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...
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.
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.
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.