When my husband and I decided to homeschool our children, I was worried about not being able to provide enough socialization. I live in Roanoke, Texas, a small suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, and the few homeschooling moms I knew drove miles for park days, field trips, and special events. I hate driving to the grocery store, so this routine did not appeal to me. There had to be enough local homeschooling families to support activities close to home. Besides, how could my family forge strong relationships with people half way across the metroplex? The distance would prohibit last minute play dates and impromptu sleepovers -- fun parts of childhood friendships. We needed to connect and socialize with homeschoolers in our area. I wanted a local group. So I started one.
Starting a local homeschool support group can be intimidating; having to advertise, manage, and organize events is overwhelming. Active homeschooling families have busy schedules and virtually no free time. Another big commitment can seem impossible, but the rewards make it worth the effort. If you have ever considered starting a local homeschool support group, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Prioritize – Don’t let starting a support group interfere with teaching, family, church, or other responsibilities. If the support group needs to take the backseat during Christmas, be upfront with your members and tell them you cannot commit to anything during December, but they are welcome to plan events without you during that time. If you have to miss a park day, do it. Keep the number of events minimal. A bi-monthly park day and one outing per month are enough for most groups. Maintain a balance that makes your family and your homeschool group compliment one another.
2. Start up – If you’re lucky enough to have a large homeschool group in a neighboring city, contact the director and tell her your plans. She will probably have great advice. When I contacted Karen Matlock, director of Horizons Homeschool Group in Grapevine, Texas, she informed me that other surrounding cities had spin-off groups. She was thrilled to let me advertise the Roanoke Homeschool Group on Horizon’s email loop. She also helped me create an email loop for my new group. If you want to post messages, calendars, updates, and photos online, go to smartgroups.com or groups.yahoo.com. In a few easy steps, you can create a free email loop for members to join.
3. Advertising – Whether or not you have a parent organization for your local group, advertising is important. The library is usually allows posting notices if you ask nicely. There may be a bulletin board or a resource area for flyers. Newspapers often feature a community bulletin board or calendar where they list upcoming events. Call your local papers and find out how they prefer to receive press releases, then type up the when, where, why, who, and what about your first meeting or event. Submit it to the editor a few weeks before your event. Your city may also have a community cable channel. The local librarian or city hall receptionist should be able to tell you whom to contact about this advertising venue. Explain to the cable coordinator that yours is a non-profit group, new to the community, and request they post your press release on television for a week. These are ways to advertise without spending money. Once your group is established, you may want to boost promotions with tee shirts, bumper stickers, or book bags.
4. Events - Scheduling events and delegating responsibilities can be challenging. Try planning a mom’s morning at a local coffee shop, no children allowed, and ask the members what the best time would be for park day. Not everyone will agree, but the two main considerations will be your attendance, as the group leader, and the majority’s preference. Brainstorm special events and field trips for the next semester, and get commitments for help with planning and hosting. Make sure you have everyone’s phone number, names, email addresses, and children’s ages for your records. Try to hold a mom’s meeting at least once a semester.
5. Location - Where will all of your events take place? Again, call your city and ask for use of a room in the community center or library. Always mention your group name and that you are a non-profit community support group for homeschooling families. If you have no success with the city and library, churches sometimes allow use of their facilities for homeschool groups. Wherever you meet, be sure to ask for a list of clean up responsibilities, what’s off limits, and where to take the garbage after the meeting. Have a few moms in the group sign up to stay late and help clean. Good relations are imperative to making your group successful. You need community support and respect, so be sure to do your best to earn it. Send thank you emails or notes to everyone who helps your group.
6. Activity Ideas – A mom’s meeting and park day are standard events in a homeschool support group, but fun and unusual opportunities keeping membership up. Plan an oral report day, holiday parties, field days, or nature walks. The Internet provides resources for field trips in most areas. Museums, tours, camping trips, the zoo, and farms are wonderful outings for groups. Ask about group discounts and be prepared to create a letterhead and logo for your organization so you will qualify as a school group. If you do not have the resources to create a letterhead, one of your members will. Just ask. The more involved members become with the group, the more dedicated they will be.
7. Deadlines and Money - You will have to establish deadlines for event sign ups and require prepayment if tickets are to be purchased. It is discouraging to not be reimbursed for tickets you prepaid for. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation. Make prepayment mandatory. Request cash or a check made out to the event instead of passing checks through your personal bank account.
8. Organization – Keep monthly calendars in a three ring binder, and file a clear page protector for each scheduled event behind the appropriate month. List the members who will attend, whether or not they have paid for the event, or their responsibility (i.e., clean up, potluck dish, craft hostess, games hostess, etc.) on an event sign up form. Keep an envelope stapled to event forms for ticket purchases, if applicable. As members pay, mark the event form accordingly and secure their payment in the envelope, inside the page protector. A few days before a field trip or activity, send a group email listing the responsibilities and who has signed up to attend. Request a final RSVP.
9. Diversity - Homeschooling families are diverse. If you want your homeschool group to be a religious based organization, require members to sign a statement of faith. Parenting and teaching styles are diverse, too, and respecting unfamiliar beliefs and methods can be difficult, especially for young children. Nevertheless, diversity is part of socialization, and teaching children to understand differences is essential in preparing them for life. Talk about these differences in the privacy of your home, and explain that as Americans we have freedom in schooling, discipline, religion, and lifestyles, and why freedom is so valuable.
10. Conflict - Unfortunately, parental conflict and disagreements between children will occur in any homeschool group. Be a mediator, and maintain open communication and honesty with everyone. Do not allow gossip to take root; it will destroy. Being a leader often means taking a stand for what is right, even if everyone is not pleased with the outcome.
Starting a support group can be challenging and time consuming, but the rewards are immeasurable. Local support groups benefit individual families by fostering relationships and providing social activities, and they also help build community awareness and respect for homeschooling families. If we want homeschooled children to become the leaders of tomorrow, we need to set an example by being the leaders of today.