Thursday, March 18, 2010

Starting Your Own Homeschooling Group

"Your children need the peer support that a support group provides, and you, in turn, will discover that your burdens are lighter when you find other moms who will listen to you, cry with you, laugh with you and pray for you."
(Catholic Education Homeward Bound)

If you are not finding your homeschooling needs met in your present homeschool group or no groups exist, consider starting your own.

Before you start, examine your reasons for starting a homeschool group. Perhaps you are part of a homeschool group already and feel dissatisfied. Have you spoken to the coordinator of the group? You might be able to make adjustments to the existing group. Are you wanting more control over the group’s decisions? You might find ways to help the existing group. Make sure you are not reinventing the wheel when starting a group. (For example, my friend A.C. and I started our group because one for younger Catholic homeschoolers did not exist in our city.)

Write a mission statement for your group. Imagine you had to write an ad for your homeschool group. Write down the purpose of your group in one or two sentences. You need to be able to convey this thought so you’ll have a focus for your group. Also, you will later receive phone calls and emails from mothers who want to know about your group. If you have a mission statement, you’ll be able to say it easily and clearly. Almost every week, I answer this question with my now-memorized statement: “Our Catholic homeschooling group is primarily a park day group where mothers meet for fellowship, kids play, and we celebrate liturgical days once a month with a craft and activity. We all homeschool in different ways but are united by our Catholic faith.”

If you are able to express this thought clearly, it makes it easier for people to know whether they want to be part of your group. And it’ll help you keep focused even as the group grows.

Write down the details of your ideal homeschool group. If you could have the perfect homeschool group, what would it encompass? Think as big as you want. You may not be able to have all these items in the first year or the second, but later, you’ll be able to remember why you started and what your original vision for the group was. (For example, my friend and I wrote: Catholic homeschool group, meets every Friday, lots of boys and girls, acceptance of different homeschooling methods and programs, monthly field trips, a Little Flowers group, a Blue Knights group, holiday parties, friendly conversation, no gossip, no school-bashing, encouraging conversations, bouncing ideas off each other.)

Have a brainstorming coffee chat with a fellow homeschooling friend or your spouse.Pick the most important items under your control and write them down separately on another page. Yes, I’m serious. You’ll have a folder (or notebook) with your mission statement, an ad, and reference for the future (that wish list). Plus, you can use this for your group’s blog, Yahoo message board or flyers.

For example, when we started, we could not offer field trips or the Blue Knights group or a moms’ night out. However, we wrote down what we could do: The Group meets regularly on Fridays at 1:30 p.m. for park days and liturgical crafts once a month. It was a small blurb, but when mothers called, we’d tell them that we were a new group and that, as the group grew, so would our opportunities for more activities.

Pray for your group and its members.

Decide how to organize your group.
This is the most important decision. You need to decide if your group will be run by one leader; a leader and coordinators for groups (such as for prayer requests, field trips, etc.); all members putting matters up to the vote; etc. It is vitally important to decide early how to handle this. As more people come into your group, they will have ideas. You need to know upfront if you will put them in charge of their own ideas; handle all their ideas; etc.

Some groups are run mostly by one person. Others are run by all members. You’ll need to be upfront about who makes certain decisions and/if tasks will be delegated. Be honest about what you can do without negatively affecting your family and vocation.

Plan methods of communication. Some groups rely on printed newsletters; others, solely through email. Because I love the Internet and my friend likes the telephone, we decided that I would start up and run the Yahoo message board and info blog, and that she would handle telephone calls.

As your group grows, ask members what they prefer. We found that a few members hate the Internet, so we print off the calendar from our Yahoo group for them. And some members love being online, so we always keep that Yahoo calendar updated.

Choose regular venues. Some groups meet at the same park at the same time every week. Others alternate parks every month. Decide what works best for your group. You may choose to meet at different parks on opposite ends of the city to make it easier for your members. Just be sure to use your preferred method of communication to let members know where you are meeting

Advertise. All that previous writing of your group’s focus and what you do now comes in handy. Use it to write a flyer or ad. You can post messages on Yahoo groups, your local library, church bulletin board, community newsletter, etc. Just be sure to advertise to the right demographics. For example, our group is a Catholic homeschooling group, so we advertised in our church bulletins and Catholic bookstores in town.

Start your group. Even if it is just you and your kids on a blanket at the park. Start going there at the regular time that you planned for the group. Doing so will help you see whether the time and place will work for you. And it will help you form the habit. Our homeschool group was my friend, her son, my three children and me. Even when no one showed for weeks, she and I had good conversations, and our children played.

Pray for your group and its members.

Answer each phone call or email within two days. You know it’s hard to call or email a complete stranger for information about a park day. And it’s even harder to show up. So, be kind and friendly in a prompt email or call.Be patient. Let the Lord be your social coordinator and send the people He wants for your group. Maybe His idea is for an intimate group of good friends. Maybe He wishes for your group to be huge and active.

Don’t stress. If this is too stressful, then don't do it. The main focus should be on your homeschooling journey with your children. A support group is to support, not to weigh down.

Be grateful for each member. You will receive people of all sorts of dispositions and personalities. Even if you all are of the same faith, you will find great variety in homeschoolers. Be grateful for whoever shows up and pray for them.

Focus on the bigger picture. As your group grows, remember that the group is the Lord’s and the members are His children. If it flourishes, it is because He allows it to do so. Give credit to the Lord.

And always include your group and its members in your prayers.

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