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Raising Great Communicators the Co-Op Way

By Pat Wesolowski
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #49, 2002.

Learn to write and speak. . . with a real audience.
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One of the key skills that home schooling parents need to make sure their children master is the art of communicating, both in writing and orally. Yet according to numerous books on public speaking, 80 percent of the American population would rather be dead than to have to speak in public. That means that they would rather be the one in the casket at the funeral than the one giving the eulogy!

Now, imagine if we train our children to be the public speakers of tomorrow! Think of the influence they can have in this world.

If we are allowing our children to complete high school without turning them into public speakers, then we are doing them a huge disservice, especially when this can be accomplished without a lot of effort, cost, hair pulling or nail biting.

Don't wait until they are in high school; begin when they are young.

When my oldest daughter, Kelley, was 16 she entered a speech contest sponsored by the Exchange Club. There were prizes for both first and second place. Only one other girl entered the contest locally so even if my daughter was to lose, she would win. However she did win and went on to the state competition where she was up against the best of the best. She won that contest as well (first place) and received a $1500 scholarship to the school of her choice. How was it that she was able to write, memorize, and present this prize winning speech? Let me tell you the secret. If you choose to try this yourself, it will not only help you turn your children into spectacular speakers, it will make your homeschooling experience so enjoyable and stress-free that you will probably want to write and thank me.

Being the mother of nine children, it did not take me long to realize that I didn't have enough hours in my day to separate school into disciplines and grades for each child and keep my house clean, be the wife God wants me to be, partake in opportunities to minister, and still have time leftover to sleep! Switching to unit studies was the answer and co-oping with a few families provided the safe and friendly environment necessary for my children to feel comfortable as they were introduced to research, writing, and public speaking.

I have found that when we include others in our studies and projects that my children (and most others) are self-motivated not only to complete assignments, but to do the best job they can do! For years Kelley got up in front of a group of friends, week after week, to orally give a report on an assignment she had researched and written. I am sure that when she won that statewide contest it was because of the many opportunities she had prior to that time to speak in front of a group, even if it was a small group of friends and their parents. Now, at age 22, Kelley is still very comfortable speaking in front of groups and she's glad that she doesn't belong to the 80 percent who would rather be dead than to speak in public!

Learning to communicate orally is essential when training our children to be tomorrow's leaders, but becoming excellent writers is equally important and co-ops provide a wonderful opportunity for honing writing skills as well.

NOTE: When I mention co-ops I am not talking about classes where parents cooperatively teach separate subjects and children are dropped off at the door. I am talking about families getting together once a week, for eight to ten weeks, with parents participating with children of all ages who are studying together. This is socialization at its best - no gender or age segregation!

You wouldn't believe how much information can be presented at these meetings, although the information learned is a bonus, it's not the goal. The primary purpose of a co-op as I am describing is to develop research, writing and public speaking skills, and the best news is that when you organize a co-op your children will be so excited that preparing for the meeting is stress-free. Since all of the parents are participating there is minimal preparation time required of each parent beforehand (another bonus).

Because the children are going to present an oral report each week, they gain the experience necessary to become skilled researchers and excellent writers as they prepare their presentations. Of course a four-year-old will not be presenting a written report (okay, there are some four-year-old homeschooled children who will), but those who can't yet read and write can still stand up in front of the group and share something. Even the shy children who hide behind mom's skirt at first will soon be giving presentations along with the others. The older children will be encouraged to improve each week as they observe their friends mastering public speaking skills.

The best way to create skilled writers is to make opportunities for children to write. Requiring a presentation for co-op each week does just that. Children are self-motivated when they know that others will be listening to what they've written. Our co-ops went a step further and published the children's reports in a weekly newsletter. Such newsletters are great to share with relatives, to put into the child's portfolio, and to file away as a keepsake.

What do you study? Our co-ops have studied specific subjects (Civil War, inventions, geography etc.), but some of the co-ops that were geared to a younger age group have been centered around a different illustrated children's book each week. What you study doesn't matter as long as it holds the children's interest.

Who do you include? Invite a few families to join with you in forming a co-op. Fifteen to twenty children is a workable number, but I have participated in co-ops with as few as ten children and in co-ops with as many as 25 children.

When do you meet? Fridays are a great day to get together because your week is ending and there is little stress over the weekend to finish up reports. I have, however, participated in co-ops that meet on Monday when that is the only option available to the majority of a group. Scheduling 2-1/2 to 3 hours to meet is usually necessary in order to include all of the activities planned for the day.

What activities do you plan to include? That will depend on the unit you are studying and on the strengths of the parents. In one co-op we had our own "Ms. Frizzel" who so loved science that we made sure she had 1/2 an hour each week to take the children through the work centers she would set up. With the co-op that our family is going to be in this fall we are fortunate to have an art student who has volunteered to teach an art lesson every week.

Having organized many co-ops over the years I have found that the following schedule of activities works well:

  • Bible verse & character lesson
  • Overview of that week's study (or reading the children's book aloud)
  • Presentation of children's reports
  • Break for refreshments
  • Parents teaching time (history, language arts, geography, fine arts, science, etc.)
  • Arts & crafts for younger children, research exercise for older children
  • Hand out newsletters and reports from previous week and assignments for the next week

Do you want your child to be prepared to give an answer to every man who asks the reason for the hope that he has? Then get together with a few friends this year and form a co-op! By all means, begin now to encourage your children to be the speakers of tomorrow.

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