Start a Homeschool Support Group
by Beverley Paine
Beverley has also written a comprehensive guide to starting a homeschool aimed at helping you sidestep any potential problems and have a successful and happy group experience. Available from Always Learning Books
Why start a homeschooling group? Most of us would think the answer obvious: to provide friends for our children and for ourselves. It's very reassuring having friends who have the same kinds of interests in life as ourselves. Other reasons might include the opportunity to do educational activities together on a regular basis so that you children can learn in group situations, or to take advantage of discounts on group bookings.
Informal playgroups are the easiest homeschooling groups to set up. Invite your homeschooling friends to meet, either in one of your homes or in a nearby park. Pick a park with plenty of shade and shelter from the wind, and preferably an undercover barbecue area just in case of inclement weather. You'll want one with lots of room for the children to run around safely and with a playground to suit the ages of the children. This type of loosely organised group has little structure and can be arranged to meet the needs of those that attend regularly while allowing others to join in and gradually get to know other homeschoolers. It's a great way to make friends and help others find their way on the homeschooling path.
More formal homeschooling groups come in all shapes and sizes. The more active a group wants to be the more it needs an effective leadership and membership structure. A little forethought and planning in the beginning stages of the group will help to reduce instances of friction down the track. Such groups can establish a calendar of events and activities with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for its members. Often such groups have a limit on the number of participants to suit specific venues or purposes. Once grown to their limit such groups become known as 'closed groups' and entry is by recommendation of existing members once a vacancy arises.
Groups members can communicate via cc'd emails, email groups, chat rooms, phone trees, or newsletters. These are all effective ways to advertise coming activities and events and to gauge numbers when planning ahead. If the group is an open group and anyone is welcome, it is a good idea to post notices on local community notice boards, in the library or shopping mall, and take advantage of free community notices in the local newspaper. Contact your state-wide homeschool support organisation and any other homeschooling groups you know about, and place a notice or ad in any homeschool newsletters within your catchment area. Word-of-mouth is probably the most effective way to grow your homeschooling group so don't forget to tell your friends to tell their friends!
Although written rules or group policies may be seen as taking the enjoyment out of the group experience, they can be helpful in clarifying how things should be run and can avoid unpleasant confusion or conflict in the future. One person's common sense may not be the same as another's! Groups should review policy and rules regularly to make sure they reflect the current culture and needs of the group.
If you, or the venue you hire, are concerned about insurance individual members can join the Home Education Association of Australia if your state organisation doesn't already offer cover. If your group is a playgroup you might seek suitable cover through your state's Playgroup Association.
Informal groups usually don't incur any costs but if you want to do activities that will use resources such as art and craft materials then it may be an idea to establish a petty cash fund and ask for a gold coin donation or small fee from each family. If you hire a venue you probably will need to do this anyway. More formal groups might have an annual membership subscription and this would allow them greater scope to organise structured activities for their members.There are many things a group of homeschooling friends can do...
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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