I would be happy to share our experiences in hopes that you will start a group in your area. It has been such a rewarding experience for all of the families in our group. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at Karen@fiarcircle.com.
Begin by writing down what your family needs to get our of the support group/co-op and keep revisiting it to make sure you are getting this. If at any time you are not then make changes as needed. Our group has been through lots of changes in the last 2 years as we have made changes to meet the needs of the families in the group.
For my family, we really needed a support group and co-op experience that was supportive of the learning we were doing at home. Rather than having a day when we spent time taking lots of classes that did not fit what we were doing at home. Also, it was important to me that my daughter have a consistent group of peers from like-minded families that she would grow up with through the schooling years.
How often do we meet?
In the beginning we met once a week for 6 weeks then took a few weeks off but that proved to be a bit much for some families so now we meet every other week for co-op and this allows families that want to row the same book for 2 weeks to do so and those families that are rowing OOP books can do them in the off weeks (some families just take off the in-between co-op weeks.) On the off-weeks we still meet for a play date instead of co-op. This allows the kids to have some unstructured running time!
How often do you have field trips?
We do field trips for each book. We try to schedule them the same week, on Fridays. On off-weeks we sometimes meet at a local museum for their Friday morning mommy & me activities. If a family is rowing a book on an off week they might invite others along on their family field trip.
How many families participate?
Through much trial and error we have found that the perfect number of kids is 8. This includes any siblings attending. We target the activities at our 5 - 7 year olds so that they can do them pretty much independently and the moms can help the younger siblings. The kids younger than 4 are not expected to participate but we do always have enough materials for them to participate, they usually require parents to help them. The moms with babies wear them in slings so they can help out as much as possible. Currently our groups ages are: 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 5, 6, and 6.
We have 2 tables that seat 4 kids each so that works well. We have fluctuated from 5 to 14 kids and every time we get above 8 it is just a bit too much to handle, the kids run around in circles and the noise level is way too much. We were actually asked to leave one of the rooms we used because of the noise level when we had 14 kids- 14 kids also meant that we had 7 moms. 21 people (and 2 babies) in a room can be a bit much for this type of activity.
How do you choose the order of books?
I usually plan the books about 4 months in advance. I schedule them based on the season and local activities/festivals. I distribute the list in advance so families can plan their activities at home and place holds on the books at the library. We try to stick to the in-print and easy to acquire books and leave the OOP books for families to do on their own.
Do you read the book at co-op?
Yes, we do start the day with reading of the book. We have tried many things with the reading and the thing we find works best is to have the reader sit in a chair and the kids to each have their own copy or share with a friend and to follow along.
Who leads the activities?
We work on a rotating basis. Each week a different mom is responsible for planning and leading the book related activities. We also rotate the book reading so that the activity mom does not have to do it all.
Do kids have clean-up responsibilities?
In the past the moms have all chipped in on the cleaning but as our kids get older we are starting to recruit them. We started to have problems with the little kids always having to be last in line and last for activities and show & tell so we started a job chart for the kids. Each week the wheel is turned and the kids get a new job assignment. The jobs include: clean up crew, first in line, first to show & tell, pass out stuff. The order of the wheel helps determine who goes next in each activity as well.
What type of activities are planned?
We do have some basic guidelines about how long the activities are (15 – 25 minutes) and also that each child comes away from the activity with something to take home like a mini-book, worksheet, art project, to-do for home.
We keep all activities no longer than 20 minutes and the entire co-op day is no longer than 2 hours. In the beginning we just did 90 minutes but we found that adding a recess time before the final activity really helped and now we meet for 2 hours.
What does a typical co-op day look like?
-Welcome circle and song
-Reading of book
-Recess (10 minutes)
-Recess (again if needed)
-Show & Tell
Show & Tell:
Show & tell is a great way for the kids to develop communication skills. When our group was very large we had only a couple kids each week bring show & tell to share. With our smaller group now we allow each child to share each week.
Here is the script we use:
"Hello my name is....
It is my turn for show & tell.
What I am showing today is..."
Then they tell us a bit about it or we prompt them to tell us more, they end with "That is all for today" and we all clap for them.
Sometimes we have themes for show & tell and other times they are allowed to bring whatever they choose.
What about snacks?
In the beginning when we met for 3 hours we did have snacks each week. Now we only do snacks if they are part of a story related activity. many of our kids have severe allergies so planning snacks takes lots of thought and preparation. Sometimes families do bring lunch along and we enjoy it outside afterwards.
Where do you meet?
Finding the right location to have the co-op is key. We tried many places before finding our current location. We met in a church, a grocery store break room, and at a member's house. Meeting in a home was a disaster because the kids were very hard to keep focused and the kids that lived in the house showed out a bit. If someone has a church that has a playground or gym that you could use for recess that might work. The church we used was too expensive for long term use. We have been at our current location since the Fall of 2004 and the kids feel at home there. We have access to wide open outdoor spaces for the kids to play and explore.
Do families sign up for single sessions?
We really try to have families join that can commit for the long haul rather than accepting new registrations for each session. Our reasons for this go back to our original intention of having a consistent group of peers.
How will the group transition to Volume 4 and beyond?
Our plan to continue with the Vol 1-3 FIAR titles until Winter 2007. Then we will alternate volume 4 titles with revisiting of the early 1-3 titles every other week for the next year. After that the group will probably turn into a Beyond Group as the older kids reach BeyondFIAR age.
Do families bring their own supplies each week?
We have canvas bags for each child to take their things to and from co-op. The kids also bring crayons, glue sticks and scissors with them in their bags.
Any other issues you have encountered?
The noise level is about the only issue we have. We use a little technique that we taught the kids- Anytime an adult sings “ABC” the kids follow with singing “123. Listen to me” and then cover their mouths. This works beautifully!