The education of children within the home setting, or homeschooling, is becoming increasingly more popular. When my husband and I made the decision to home-school our children back in 1993, there were probably only one tenth the number of homeschooling families. In fact when I was hospitalized with the birth of our fourth child, the nurses kept peeking into my room, saying that they had to see what a home-schooling mom looked like.
When we decided to home-school, we also felt we needed a support network. We weren't so much looking for like-minded people as much as we wanted healthy group dynamics for our children to explore social relationships and for myself to receive and later provide some mentoring and companionship. If you wish to begin a homeschooling community, there are some basic considerations and steps to take.
- Identify within yourself what you are seeking. Do you seek a group with a particular religious affiliation? Do want to 'pow-wow' with other professionals or educators who have chosen to home-school as well? How much, if any, of your child's education do you want this group to fulfill? Is this group centered around a theme or activity? Will this home-school community be your only source of friendships and social interaction for your children? Do you seek a social outlet for your children? For yourself? For example, when my two friends and I began the homeschooling group in our parish, it was because we felt the need for a Catholic homeschooling group in our area. The nearest was too far away to feasibly participate.
- Explore some Internet and community resources to find out if such a group already exists. Instituting a group of any kind requires a great deal of commitment as well as people willing to labor with you. If a group exists that meets your criteria, save yourself the work and give it a try.
- Find out if others are hearing this call. You don't need a large group; as Christians believe, God is wherever two or more are gathered in His Name. That protocol works with group theory as well. This should not consist of half-hearted members or people you have to talk into it. They should be people that you feel comfortable being. It's quality before quantity. If you have just one other family it can be a great experience for you both. My dear friend and mentor in homeschooling, whom I have known for over 15 years, made that very wise observation and it is true.
- Invite interested friends over for some time of reflection. Explain your ideas over a cup of tea or glass of wine. Ask one person to record the ideas that are expressed. If your community will be a faith-based homeschooling group, ask your higher power for divine guidance to control. We chose to pray a novena (nine day series of prayers with a specific intention).
- Secure a meeting location, especially for large group events; if it isn't someone's home, calls will need to be made.
- Name your group. This may sound premature or trivial, but for us as Catholics, it was a matter not only of naming the group but then asking for patronage as well. Our group's name, which was chosen after much consideration, is Holy Family Home-School group.
- Develop a mission statement. "Mission Statement" was an educational buzzword in the mid 1990's. As an adult education teacher, I participated in many focus groups geared toward developing a mission statement. The magic number was nine; keep the mission statement to nine words, I guess to prevent it from becoming a mission novella. If you hammer out a mission statement for your new group, it helps you all to gel your aims into a cogent end.
- Follow Robert's Rules of Order. It is easy for one or two members to dominate the group and monopolize everyone's time, energy and patience. Allow each a certain time frame for sharing. Sometimes you may have to be ruthless about cutting people off.
- Institute by-laws and make them stick. What these consist of will depend upon the focus of your group. Some areas may include: expected behavior, how to admit new members, expectations, ethics, etc. Take it from a professional group organizer: you will not regret the time you spend on this possibly less pleasant task. Rules can save you from needless heartache.
For example, several years ago we had some children in a group whose behavior was rude and obnoxious. I was in charge of field trips. They were horrid to the speaker at the facility I set up a visit to. Although their mother was present, several other mothers felt that I, as coordinator should have reprimanded them. I said, absolutely not; were they students in my class and I was responsible for them, then yes. I was responsible for my own children. Some mom's would love nothing more than for someone else to do their job. If that's the case, then put them in school. That is the oxymoron of home-schooling; different ways to do it. But bad behavior reflects on the group and by-laws are a way to prevent that.
- Develop an agenda. I'm not referring to a calendar agenda only, but a list of what you want to invest your time in: field trips, Mom's groups, group activities, clubs, group lessons, focus groups, family activities, etc.
- Implement a phone chain. But do be clear about it's purpose. If you don't want to be on the phone constantly, (and you will if you don't set boundaries), be clear about what goes on the phone chain, when to call and how to bypass someone who is not available.
- Create a website. There are many free domains for your use. Yahoo!groups, Geocities, Scholastic Teacher homepages. Post your schedule, changes, discussion forums, and a phone list.
- Establish individual responsibilities. I don't advocate the traditional president, but is good to decide who takes care of group tasks: maintaining the website, the calendar, welcoming new members, scheduling, communication, organizing field trips, speakers, lining up any child care, securing a meeting site, providing refreshments, clean-up, mom's night hosts, etc. Every member should have some role.
Although I questioned my ability and sometimes wished I'd done a better job as a home-schooler, I never regretted our decision to home-school. May your home-schooling experience be as rewarding and pleasant as mine was.