Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the first of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for starting your own group.
You’ve tried a local homeschool group, or two, or three, and they haven’t been a good fit. Or maybe there aren’t any groups in your area. You feel alone.
You aren’t the only one. If you feel alone, if you haven’t found a homeschool group that fits your family well, then there are others who feel the same.
It’s worth your time to find people who “get” it. It’s important to find the people who get you and your kids, your family and your way of life. People who speak your language. The language of homeschoolers.
It may seem intimidating, to create a group, large or small. Build it. They will come. I promise.
The first steps in starting a homeschool group are the easiest. It only takes a small investment of your time to begin.
1. FIND A PLACE TO MEET
I can’t stress this strongly enough. Putting a shout-out for a new group without a place to meet already set up is almost setting yourself up for failure. Starting a Facebook, Yahoo, or Meetup group without a plan in place will result in a lot of people saying “Yes, yes, we will join, sure, we want to meet.” Everyone will have different schedules, different geographical areas, different age groups, and it goes on and on. Everyone will show true enthusiasm. Then nothing will happen.
Find a place and date and time to meet, then go public. All those things can and may morph over time as the group comes together, gels, and grows, but the first steps really need to be decided by one person (or perhaps by you and your best homeschool buddy). You are the organizer. You are starting the group. Make it work for your needs. This doesn’t mean you have to take on all the work involved in making the group successful. But to start, keep it simple, and keep it right for your family’s needs.
Some places homeschoolers find to meet (for free or for a small fee): library meeting rooms, community centers, some retail stores that have space for groups to use (grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants), religious buildings, local social halls, parks, senior centers, playgrounds. Where does your local Rotary Club meet? They may have a great, cheap, location that you could use as well.
What if you can’t find a place to meet? Your group could focus on just field trips, never needing a set meeting space. That’s a very doable and workable homeschool group situation. But, in the same vein as step 1, you’ve got to actually set up places to go before you start the group. Have two or three field trips arranged before you go public. Again, make it places/dates/times that work for your family. Arrange only things you will attend yourself. Later, others can join in to arrange activities, but at the very beginning you need a plan in place or (as stated in step 1) it will all fall apart. Everyone will have ideas going in a thousand directions, and nothing will end up happening.
2. PICK A NAME FOR YOUR GROUP
It’s important for your group to have a name. It can be simple or catchy. It can be descriptive or general. It may be inclusive or very specific. The name of your group can be a help or a hinderance. It should help people find you when they are Googling. (Unless your intention is to create a sort of “secret” group that you only invite friends to. Maybe you are splitting off from a larger homeschool group, and you aren’t looking to be easily searchable—in which case, keep that intent in mind.)
- Homeschoolers of San Jose: easy to find when people are Googling or searching on Facebook/Yahoo/ meetup; inclusive
- HOSJ: not as easy to find
- Unschooling Boise: easy, not inclusive, specific
- Laid-back learners: not as easy
- Teen Homeschooling Long Island: Yup, it’s clear who this group is for
- Long Island Teens: not as easy (could be any type of teen group)
3. GET THE WORD OUT
Once you have a place to meet or field trips arranged, it’s time to let people know. You can do this via a variety of ways:
- Create an email address that you will use just for the group mail. It can be a simple Gmail address. This is helpful if you ever leave the group. You wouldn’t want your personal email address out there on flyers and websites.
- Create a Facebook group (great for chatting and for creating events), and start inviting homeschoolers you know. (Ask them if they want to be invited as many people really resent it if you add them to a group without asking first.) If Facebook isn’t your favorite option, then consider Meetup (great for organizing events but not as good for general chatting) or Yahoo Groups.
- Post info about your group in public places like the library or grocery store community bulletin boards. Online, try Macaroni Kids or other local sites frequented by families looking for activity information. Consider adding your group to some of the many online national homeschool directories. Those sites usually ask you to fill out a form, and then they will add your group to a list organized by state.
- Have a flyer or business card with you at all times. While you are out on errands, if you see a family with kids during the day, ask if they are homeschoolers and hand them a flyer. This can cost you next to nothing. Find a place that offers 50 or 100 free business cards, or print your own.
- Word-of-mouth is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to pass along information. Once a few homeschoolers know about your group, they will tell other homeschoolers. It can take a while to get things started (especially in remote areas with few home- schoolers) but once it does, word of mouth spreads like wildfire!
SOME THINGS TO AVOID
In my years as a board member of my homeschool group and as a leader of many Introduction to Homeschooling sessions, I have met some people who thought that they would be able to meet local homeschoolers via their district school department. They imagined that the school department would have a plethora of useful information about homeschooling or a contact list of local homeschool families in the area. They don’t—or at least it’s very rare if they do, because it’s not their area of expertise—and it would be illegal for the school department or any government agency to provide that kind of personal information. Homeschool family names should be kept private and not appear in school committee minutes and certainly should not be handed out to other homeschoolers.
You may be tempted to start by holding group activities/meeting in your home. It’s accessible, available, and an easy commute for you. That’s where the good part ends. You would be inviting strangers into your home. People you may not gel with would be on your turf. If your children were having a difficult time on a given day, you couldn’t gather them up and leave. If you were ill, you’d have to cancel the whole group’s day rather than just not attending yourself. Additionally, some people are uncomfortable going to a stranger’s home, which could add to difficulties in getting a group started.
However, if you have some space on your property, like an outbuilding that has enough space for a group, that may work. You could still retreat to the more private areas of your home if you needed to. Homeschoolers you haven’t met yet may be more willing to come to a craft day “in the barn” as opposed to in your living room. Your home doesn’t have to be avoided; it’s just not usually the optimal situation.
Stay away from creating a group website. It may be tempting, to hop over to WordPress and make something pretty and interesting. But then you are stuck with maintaining it. Keep that sort of thing off your plate for now. Stick to existing group sites like Meetup, Facebook, and Yahoo Groups. They are easy to maintain, and easy to add moderators as you grow and need help behind the scenes. If you grow large enough to need or want your own website, you can approach that when the time comes. For now, keep it simple.
Let the fun begin! You’ve done the work. You are ready to start meeting new friends. Welcome them!.Start listening to their needs but don’t bend too far from your own needs in order to accommodate others. Not yet. Once you’ve gotten a few months (at least) of meet-ups/activities completed, then it’s time to consider what the next steps are.
This column was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home | school | life.
Melissa Robb has seven years of experience homeschooling her now-12-year-old. Since 2010 she has held a variety of positions in her favorite homeschool group (which has blossomed to 320+ member families).