Sometimes, the way to get the homeschool community you really want is to build it from the ground up. If growing community is on your to-do list, try some of these strategies to make it happen.
What if you planned a field trip and nobody showed? For homeschoolers, this happens more often than you might think.
Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the second of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for adding classes and activities to your group.
Previously, I covered the basics of how to start a homeschool group. Once you are established, it’s time to add the fun! Have you decided to keep your group small? Or are you going big? Either way, you can expect to have some or all of these types of activities: field trips, classes, and co-ops. Here are some how-to points that can help you with organizing these activities.
Field trips are perhaps the simplest activity to arrange. Many venues have information on their websites about school or group visits. Usually, there’s an option will fit the needs of your homeschool group, but sometimes, you’ll need to ask the venue to tailor a program or create something from scratch. Education departments, at museums or elsewhere, may be new to the idea of a homeschool group. They may need encouragement to go outside their usual form—for instance, grade levels. If a site has a menu of field trip offerings arranged by grade, you can ask them to expand that. So if a program is for 3rd and 4th grades, you can ask them to expand that to include 2nd and 5th grades. I have often talked a museum into welcoming all ages, from infants to teens or tailoring a program to meet our group’s needs. It’s worth asking. Follow these steps to set up a successful group field trip:
1 :: Choose your destination. Museums, factory tours, nature centers—the options are plentiful.
2 :: Make arrangements with the venue. Be wary of places that require an upfront deposit; aim for a location that allows you to pay in full about two weeks ahead of time. Gather information from the venue, including:
- the name and location (note whether it’s different from the venue’s street address);
- contact info for the venue, including your contact’s name, email, and phone;
- what forms of payment the venue accepts;
- a detailed description of field trip;
- cost per student and cost per adult—per person costs are much easier to work with than a group flat fee, which can get messy;
- recommended age range (and whether that age range is flexible or set in stone);
- any minimum or maximum numbers required for attendance;
- expected start and end time; stroller- and carrier- friendliness;
- date for final head count (if you can choose, I recommend two weeks before the field trip date);
- lunch or snack details;
- and parking information.
3 :: Share details with the group, and start collecting payments with a clear due date.
4 :: After your sign-up deadline, contact the venue with the final headcount and pay.
5 :: Final confirmation with venue should be one or two days before the field trip. Be sure you know how the venue will contact you if there they need to make an emergency change the day of the field trip.
Arranging a class is usually going to be more involved than a field trip. To put together a class, you’ll need to add these items to your to-do list, in addition to the field trip steps in the previous section:
1 :: Find and secure a teacher—be sure to get a teacher bio to add to the class description.
2 :: Find and secure a venue—a free venue is best, especially if your group is new.
3 :: Arrange for at least two parents to stay in the classroom with teacher and students.
4 :: If the class is a drop-off, be sure one of the parents staying for the class has all the phone numbers for parents or guardians who will not be sticking around.
Co-ops (co-operatives) can be big or small. They can be casual or highly organized. A co-op, generally, refers to a set of classes/ activities led by parents who do not get paid. Every adult is expected to do something to participate, though everyone doesn’t necessarily have to teach. A group doesn’t have to have a co-op—and a co-op doesn’t have to be part of a group.
- Co-ops should be organized so that the workload is spread out and information is clear and easy to access:
- The schedule should reflect who is teaching what, plus any relevant details about the teacher and class.
- People should know their roles ahead of time—teacher, hall monitor, second adult in classroom, clean up crew, etc.
- Don’t forget behind-the-scenes jobs, like collecting money, posting the schedule, monitoring communications, etc.
- Finding a location may be challenging for this many people. Consider
- social halls (you’d need some sort of real or imaginary partitions between classes)
- church buildings or libraries—many have classrooms available for use or rent
- restaurants or supermarkets with community rooms
- parks (though you’ll need a bad weather plan in place)
There are two basic co-op models, and each has its pros and cons:
SMALL CO-OP AMONG FRIENDS (2 to 6-ish families)
- Location can change week to week or stay in one place
- Simple communication (email may be enough)
- Share the workload (take turns teaching, cleaning, providing a venue)
- Cost of supplies can be easily shared
- A strong sense of commitment to the other families will emerge
MEDIUM TO LARGE CO-OP (More than 20 kids)
- Can grow to 100+ kids
- Lots of different skills and personality types
- Need an official central communication (email is not enough)
- Insurance may be necessary depending on your venue (more on this in a future column)
You’ll also need to decide whether teachers will get paid for the classes they teach, get reimbursed for supply costs, or simply volunteer their time. Co-ops most commonly don’t pay parent-teachers, but a benefit of a large co-op can be a pool of parents with a wide variety of teaching skills.
TIP: Don't give surveys too much weight. Surveys seem like a good idea but they aren’t as helpful as you’d expect. If you ask homeschoolers what activities they want to do, they will want to do everything. Everything sounds wonderful, and they will tell you so enthusiastically (and mean it).
Based on that enthusiasm you arrange activities, and fewer than expected sign up. When the day of the activity arrives, only a portion of those who signed up will actually attend.
Do not take this personally. Expect it.
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).
We recently found a homeschool group that my kids love. The problem: The moms are super clique-y and not very nice. Is it worth continuing in a group where I’m miserable, even if my kids are happy with it?
Well, the question you need to ask here is, “Does it matter if this group is a good fit for me?” It’s possible that it doesn’t — you may have your own group of friends and a strong support network, and you can view this group as a social outlet that’s just for your kids. In that case, treat it as you would any activity waiting room: Bring a book or catch up on your phone calls or work on a knitting project, and grab a seat where you don’t have to deal directly with the not-so-nice moms. Smile and say “hi” when you arrive, wave “bye” when you head out, and don’t give any of your emotional energy to the situation beyond that.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible that you’re looking for a social outlet for you as well as for your kids. If that’s your situation, you may want to give these moms a second chance before writing them off. It’s possible that you misread their cues on your first outing, and they are really more welcoming than you thought. Sometimes what seems like shutting other people out is really just a group of people being so excited to catch up with each other that they forget there’s a world outside their group. If you jump into the conversation, they may welcome your participation.
If you’re dealing with a real mom clique — and they’re out there — assume that you aren’t the only mom to get the cold shoulder, and look for other parents on the fringe of the group. Strike up a conversation with the mom who always shows up with a book or the dad who spends the hour working on his tablet. And warmly welcome newcomers who show up, like you, hoping to find a piece of their homeschool community in the group. You may discover that the clique is only a small (if salient) part of the overall group.
If your best efforts still leave you feeling lonely and on the outside, it may be that this just isn’t the group for your family — even if your kids seem to enjoy it. New homeschool groups sprout up every year — you could even start one yourself — and finding one that’s a good fit for your clan can take time and effort. Sometimes moving on is the best way to deal with a snooty group of moms.
This Q&A was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of HSL.
[We are so happy to introduce you to the lovely Maggie Martin, who officially joins the HSL blogging team with this post! —Amy]
This time last year, my family was part of a great co-op. It was well-established, the enrichment classes were wonderful, and there were countless social opportunities for the kids. There was a prom, a graduation, a yearbook, a variety of clubs, and field trips.
I knew that we couldn't stay.
The thing is that we lived an hour away. Devoting two hours of driving to and from classes one day a week was (almost) okay, but driving two hours so that my kids could do scouts or playdates with kids from their classes just wasn't practical. Every week I'd watch other families' kids falling deeper into real, lasting friendships, and it was a constant reminder that those friendships were the one thing that I wasn't providing my children in our homeschool experience.
I knew that a co-op move would have to happen to give my kids those deep-rooted childhood friendships, but moving in that direction seemed hopeless. I'd pored over the list of local co-ops for options that would be a good fit for secular members only to find a disappointing lack thereof. I'd even gotten a babysitter to attend an interest meeting for a new co-op forming at a local church in hopes that somehow that might work out for us. It didn't. Maybe one day I'd be brave enough to start a co-op in my little town that would be friendly to secular homeschoolers, but of course that time wasn't then. I was in the middle of building a new house, doing much of the work with my own two hands when I wasn't forging my way through lessons with my six-year-old twins.
Then when the 2016 summer issue of home/school/life downloaded its way into my life, I stumbled upon this highlighted passage from Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives:
"The desire to start something at the "right" time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now."
Those words crawled into my system and wouldn't stop swirling around my brain until I'd metabolized them.
I had to realize that there would always be excuses not to do the thing that is hard, probably really good excuses. And I had to realize that that saying about "The days are long, but the years are short," is no joke. It already felt like I'd put my babies down for naps only to turn around and find them starting the first grade. By the next time I turned around, those first graders would be perfecting their college admissions essays, and my chance to construct the homeschool experience I'd dreamed of for them would be gone forever.
So I decided to start that co-op. I made a To Do list that was about a mile long, and tackled every item one by one when I could steal a few minutes to do so. I communicated with the homeschool acquaintances I'd made in our community and shared my vision, I turned to our gem of a library when finding a meeting space was turning into a deal-breaker, and, most importantly, I focused on my devotion to my kids when the job seemed overwhelming.
By the end of the summer, I had accomplished what had before seemed impossible, and a year later, I'm boundlessly grateful that Gretchen Rubin's words found me in that home/school/life issue just when I needed them. The friendships my children have made this year are all the reward I need for the hard work I invested in our co-op's startup.
There will always, always be a reason not to do what is unfamiliar. Make those positive changes anyway. Graduation day will be here sooner than we wish.
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).