A couple of weeks ago, my sisters and I addressed the question of cooperative schooling — aka “co-ops” — in our “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” column. Since that time, the co-op I talked about starting this year (a tween girls’ book club) has had a social mixer and our first official meeting. So far, so good! If the first meeting is any indication of what’s to come this semester, then I think we’ve got a really great thing going. I thought I would share a little more about what I did to get the ball rolling, as well as a play-by-play of our first official meeting day…
As I mentioned in our recent co-op schooling post, I had been feeling a nudge from the Lord to do a tween girls book club, both to give my girls a good social opportunity and turn them on to books with Godly character focus. If there’s one thing I have learned after two years of homeschooling ups and downs, curriculum change after curriculum change, and being involved in too much/too little in the co-op arena, it’s that giving God the reins of your homeschooling plans is the most important thing you can do. Good ideas are always just that — good. A God idea, however, is always a great idea — because you have His strength to back you up and He is glorified!
As I prayed for direction this year, this idea kept coming back to me. Just when I was trying to give up extra responsibilities and remove things from my “to do” list permanently due to health issues, God was giving me an idea that I knew would require my leadership, extra time and effort. I was worried about taking on an entirely new enterprise — even if it would meet my homeschooling goals for my tween daughters. But as God continued to nudge me, I remembered that God equips those whom He calls to do His work.
“Now may the God of peace … make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” — Hebrews 13:20-21
Over the summer, I did some research on Christian books for tween girls. This included some Web browsing and asking fellow moms of tweens what they’ve seen and heard of. After identifying a few potential book series and authors, I checked out as many as I could from the library (I am all about free) and started reading them. I also had my eldest daughter Audrey read a few of my top picks to get her opinion. She is a voracious reader, and I knew she would not mind reading them again for book club.
I also thought about the mission for this co-op: It would be slightly educational (reading is learning), but more importantly, it would be a social opportunity for moms and their tween daughters to get together on a regular basis and share in our homeschooling journey — and support one another. Yes, I hope we’ll learn a lot from these fictional Christian characters and their true-to-life situations. But mostly, I hope we create tighter bonds between the moms and their daughters, and supportive connections between the moms who are coming together, as well as the girls.
To achieve this, I came up with a suggested format and started pitching the idea to moms that I thought would be a perfect fit for this group. We also had a co-op workshop near the end of the summer with our local homeschool support group, and I shared the idea there as well. Before I knew it, we were going to be full with more than 14 families wanting to participate! The fact that many of the moms shared with me the same desire to accomplish this mission was confirmation that God wasn’t just moving me, He was moving us. Praise Him for the wonderful and mysterious way that He works with us when we are listening to Him!
We had a “planning” meeting at the neighborhood pool to discuss the structure for our Girls Book Club soon after identifying the moms who wanted to be part of the co-op. Thanks to the wonderful guidelines provided by the veteran homeschooling moms who hosted the co-op workshop, we made decisions about frequency, group size, responsibilities to share, and a “code of conduct” we would communicate to the girls about what was expected from them to be part of the “GBC” discussion time. We also agreed to use the Secret Keeper Girl fictional series by Dannah Gresh to read for the first four book club discussion times.
It’s not always easy to be on the same page about some of the logistical things, especially when siblings of varying ages are involved as they most often are with homeschooling families. For example, several moms had sons or other children that wouldn’t be part of the book club. What will they be doing while mom and daughter are in the book club? Many girls already had other extra curricular activities (like riding their horse everyday for training purposes) that are hard to get around. Also, not all moms could stay for every book club meeting due to activities for other siblings or prior commitments. And so on and so forth… you know what I mean if you’ve been homeschooling for a year or so.
Praise God that we were able to accommodate the needs of almost every mom and daughter who wanted to be a part of this semester’s book club! Another confirmation that we were on the right track.
What we came up with was a twice-a-month meeting, made up of a 45-minute discussion time and an hour of social time plus snacks. Moms are sharing the responsibility of providing snacks, watching the younger siblings during discussion time, and supervising cleanup. Three moms have divided up the “hosting” responsibility of having the book club at their house (I am one of those three moms).
I had planned to lead the tween girls discussion time since it was my idea and I was happy to do it. However, we had such a large group of tweens (14 girls to be exact) that we decided to break them up into two groups, and another mom had to step up and lead that second group along with me. Praise God that happened too — a mom who had lots of experience leading youth groups and women’s groups volunteered almost immediately. Finally, we found that we had a small group of “younger readers” (girls from 6-8 years old), and one mom stepped up to lead a book reading and discussion time for them while their older sisters were doing their book discussion. How awesome is that?
What I’ve learned so far is that the key ingredients to structuring a new co-op are a common mission, agreement on the logistics and expectations from the students and participating parents, and divine intervention. I believe that when God is calling families to come together for His purposes, He truly makes provision for all the details.
One week before our first official meeting, I hosted a social “mixer” at my house so we could just spend some time getting to know each other. (Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures at that gathering!) That first gathering of 33 moms and daughters was a lot of fun, but also a bit hectic — revealing a few little holes in our structural plans that we were able to patch up before our first meeting. I’m really glad I decided to do the social time first, because the girls and moms were able to make connections before we would have to do anything “organized” together.
Our first Girls Book Club meeting was the following Wednesday, September 19, at my home again. My eldest daughter Audrey (a pastry chef in the making) decided to bake Red Velvet cake pops for the girls to dip into dark chocolate and decorate as they arrived. I love the fact that I can leave my little hostess in charge of things like beautiful snacks and decor: She is so fabulous at it, and I am free to take care of things like making sure our husky’s fur isn’t all over the house and that we have a pot of hot coffee made for the mamas who will need it when the 3 o’clock slump hits.
This turned out to be an especially helpful idea because it took at least 15 minutes for all of the moms and daughters to show up, and Audrey was able to take them back to the kitchen in small groups as they arrived to dip their cake pops and decorate them. Then we set them back on the stand to “dry” while we did the group activities.
Because we had just received the books a week ago, we didn’t have a reading assignment for this first meeting. Instead, the girls played a get-to-know scavenger hunt game, followed by table time in which we reviewed the GBC discussion tips sheet we’d prepared and played “Pass the Teddy Bear & Share.” Passing the teddy is the method we had agreed upon to make sure the girls all get time to talk during discussion time. Since we didn’t yet have a book to discuss, we practiced with some basic questions about their favorite books and fictional characters.
The “rules” for Pass the Teddy Bear & Share are that the girls will pass a teddy bear around the table, and only the girl who is holding the teddy gets to answer the question until it is passed to another girl. If you’re not holding the teddy, your lips are sealed — and you also can’t hold up your hand to be “next” while anyone is still talking. If someone wants to add to what the girl speaking has said, she can request the teddy by raising her hand after the speaker is done and passes her the teddy.
After a few questions, the girls got the hang of it and our little discussion was in full swing. The girls were much chattier and forthcoming with answers than I had anticipated, with only a couple of girls being hesitant to take the teddy and talk. I am really glad we came up with the discussion guidelines in advance, because it was a lot easier to point the girls in the right direction when they were talking too long or not giving each other their full attention. Overall, I think we’re going to pass that teddy a lot — and have some great discussions this semester!
The all-important snack and social time is my favorite time of the meeting — because I can finally relax! The girls came through the kitchen like a swarm of locusts and consumed their decorated cake pops and everything else in sight, then went to play outside in the backyard.
The moms congregated inside and outside for coffee, iced tea and what was left of the snacks. I was so glad the weather was warm again and everyone could enjoy our backyard. It was also nice to be able to have plenty of space for the girls to run around and work out their energy without disrupting the moms from having great conversations. Even the little sisters got a chance to hang out with the big girls and play!
Although I am really pleased about the relative success of our first meeting, we hit a few bumps too. For starters, we have already lost one mom and daughter pair due to their already packed schedule and finding it hard to fit our book club time slot into the agenda. It was bound to happen. We had a few moms that couldn’t stay for various last-minute reasons, so they were missed during our highly anticipated mama social hour. Life happens. We also had one girl who had to leave early for a sports team practice, so she missed the snack and social hour entirely. Thankfully her season will wrap up in October and it won’t always be the case, but guess what — it happens. And it will probably happen again.
I can’t speak for all the moms participating in our Girls Book Club co-op, but I can honestly say I’m not worried about how this semester will unfold. I knew before I started that I couldn’t attempt to do this if I wasn’t going to hand it over to the Lord completely and let Him be in charge. I prayed for the right families to be involved, and I believe that has already happened. I prayed for my girls and that my original mission for this co-op would be accomplished for them, so I am trusting God to work in their hearts in a way that only He can. I prayed for the moms and daughters who would join us and that their own journeys with Jesus and each other would be strengthened, so I am releasing that to the Lord because I am just the vessel being poured out — and He is filling me and will fill them.
Upcoming meeting days may be hectic. It might snow two feet on a day that we plan to meet at one of the more remote homes on our hosting schedule! Someone who’s signed up for snacks may not be able to come at the last minute. Kids get sick. Family logistics change. Another family may have to drop out. I don’t know… but thankfully, God does!
I am up for the journey because I know He’s leading us. And I trust my Good Shepherd.
“For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.'” — Isaiah 41:13
— 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 is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Formerly Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation. The Gotcher Family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.