Co-ops: An Important Piece of Your Homeschool Puzzle! Interview with Pat Wesolowski

patwesolowski

Pat Wesolowski is an author, speaker, and homeschooling mother of nine who is now the homeschool specialist at Bryan College in Dayton, TN. Pat is the host of a podcast entitled “Homeschooling Co-op Style.” She has homeschooled her nine children for the past 30+ years (with one left to graduate from high school). Pat has a heart for helping parents prepare their teens for life after high school and, for that reason, loves teaching workshops in order to encourage and equip homeschooling parents and students for a fun and successful homeschool experience.  (from the HEAV Convention Speakers Page)

She is an expert on co-ops and is going to be speaking about them at convention. We “spoke” via email.

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Sticks, Stones, and Chicken Bones (SSCB): Why did you decide to get involved in co-ops?  

Right after I decided to homeschool a friend invited our family to join a co-op on native Americans.  This was a unit-study style co-op and one that included children of various ages, studying together, and the moms all stayed to take part in the co-op.  We loved, loved, loved it for many reasons.  For one thing, the children were assigned to give a presentation each week.  They learned how to speak well in front of a safe and friendly audience, enabling them to never develop a fear of public speaking!  The moms shared the workload and we enjoyed socializing just as much as our children did.  After that wonderful experience we were sold on homeschooling co-op style and I ended up organizing many, many co-ops over the next 30 + years of homeschooling.

SSCB: What benefits did you see for your children?

 So many benefits.  As mentioned above, they grew up giving public presentations so they did not develop a fear of speaking in public.  They enjoyed getting together with friends and they were motivated to do their work well.  Learning alongside children of various ages was also very beneficial.  The older children came alongside and helped the younger children.  Once the older children were old enough to teach and lead, they did!

SSCB: What benefits did you find for yourself?  

Sharing the workload was huge!  Being a part of my children’s presentations and watching them learn was always such a blessing.  Planning for co-op, because my children loved the experience, made my job easier!  They were motivated to get their work done and to do it well.  The students usually “raised the bar” which relieved the parents of having to nag our students to do their work well.  

SSCB: I think people are often nervous or afraid that participating in a co-op will make them look like bad parents or educators because of the ways their children behave or because they are “behind” in some area: how can co-op organizers and leaders address those fears?  

I could respond to this and write pages and pages.  One of the huge concerns I see among homeschooling moms is the fear of getting behind.  I would love to snap my fingers and dispel that fear.  In our home we were determined to help our children love learning and then equip them with the skills necessary to be independent learners.  That way, should we leave anything out that they needed, they could find it themselves.  We taught them to memorize this answer when they were asked for information they did not know, “I haven’t needed that information up until now.  I know how to find the answer.  Would you like me to look that up and get back with you?”  Besides, if your child was “behind” in one area or another, it does not take long to be intentional about pursuing a solution to that situation so they can “catch up” if that is a concern.

SSCB: Sometimes another parent or a teacher will observe an area of concern with a student. Do you have suggestions on how this should be handled?  

  I would suggest the parent making the observation pray about the situation and then come to the student’s parent privately to express those concerns.  After that, unless the student’s behavior is disruptive to the co-op, I would leave it there.  If behavior is disruptive to the co-op, then the parents should meet together to discuss a solution.

SSCB: One of the “problems” at our organizing meetings (parent taught, co-operative, academic style co-op) is all of the good ideas that we inspire in each other. We could easily have fifty classes a year if we implemented all of them! What are some ways to keep a co-op on vision when the ideas start to fly?  

We limit our ideas to a unit of study per co-op and then let the creative ideas fly when planning the classes.  The unit is chosen by the one organizing or by a consensus of the families involved.  We have done co-ops on a myriad of studies including the following:  American Girl, Magic School Bus, The Civil War, Top Ten Wars, Geography, The Scopes Trial, A Search for Truth, Inventions and Inventors, Missions, Vocations and Callings, The Medieval Period, Persuasive Speech, Famous People, Top Ten Lists, Cross Cultural Cruise, Worldviews, and more!

SSCB: Often homeschooling organizations are wonderful in the first generation, but fail or peter out once the original founders grow weary or move on. How can leaders help new members find their place in building the group/co-op?  

Have them come and observe or take part in a co-op.  It’s easy to fall in love with homeschooling co-op style once you give it a try.  We have a guide for starting a successful co-op.  It used to be called “Co-oping for Cowards” because we found so many moms were afraid to give co-oping a try.  Now it’s called “Better Together.”  There are so many different types of co-ops and hybrid opportunities available these days that a parent can usually visit, observe, and decide which situation best fits their family’s needs.  I hosted a podcast for a year and the talks have been archived and are free to listen to on-line.  They are found at this link:  http://ultimateradioshow.com/show-hosts/homeschooling-co-op-style/  I also have a Facebook page for homeschooling co-op style:  https://www.facebook.com/dpkproductions/

 

My own question …. So, if you homeschool co-op style, using unit studies, how do you put together a transcript for high school students?  My children were always surprised to see the subjects I included on their transcripts because we did not segregate and separate most subjects (math being an exception).  However, because we did study unit study style, these classes were almost always included in our co-op studies:  English, research, public speaking, writing, history, geography, science, debate, Bible, character, logic, character, and current events.  Many co-ops included different subjects, also integrated into the unit study (leadership, conflict resolution, etc.)  I have put together a free resource for parents of high school students in order to help parents prepare their students for life after high school.  It can be downloaded at this link:  www.bryan.edu/ebook    When doing research for this publication I discovered that parents are free to design their student’s high school years according to what best prepares them for their future plans (whether college, career, vocation, etc.).  There are no set “laws” regarding what subjects we are to teach.  This frees a parent to help plan their student’s high school years in a way that best prepares for his/her future!
I love to teach workshops on co-oping (and more) and would be glad to send a bio and list of workshops to those interested in getting together.  I will be at several homeschool conventions this year.  Email me for a list if interested.  Thanks so much!   pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu

SSCB: As a co-op organizer myself, I am really looking forward to your workshop at the convention- provided the toddler cooperates! Thank you so much for “speaking” with me.

To learn more about the Home Educators Association of Virginia and the Annual Convention please visit  heav.org/convention

 

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