Gym and Enrichment the Co-op Way
By Rita Tubbs
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #59, 2004.
How one support group integrated gymnastics into their homeschool co-op.
"Hurry, we'll be late for gym!" my seventh grade son exuberantly announces each week to our household and every home in the immediate area. Now this is the same boy who normally lies in bed late every morning refusing to get up, just begging to have water thrown in his face. He absolutely doesn't like to sit still for school, just as his older brother didn't when he was in the seventh grade. But on Wednesday mornings, gym and enrichment classes are held for our homeschool support group and it is one day this boy doesn't want to miss. My children love gym and I love the fact that they are getting regular exercise as well as learning things I normally wouldn't be able to teach them.
Once a week during the typical school year a large amount of youngsters, ranging in age from preschoolers to twelfth graders, fill a local church gymnasium with laughter and loud voices. Members of the C.H.E.E.R. (Christian Homeschoolers Educating for Excellence and Righteousness) group collaborate to put together this successful method of incorporating physical fitness into a curriculum, via a homeschool co-op.
In this group, several parent teachers take the responsibility of leading the children in team sports such as volleyball and basketball. They do sit-ups, push-ups, and stretching exercises. They run laps, play flag football, and even participate in the Presidential Fitness Award program. A few times during the year the entire co-op goes ice-skating at an indoor rink; then they get a chance to have a lot of fun in a party setting while still exercising their bodies.
Beginning a gym co-op took some effort, with the first year as one of experimentation with managing schedules and parents meshing personalities right along with the youngsters. Now things run along quite smoothly with everyone's help, and the adults get as excited as their children about gym and enrichment.
A common question many people ask is, "How does your group operate a gym class with such a variety of ages and interests, all in a two or three hour time frame?"
Actually, it isn't too difficult. While one group, maybe third grade through fifth, plays basketball or runs relays in gym class, the other grades learn about creation science, speech, debate, sign language or drama. Sometimes they do art projects, or dissect grasshoppers, or learn to bake bread. Even first aid has been explored during this time. When the hour is up, the older children hit the gym floor while the younger students enjoy enrichment activities. No matter what's on tap for the morning, it's one day that most of the kids eagerly look forward to.
You might wonder if there is really a need for an organized gym class in the homeschool realm. C.H.E.E.R. determined it a necessity for our group since physical fitness is a subject that many homeschools fail to include in their curriculums for one reason or another. Still, many distance learning programs, such as Christian Liberty Academy, require it.
Some families are already physically active and may not have a need for gym class. But many others are just too busy with computers, television, or even book learning to show much interest in any real and tangible physical activity. In a day and age when more and more children are overweight and unhealthy, it is an important issue that needs to be addressed and confronted.
A gym and enrichment co-op consists of a partnership among homeschooling families. Each person commits to teaching classes, sharing in the clean-up, and following basic ground rules.
When C.H.E.E.R. first launched a gym and enrichment co-op, only a handful of students and parents participated in a two-hour program. Many were skeptical and didn't give it a try. But word of mouth spread the news about a fantastic homeschool opportunity, and the co-op grew to include more than 30 families.
Last year we went with a three-hour format to accommodate families who had spent a great deal of time on a waiting list. It worked very well and we have continued the same for this year. The groups of children are broken down into kindergarten through second grades, third through sixth, and seventh and above. Preschool and nursery are separate and have their own gym time in another room, with the little ones enjoying time with Mom or Dad during the last hour. The new schedule appears to be working well.
How can your support group begin a gym and enrichment co-op? Successful co-ops are ones in which people have first spent ample time planning them. To develop a strong gym co-op, you need to evaluate your group's needs. How many students do you anticipate will be attending and is the number manageable? Where do you plan to hold classes? What will be the cost of renting a building for gym classes and can your group afford to pay it? What will you have to charge each family in dues? The C.H.E.E.R. group collected $50 from each family for the first several years and this worked out just fine. You will need a gym teacher plus volunteers who take charge of cleaning and running the nursery. Be aware you might need to hire an instructor.
The most important element in beginning any joint effort, of course, is each family's cooperation. Our group had a good start because families were willing to lend a hand and fill in wherever they were needed.
Call a meeting and discuss mutual goals for the group. Get commitments for teachers, nursery workers, and clean up crew. Listen to suggestions from others. Many times we miss out on God's best simply because we don't take the time to learn from one another.
Once you have drafted a plan, act upon it. Contact special speakers and schedule their visits for the year. Reserve the church or community center by paying the rent for the agreed-upon number of months you plan to hold gym. Schedule each parent in the slots he or she has requested and assign others to open jobs.
An important step not to be missed is to write a set of regulations concerning student behavior. We insist upon parents signing a copy of the rules so there can be no misunderstandings. If children don't obey the authority of their gym and enrichment teachers, the consequences - usually time out from classes - are carried out. There is rarely a problem. We also provide a copy of our group's statement of faith and only accept those who agree with that statement into the support group. This is vital since our group is a Christian one and we teach biblical lessons in our enrichment classes. It is better for both sides of the fence to understand where we stand.
Physical fitness can be fun and exciting. Through our gym and enrichment co-op, team sports are enjoyed, children realize the importance of exercise and nutrition, and they learn to cooperate with others. This is done without sacrificing the individual homeschool and its Christian values. And it is something that a seventh grade boy and his mother can get excited about together.