One of the first introductions to homeschooling a parent experiences is through a homeschool support group. Support groups are important to a family’s homeschooling experience. While they aren’t mandatory, the friendships made through groups can last a lifetime.
Finding a support group that is in sync with your personal philosophies may prove to be difficult. Many types of groups exist, with the dynamics of each different enough to warrant the existence of multiple groups. Every support group offers something different, but remember the first rule of support groups: if the members of the group don’t offer you unconditional support, it isn’t a group you want to be a part of.
How to Start a Homeschool Support Group
There are many reasons why parent decide to form a new support group. In
many cases the parents simply have trouble finding a group that meets their
needs or that they feel comfortable in. Chances are your needs are very similar to the needs of another family, so why not network? Before creating your new support group there are some very important items to consider before announcing your new group to the public.
Naming Your Homeschool Support Group
What’s in a name? Everything! A name can specify your location, your purpose,
and your values. Consider the following names: Christian Home Educators of
Devon County, East Devon Homeschool Cooperative & Devon County
Alternative Educators. Think of the connotations associated with each name.
Many groups use the word inclusive in their name, however I caution against its
use. Too often inclusive is interpreted as “we will bend over backwards to make
sure your family fits“. One group cannot possibly fill the needs of every family.
Meeting the Needs of Other Homeschoolers
Identify your needs and tailor the group to meet them. After all, if your family has
one particular need chances are other families do too! Determine group policies.
Will you be religiously affiliated? Will you be sectarian? Will you accept kids of a
certain age only? How many families will you accept? Will younger or older siblings be allowed to attend events?
Determine what activities your group will provide, when they will be provided,
where they will be held and if you will need volunteers. On occasion finding
volunteers can be a bit like pulling teeth, so be patient and firm.
This formative stage is a good time to establish your field trip policies, behavior rules and a dress code if you see a need. Create a mission statement and print up an information packet to hand out to all members. Advertise your group only once all the above considerations have been made. Sometimes a flyer in a library is all you will need. Consider placing ads online, in the paper and in church bulletins. Hang fliers where homeschoolers are likely to hang out.
Communicating with Your Homeschool Support Group
Make it a priority to stay in contact with your members, every single one. Popular
methods of communication are newsletters (some groups charge a small fee to
cover printing costs), email and phone trees. Don’t depend upon word-of-mouth,
people often forget things if they don’t have them in writing. You can start a free
online support group on Facebook or at Yahoo, http://groups.yahoo.com. contact.
What to Expect as the Leader of Your Homeschool Support Group
Be prepared to deal with the unexpected! As a support group leader you can
expect a lot of phone calls, so determine how you will handle them. Be prepared
for the following conversations:
- Reporters asking to interview you and your family
- People assuming you run a private school that provides a full curriculum (many well-established support groups do offer an umbrella cover school to their members!)
- Students who no longer want to attend school but their parents won’t allow them to drop out
- Parents who have had a child kicked out of school asking you to homeschool their child (it may seem extreme but I have had this conversation more than once!)
- Parents who have no intention of homeschooling looking for a playgroup
- Arguments among group members, they will happen and leaders can’t afford to take sides.
Remember that you can’t please everyone all the time. To paraphrase Benjamin
Franklin, it’s nearly possible to make thirteen clocks chime at the same time. The
best you can do is provide an array of activities at varied times and places and
encourage members to attend what is convenient for them.
Lastly, keep a notebook handy to take to meetings and document phone calls.
Future and current members won’t respect you if you cannot recall their name. Keeping all of these points in mind will help ensure a smooth-sailing support group!