Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding the Right Homeschool Support Group

Each time we relocate, I spend a good amount of time looking for homeschooling support groups in our new area, hoping that one will be a good fit for us. I tend to start my search at Yahoo! Groups and type in my new city followed by homeschool. I usually find a few “hits” and check out each group's general description to see if they might be a match for my family. If they look promising I sign up for the e-list and start getting emails from the group(s) before we move. I will post an initial introduction to the new e-list, see what kind of responses the introduction gets, and just “lurk” for a few weeks to get a feel for the dynamics of the group before plunging in once we get to our new location.

I have recently found several other homeschool support group search engines that look promising:

LocalHS – has a clickable US map to find support groups according to state

Homeschool Social Register – you can search to find homeschoolers in your CITY

Homeschool support groups can come in all shapes and sizes...

Some groups are strictly email discussion lists that do not have actual meetings. I am on several of these lists, such as HomeschoolMilitary and UUHomechoolers. These specific groups are international and serve specific subtypes of homechoolers, in this case military and Unitarian Universalists. List members can bring up homeschooling or group-specific topics to discuss with others members of the group.

Other support groups serve specific areas. While in Virginia, I was on a Virginia homeschooling list so that I could stay up to date on issues specifically geared towards Virginia homeschoolers. Now I am on a general homeschool discussion list for my current state. It is important to be aware of any updated laws that might affect homeschoolers in your specific state, so belonging to a state-specific list is helpful.

I’ve found that the most common homeschool support groups are made up of like-minded homeschoolers living in fairly close proximity to one another. The group might be religious or secular (not relating to religion), have structured meetings or just promote park days. Each group is different, so it is important to find a group that meets your needs.

I personally look for a group that well organized, but not overly rigid. I like to see a nice mix of veteran homeschoolers and newbies, with a wide variety of kids of all ages, sexes, colors, and religious backgrounds. I lean towards a group that is primarily secular, with members that might be religious, but do not homeschool for religious reasons. I like a group that is fairly active…possibly having a weekly park day, an occasional field trip, and maybe a club or two if we are interested in attending (Lego, book, chess, etc.).

Shay Seaborne, a recently retired member of the Board of Directors for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, contributor to the Life Without School blog, and an active member on several of my homeschooling e-lists, has a nice list of Rules for Operating Within the Homeschooling Community that I thought others might enjoy.

Shay's Rules for Operating Within the Homeschooling Community

Over several years of interacting with other homeschoolers, I've developed these personal rules for operating within the community. Perhaps you'll find some of them helpful in creating your own list of relational rules.

You don't have to hang out with people you don't like, just because they are homeschoolers. Take time to get to know people before you leap into commitments with them. Watch how they interact with others, including their children. Spend time mostly with those who are reasonably compatible, and with whom you are largely comfortable.

Find friends and start your own circles, but be open to newbies. You never know who may turn out to be a good friend. In addition, new members keep a group going strong, because a closed group eventually dwindles as members move away, finish homeschooling, or head in other directions.

Remember that a good group experience includes give and take. Don't overextend yourself; that only leads to resentful feelings of being unappreciated. Likewise, be sure to give something back, as you can, so you can feel good about your contribution to the group.

Understand that large groups of any kind will have more complicated dynamics. Smaller groups feel more personal and are often easier to navigate. While homeschoolers seem to be ever better at accepting differences in homeschooling methods, strongly differing parenting styles are a more challenging obstacle. Any large group will include those with marked differences in parenting style. Still, large groups can be a great resource for field trips, classes and other activities, as well as a place to meet potential new friends.

Set up your group activities according to their importance to you and stick to your vision. Learn to say "I'm sorry you aren't happy with what I am doing. Perhaps it is best that you create your own such-and-so." Sometimes it just takes time to find the right sort of group or sub-group to suit your individual needs. I move in several circles-varying in size and intent-some of which overlap, and others that don't. Were I to draw a representation of this on paper, it would likely be reminiscent of the surface of a pond during a light rain shower. Homeschooling allows you to create whatever pattern of circles best suits you.

Accept that groups may come and go. Homeschool groups form and disband depending on the individuals' needs. Each serves its purpose and can be enriching, but they will end as the participants' needs wane. When the door to one opportunity closes, it provides the freedom to open other doors.

Each homeschool family needs to access their needs and find a group that will help them along their educational journey. Know yourself and seek others that will support you in your pursuits, not try to change your vision.

I am no longer a newbie, but am not yet seasoned enough to be veteran homeschooler. I still like to bounce homeschooling ideas/problems/thoughts off of others who have been there/done that, but have enough experience to know the general direction of our educational path. I like to meet with an accepting group, but am not afraid to go it alone if necessary.

Every homeschooling family is unique and every homeschooling support group is different. Keep looking until you find one that meets your needs. If you aren't satisfied with what you find, don't be afraid to start your own.

1 comment:

Skipper Shay said...

Jaynelle, I am honored that you found my "Rules for Operating Within the Homeschooling Community" worthy of sharing with your readership. It has been a few years since that was penned, I had almost forgotten about that piece, and reading it brought back a lot of good memories, so thank you for posting it. Best wishes for your blog and all your homeschool endeavors.