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What Is a Homeschool Co-op?


TheHomeSchoolMom Blog: What is a homeschool co-op?A homeschool co-op is a group of families who meet together and work cooperatively to achieve common goals. Co-ops can be organized around academics, social time, the arts, activities, crafts, service work, or projects — or some combination of these.

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Activities and classes that are part of a co-op may be led by parents, or the parents may chip in to pay all or some of the teachers and activity leaders. There may be as few as three families in a small co-op or as many as several hundred children in the largest co-ops.

Co-ops may meet in homes, churches, libraries, or community centers. In the United States, homeschool co-ops commonly meet once a week from “after Labor Day” to “before Memorial Day” — but some meet twice monthly or once per month, year round. A co-op’s meeting frequency and yearly calendar is up to the co-op organizers.

More rarely, co-ops use what’s called a university model, meeting once, twice, or three days a week with a full slate of homework to completely cover typical academic credits. These co-ops and their assignments to be completed at home usually make up the bulk of a child’s education, and they work much the same way that accredited university model private schools work.

Other co-ops are more enrichment-oriented, with a focus on the arts, social time, or unique angles on traditional subjects. Children in these co-ops typically do most of their learning outside of their co-op, but co-op is one more experience that builds their knowledge and provides them with a chance to be with friends or do something interesting.

Are homeschool groups and homeschool co-ops the same thing?

Local homeschool groups tend to be larger and more general purpose than co-ops. Homeschool groups may also have field trips, park days, parent meetings, talent shows, book clubs, parties, and more. Some homeschool groups may have an official co-op that is one of their many activities. Other co-ops are completely independent of any larger homeschool group. Often, people meet at a homeschool group and spin off in their own smaller co-op.

There is also a mini-version of a co-op that is sometimes called a club. These typically are arranged around one activity or academic subject area, and may meet less frequently, often monthly. Examples of these are book clubs, nature clubs, and geography clubs.

Some clubs may take on a team aspect, such as a competitive robotics team, Future Problem Solvers, or Destination Imagination team, and they’ll meet as often as needed to prepare for upcoming events.

Who’s in charge of a co-op?

Less formal co-ops are typically led by one or two main leaders who form the co-op with a specific vision, usually in support of goals for their own children. They usually call planning meetings, arrange for a meeting location, and strongly influence the schedule and offerings of the co-op. They’ll typically try to find other parents who share their vision and who are willing to work cooperatively on the details of activities or classes. Most decisions are made by consensus, with guidance from the leaders.

More formal and larger co-ops may have a board of directors and a designated administrator who takes care of day-to-day operations at the co-op. Decisions for these co-ops are usually governed by a vote by the directors, who are frequently parents of children participating in the co-op.

Some co-ops may be ministries of churches, and therefore they may fall under a church’s administration.

How can I find a co-op?

TheHomeSchoolMom has a listing of co-ops, and you can also network with other homeschoolers through email lists, Facebook, homeschool groups, and your library to find co-ops.

To learn more about finding and fitting into a co-op, look for my upcoming post, Joining a Co-op.

Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia for twenty years. Jeanne is director of Brave Writer's Homeschool Alliance, which provides homeschool coaching, community, and "grad school for homeschool" for parents. She is the contributing editor for TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter and writes the popular Ask Jeanne column, addressing homeschool parents' questions here at TheHomeSchoolMom. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne has conducted portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress for many years.

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  1. Alice

    I would like more information on how the IRS would treat paying for the home schooling coop expenses using the 529 plan, since the IRS rules have changed to allow withdrawals not just for college but for lower grades as well. In other words, is it a “ qualified educational expense” that can avoid the tax and
    Penalty on the growth in value on the account ( aside from how the state income tax could apply).

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Hi Alice,

      We here at TheHomeSchoolMom don’t give tax advice. Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA has some articles about homeschoolers and the 529 plan you might find useful. I suggest you read those articles and consult your personal tax advisor with questions.


  2. Taleena

    Im interested in finding out the legal requirements for starting a homeschool group or coop. Does it need to be registered as a non profit? I’ve searched online and have not been able to find anything. Any help is greatly appreciated!

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Hi Taleena,

      Homeschool groups can be formal or informal. Many people create informal co-ops that last for a year or three and meet in their homes or some other place that is willing to host an ad hoc group of parents meeting together with their kids. They have word-of-mouth agreements to share costs if there are supplies to buy. These types of co-ops are not businesses; they are just people doing things together.

      Other people want to create co-ops that are businesses. Businesses can be for-profit or non-profit. If a business owner wants people to be able to donate to the business for a tax deduction, then the business will need to be an official non-profit. There can be other reasons to organize as a nonprofit, and you’d be better off looking for information on nonprofit businesses rather than information on homeschooling to determine that. To become an “official” nonprofit, there are specific filings that have to take place and procedures to follow. It can take quite a bit of research and time, but many people find it well worth it.

      Some meeting places (churches, rec centers, libraries) may allow “just parents” to meet in an informal way in their space, but they won’t allow businesses to meet there. Other meeting places will NOT allow “just parents” to meet, and they won’t allow for-profit businesses, but they will allow nonprofit businesses. Consider the meeting space you plan to use for your co-op, and find out what their requirements are. (Sometimes the requirements are more related to insurance than business status, so look into that as well).

      Your neighborhood or locality may have rules about businesses operating out of homes, which may also impact whether you should form a nonprofit. If you’re not wanting to be a business, don’t form a nonprofit business without understanding the implications.

      Most of the “big” co-ops I know about, including university model co-ops, are nonprofits. There are some for-profit businesses in the homeschooling world that face scrutiny because they give the impression they are nonprofit, so this is an important ethical and public relations question, as well. However, if you’re not looking to operate a business, and you are mainly looking to provide opportunities for your children and others in your community, then you may just be a family hosting other families—no nonprofit status is needed.


  3. Jonetta Robinson

    hey you all , im inquiring about becoming an co op for my daughter who is now in kg but will be promoted to first grade net year . im really considering this due to poor educational system and the bullies that lyes in the schools i need help i never home schooled before but this is something im really interested in if you all have any referrals please let me know thanks

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Co-ops are organized at the local level, so you need to talk with local homeschoolers who can tell you what co-ops are available in your area. Many homeschool groups, activities, and co-ops are listed in our Local Resources.

      Look for state, regional, and local groups on social media, too.

      Keep in mind that many co-ops are not like school in covering all academic activities. As we have explained, some co-ops just provide enrichment, social time, or specific classes. Homeschool parents remain responsible for the child’s academics even when they use a co-op as one of the ways to meet some of the child’s needs.

      Co-ops can be awesome because of the friendships, field trips, special learning opportunities, and adult mentors.

      Good luck finding what you need!

  4. Dee Kuse

    I teach private art lessons to students in my home. I am wanting to know if you have any student/s who wish art direction lessons over the summer? I have some time slots available I would like to fill.
    I have been teaching art lessons on and off for over 30 years. My current students have a display at the Gamber Center through May 1st. Feel free to check out their artwork.

    Let me know if I can be of assistance to your students.

    Thank you,
    Dee Kuse

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Dee – TheHomeSchoolMom isn’t a local group, so we don’t set up activities, but you are welcome to submit your art lessons to our Local Homeschool Resources database to help homeschoolers in your area find out about your classes.

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