How to start a homeschool support group!
I began homeschooling my oldest child in 2000. I lived in a city where homeschooling wasn’t unheard of, but finding other like-minded homeschoolers proved to be difficult. I wasn’t religious enough, I was too religious, I was the wrong religion. My kids were too young, my kids were too old, I didn’t have enough kids. I lived in the wrong city, I lived in the wrong part of the city, I didn’t live in the country. You name the reason for not fitting in and, well, I didn’t fit in.
I realized there was a need in my town, we needed a group to provide support to homeschooling families without all of the STUFF. Without drama, without pretenses. I approached a friend about starting a group, much like me she was having trouble finding support. We decided to form a support group and 15 years later we are the oldest (and friendliest!) group in Central Florida. We have seen our group grow from 2 families to 800!!
I was asked recently for advice on starting a group, so here I will share with you some of the things we learned over the years. Remember that everything is flexible and groups will evolve over the years.
1. Create a mission statement.
A mission statement gives your group a purpose and explains to prospective members what you’re all about! Be specific about the types of families that you feel would be best fitted.
Our mission statement reads:
Mid-Florida Homeschoolers is an inclusive support group for parents of homeschooled children in Central Florida. We welcome all residents who currently homeschool, or are considering homeschooling, regardless of religious persuasion or belief. MFH is not religiously affiliated and we welcome families from all walks of life. We exist to provide socialization opportunities, support, and to enhance the image of homeschooling families locally.
2. Decide what activities you want to offer.
Start with one or two things and grow from there. Park days are really great events to start with as it allows you and your kids to meet others and let them test out the group before committing. Support groups and what they offer evolve and are largely dependent on volunteers, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Currently our group offers park days in many areas of town, monthly field trips, group rates to local theatres, group discounts for educational services, a membership card, online support 24/7, holiday parties, and a monthly parents night with speakers.
3. Create a set of rules.
My advice: if you think you need a rule, make a rule. Our list of rules, as everything else, evolved with time (and broken windows!) We make sure everyone has a copy of the rules BEFORE they join the group. I also advise you to make sure people know that they can be removed from the group in extreme circumstances. Fortunately that doesn’t happen often, in 15 years we’ve only had to remove a handful of families.
Here is the short version of our rules:
1. Know where you child is and what they are doing at all times.
2. Any present adult is obligated to separate feuding children or remove a child from a dangerous situation. After doing so it is imperative that the child’s parent be found and apprised of the situation.
3. Please leave the venue as clean (or cleaner) than it was when you got there. Respect your host’s neighbors. If your child causes damage of any type you are responsible for providing the necessary repair/replacement.
4. Show up on time and leave on time. If you are going to be more than 10 minutes late please make alternate arrangements.
5. If bringing food to share please label the item with all ingredients. Try not to bring anything with nut products. If your child has food allergies/sensitivities please bring an appropriate snack.
6. Firearms, knives and/or any other weapon must remain at home. No toy weapons, please.
7. If a person under 18/21 can’t legally have access to something, don’t bring it and don’t have it within reach at an event. This includes tobacco products.
8. Leave sick children at home. This goes for chicken pox exposed children, whether they show symptoms or not. No sniffles or fevers.
9. In the event of an infraction the family in question will be put on a suspension to last a period of 12 weeks. If the infraction is of a serious nature the family may have their membership privileges revoked.
10. Our rules extend to online activity. DO NOT forward MFH mail to persons or other lists via private or public communication.
4. Find people!
When MFH started we had to rely on old-fashioned paper flyers, internet directories, phone trees, and email. These days you can hop over to Facebook and organize a group in minutes. Yahoo Groups remains a popular place for groups because of its versatile tools. Our group started with Yahoo Groups but also has a presence on Facebook.
5. Always say hello, always.
I recently attended an event with a different group and I felt so unwelcome. I was very obviously an outsider and not one person stopped and said hello. Not. One. Person. That’s a death sentence for any group. Your group will not survive without people, and to get people to attend and help you simply have to say hello! I can tell you right now that I will NEVER attend an event with this group again, and that’s a shame because every group has something of value to offer.
If you see someone standing alone in a corner, go say hello. If you see kids being left out, ask your child to include them. Give them your email address, tell them about any local events they may want to look into. You don’t have to become best friends but a little politeness goes a long way.