully, another mom in our group volunteered to lead most of the discussions for the “younger” tweens. I am leading discussion for the “older” tweens, and I am writing the discussion questions for both groups.

One of the reasons I chose this series to kick off the book club co-op was because the books already include great discussion questions at the end in a section called “Girl Gab” — making my job as discussion leader much easier! In “Girl Gab,” readers are encouraged to “gab” with their moms about these questions and share what they’ve learned through the story and its characters. I use these provided questions as a starting point and develop more questions on my own, drawing from the input I get from my two tween girls during our own “gab” time before each book club meeting.

In our co-op, moms are reading the books along with their daughters, and the girls are bringing notebooks with the “Girl Gab” discussion questions answered to be prepared for discussion time. Some moms are having their daughters read aloud to them, others are reading the books aloud to their girls, and some moms (myself included) and daughters are reading independently. Because we decided that our mission was primarily social and character development, and the reading was secondary, the variety in reading approaches is perfectly acceptable.

It turned out that within the participating families we had another set of younger girls — four girls ages 6 to 8 — that would be coming with their siblings to the book club, so we decided to have a reading program just for them. This “younger readers” group is reading “In Grandma’s Attic, Book 1” a few chapters at a time, and during their discussion time, the mom leading this group reads aloud before discussion time. This is working out well for their ages and varying reading abilities. So far, they love the book, and they’re getting a chance to warm up to the book club concept.

Logistics

Coordinating such a large group of moms and girls can be challenging at times. However, the plans we made to split up the co-op responsibilities for the entire semester on a simple chart has been working seamlessly! Each meeting we have four moms splitting up the snack duty, one mom watching the littlest siblings, one mom coordinating clean-up at the end, and the host mom is providing coffee, tea and water. So far, this division of labor has made it possible to feed and entertain all 32 mothers and daughters (and some extra siblings on occasion) without putting too much of a burden on any one co-op member.

Our two October meetings have been hosted by a family who lives in this beautiful log-style home in a scenic, rural part of Castle Rock, and we’ve been blessed with perfect fall weather on our meeting days. The girls have been able to play and snack outside during our social hour, while the moms are getting a break to enjoy our coffee chats relatively kid-free inside the kitchen.

The only logistical problem we’ve had is breaking up the fun at the end of the afternoon. We had planned for an hour of social time and concluding the meetings at 4pm, but so far we have been going until about 4:30pm or later. The girls don’t mind, of course, and in all honesty, I don’t think we moms really mind either. But I am keeping an eye on this to make sure we aren’t inconveniencing any families by going over time, and maybe we’ll just decide to end at 4:30pm in the future when we evaluate our co-op.

Communication

I quickly discovered that keeping 13 different families in the loop at all times regarding the logistics and issues of our co-op isn’t as easy as continually sending e-mail updates. Not everyone reads their email every day or downloads attachments right away, and I found myself doing a lot of resending, reminding, and answering the same questions over and over via email. Only a few moms in our co-op are on Facebook, so a Facebook group was not an alternative, and one mom and daughter are not members of my local homeschool support group, so we couldn’t use a private forum on our group’s Web site to communicate in a central place.

One day while I was contemplating what I could do to centralize our co-op communication, I received an e-mail from Shutterfly inviting me to set up a “Share” site. I clicked on the link and in about an hour, I had set up a private share site that includes a shared photo album, our events calendar, links to maps for all the host homes (we have had a few moms get lost already), our responsibilities sign-up chart, all the documents we’ve created to use for our co-op, a discussion board, and more! I love that the site automatically emails a weekly update to all our members as well as reminders for every event I’ve posted on our calendar. I can also easily send an email whenever something on the calendar has been updated or I need feedback (like a special snack signup reminder for the upcoming costume party), and all the email messages provide direct links back to those items on our site.

Problem solved, right? Well, almost. Most of the moms have used the new site and are interacting with it for snack info, dates, directions, etc., but a few moms have yet to log in to the site. And even though the auto-generated email reminder went out about this past week’s meeting a few days in advance, one mom missed that reminder and completely forgot about the meeting. We all had a good laugh about it after the fact, recalling how many times we’ve completely botched our own family scheduling.

But it made me realize I couldn’t rely completely on the share site to make sure we’re all on the same page. In our world of smart phones, Facebook, email, cool Web collaboration tools, and information overload, there’s no guarantee that your message is being received by everyone, every time. Since I don’t have time to call and check in with every mom before every meeting, I’m hoping this is just a blip and that for the most part, we’ll keep running smoothly with the help of this share site.

Or maybe I will try texting reminders next time?

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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Starting a Homeschool Co-Op: Girls Book Club, Day One

26 Sep

By Renée Gotcher

A couple of weeks ago, my sisters and I addressed the question of cooperative schooling — aka “co-ops” — in our “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” column. Since that time, the co-op I talked about starting this year (a tween girls’ book club) has had a social mixer and our first official meeting. So far, so good! If the first meeting is any indication of what’s to come this semester, then I think we’ve got a really great thing going. I thought I would share a little more about what I did to get the ball rolling, as well as a play-by-play of our first official meeting day…

The Idea

As I mentioned in our recent co-op schooling post, I had been feeling a nudge from the Lord to do a tween girls book club, both to give my girls a good social opportunity and turn them on to books with Godly character focus. If there’s one thing I have learned after two years of homeschooling ups and downs, curriculum change after curriculum change, and being involved in too much/too little in the co-op arena, it’s that giving God the reins of your homeschooling plans is the most important thing you can do. Good ideas are always just that — good. A God idea, however, is always a great idea — because you have His strength to back you up and He is glorified!

As I prayed for direction this year, this idea kept coming back to me. Just when I was trying to give up extra responsibilities and remove things from my “to do” list permanently due to health issues, God was giving me an idea that I knew would require my leadership, extra time and effort. I was worried about taking on an entirely new enterprise — even if it would meet my homeschooling goals for my tween daughters. But as God continued to nudge me, I remembered that God equips those whom He calls to do His work.

“Now may the God of peace … make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” — Hebrews 13:20-21

The Preparation

Over the summer, I did some research on Christian books for tween girls. This included some Web browsing and asking fellow moms of tweens what they’ve seen and heard of. After identifying a few potential book series and authors, I checked out as many as I could from the library (I am all about free) and started reading them. I also had my eldest daughter Audrey read a few of my top picks to get her opinion. She is a voracious reader, and I knew she would not mind reading them again for book club.

I also thought about the mission for this co-op: It would be slightly educational (reading is learning), but more importantly, it would be a social opportunity for moms and their tween daughters to get together on a regular basis and share in our homeschooling journey — and support one another. Yes, I hope we’ll learn a lot from these fictional Christian characters and their true-to-life situations. But mostly, I hope we create tighter bonds between the moms and their daughters, and supportive connections between the moms who are coming together, as well as the girls.

To achieve this, I came up with a suggested format and started pitching the idea to moms that I thought would be a perfect fit for this group. We also had a co-op workshop near the end of the summer with our local homeschool support group, and I shared the idea there as well. Before I knew it, we were going to be full with more than 14 families wanting to participate! The fact that many of the moms shared with me the same desire to accomplish this mission was confirmation that God wasn’t just moving me, He was moving us. Praise Him for the wonderful and mysterious way that He works with us when we are listening to Him!

The Structure

We had a “planning” meeting at the neighborhood pool to discuss the structure for our Girls Book Club soon after identifying the moms who wanted to be part of the co-op. Thanks to the wonderful guidelines provided by the veteran homeschooling moms who hosted the co-op workshop, we made decisions about frequency, group size, responsibilities to share, and a “code of conduct” we would communicate to the girls about what was expected from them to be part of the “GBC” discussion time. We also agreed to use the Secret Keeper Girl fictional series by Dannah Gresh to read for the first four book club discussion times.

It’s not always easy to be on the same page about some of the logistical things, especially when siblings of varying ages are involved as they most often are with homeschooling families. For example, several moms had sons or other children that wouldn’t be part of the book club. What will they be doing while mom and daughter are in the book club? Many girls already had other extra curricular activities (like riding their horse everyday for training purposes) that are hard to get around. Also, not all moms could stay for every book club meeting due to activities for other siblings or prior commitments. And so on and so forth… you know what I mean if you’ve been homeschooling for a year or so.

Praise God that we were able to accommodate the needs of almost every mom and daughter who wanted to be a part of this semester’s book club! Another confirmation that we were on the right track.

What we came up with was a twice-a-month meeting, made up of a 45-minute discussion time and an hour of social time plus snacks. Moms are sharing the responsibility of providing snacks, watching the younger siblings during discussion time, and supervising cleanup. Three moms have divided up the “hosting” responsibility of having the book club at their house (I am one of those three moms).

I had planned to lead the tween girls discussion time since it was my idea and I was happy to do it. However, we had such a large group of tweens (14 girls to be exact) that we decided to break them up into two groups, and another mom had to step up and lead that second group along with me. Praise God that happened too — a mom who had lots of experience leading youth groups and women’s groups volunteered almost immediately. Finally, we found that we had a small group of “younger readers” (girls from 6-8 years old), and one mom stepped up to lead a book reading and discussion time for them while their older sisters were doing their book discussion. How awesome is that?

What I’ve learned so far is that the key ingredients to structuring a new co-op are a common mission, agreement on the logistics and expectations from the students and participating parents, and divine intervention. I believe that when God is calling families to come together for His purposes, He truly makes provision for all the details.

The Launch

One week before our first official meeting, I hosted a social “mixer” at my house so we could just spend some time getting to know each other. (Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures at that gathering!) That first gathering of 33 moms and daughters was a lot of fun, but also a bit hectic — revealing a few little holes in our structural plans that we were able to patch up before our first meeting. I’m really glad I decided to do the social time first, because the girls and moms were able to make connections before we would have to do anything “organized” together.

Our first Girls Book Club meeting was the following Wednesday, September 19, at my home again. My eldest daughter Audrey (a pastry chef in the making) decided to bake Red Velvet cake pops for the girls to dip into dark chocolate and decorate as they arrived. I love the fact that I can leave my little hostess in charge of things like beautiful snacks and decor: She is so fabulous at it, and I am free to take care of things like making sure our husky’s fur isn’t all over the house and that we have a pot of hot coffee made for the mamas who will need it when the 3 o’clock slump hits.

This turned out to be an especially helpful idea because it took at least 15 minutes for all of the moms and daughters to show up, and Audrey was able to take them back to the kitchen in small groups as they arrived to dip their cake pops and decorate them. Then we set them back on the stand to “dry” while we did the group activities.

Because we had just received the books a week ago, we didn’t have a reading assignment for this first meeting. Instead, the girls played a get-to-know scavenger hunt game, followed by table time in which we reviewed the GBC discussion tips sheet we’d prepared and played “Pass the Teddy Bear & Share.” Passing the teddy is the method we had agreed upon to make sure the girls all get time to talk during discussion time. Since we didn’t yet have a book to discuss, we practiced with some basic questions about their favorite books and fictional characters.

The “rules” for Pass the Teddy Bear & Share are that the girls will pass a teddy bear around the table, and only the girl who is holding the teddy gets to answer the question until it is passed to another girl. If you’re not holding the teddy, your lips are sealed — and you also can’t hold up your hand to be “next” while anyone is still talking. If someone wants to add to what the girl speaking has said, she can request the teddy by raising her hand after the speaker is done and passes her the teddy.

After a few questions, the girls got the hang of it and our little discussion was in full swing. The girls were much chattier and forthcoming with answers than I had anticipated, with only a couple of girls being hesitant to take the teddy and talk. I am really glad we came up with the discussion guidelines in advance, because it was a lot easier to point the girls in the right direction when they were talking too long or not giving each other their full attention. Overall, I think we’re going to pass that teddy a lot — and have some great discussions this semester!

The all-important snack and social time is my favorite time of the meeting — because I can finally relax! The girls came through the kitchen like a swarm of locusts and consumed their decorated cake pops and everything else in sight, then went to play outside in the backyard.

The moms congregated inside and outside for coffee, iced tea and what was left of the snacks. I was so glad the weather was warm again and everyone could enjoy our backyard. It was also nice to be able to have plenty of space for the girls to run around and work out their energy without disrupting the moms from having great conversations. Even the little sisters got a chance to hang out with the big girls and play!

Although I am really pleased about the relative success of our first meeting, we hit a few bumps too. For starters, we have already lost one mom and daughter pair due to their already packed schedule and finding it hard to fit our book club time slot into the agenda. It was bound to happen. We had a few moms that couldn’t stay for various last-minute reasons, so they were missed during our highly anticipated mama social hour. Life happens. We also had one girl who had to leave early for a sports team practice, so she missed the snack and social hour entirely. Thankfully her season will wrap up in October and it won’t always be the case, but guess what — it happens. And it will probably happen again.

I can’t speak for all the moms participating in our Girls Book Club co-op, but I can honestly say I’m not worried about how this semester will unfold. I knew before I started that I couldn’t attempt to do this if I wasn’t going to hand it over to the Lord completely and let Him be in charge. I prayed for the right families to be involved, and I believe that has already happened. I prayed for my girls and that my original mission for this co-op would be accomplished for them, so I am trusting God to work in their hearts in a way that only He can. I prayed for the moms and daughters who would join us and that their own journeys with Jesus and each other would be strengthened, so I am releasing that to the Lord because I am just the vessel being poured out — and He is filling me and will fill them.

Upcoming meeting days may be hectic. It might snow two feet on a day that we plan to meet at one of the more remote homes on our hosting schedule! Someone who’s signed up for snacks may not be able to come at the last minute. Kids get sick. Family logistics change. Another family may have to drop out. I don’t know… but thankfully, God does!

I am up for the journey because I know He’s leading us. And I trust my Good Shepherd.

“For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.'” — Isaiah 41:13

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

NGHS Journal: Lessons from the meeting my schedule forgot

19 Sep

Gotcher Family Homeschool — Day 13 — September 18, 2012

We’ve been “back to school” for several weeks now — we did schoolwork three days a week those last two weeks in August as a warm-up and review for the girls (and to test out my new school organization systems), and then we went on a 10-day family road trip that is becoming a tradition for our family. Needless to say, getting back into the swing of things after that vacation was like starting school all over again, and I’ve been hesitant to “journal” any of our days because I’ve felt like I’m flying by the seat of my pants still… even after all that planning and organizing!

For the past four years, my husband has been running a world-famous race over Imogene Pass, from the town of Ouray to Telluride, on the weekend after Labor Day. When he first attempted this race with his best friend, we lived in Durango (not too far from Telluride) and many of our Durangoan friends also ran the race. Since moving to Castle Rock two years ago, it’s a bit more of an effort for our family to drive to Telluride from the Denver metropolitan area for this race.

Last year we decided to make a family road trip out of it: Spending Labor Day weekend in Beaver Creek with my sister (who now lives in Eagle), camping near Crested Butte during the week after Labor Day (still warm enough to camp, but the summer crowds are gone!), and ending up in Telluride by Friday for the Saturday race. It’s a whirlwind 10 days of traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of Colorado, seeing close friends and family, and spending plenty of time “unplugged” from our normal life, enjoying God’s creation.

However, I have to admit it’s a little tough to “hit the street running” when we get home on Sunday night and the week that follows includes not just getting back into our own homeschool routine, but starting all of our supplemental programs and homeschool co-ops at the same time. This year, that includes ballet lessons for Audrey (11 1/2) on Monday nights, Worship Dance for Claire (10) and Elise (5) on Tuesday afternoons, our new Girls Book Club Co-op (which I’m hosting & coordinating) on Wednesday afternoons, PE Plus on Thursday afternoons, and AWANA on Sunday afternoons.

This past week, we also had a slumber party for my new 10-year-old Claire, the annual homeschooling family BBQ with our local support group, a visit from my in-laws (who leave tomorrow) and an upcoming visit from my dad this Friday (who’s staying for a week)!

So you’ll understand how a Type A personality like me, with all my appointments in my iPhone (reminder alarms set) as well as on a color-coded calendar on my refrigerator, could still manage to have a day like yesterday.

It started out with promise: I had printed out all the girls’ sheet work the night before and placed it in their “to do” folders in the school area. I had the necessary DVDs out and books checked out from the library. The girls woke up, ate breakfast, and started on their independent work. We did our family devotions around the table before my five-year-old Elise woke up to distract us. My in-laws (who live in a remote part of Kansas), wanted to get their Costco shopping done while in town, so because things were going so smoothly and Audrey’s ballet lesson wasn’t until 5:30pm, I offered to take them so my husband (who works from home) could stay home and work.

About 10 minutes into our trip to Costco, an iPhone alarm went off in my back pocket. I quickly discovered that I had a homeschool support group board meeting this afternoon — not part of the normal weekly routine — and it was starting in 15 minutes! (I was at least 20 minutes away from the meeting at this point in time). After searching for my in-laws to find out if they wanted to stay or rush out (they opted to stay and continue leisurely shopping), I left my cart in the middle of Costco and took off to the forgotten board meeting.

Right away, I realized my error: Although I had entered the meeting into my iPhone calendar, I had forgotten to put it on the refrigerator calendar – my visual cue that I see constantly, every day — so when asked if I could run the errand, I thought I was obligation free for the afternoon. But that wasn’t the case, and today I was especially thankful for the calendar alarm on my iPhone! I could tell it was going to be one of those days after all.

I arrived about 15 minutes late to the meeting. It figures that the new home of the board member hosting this meeting wasn’t recognized by Google maps, so I had to wing it and find her home by driving around the general vicinity — praise the Lord I found it! This was to be a “short” board meeting, but about 2 hours later, my iPhone was buzzing again because my in-laws were done shopping at Costco, waiting for me. And then there was Audrey’s ballet lesson, which was going to start in 45 minutes. I left the meeting at 4:45pm — Castle Rock rush hour — so traffic to and from Costco was unusually heavy, of course. Because it was one of those days.

My husband had to intervene and drive all three girls to drop off Audrey at ballet. And I had to rush back to Costco, rush back home to unload all the food from Costco, and rush back out to pick up Audrey from ballet. On the way there, I’d planned to make a quick return to Kohl’s. Turns out that would not be easy, either. If I made the return, I would lose the value of the “Kohl’s cash” I used on the original purchase. Unless I could find an item of exact retail value, which I could then evenly exchange for my returned item. Of course, a quick scan of the aisles and nothing I actually needed right now was exactly $34.99. And now I was 10 minutes late to pick up Audrey. So I left without accomplishing anything. Because it was one of those days.

What does any of this have to do with homeschooling? Maybe, nothing. Or maybe, everything — at least for me. Don’t they say that school is never out for the pro? I have a better version of that saying: Growth is never out for the child of God.

Because hours earlier, before the “planned” school day began — and the afternoon’s chaos ensued — I read this:

“It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life. Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances. Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. Instead, ask Me to open your eyes, so you can find all I have prepared for you in this precious day of life.”Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

It was one of those days that could have ended in tears, anger, frustration, self-defeat. The thoughts that used to haunt me on days like this included things like, “How can you be the teacher when you can’t even get organized?” Or even better, “You aren’t the parent who’s working, so why can’t you manage to stay on top of things?” Lies that took my focus away from God and back to myself.

But as the day unfolded, the words from the morning’s devotional reading came back to me again and again. Yes, it was my calendar mishap that set off a chain reaction of chaos. But God knew what would happen before I woke up that morning. In fact, He knew what my day would look like before I was born.

Have you ever stopped and really thought long and hard about what that means? “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.Psalm 139:13-16

My loving Heavenly Father knew that I would blunder up this day — with so many people depending on me — and He planned to be there for me through all of it. He wanted me to grow, to draw ever closer into His presence, and He knows what He is doing! “When you cling to old ways and sameness, you resist My work within you,” writes Sarah Young, as she captures the words the Lord has placed on her heart. “I want you to embrace all that I am doing in your life, finding your security in Me alone.

My homeschooling journey has been as much about my growth and my education — with my Heavenly Father as my teacher — as it has been about what I can teach my girls. Maybe even more. Sometime soon, I hope to share more about my personal struggles and journey with the Lord this past school year that have transformed my perspective on what homeschooling means to me. Another story for another day.

Today, I am very thankful that my Heavenly Father not only knew I would have this crazy day, but walked with me through it every step of the way. He prepared me with a very specific devotional entry and accompanying scriptures. He prepared me with a peaceful morning of (almost) everything I had planned being accomplished around the school table with minimal fuss from the girls. And then when things started to fall apart, He reminded me of the fact that nothing I could have done or should have done mattered now — it was time to walk through it, knowing that He was by my side and it was part of His plan.

I was able to be completely focused at that board meeting, and completely present for my family that evening when we shared a late dinner with my in-laws. And I was able to go to sleep in peace — thankful for another homeschooling day!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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