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Parents pool their teaching skills in educational co-ops for children

"A University of Chicago study shows Russian high school students are 10 times better educated in math and science than American students. While Ivan and Olga are waltzing through advanced calculus, Johnny and Suzy are still stumbling over fractions." Thus began a recent full-page public service ad in The Wall Street Journalm entitled, "Johnny and Suzy Better Get Cracking."

Even though the ad emphasized that many students aren't learning even the basics, it didn't leave parents hopelessly discouraged. It urged parents to take up the responsibility of proper education themselves. "Work with your yongsters tonight and every night. Make sure they are learning, and know the importance of learning. . . ." This is a sharp reminder parents have heard before.

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A few obstacles often hamper its accomplishment. Lack of confidence and limited materials and teaching methods can be solved through experience and research. But the lack of time if a constant challenge in working with your youngsters. Even if parents have free time for such academic activities, students have commitments to homework, extracurricular activities, friends, and a real need for their own free time.

Last fall a group of parents met this challenge head on. With a mutual desire to keep their children's creativity alive and to provide in-depth exploration beyond the classroom, they established an educational co-op. The structure was simple: Classes would consist of neighborhood children and be taught on a rotating basis by the parents. Within days seven families joined, with a total of nine children between the ages of eight and 11.

At the initial organization meeting, parents decided preparation and flexibility were essential to success. Preparing carefully for four or five one-hour sessions didn't seem over-whelming to busy parents. And since the co-op would meet once a week, the children would prepare also by doing reading or research on a subject.

Flexibility meant the children could participate on a volunteer basis, and parents could schedule sessions according to their free time. Also, younger and older siblings could join in when their parents taught. This sometimes gave the co-op a family, rather than a school atmosphere, with children between five and 14 years.

At first some parents questioned their ability to teach a group of children, but doubts soon disappeared. They planned and taught in pairs, giving support and companionship to each other. They found that interest, experience, and most of all, enthusiasm were the basis for choosing a subject to teach. Excitement was contagious and perhaps more important than teaching techniques.

One mother, born and educated in India, is preparing to teach about her country. Another mother who speaks three languages will teach introductory German. A father, a former soldier in Korea, showed slides of the country when the children studied Korean art and history in connection with a museum exhibit.

The group is proving to be a co-op in the basic sense of the word. Car-pooling on field trips, making mimeographs, and teaching are shared by all. Getting to know other families well has been an added bonus.

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his educational co-op has helped families to 'get cracking' in an enjoyable way without breaking up normal schedules. Perhaps Johnny and Suzy will waltz t hrough calculus yet!

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