That is entirely dependent on your goals.
Do you want a really dynamic group that has a ton of class options for the kids? Do you want to be the biggest group in your area and help the most people and appeal to everyone?
Do you want a tribal community that has really strong relationship bonds between the families? Do you want to help the mom’s to feel needed and valued and safe?
Do you want to focus on a specific educational philosophy? Do you want to help kids get from point A to point Z in their education using that philosophy?
Each of these questions need to be answered. Your goals and the picture you have in your head really determines how large your group “should” be. I can give you some guidelines and then you can comment below with questions for more clarification. It is up to you to make the decisions that are best for you, your family and the families you serve.
Let’s take a look at #1
If you answered the questions in #1 affirmatively then you are looking for a group that is as big as your leadership team/admin board can handle. That is going to require some serious delegating and really good systems, but it can be done and it can be done really, really well! I have seen it.
Some of the benefits are: your youth will have tons of friends to choose from, you will too. There will be more classes to choose from. Many families equals more resources for teachers and more money to rent a larger, better building. Your resources will be rich and you will be able to help more families!
You will likely be creating more of a “pick and choose” situation, then a tribal community where the whole family stays together all day. You will have to deal with more relationship issues and someone will have to play policeman because people will try to get away with things that are against policy. It is just easier to hide, and to hide what you are or are not doing in a larger group.
Make a list of some of the things you want to offer. The sky's the limit! In a larger group you will be very likely to find someone who can teach it or has a connection to make it happen.
Watch your leadership carefully for burn-out and practice your delegating skills every day! :)
Let’s look at #2.
If you said, “yes” to the questions in #2 then a smaller group is likely what you need. My guideline is less than, or capped at 30 families.
My experience (21 years of working with “homeschool groups”) tells me that when you get over 30 families you start to lose the camaraderie that was possible before hitting that threshold. In fact several of my clients have told me that they see a significant difference in the connections when they hit 27 families. New Commonwealth Schools are capped at 30 families. The fact is that with each person you add, you add more connections and those connections require energy to manage and keep track of. Eventually we have too many connections to manage and we start to see smaller factions begin to develop. It’s a natural process that is born out of what we (our hearts and our heads) can handle. That is not a bad thing, just a reality.
There are drawbacks to having a group that is too small. Positive, like minded peers are a huge blessing that comes out of a good sized group. I have found that less then 25 families does not provide enough teens for my kids and even then it is going to depend on the general ages of the families. A group that has about 35 or more teens ages 12-18 seems to provide enough peers for youth to find friends that are a good fit for them. More youth equals more opportunities for “bosom buddies.”
Let’s dive into #3
Do you want to focus on a specific educational philosophy? Do you want to help kids get from point A to point Z in their education?
If your reason for starting a homeschool co-op or New Commonwealth School is because you have a specific educational philosophy that you want your kids raised and educated with and you want to create a group that will help you (and them) do that, then the size may be dictated by what resources you need in order to follow the guidelines of that particular philosophy.
Some examples of educational philosophies are:
Thomas Jefferson Education
Yes, even Unschooling can be a philosophy for a homeschool co-op!
So the question is what is it going to take to create that Charlotte Mason or Classical group? Well it is partly going to depend on how many learning categories the philosophy divides a student into. For example, Thomas Jefferson Education or TJED, as it is commonly referred to, divides students into developmental categories of Core Phase, Love of Learning Phase, Practice Scholar Phase, Apprentice Scholar Phase, and Self-Directed Scholar Phase. These categories cover kids ages 0-18. So in theory you would need at least enough teachers to teach each one of these phases and then I always recommend 2-deep leadership or two teachers in each classroom so that doubles that number. The number of teachers I would need would be a minimum of 10. Recognize that would also mean that those families would be doing double duty as members of the leadership team/admin board.
This just gives you a taste of the things that will go into making decisions about the school you are creating or running. Just remember, every decision you make has an impact on the school and therefore the families in your group. Size is just one component. As you are making decisions about what your group will look like in the future, ask yourself, “Given this decision I just made, what is the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario 20 years from now?” This is a mantra I constantly ask my clients. It will help you too!