So, you’re all geared up to start homeschooling but there’s just one thing missing — a support system. Good thinking. Just about every homeschooler will tell you it’s a lot easier to do it in the company of friends. Not the homeschooling part, but the other parts. Like knowing where to buy supplies, locating hard-to-find items, figuring out the legalities, signing up for field trips, going to park days and those kinds of things.
Finding a support group is easy.
Finding the right support group, however, is a little bit harder.
Every support system has a unique vibe, its own personality if you will. The coordinator or leader of the group, plus make-up of the membership usually determines the flavor and types of offerings. Groups may change over time, too, making this even a little trickier. The best way to fit a great match is to shop around, join several, and then weed out those that don’t fit your family and personal style.
Everyone is different, so no one universal rule applies for finding that best match.
But you can bet there are some tell-tale signs that a group isn’t the best match. Should you find yourself nodding in agreement while reading through some of these bullets, it may be time to move on:
Structure. Some groups have it, but many do not. The structural backbone of a group determines how rigid the rules about membership, scheduling activities, attending meetings, and so on. Those who prefer a different mode of operation may have difficultly operating in a group that doesn’t work the way they’re used to. Structure may be comforting to some, but exceedingly restrictive for others. A mismatch in this area can make members who are unwilling to conform (even a little) very uncomfortable.
Leadership. Though not every group has a strict hierarchy of leadership, most have specific parents responsible for organizing the membership and the activities that take place. These leaders have much more responsibility than they sometimes realize. Despite the amount of work these leaders actually contribute, their members desire to look toward them as role models and experts in homeschooling, and related areas like parenting, citizenship, and following laws and regulations, too. When leaders act irresponsibly, distribute inaccurate information, or they or their children display improper behavior, members notice. Successful groups are ones in which members respect the leadership and believe that no harm will come to their children and their homeschool efforts. Groups in which members do not feel that leaders may be trusted do not last the test of time.
Philosophy. The immense popularity of homeschooling means that families and the reasons they do it are more varied than ever before. While this is a good thing, these differences mean it is also more difficult than ever to locate a local support group that shares a family’s exact homeschool philosophy, approach and methodology. Years ago, it was easy to find a group of parents who shared the same ideas, followed the same homeschooling approach, and even used the same curriculum! Though these groups still exist today, it can take an Internet connection and heavy email use to participate. This shift means that families must participate in local groups to gain access to activities, but remain on-line to discuss philosophical issues that matter to them. This greater effort leads to greater opportunities for the children — overall, not a bad thing – but makes it a tad harder to find good, local support.
Membership. Support systems need to fit a need and, for most families, this includes other children for yours to hang out with. Even the best support group in town becomes much less appealing if all your teen has to do during meetings is take turns pushing preschoolers on the swings. Groups leaders don’t always like this question, but it’s very common for families to ask the ages of the other children when deciding whether to join a support system or not. And why not? With socialization constantly at the center of debate and many homeschoolers spending extra time at home, it makes perfect sense to guarantee your kids can be making friends while you are chatting with other parents.
Faith. Or not. Not surprisingly, many groups are formed solely on a common belief system. Don’t share those beliefs? You may not feel comfortable in the group, assuming your family was even allowed to join at all. Some groups advertise using terms like “inclusive”, “exclusive”, and “religion-friendly” on the web site or literature. Others require a signed statement-of-faith as part of the membership packet. Though families do not always choose homeschooling for religious reasons, sharing a bond with other like-minded families still remains a primary focus for many people all around the country. Should your faith not match theirs, it’s probably not the group for you.
Turmoil. No list would be complete without mentioning the internal turmoil that frequently arises from parent groups of this kind. Talk to any member of a homeschool association, a parent-teacher organization, mom’s group, social club, or organization of any sort and you’ll hear of the drama that occurs when individuals do not see eye to eye. Though this cannot always be avoided, it does present parents with the choice of getting involved in the turmoil or not. Remembering that the purpose of these groups is ultimately to serve students and that children model adult behavior is often enough to diffuse any situations that arise. Not contributing to the turmoil isn’t always easy, but can be accomplished by participating on the periphery rather than within the center of those responsible for the awkwardness. And though it isn’t always an easy or popular place to be, those within the circle of leadership must adhere to their mission when making decisions that affect the group, allowing it to carry out its purpose for many years to come.
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