Homeschool Groups Meeting Community Needs
When our family started homeschooling there was no Internet so connections with other homeschoolers were on a local meeting level or through mail. Even when the Internet came along it took a while for the variety of resources and choices there are today. I have spoken with many homeschoolers through the years who say there are no support groups in their area or only groups that do not meet their families needs, for example where they have to sign a statement of faith that they can't sign. Below I will tell you a little about the group we started and ran for over 10 years and give you some ideas for finding or starting your own group or coop.
How Our Homeschool Group Evolved
Our support group began with a group of moms who had attended La Leche League meetings together and then a local parenting group. As our children approached "school" age many of us knew that public school was not the right choice for our children. Several members of our group had already been doing cooperative preschool at each others houses for a couple of years. Around this time one of the other founders of our group and I attended a statewide homeschooling conference. One of the breakout sessions was on support groups. We eagerly attended hoping to gain lots of insight for our fledgling group. What we found were those there who had experience talked about the groups they had done in the past and how they never lasted long. They said conflicts about ideas and lack of interest or changing interests of their children took hold. We were discouraged by what we heard but determined to try. As I already told you we were able to make it work and keep it going until our children had outgrown the need. At that point we tried for several years to mentor some younger families to take over leadership of the group but were unable to find anyone with the commitment. By that time there were a lot more groups and resources in the community and on line.
What is the Need for Homeshoolers in Your Community?
Our group did many things that made homeschooling more fun for a lot of kids and I would encourage you to think about how you and other families in your area could benefit from a group if you don't have one already or one that is meeting the needs you have. Our group was secular which filled a big gap in our community where there was a large religious group that only meet the needs of those who be lived as the leadership did and were willing to sign their statement of faith. Even for those with common religious beliefs the fact that they excluded younger siblings at activities did not work for many families.
There will always be a need for different kind of groups in any community, later there was one a local group that focused on families that had at least one children with special needs. Our group used to run information nights once or twice a year to introduce homeschooling to new homeschoolers. When we put our announcements in the papers we always got calls from homeschoolers who were glad to know they weren't alone in needing a group that wasn't based on religion.
Our Homeshooling Group's Philosophy
Instead of religion or a certain style of learning we based our group on our philosophy for raising children. Here is what we came up with and gave to all new members.
- We believe that the decision to homeschool is personal and everyone has
the right to homeschool in their own manner and for their own reasons.
- We feel that there should be a respectful attitude toward all people, including
- Please be attentive to your children's needs during field trips/activities.
- Please try to focus on positive behavior.
- Allow discovery within the boundaries of obedience (i.e. follow appropriate
rules for field trips).
- Verbal reprimands are acceptable without attacking character.
- Physical discipline is unacceptable at group activities and field trips.
- Conflicts between two children will be handled by a separation and cooling
off period. Then encourage children to find a solution.
Diversity Benefits Homeschooler's Learning
The diversity in our group lead to many learning experiences for our children. We did do not do any religious activities under the auspices of the group, but we did promote activities from individuals and other groups in our newsletter and let people pick and choose. We have a member with a farm who does a yearly program at Christmas to cut branches on their farm and make wreaths. One year our family ran a model Passover Seder for the group, which was so popular we had to do it morning and afternoon. Also one year we had a Thanksgiving feast, which was a lot of fun.
Homeschool Group Activities
Our group did monthly field trips, bimonthly parent meetings, ran gymnastic classes, field days, a bowling league, and many other small groups within our group have met other needs. We found one of the keys to keeping group going for so long was much like homeschooling you need to constantly reevaluate what works and make changes as needs change.
How to Develop Your Own Homeschool Support Network
I know a lot of you think there is no group like ours in our area, there are not enough homeschoolers who want a group not based on religion etc., You may be surprised if you try. Start a group even if it is only one or two families. Call your local La Leche League leader. Although La Leche League doesn’t mix causes many families in the group choose to homeschool for attachment parenting reasons and your leader might know some interested moms even if they aren’t homeschooling currently. Then plan to do an informational night at a local bookstore, library, health food store, etc. Advertise it in the community calendar of every paper, put signs in the places I mentioned places and see what happens. When you advertise you don’t have to say you’re a secular group, just don’t make any religious references (if they are not appropriate to your philosophy).
Cooperative Learning for Homeschoolers
Several years into our homeschooling experience several members from our homeschooling group decided to start a weekly coop to offer group classes. We got involved in the second year of the coop as they were starting to expand in a cramped building with a number of offices that served as classrooms. There was a waiting area for the parents and children who were not in classes during a certain time slot. All the adults were required to teach or assist with at least one class and to take jobs on the set up and clean up committees on a rotating basis. Children were allowed to take one class or several over the course of the day. There were classes for different ages but in the beginning many were focused toward the older students. I taught classes in games and beginning sewing.
My children took classes that varied as the coop grew from the The Jason Project (a multi disciplinary curriculum for science and more), Shakespeare, math, writing and probably many others I am forgetting.
As the coop grew in it's third year we started to search for a bigger location to hold our weekly classes. It was a difficult process but we finally found a local church that was growing and had a lot of space. We negotiated for our needs and charged parents enough to cover the cost of the building, supplies that we needed for classes and cleaning and probably a few other fees. The hardest thing was getting responsible insurance. We were finally able to find an agent that would write a policy as a "club" which also had certain restrictions we had to follow. We had many meetings and things became more involved in our new location. We had board members and general meetings. Over the following years things continued to become more complicated but although it's been several years since our family was involved the coop has survived many growing pains and is still going strong. It becomes a hard balance sharing expertise, meeting the needs of different ages and abilities, dealing with difficult children or adults with difficult personalities and not becoming more like "school" then members want. On the other hand when I needed to create a middle school transcript for my son to get into a competitive High School program, his coop classes were a great help. The kids all learned some great things, we had great programs from Holiday celebrations to sleepovers and class trips. If you are thinking of starting a coop program, talk to others who have done it, learn some of the ins and outs, visit some if you can to see what features you like and what you would want to do differently and then go for it.
Groups for Developing Special Interests
We were privileged that during our homeschooling years a band program came about for homeschoolers in our region. The program had a beginners program to train new musicians and several levels of group bands as students skill levels increased. All three of my children were involved in this wonderful program over the years. Many other children from this program went on to college for majors in music. The did a number of fantastic trips and lots of great performances. Other areas have homeschool sports groups/leagues. If there is something your child has an interest in there are ways to pursue it. If there aren't specific groups for homeschoolers and you don't want to start one explore all your community resources - Y's, community groups, local colleges, some public schools will let children participate in extra curricular activities and you can also look at private / parochial schools.
Less Formal Groups or Get Togethers
One last word on groups, if these groups sound daunting to you, you can have much less formal arrangements. When I talk to new homeschoolers who are trying to meet some potential friends for their kids, I tell them get on a local homeschooling list and put out an email. You can invite people to meet you at the park on a certain day or weekly at a certain day and time. You can invite kids in a certain age range over for a movie night, game night or to bake some cookies. Choose something your children like to do and invite others to join you. The same works with an email like, "we are going to the zoo on Friday, anyone like to join us?"