Last Updated on August 19, 2023 by Sarah McCubbin
If you are starting a new homeschool co-op, you are probably wondering what you should include in your homeschool co-op handbook. Below I will outline the purpose and different parts of a handbook. There is also a sample handbook you can download to give you an idea of what you might include.
When I took over leading a homeschool co-op, I quickly realized that the handbook was going to save me. When people would come up to me with questions, it removed so much stress that I could simply pick up the handbook and answer questions right from the book. It eliminated giving subjective answers and prevented me from making emotional decisions on the spot. The handbook was written before I became a leader and I’m so thankful for the women who took the time to do it well.
When you write your handbook well, you will save yourself time and energy and you will be helping everyone in the group and future leaders communicate clearly. Find a free sample handbook and other resources in our Resource Library.
When families are looking for a new co-op to join, I point them to my Homeschool Co-op Checklist as way to determine if it is the group for them. Many of those checklist items could also be used in a homeschool co-op handbook.
Table of Contents
Purpose of the Handbook
The purpose of a well-written homeschool co-op handbook is two-fold. First, it helps new and existing members know what to expect when they join your co-op. It lets them know whether their values are the same as your values and it lets them know how different issues will be handled.
Second, the homeschool co-op handbook will help your leadership when people have questions. The default answer to most questions should be, “Let me look in the handbook.” When that becomes the default answer, people in your group will begin to rely on the handbook for most answers and you will not need to answer the same questions over and over.
A well-written homeschool co-op handbook also prevents a lot of miscommunication. If leaders have a book to default to, they won’t feel the pressure to make up answers to problems on the spot. The handbook becomes the “bad guy,” which is so helpful when you are trying to navigate people problems.
Recommended Sections in the Homeschool Co-op Handbook
Your homeschool co-op handbook will have many different sections. As you write each section, consider what you would want to know as a prospective family, a current family and as a co-op leader. You are creating a resource now that will prevent many problems in the future and will help you solve other problems very quickly. The sections below are recommended because they deal with the BIG issues that families want to know coming to your group. I would start with these areas and then build out the other policy areas when your core book is written.
- Leadership Contact info: This is a helpful section where you can list each of your leaders names, positions, and contact information so that people can easily reach out if they have questions.
- Mission Statement: When you organize your group, you should create a mission statement that might include your core values or vision statement so that families who are considering joining have an idea of whether their values and your values are in alignment.
- Membership Process: Do you have specific steps that people must take in order to join your group? This is a great place to spell out those steps in a very clear table-like fashion so that they make sure they complete all the steps by the due dates that you specify.
- Fees & Payment/ Refund Policy: obviously money is important so you want to spell out all the fees that you have as well as payment due dates and any refund policies you have so that there are no misunderstandings later.
- General Policies: I have a list of general policies listed in the section below that you may want to include. You should include all your general policies in your handbook again just to make sure everyone stays on the same page.
- Parent Responsibilities: each group is different and the parent responsibilities in each group will be different. If your group is a volunteer-based co-op, then you will need to list out the expectations for your volunteers. Or if your group operates differently, you still want to spell out the expectations for parents whether they can leave the building whether they stay on site, what their expectations are during the co-op day, and if they have any outside responsibilities you want to spell that out as well.
- Student Responsibilities This helpful to include the expectations for student behavior and participation in class in your handbook. By making a list of expectations, you can then review that with the students and make sure all students agree & off before joining your co-op. Having this list is very helpful because when you need to deal with discipline problems, you can refer back to this list and remind students of what they agreed to when they joined co-op.
- Conflict Resolution Policy: homeschool families can have conflict just like anyone else and it is important to have the steps that people should take if they have a conflict they need to handle. I’ve included a link to a sample conflict resolution policy for you to see. I would say that when you create your conflict resolution policy, it is important to write your policy in a way that you let people know what to do if they’re conflict is with your leadership team. If your leadership team is one part of the conflict or one side, how should people go about resolving that as well as conflicts between individuals.
- Discipline Policy: hopefully our group will not have very many discipline issues. However, if you do have a discipline problem that requires no more attention, it is helpful to have a discipline policy, spelling out the steps people need to take or the steps that will be taken. If if the situation is not remedied, what happens after the first offense, second offense, their defense, etc. This is helpful. If you have a situation where it looks like a child’s behavior is dangerous for everyone else or where it could become dangerous and you’re trying to make take impartial steps to solve the problem in a way that is also not very personal and completely directed at the person making the bad choices.
- Facility & Storage Guidelines: Whether your group is meeting in a church, a community center or any other space, they will have expectations about how their building is used. It is important to ask the facility what their expectations are and relay them to the members.
- Code of Conduct: Similar to the facility guidelines, the code of conduct relays any behavior expectations the facility may have. This might be things like, “No running in the sanctuary or food is only allowed in the fellowship hall.”
- Job Descriptions: If you have descriptions of the roles of each of your volunteers, this is the place to include that. You might include a description of expectations for your teachers, helpers, cleaning crew, field trip coordinator, party coordinator etc. Any details you include here will make it easier for those individuals to do their job well.
In your homeschool co-op handbook, you will have many policies. These can be reviewed and updated every year. On our leadership team, we would update our policies annually to make any clarifications or add new policies to deal with new problems.
Ideas for General Policies
- Visitor Policy: When people want to visit your co-op, what are the rules for them to come? Do they need to let you know ahead of time? Do they come only on special days? Visitor days are often a good idea and prevent visitors from regularly disrupting your classes.
- Adult / Child Safety & Background Checks: many insurance policies will want you to have your safety guidelines in place for your co-op. This may mean spelling out how children and adults interact. It may also mean that you require background checks for all adults. You should check with your insurance company to see what their requirements are and be sure to include it in your handbook.
- Special Circumstances: well, you may have standard requirements for all families to participate, you will find that there are some families who have special circumstances which prevent them from meeting the volunteer or financial requirements. How does your group want to handle people making special requests so that they can still participate.
- Maintaining Membership: You may want to spell out the terms of continued participation in your group. If a family joins and then is repeatedly absent, this policy will give you parameters for letting them continue to come or letting them rejoin the next year. For example, if someone misses more than 5 days, maybe they do not get to come back the next year. Or maybe they do not qualify for priority registration or whatever guideline you are comfortable with in your group. Offering this policy up front prevents a lot of hard feelings later.
- Leave of Absence: If your group offers something like priority registration for current members, people who need to take a year off co-op may wonder how they can still maintain that priority status. Or if someone needs to take an absence mid-year and still be a member in good standing, this policy will spell out the terms of that arrangement.
- Resignation Policy: This policy spells out what should happen if a member decides to resign from co-op and stop coming. Do you want them to notify verbally or would you like them to write you a letter so that that can be entered into your records.
- Termination Policy: This policy is one you will not use very often. Hopefully, however, it is the terms whereby someone may be terminated or removed from your co-op.
- Homework Policy: how you handle homework and a homeschool co-op should be clearly defined. Some groups want a very academic experience and therefore require that students do homework and turn it in on time to maintain that academic experience for everyone. However, not all groups are the same and not all teachers are the same. You may have different requirements for different age groups and having a homework policy will prevent a lot of misunderstanding and keep everyone on the same page.
- Grading Policy: similar to the homework policy is your grading policy. Homeschool parents are ultimately responsible for the grades they give their children. But if your group is offering grading as part of the homeschool co-op experience, then you want to spell out the terms of that grading. Do grade tests only degrade homework? Where are these grades posted? Those kinds of things. Putting these in the handbook ahead of time is very helpful because often new families will peruse your handbook to get an idea of whether this is a good group for them.
- Dress Code: address code is important if you want to maintain certain standards. It doesn’t need to be anything very complicated or super detailed, but it should spell out the basic clothing guidelines that you or possibly your church are requiring.
- Cell Phone Policy: technology is obviously something we all have to deal with and spelling out. Your cell phone policy in advance is important. You will need to clarify this policy with the teachers and the parents and the students and you may find that you need to adjust slightly from year to year to work out implementation of this policy.
- Absences & Illness Policy: This policy is one that should spell out what family should do if they have an absence or illness. Additionally, it should also spell out when you absolutely do not want someone to come to your group. For example, during COVID We had very specific guidelines about fevers and coughs and aches and chills and things like that. You may want to have a specific list of things and whether the rest of the family can come or whether the whole family needs to stay home if someone is ill.
- Announcement Policy: This is a good place to list where you will make your announcements for co-op. This should be a place that people regularly check. If you have an emergency or last minute announcement. Are you going to email it to them? Do you have a remind text type app? Are you using your forum post where the announcements for your group will be made so people can check that on their co-op days.
- Snacks & Allergy: If your group will be providing snacks or any kind of food you need to have this policy clearly spelled out. How do you handle snacks? What about kids with allergies? What should those families expect to do? Do they need to provide an alternative snack? Those kinds of questions are helpful for families making these decisions.
- Snow/Bad Weather If you live in an area where there is bad weather or you might have snow days, it is important to list how you make the decision to call off co-op. Do you rely on the local school districts calling off or do you have other ways of deciding whether you will call off school for the day.
Optional Sections in Handbook
In addition to the policy sections listed above, you may want to include in your homeschool co-op handbook these additional sections:
- Important dates for the year
- Registration forms
- Photo waivers
- Field trip waivers
- Any other important forms
Designing Your Homeschool Co-op Handbook
As you begin the process of writing and designing your homeschool co-op handbook, I recommend keeping it simple and functional. A beautifully designed handbook is wonderful but if it requires special software or special skill to update then it will be unnecessarily difficult to update.
The handbook below is a modified version of one from the group I was in. I have permission to share it with you. It was written in Microsoft Word with beautiful formatting. However, the formatting made it so difficult to edit that only the original author could edit it every year. When she moved, the group could not easily edit the handbook!!
One simple free option is to write your handbook in Google Docs. It is easy to write in, easy to edit and easy to share. Several authors can collaborate together. Different settings will let members be editors, commenters or just viewers.
Sample Homeschool Co-op Handbook
Your Handbook Is A Gift To You & Your Members
Before I sign off here, I just want to encourage you with this thought…your handbook is a gift. It really is. Most of us hate rules…at least I do. However, a carefully written handbook isn’t just a bunch of rules. It is guidelines…and you have the chance to explain the policy right there in the handbook. “This policy exists to accomplish XYZ….” I have found that when people know why a policy exists, they are much more likely to embrace it and go along with it even if its not their favorite.
Happy Homeschool Co-op Handbook writing!