A homeschooling swap is the simplest of all homeschooling co-ops -- two families simply trade homeschooling services.
My first homeschooling swap occurred in North Carolina when we were just starting out. A mom who was an artist with great homemaking skills taught my kids the basics of baking, sewing, and making pottery, and I worked with her kids on their writing. Her children and mine were widely spaced apart; I did high school work with her older teens, and my children were at young elementary ages. In fact, her children babysat for my kids -- but we never actually homeschooled all the kids "together."
In Mississippi, another artist friend did art, book making, and crafts with all our kids, and in return, I did writing and biology with all of them. We met on Wonderful Wednesdays, alternating subjects, followed by lunch and playtime for the kids, who were close in age and became good friends. While the kids played, my friend and I held our own writing workshop with one another, carving out important time for our own learning and development.
Learning cooperatively with other homeschoolers does not have to be complicated. Sometimes all it takes is one other family. You can look for someone with a lot "in common" so you can enjoy things together, but surprisingly, it can also work well if the families are different.
When parents have widely varying backgrounds, they may be able to teach skills or content that kids wouldn't get from their own mom or dad. The best part about this is that no money needs to change hands, except perhaps for supplies for an occasional more expensive project.
Having someone teach what you can't or don't want to teach at no cost to you is just one of the benefits of this arrangement. It's also an opportunity for your kids to learn from mentors who will have a different style and different expectations than Mom or Dad. It also brings structure to the day and week, helping kids begin to think ahead about upcoming academics and activities where they are responsible to someone else. If you are putting all the kids together for the cooperative learning, then the kids from both families are getting the opportunity to learn collaboratively with other kids. This can be a small taste of what they may do as homeschoolers in their teen years, so it is a nice introduction to working with others and learning from others.
Of course, it's not always easy to find this other homeschool parent or family who can swap homeschooling services with you. Sometimes the numbers or ages or personalities of children are too much of a mismatch. Other times, distance between homes can be a problem (though don't forget about the possibility of meeting in the middle at a park or community center!) Occasionally you hear of a situation starting out okay, but dwindling because one parent is not holding up her end of the bargain.
Probably the most important part of making a two-family homeschooling swap work is for the parents to have similar educational philosophies and general parenting styles. For example, if one mom wants to assign homework and give tests while the other mom doesn't want this approach, the homeschooling swap won't last long. Likewise, an authoritarian parent and a permissive parent who are trying this kind of swap will drive each other crazy if their children don't drive the parents crazy first.
In our case, I got to know the moms first at park days and homeschool group meetings. We then got together for some "one-off" project days with the kids. We didn't jump into swapping our homeschooling services with one another until after we had seen each other interact with the children and learned about our reasons for homeschooling. We were already well on our way to enjoying each other's company socially.
Sometimes co-ops are big and complicated. One of my homeschool friends talks about "the co-op that ate my life," because her family ended up devoting so much time to participating in their large, highly structured co-op. She actually has found the time investment worth it and has stayed involved for many years through three sons.
But there is also this other co-operative arrangement, where you seek and are fortunate enough to find one other family who brings talent and knowledge and blessings to your children, and you to theirs.
Is this the "co-op" you should be looking for in the next year?