Saturday, May 31, 2014

Choosing a Homeschool Co-op (Part 2)

We began last week, in part 1,  by acknowledging that co-ops do not come in a “one-size-fits-all” package.  There are many reasons for homeschool families to seek a co-op experience.  We began by talking about the least structured of the four types of co-ops:  the social co-op and the enrichment co-op. This week we will look “replacement” and “drop off” co-ops. 

The replacement co-op is, by far, more rigorous and structured than either the social or enrichment co-op.  A replacement co-op will offer classes, for a fee, which replace what you do at home.  Typically, higher-level sciences, literature, and history are offered.  Science equipment, microscopes, and other classroom supplies are owned by the co-op and are included in class fees.  Students may often enroll in choir or orchestra, led by local professionals.  This type of co-op can be a great boon to parents of junior high or high school students.  Classes are offered a-la-carte.  Fees depend on how many students you have enrolled and which classes you choose. 

 In replacement co-ops, parental participation is still mandatory.  This is a larger group, in which your children will be assigned a grade-level class to attend all year long. So, most of the time, siblings will not be in the same classroom.  Classes meet 13 to 18 weeks per semester.  There is typically both an administrator and a bookkeeper.  Each family pays a “facility fee”, which is used to pay the facility where the co-op is held each week. Two to four parents share responsibility for teaching one class for the entire year.   The goal of each class is to do projects and activities, which cannot be easily duplicated in the home environment.  Putting on a play or doing science experiments are examples of projects which are well-suited to this type of co-op. In recent years, we have been involved in an academically rigorous co-op.  Believe me, when it comes to chemistry, I was grateful to pass the baton to one more highly qualified than I to do the teaching!  

The final type, the “drop off” co-op, is really a hybrid, a cross between a private school and a homeschool experience.  In the “drop off” co-op, parental participation is not mandatory.  Enrollment prices will reflect this policy.  Co-ops, offering a “drop off” policy, will be more costly than those requiring parental involvement.   Instructors have often taken classes in the pedagogy associated with the teaching material offered for each class.  Co-ops of this sort will utilize a specific teaching methodology. In a “drop off” co-op grades are given and instructors are paid.  The “pros” are that the instructional, professional, and academic standards are more rigorous than any other type of co-op. The downside is that fees can run in excess of $1000 per year for each student. 

I’ll end with some overall thoughts about what to expect when searching for a co-op.  You should be welcome to visit and observe at any of the four types of co-ops.  If they don’t allow perspective parents the opportunity to observe and ask questions, I would wonder why.  You will want to note the amount of supervision.  Even if the atmosphere is generally unstructured, you want to be certain any rough-housing is dealt with swiftly and that there are standards for appropriate behavior (among children and adults).  J  What is the student to instructor ratio?  Are the classroom numbers “capped” at a certain amount?  Do the students seem engaged and enthusiastic?  Ask what a typical class is like.  What is the amount of homework assigned?  Are grades given?  What are the policies for dealing with conflict between students or parents?  Does the co-op embrace and teach from a specific worldview or religious perspective?  Does the co-op utilize a specific teaching style?  What is the cost per class/per family?  Are there any additional costs – such as for textbooks, art supplies, field trips, or snacks? Does the educational environment meet your family’s wants or needs? 

There are just a few of the pros, cons, in’s and out’s of each of the four types of co-ops.  I trust that these have been helpful to you and would welcome any comments or questions you might have. 

Remember, do all to the Glory of God,


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choosing a Homeschool Co-op (Part 1)

What to Look for in a Homeschool Co-op
Part 1
This week we will look at “social” and “enrichment” co-ops. 
I will expound on each type of co-op experience.  Next week, we’ll wrap up this series by taking an in-depth look at “replacement” and “drop off” co-ops. 

            There are many reasons for joining a homeschool co-op. 

Co-ops can:
  1. Help our children find and spend time with friends.
  2. Allow our students to experience concrete deadlines, assignments, and academic expectations. 
  3. Let other adults evaluate our students’ work.
  4. Give us, as parents, the chance to have a more experienced or more qualified adult teach our children difficult subjects.
  5. Allow other adults to invest in our children’s lives and encourage their God-given strengths. 
  6. Give our children a taste of a more structured classroom environment. 

Co-ops may be highly organized or loosely structured.  However, for the purposes of this article, they will be divided into four basic types: 
1.     Social
2.     Enrichment
3.     Replacement
4.     Drop off

For most of our thirteen years of Homeschooling we have been involved in various co-ops.  As my children have gotten older, what we desire in a co-op has evolved and changed.  We have enjoyed all kinds of co-ops and still have friends we have met in each. 

A decade ago, as a mother of two early elementary students, we attended social co-ops.  They are, just as the name implies, groups focusing on socialization and having fun.  Most of these co-ops allow for a “drop in” policy and offer little in the way of structure.  Meetings may be weekly, but more often are scheduled less frequently.  Cost is minimal.  If there is a cost, you might be just asked to donate to a “thank you” fund for the local church brave enough to let a multitude of varying age school children invade their gymnasium once or twice a month.  

I was once involved in a group called “Relaxed Homeschoolers”.  They met once a month at a local church with a gymnasium and, basically, the moms drank coffee and chatted while the youngsters blew off excess energy in the gym for a couple of hours.  This was particularly nice for winter months, when active play was harder to attain.  For families already heavily involved in extra-curricular activities with older students, the social co-op gives younger siblings a special day when they can meet with friends and just have fun. 

The second type of co-op covers a wider-range than the first.  Enrichment co-ops meet on a regular schedule and offer classes to augment or supplement your homeschool schedule.  Classes may be offered on small engine repair, cooking, sewing, painting, or photography.  Typically parents are the instructors, although, it is not uncommon for community groups to be invited to teach a single class.  As a group, you may learn life saving skills from the American Red Cross, visit the local fire station, or take ice skating lessons for six weeks. 

Topics to be studied are determined by all of the parents involved in the co-op.  Schedules are designed in “blocks” of time, allowing several weeks for each topic.  Parental involvement is mandatory and each parent is given one topic to teach or may serve as a “class helper”. Other than planning for the weeks in which you are teaching, your involvement will be fairly limited in scope.  Students are typically grouped together in a wide range of ages so that older students can mentor younger ones.  If the topic or situation merits, girls and boys may be taught separately.  Costs are generally in the low to medium range, depending on which activities the group decides to explore.  However, if you choose not to attend certain segments because of added cost, this is generally considered acceptable.  If you have a large age-range of students and want your students to stay together in the same classroom, the enrichment co-op is a good choice for you.

Hang in there with me and next week we’ll conclude this series with an in-depth look at the last two types of co-ops:  replacement and drop off.  

Remember, do all to the Glory of God, 


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why We Let Our Teenager Manage Our Budget

My husband and I have been using (and sticking to) a written budget for our entire married life (26 years!) We have experienced the peace that comes from living debt-free — including our home — for many years.
In 2012 we decided it was time to make finances and budgeting “real” for our oldest son.  He was 16 at the time.  We put him in charge of our family finances for six months! That’s right. He took it over “lock, stock, and barrel and I think it was an experience that he will never forget.
If you’d like to get your teens more involved and aware of real-life finances, here are a few tips that helped us.
Give Them Credit
I admit, this has a dual meaning. We homeschool. So, it was natural for us to offer our son high school credit for his foray into the world of finances. But, I also mean, that I think we need to give our children credit for being mature enough to learn real world, life-long lessons by taking an in-depth look at our family’s money.
I did feel a bit sad that, somehow, I had taken away some of my son’s innocence by letting him know just how hard it can be to “make it” on one income. I wanted to be sure that he retained his feeling of security. We don’t want our children to worry that “Mom and Dad won’t have enough money”.
However, to my surprise, the opposite occurred. He saw, even more than before, the depth of our praise at seeing God meet our needs in amazing ways.
Give Them Tools
We began this process by enrolling our son in a six-week money management course, which we attended with him. This gave him a lot of Biblically-based knowledge about money principles in a logical and sequential manner.  
We then set out to show him practical examples of how to make your money work for you.  On the website, I showed our son that if he began with $saving $450 a month, at 5% interest, he could purchase a $120,000 home for cash at the end of 15 years.   Here's the tool we used to calculate this monetary magic.  Then, we used the tools to see what a $120,000 mortgage would COST at 5 percent interest for 15 years.  The interest on a 15-year mortgage at 5 percent is about $50,000.  It is nearly $112,000 with a 30-year mortgage at that same 5 percent interest.  I LOVE on-line calculators to show kids real examples about money.  Let them put in their own savings goals and amounts.  They’ll begin to understand the importance of delayed gratification and long-term goals. 
Give Them the Reins
Let them do it! After the money management class, I opened up our finance books to our son. He couldn’t sign the checks, but when a bill came in, he told me how to fill in the check (or make the transaction on-line) and entered the amount in the proper part of our household ledger.
He entered all of our expenses into the ledger, kept track of each category, made a spread sheet at the end of each month showing what we spent in each category and what we averaged thus far for the year. He also made recommendations on what changes we needed to make in each category – if any.    
Give Them a Goal
Our son’s final goal was to look at this year’s totals in each category and set up the family budget for the following year. So we set January 1st as an end date for his “course in family and personal economics”.
A sense of completion is important and the end of the year always seems like a time to take a deep breath and say “thank you” to God for helping us and blessing us. So, January 1st, he received his 1/2 a credit in “Consumer Economics”.
For his final exam, he produced our “end-of-the-year log”.  This document details our net worth, savings for the year, what percentage of our income went to each category, a list of our current short, medium, and long-term goals, and the 2013 Ware Family budget!  Whew! 
When we began this project, I knew I wanted our son to take the finance course for at least six months so he could see seasonal fluctuations.  I also was fairly confident that something unexpected would happen within that time frame — so he would get to see the emergency fund at work.
It did! He accidentally hit the garage door while I was teaching him to park in the driveway.  J  This would be why my husband has taught the lad to drive and not me. 
He is now so aware of how much money it takes to make it from one month to the next – and he is very proactive in helping us stay on target. He is also genuinely grateful any time we are able to give him something extra — not a needed item — but just something to bless him because he is our son and we love him.
He now knows first-hand where that money came from and how hard it is to stretch. Money has become a reality to him!

Adendum:  January 2017:  This post was originally written in 2014.  Our son is now a sophomore in college, has won several scholarships, has nearly a 4.0 GPA, and is paying his own way through college.  He was just awarded a full-ride tuition scholarship to a fantastic Christian University!  Oh, and he is a major money saver, lives on a budget, and plans for future goals.  Looks like he learned his lessons well.  
     Our second son has also now had his chance to manage the family budget.  He attended a nine week Financial Peace University class with my husband and me.  I was delighted to find that even after decades of following a budget I gleaned a lot of helpful information.  My son was heard quoting concepts from the videos for weeks afterwards.    Go to for a list of classes near you. For Biblically-based money advice, check out  or   You’ll find a lot of wonderful budgeting advice there along with charts, articles, and interactive tools.  As an added bonus, when my second son was in charge of the budget this tech-loving, wonderboy computerized the entire system for me!  I love it!  He had a blast investigating all the on-line budgeting programs and picking the best of the best.  We now use, a FREE monthly budgeting program from Dave Ramsey. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Children and Chores


The school year has nearly ended!  (Yeah!)  Summer will arrive on the heels of spring.  In the all-too-short summer months I do quite a bit of organizing and planning for the next school year. One area which always seems to come to the forefront is housekeeping.  My house, which is fairly clean and orderly during summer, suddenly becomes a path of mass destruction during the school year.  In an effort to keep this from happening again, here are my tips for getting your children involved in helping keep the house tidy.  


As soon as possible, teach them how to do a job and do it well.  We have a mantra in our home when it comes to chores:  If you can toddle, you can tote.  It’s not original to me, but I love it!  As soon as my children could walk, they were given jobs to do. You can find lists of age appropriate chore suggestions at:


We’ve tried a weekly printed chore chart.  But, we have found that it works best for us to list daily chores on my dry erase board in the kitchen.  I let them pick the ones they would most like to do. If one of the younger boys selects a task, which he is being trained to do by an older sibling, then that older brother will automatically get to go with that little brother to complete that chore.  At other times, I add a name beside the specific chores.  It depends a bit on how much time I have for training that day.  Given the option, the younger boys will pick some of the harder and more “exotic” items on the list. And that means T-I-M-E to show them how it’s done.  However you do it, try to be sure you that “hit all the bases” and that each room of the house is eventually rotated through by each child. 


1)    To KNOW what was expected of them,
2)    Have consistency from us,
3)    Be given a variety of tasks.
4)    Rewards!!

 If they cleaned the bathroom, they wanted to know that (just because we were having company) a job, which was rated as “acceptable” last week, was “just not good enough” this week.   They have told me that they want to know the “right” way to do it the first time and they will strive to have it in that condition each and every time.

You must be sure that you are not asking them to do something that you have not trained them to do or have given them something to do that is beyond their frame of reference.  I have struggled with getting frustrated with a child when they fail to complete a task, only to have them say, “But, Mom, you never showed me how to do it.”  

To insure this consistency, you must TRAIN them.  The first time a new task is introduced, I have them just watch me do it – along with my snappy and interesting running commentary on each step I am making.   The next time, I have them do it while I am watching them.  I have them repeat each step back to me while I watch.  The third time, they complete the task alone – with freedom to ask me if they need help or forget a step.  By the fourth time, they do it all and then I inspect their work when it is completed.

It is said that “variety is the spice of life” and so, too, it is with chores.  Our boys have certain areas of cleaning which they PREFER.  For instance, my middle son LOVES to clean the bathroom.  I’m NOT kidding!  So, for many months, he cleaned the bathroom every week.  His brothers began to expect that “John will take the bathroom cleaning on the chore list.”  One day, while gesturing with the toilet brush, he explained to me, “Mom, I do like the bathroom.  But, that doesn’t mean I want to be the ONLY one who does the bathroom!”  I got his message.  I now make sure that we “share the love” when it comes to the bathroom.  Although he still cleans it more often than the other boys.

Finally, after about 90 minutes of hard work, we ALL take a well-deserved snack break.  All “happy helpers” get to enjoy a special treat together.  We sit, grin at each other, and say, “Wow!  That was hard work!”  We really deserve this treat.  Boy are these cookies good!” 


One last thing I would urge you to do is make a running list of objectives.  We titled ours:  “Before our children leave our home, they will know how to effectively …”  Then, list objectives by types.  For instance:  home maintenance, automotive, cleaning, etc.  Then, add a column to check off for each child.  In this manner you will ensure that you are cross-training each member of the family and that you don’t have to tie up any unexpected loose ends right before you send them off to college.  

And remember...

Do all to the Glory of God,