January 19, 2007

Q and A: Support Groups Big or Small?

I have a question about co-ops. We actually belong to a small, 4 family co-op that we love. But, we're moving soon and they have a very large co-op where we are moving to. It sounds like from your posts that your co-op is large. May I ask what you like and dislike about it? Have you ever been part of a small co-op and if so, what did you like and dislike about that?

Hi Jen! Good luck with your move. We have moved so many times I know it can be challenging but there are many blessings that come with it too. Over the years we have been part of several different sized coops and homeschool groups. As you guessed there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

When we first started we meet once a week with two other families and did preschool type activities. At the time I did not think of it as a coop or support group but now looking back these lovely ladies helped me gain my confidence as a homeschool parent and helped me realize the joy and that I would not need to do it all alone. We were just three friends who had similar aged children who decided to get together for the kids and plan activities, nothing extremely formal and it was preschool time anyway. We loved this group because we were friends first but this is not typical.

We started looking around for a support group for when she got older because I knew it was important to have that in place early so when I needed the help and support it was already there and so I had people I could learn from and go to with my questions.
Since then we have formally been part of three support groups or cooperatives. One medium sized, one small and one very large. We spent about two years with the small group and now a year and a half with the big group.

I will try to be objective but will be upfront in saying that my perceptions of small and big groups are obviously very influenced by our experiences with our support groups, since that is what I can draw from. There are wonderful small and big groups and there are lousy small and big groups. Many of the advantages and disadvantages are similar to the benefits and challenges of going to a big school or a small school, or a big church versus a small church. The short answer is big groups offer more flexibility and options but are intimidating and sometimes overwhelming and small groups offer more intimacy but are very limiting.

For our family there is absolutely no question that the group we are with now is the best group for us and I love being part of a big group. The advantages of a big group are primarily in opportunity. With more families to choose from you have more opportunity for friendships to develop for both you and your children. You have more opportunity for meeting like minded people. You have more opportunity for finding answers to your questions and support for your needs. Typically a big group offers more opportunities for field trips, classes and other organized activities. A well run big support group is also very organized. A big group offers the opportunity to create smaller groups of friends and to have different friends for different things. A big group can do certain things that a smaller group can not. For example I have not yet come across a field trip we could not do because our numbers can be small or very large. One of the most valuable assets of a big group is families with children of wide age ranges and parents who are veterans, are in the thick of it, are in your stage, and are just starting out. A big group offers a lot of flexibility.

The downsides to a big group is it can be intimidating and difficult to become part of the activities. Big support groups are like big churches, they can be great or they can not be. You have to be the kind of person who can just jump in and get involved in smaller activities right away. You typically need to take much more initiative with a big group and get yourself and your children involved. There can be a less welcoming environment (though there does not need to be) and it can be really intimidating to some people, both parents and children. When faced with a large group you can feel overwhelmed and like everyone else knows each other and you will never get to know everyone and be part of everything. A big group can have a central core of people that can seem (and sometimes really is) not able to be broken into as a new person. A big group requires more personal work and intiative. It can take longer to develop closer relationships. There are often so many options that you face "a problem of good" where it all is good and you have too much to choose from.

Now onto smaller groups. Smaller support groups are usually welcoming and very intimate. You grow close together and you know well everyone involved both parents and children. Small groups offer an easy circle of people to get to know and offers a level of intimacy hard to intially find in a large group. It is usually easier and less intimidating to break into a small group. Small support groups you typically do everything together so your families grow comfortable together and you have a tight knit group of people. There are less people to coordinate so it is easier to meet more peoples needs and desires. In small groups people tend to be willing to compromise a lot knowing they need to meet each others needs. The intimacy often offers a safe environment for sharing and support. Very often the support group becomes your closest friends and the relationships extend well beyond homeschooling.
Small groups are intimate and usually close-knit.

The downsides I found of a smaller group were in its limitations. As a small group you have less options, you have less people to meet minimum numbers for things and less people to organize and run things. Typically there is less organization and formality to the group and it can kind of ebb and flow in activity. A small group can easily be controlled by a strong personality or a cluster of people and if you don't agree where things are going it will affect you. A small group is limiting in the number of friends your children and you can make. It is harder to find like minded people in small groups, especially for each member of your family. Small groups can often become cliquish to both outsiders and even sometimes to some of its own members. In small groups you put "all your eggs in one basket" so to say and if you lose that basket or something cracks inside it everyone gets messy. Small groups can be limiting.

Now all that being said there are always exceptions and really the bottom line to finding any support group is not size but what it offers you and your family and how you feel about the individuals in the group and the groups organization and overall philosophy. Sometimes in your life you need different things, sometimes you need small and sometimes you need large, both offer advantages and disadvantages and that is why both are around. Personally I find we fit better with big groups because then we can make our own smaller groups within the larger group where we fit but I still have the opportunities, support and experiences from the bigger group to draw from and rely on.

Since you mentioned you are moving to an area with a big group I want to come back to talk about big groups. In moving to a new place being part of a big group will offer you a lot of opportunities. Opportunities to meet people, to do things, to make friends in a variety of circles. But it will require more work from you and a willing spirit to just jump right in and take initiative to get involved and get to know people. Most often people in a big group are welcoming but busy in their lives and don't always stop to invite people in. Sometimes you will crash and burn in a big group and things you try will flop and you will have to try again. It takes more time for intimacy to develop and it can seem like everyone else is close but really often those are perceptions and the work pays off and you find yourself in the middle of everything with a lot of options.

It really depends a lot on your personality and what you like and dislike. I will be honest though and say that the large group that I am a part of is truly an exceptional group of women. It is like a small church and we support and love and encourage each other in so many ways that go beyond homeschooling. I know that what I am a part of right now is rare and a blessing and I am enjoying every moment of it. Our group has led me to make posts like It Takes a Village, Spotlight on our Coopand Way to Start the Year. I have found a group of very close intimate women as my friends that I meet once a week for coffee, discussion, prayer and a bible study, we've been meeting almost since I started the group. My kids have started developing their closer friends and have a large circle of people to choose from to play with and enjoy. We have so many field trips, class and activities that learning to say no is an important skill. We are part of thriving cooperative classes, have done drama camps, serve together as a group, and have what feels like all the resources I need when it comes to a question or need related to homeschooling and experience. So my post may be very biased because we love our big group!

Many blessings to you in your move. If you want to talk more about this personally feel free to email me.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Tenniel!

    I appreciate your offer to help with any questions I have. We are use to moving (my husband is military and we move every 2 yrs)but this will be the first time we've moved with a school age child. That really adds a lot of stress.