Homeschool support groups play an important role in the life of a homeschooling family. Whether that group is online or in person, strictly for support or for co-op classes, there’s a great deal that goes on behind the scenes that you may not be aware of — I wasn’t, until I helped to form a new group a few years ago.
Not all groups are the same, so some of the items on the list may or may not apply to the group you’re in, the group you’re thinking of joining, or the group you plan to start. It is my hope that this series of articles will refresh your thinking about support groups.
Activities — From field trips to holiday parties, activities for the children are a big draw to new members. Society is concerned with “socialization” of children, and groups that have plenty of activities to choose from will add new members on a regular basis. Some groups have field trips weekly while others have them monthly; holiday parties and pot lucks may be monthly or quarterly; co-op classes may meet once or twice a week.
If you are thinking about participating in the activities your group offers, be sure to schedule the activity (and drive time) into your day/week. I’ve heard from many moms who complain about too many activities and not enough time with their curriculum! Don’t sign up for an activity just because it’s offered. Does it fit with what you’re studying (or will be studying, or have studied recently)? Is it in your budget (not all activities are free)? Does it offer educational lessons you feel your children must have now, instead of later? If you answer ‘no’ to any one of those questions, think twice before participating.
On the other hand, activities are a great way for your children to meet and make new friends. It also gives you (the mom) an opportunity to meet and make new friends as well. Taking time to interact with other families is a blessing for everyone.
Books — Being part of a homeschool group gives you direct access to a huge library. I have yet to meet a homeschool mom who is not willing to loan out a book or two (unless she’s using the book, of course). Many groups that meet in churches and have access to a storage closet (to hold items between meetings) will invest in plastic milk crates to hold “library” items. Each month these books are brought out and offered to the members to “check out” for the next month.
Do you have specific questions about a book or program you are thinking of using? There’s a very good chance you’ll be able to get reviews of just about any book from the members of a homeschooling group. Many groups schedule “round tables” in February or March, which allow members to discuss various books and programs they’ve used. You’ll also find out who will be selling which books at the end of the year, as many families will offer books and curricula they no longer need to group members first.
Calendar — Well-run groups keep a calendar. Activities are scheduled and kept track of so as to avoid conflicts for families with multiple ages/grades. With today’s technology, that calendar can be tied to an email group or an email address. In an email group, all members have access to it and can see right away if a date is open to plan a field trip. They would also be able to ‘pencil in’ any activities they plan. Large groups benefit from having a single person in charge of approving, scheduling and promoting activities, while smaller groups can be a bit more relaxed.
If the calendar is tied to the group email address, there would definitely be one person in charge of it. But, having it “in the cloud” would allow that person to schedule activities with their phone, computer or tablet.
Dues — Groups that rent a room for meetings, or have any hard copy mailings, are bound to collect dues from members. Whether those are yearly dues or monthly love offerings is left up to the leadership. I’ve been part of large and small groups that collect yearly dues. I’ve also been part of groups that collect no dues at all–these are usually online groups, and no dues are needed because everything is done over the Internet–and they survive on love offerings taken when an activity requires funds.
Encouragement — Support groups function a bit differently than co-op groups: they exist to offer support to the mom, not necessarily classes for the children. But that doesn’t mean the children get no support! Even without co-op classes, support groups often offer parties, spelling bees, science fairs, family picnics, field trips and more. If you’re looking for encouragement to keep going with your homeschooling journey, a homeschooling group is the perfect place to get it.
Fellowship — Homeschooling can keep you home-bound if you let it. Being part of a local group gives you reason to get out and enjoy some fellowship with like-minded families. As much as homeschooling moms love to talk about homeschooling, they also like to talk about other things (like the fabulous crock pot recipe their family always asks for, or the new dentist they found, or what they read in their Bible that morning). Life isn’t all about teaching. Life is about living, about building relationships, about glorifying the Lord. If you find you can’t get out to fellowship with other women in a local homeschooling group, try finding one online (Yahoo Groups and Facebook are two good places to start).
Stay tuned for the next installment which will cover the letters G-M in this series about homeschooling groups!