Monday, June 19, 2017

What Could An AO Co-op Look Like?

The real answer is it could look like almost anything you like - it would be your co-op, your gathering of a few local homeschooling famiiies, and you would decide what would work best for you.  You might meet once a week or once a month- or something in between.  You might have ten families all doing AO on schedule, and you could essentially have a cottage school together. You might have two families, and one of them isn't even all that keen on Charlotte Mason, but you could still figure out some things that are compatible with your regular school days that you could enjoy doing together. You might live in a concrete jungle with a two hour drive to any green space so you don't want to do anything but nature walks on a co-op day, or you might live in the woods and have people come out to your house so you can combine nature walks with your co-op day.

We have two possible approaches to suggest.  First, we have some suggestions I have compiled from my own experiences with an AO or CM co-op and collected from others.  These suggestions are intended for use by families using AO essentially as written, but it wouldn't be difficult to adapt them for use with those who combine other curricula, or just do CM, or for a group with a mix of homeschooling philosophies.  I hate saying the possibilities are endless because it is such a cliche, but really, the following ideas could be combined in too many unique ways to tabulate, and one of them is probably just right for your group.

(scroll down to the end for the second suggestion- an exciting announcement)

Don't let the perfect become the enemy of good enough to get started.  Just figure a few things out and jump in, committing to being flexible, tolerant of other families' foibles and your own.  Keep a sense of humour and work out the kinks as you go along.

To begin with, ask around and find out who else might be interested.

~Collect names and ages of families/children, so you know what you will need. For instance, if you have no high school students, your co-op will look different to a co-op that includes several high school students.
Then have a get-together so you can plan out your co-op.  Try a park day, or a Saturday morning while the parents who are not the primary homeschoolers are able to be home, or hire a couple of teenagers to supervise the kids in the backyard while parents/teachers meet in the living room. Parents work together to plan things out. Everybody needs to volunteer to do something, or the thing will fall apart. This cannot be a drop the kids off time, and you should not accept three moms doing lessons and working with the children while two or three other moms sit in another room and chat as a matter of course for your co-op. Some ideas to discuss:

~What is it you each want most from a co-op? If most of the moms really just want some time with other adults, consider having a parents' study group a couple of times a month instead.

~If you have AO families (or families using all the same curriculum from any CM type offerings), think about dividing your kids into forms- so all kids in years 1-3 would do the same things together on co-op day, and all the year 4-6 or 7 would be together, and then 8 on up would be together (fuzzy lines are okay here). 

- Consider going in together and hiring an art teacher, foreign language instructor, somebody who can teach a handicraft, a music teacher, a singing instructor, a math tutor, a biology teacher (not all of the above at once, necessarily)- knowledgable instructors who can give some focused weekly instruction and directions that all of you can practice at home throughout the week.

--For AO families: Consider this a good time to use one of the 'Unicorn' (that is, really hard to find or expensive) books. If only one person in your group has that wonderful hard to find book, ask if they would consider bringing it and reading aloud from it at co-op meetings. 

Things you will want to consider in addition to what year each of the students is in and what books they are reading: 
~Meals and/or snacks (brown bag, collect dues and order in, potluck, don't have them?)
~How often do you meet?
~Where will you meet?
~Do you want to collect dues and hire a specialist for some things? 
~Time of day? 
~any standards of behavior or statement of faith that need to be ironed out?

Here is a group of suggestions- pick and choose! Some of them would be best for a co-op where all families are following the same AO schedule, some would work best for families that are at least on baord with Charlotte Mason, and some would be compatible even for a group where only one person is a CM homeschooler. 

Things a co-op group could do together with the kids in year 3 and below :

  • Read aloud and then act out a fairy tale, folk tale, or myth with the kids
  • Same with the Lamb's retelling of Shakespeare
  • Parables of Nature
  • A weekly science demonstration- something fun about basic science stuff, how things work, why water does what it does, how toilets flush, why you don't put a magnet on your computer, etc.
  • Work together on some of the geography concepts we have listed for those years
  • Read Heroes (or other Greek myths, D'Aulaire's is good)
  • Play a game- a board game, an outside game, something fun that they might not get to do at home because they don't have enough kids to play. One of the old school yard games is a good choice, something like duck, duck, goose, Mother May I, or something else.

Year 4 and Up:
  • Read aloud Shakespeare together in character each week
  • Plutarch
  • Read Bullfinch's myths together
  • Pick one free read from any of the upper years and read it aloud together and narrate, discuss
  • Some basic map drills
  • Dictation
  • Mad Libs to learn parts of speech, or some other basic grammar lessons on parts of speech
  • Play a game- a board game, an outside game, something fun that they might not get to do at home because they don't have enough kids to play. This is a good time for something like kickball or soccer or some other loosely organized team sport.
High School:
  • Some of the above things as well as:
  • Roar on the Other Side
  • Grammar of Poetry (while each of these books is used for a specific year, you could group together all students in years 6-8 or 9 and work through one book one year, and the other the following year.  Lani, one of our auxiliary members, tells me  her co-op found it easy to go through  'Grammar of Poetry by doing it together twice a month (with homework in between, but just practicing lesson covered) over two school years. Roar was easily done in one year this way. GoP worked quite well for 6th and 7th grades.')
  • Writing class
  • Foreign Language
  • Volleyball, soccer, kickball
  • Biology- dissections 

Things that could be done together with a wide range of ages, or divide up the group if that would help:

Folk songs- also view Children of the Open Air videos to learn Sol-fa, or Music at Home,

Swedish Drill

Picture study


Recitations- if the group is too large for all to take a turn reciting, draw names for five recitations (need not be done all at once, could divide this up and have one at the beginning of the day and one during a snack or lunch time). See the Burrell article on recitation on the PR section of the website and have a short lesson on recitation).

Listen to composer music, perhaps read aloud a biography of the composer over a few weeks by reading each co-op time.

A timeline- similar to recitations, it does not matter that all of them are doing different times, draw names and five people come up and put something on a timeline and explain why they chose that event or person (would require having the same location in order to use the same timeline, or having a portable timeline that could unfold so it can be easily seen)

"Book reports," just narrations- not everybody needs to present if that would take too long, either choose ahead of time or everybody knows they might be called on, or draw names and have a few people come up to share their favourite reading that week.

Biography- share a biography of the term's composer, artist, or poet and read aloud together every week.

Learn Latin (or some other foreign language if you all agree on the language)- or just play something like Rummy Roots together (it's a card game of Greek and Latin root words)

Handicraft: have different people come prepared to teach different handicrafts through the year, or hire an art instructor to do group lessons. 
PE- play an outdoor game (kickball seems to work pretty well for large groups of kids with disparate skills, but there could be other sports presented and the basic rules learned)

Nature study- also do some kind of object lesson using Hons- Present something like a branch from an oak tree, a basket of seashells, a pinecones, rocks, bones, etc and have the kids just look it over and find out as much as they can from their own observations and then combine knowledge, read something from Hons, ask a few leading questions, discuss.

Nature Walks- You might also consider booking time at a local nature center for some specific lessons 

What if you are the only CM or AO mom in the group?

Things you could probably get other moms to go for, regardless of educational philosophy:

  • A nature walk, trip to a nature center, getting an interpretive guide to talk to the kids
  • Going in together for an outside art teacher or drawing teacher, or somebody to do dissection with the teens, or somebody to teach a craft, or foreign language+
  • singing hymns and/or folk songs
  • Book reports- you don't have to be on the same page for this at all- the kids read what they read independently, and the other kids give a book report and your kids narrate a book they finished that week.
  • PE- whether drills, or kickball, or volleyball, etc.
  • Some kind of recitation- perhaps a public speaking opportunity.
  • Mad Libs for parts of speech is still fun in a group, regardless of educational philosophy and background.
  • Map drills for continents, oceans, countries, states

  • Book Discussion group

I'm sure there are ways other things could be adapted so they are mutually beneficial and compatible with your individual goals for your families.

We would encourage you to focus on organizing your co-op in a way that would not burden parents too much by requiring a lot of outside work to keep up, but that could, at the same time, somehow incorporate things they might already be trying to fit in (like reading a biography of the term's artist together, or picture study, or some of the geography work, or recitation and dictation) so that they would be gaining some community but not at the cost of having to cut out large chunks for the school work they wanted to do or squeezing it into fewer days a week. How much the co-op would do would depend on whether it met weekly or monthly, full days or half days, and where you meet. If it is not a place conducive to nature walks, for example, you will want to either forego them, or you would omit other things to make time to drive to a place for nature walks. 

Here's a sample schedule for one co-op:

Opening prayer, recitation of Philippians 4:8 or CM's motto
Hymn - 10 mins
Picture Study - 10 mins
Folk Song and sol-fa instruction - 20 mins
Swedish Drill - 10 mins
Paper Sloyd/handicraft - 20-30 mins
Shakespeare - 20-30 mins
Drawing lesson - 20-30 mins
Lunch - 30 mins
Nature Hike with journaling and/or Free play

Another co-op of just two families (8 kids, 4-11) meets twice a month, once for a field trip planned by one of the mothers, and the second time the other mother does the following with the kids:

Recitation - we gave the kids a chance to recite poems (their choice) or play piano pieces they had learned for each other.
Picture Study
Nature Study - more often 'object lesson' type of stuff for the 'class' type meeting - mostly on various aspects of plants this past year. Our 'field trip' outing was often a park or nature hike, though so it rounded out a bit.
Composer Study - introducing the composer, listening together and discussing what we heard, with the understanding that we'd all continue listening at home through the month.
Handicrafts - we did Paper Sloyd in the fall and hand sewing projects in the spring.

Have you worked out a local co-op or study group compatible with AO that works for you?  We'd love to hear about it!

Announcement and Possibility Number 2- As Leslie recently announced, '
AmblesideOnline is putting the final touches on a streamlined version of AO that can be done with groups of students in Form I (grades 1-3), Form II (grades 4-6) and Form III (grades 7-8 or 9). Are you thinking of doing AO in a co-op setting? Are you hoping to start a CM cottage school? Perhaps you need a way to streamline a large family into a couple of Years? AO 2.0 may be just what you're looking for!  Coming soon!!'

You could have a co-op using this 2.0 program designed for cottage schools working with kids coming out of public schools, or you could use the 2.0 as your source for books to do together once or twice a month.

Note: It is a lighter version than our official AO curriculum, which is still, in our opinion, the 1969 mustang, the 1957 Chevy, the Ferrari, the Porsch, and the car we don't even have yet- the solar operated, green fueled and designed durable and affordable hover-car! In short, the AO curriculum as seen on the website is still a winning and excellent combination of classic and modern, style and workmanship, heavy duty, road tested durability and affordability. That is not going away.  This AO for Groups curriculum is for cottage schools and larger families.  It is the 12 passenger van for families who don't fit in the AO family car anymore. 


  1. I love this Wendi. Just want to add that I am currently in a co-op with just one other family. Both of us have boys that just finished year 8 and both boys are the youngest at home. We share a devotional (Cloud of Witness), read our chosen Shakespeare play in parts, do picture study, play the music of our composer as we share lunch. The boys present a current event, we go on a nature hike, sometimes journal our finds, and we do a handicraft. It is a lovely time for all. Our boys have known each other since they were born! We meet twice a month as our schedules permit and we meet one week at my house, the next time at hers. You do not need a big group to share lessons, just one other family!

  2. Wendi, thanks so much for writing this. Our family is essentially part of two co ops. One is lager (about 100 families) that meets weekly, half-days during the academic calendar. The kids get four hours of instruction, which, in grades 1-6 are basically science, P.E., history / geography, and art / music. The co op is not necessarily CM, but it's a good place to make friends and we do get a lot of overlap with what we're doing at home. Sometimes it feels like it's in competition with our time to learn at home, so it's gratifying to read your words here. The other co op is just one other family that comes over weekly for Spanish and piano lessons. That same family also combines with us to host a monthly kid's book club. They are not 100% CM, but, because they do Brave Writer, we read a lot of the same books.

  3. Oh, and I'd like to add that I have a "study group" of moms who are going through Brandy Vencel's Start Here study guide of CM's 20 principles. That has been an excellent way to meet more CM homeschoolers. Many of them I already knew -- fellow Cub Scout moms, co-op moms -- and some I met because I'm hosting the study. We aren't exactly getting our kids together, but making connections can always lead to something -- if not a CM co op, maybe just some travel buddies to the next AO Conference!

  4. We are in a smallish co-op of about 30 kids with families who have many different educational philosophies and each session the kids participate in gym class, art class, and a class where the kids talk about the books they are reading. It's been working really well.
    Another AO mom and I do nature study together each week and we have considered combining other subjects. So excited to see what AO 2.0 has in store!
    Also, working together with one other family can work really well. Another AO mom I know is neighbors with her best friend who is an AO mom, they would have the kids go to one house one day and do foreign language and handicraft together and the next day the kids go to the other house and do hymn, folksong, and picture study together. It gives each mom an hour or so of free time and the kids get to do some of their schooling with friends.

  5. I was on the fence about starting a CM co-op until your post about AO 2.0. I decided to just go for it and I am so excited! Thank you for all you do to help us in our homeschool journey and now to help us with co-op settings.

  6. We just finished our second year of a CM/AO coop. We meet every other Friday. We do hymn, folksong, Shakespeare (only one per year though), handicrafts, picture study, composer study, drawing class, nature study (classroom with field work and watercolor for homework) and Plutarch (again one per year instead of term) for our Form II, with an active play for Form I. It's delightful and has been such an enhancement of our learning.

    We just had an end of year celebration with grandparents and performed a Twelfth Night adaptation, sang our favorite hymns/folksongs and then showcased the rest of their learning.

  7. Any tips for what to do with children before school age during co-op time?

  8. Sing nursery songs, free play, games like ring around the rosey, listen to an oral story, play dough, drawing, coloring, painting, serve snacks, have some blocks available, or a sandbox outside.