This column comes with a caveat. Before you take action to start a home school support group, please take some time to consider your family’s lifestyle, your kids’ needs and your own strengths, motivations and limitations. You and I both know starting a home school support group isn’t the hard part. It’s the commitment to sustain that group as a positive and fun environment for all its members that can become a formidable undertaking. Don’t expect a rose-colored DIY tutorial. This advice-laden reality check is designed to help you keep from piling too much more onto your already full plate. And it comes from an experienced home educator who has recently traded down to a smaller one.
So you’ve settled into home educating, lost a lot of that first-year uncertainty and more clearly understand what you and your children want in a home school support group. Perhaps your family is already active in one support group, attend an occasional playdate and field trip offered and/or belong to dozens of internet groups that are overflowing your email’s inbox with information and opportunities, yet you yearn for something different. We’ve all seen home school support groups spring up, putter out, morph, expand and implode (well, at least you will begin with the realization that nothing’s perfect, nor will it last forever). As you mind-map your decision to start a new group, make a pros and cons list based on your past experiences. What would you emulate and eliminate? Did your family enjoy and feel comfortable with the size of those support groups? Big brings options; small offers intimacy. Do you want to start with home schoolers you already like and see often? Or are you looking for your kids to make new friends and go in new directions?
You probably know families who would gladly join yours at a nearby nature centre or playground. Maybe you should just pick up the phone, set a date, show up and leave it at that. It’s a group, and your friends offer support. Do you really need to set up a website, calendar, database and file folder? By creating a social group via the internet, you send an open invitation to an unknown, unseen community. Use the system’s ‘Join This Group’ and screening options, and you’ll most likely get straightforward responses from sincere, local home schoolers. Even if you don’t go cyber and instead, post notices in a library, place of worship or local online and print calendars, safety suggests a phone conversation with all potential attendees before your introductory meeting at a community venue. At this point, don’t spin your wheels planning too far ahead. Wait to see which families actually show up, the age, interests and abilities of the children, and what the parents are looking for and willing to contribute. Keep it casual yet generate conversation among the parents.
After your first social get-together, decide what - if anything - will be your next planned event. Try to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Silly!). Organize a laid-back tour or program where the kids can still interact and relax. Observe your kid: Are they having fun? Are you having fun?
One aspect of any group is the 80-20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, stating that for many events, 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes. That means you (and hopefully a handful of parents) will be doing most of the work. Will a steering committee, executive board or just you make group decisions? It’s good to be queen, but it sure isn’t easy.
Leading and letting go
Once you’ve established yourself as a leader in your group, others may consistently look to you to selflessly handle its increasing time demands. Forget that! Never hesitate to ask for help, be specific about your needs or simply say no to too many ideas and activities. You may find it hard to let others run things their way, but you can’t micro-manage everything without, ultimately, losing members - and your mind.
Once again, look to your children. Do they enjoy the new company and activities? Or are you making them attend events in which they really aren’t interested but you’ve already committed? Is there still quality time for whatever in-home home schooling you’ve planned? In other words, don’t spend too many afternoons organizing fun activities for other people’s children when you could be outside playing with your own.
Susan home educated her son for 12 years through high school graduation. She lives near the Mid-Atlantic Ocean and is on permanent creative sabbatical.
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