Consider Your Local Homeschool Group
I’ve been part of a local homeschool support group for almost 30 years. As a “graduated” homeschool mom now, most of my friends are people I met through the group or other homeschool connections. My children’s homeschool group buddies provided the counterpart to their school peers’ schoolyard friendships, and they still maintain many of these close relationships as adults.
Local groups can not only inform, equip, and encourage homeschool families, but often provide educational, recreational, and/or social opportunities. Many local groups offer sports activities, academic or extracurricular clubs, short- or long-term classes, field trips, yearbook committees, school newspapers, seminars for parents, family picnics, science fairs, open houses, end-of-year ceremonies and celebrations, newsletters, e-mail discussion lists, Facebook groups, and more.
Co-op or Support Group?
A co-op (cooperative) is generally a group of families who get together regularly for academics or enrichment in a group setting. Classes are often taught by parent volunteers (hence the cooperative title), but some groups also hire instructors for specific subjects—usually specialized classes such as a foreign language, higher math, or upper-level science.
A local support group exists to encourage and equip home-educating families, often in the form of educational, recreational, and social activities. They provide “in-person” support, information, and encouragement through activities such as support group meetings, training events, curriculum fairs, and social opportunities for parents, as well as field trips, sports programs, and classes for students.
There can be a lot of overlap between co-ops and support groups. For example, some support groups offer co-op classes, although their primary function is still assistance; the co-op is simply one of the group’s activities. On the other hand, some co-ops offer professional training meetings and social events, but their primary purpose is still to provide class opportunities.
While you will probably not participate in every opportunity a group offers, you may find several activities that will fit your family’s schedule and interests. For example, one group hosts a monthly moms’ night out, parent dinners, quarterly moms’ breakfasts, and in-service training, as well as family activities such as picnics, ice cream socials, game nights, and gym nights, to help families connect.
My teens participated on yearbook staff, in cotillion and sports and competitions, as well as classes and field trips, and built lifelong friendships along the way. (Still skeptical about socialization? For her sixteenth birthday, one daughter invited sixteen friends to her party—and fifteen of them were homeschoolers!)
Our local group recently started a PEP Club (Parents Educating Preschoolers) for moms of littles to get together—whether they have only preschoolers, or happen to be homeschooling older children and littles. Weekly activities vary from preschool-focused field trips, to one-day educational projects, to playdates. These activities allow families to get familiar with our group and each other, as well as with homeschooling in general, so when they need to make education decisions, parents are already connected to the support and resources they will need.
In “Ten Essential Elements of a Thriving Homeschool Co-op”, Joy Kita says, “As a thriving learning atmosphere, a co-op provides a safe place for children to grow intellectually and spiritually as parents collaborate to promote confidence and independence in their children. Having other parents teach unfamiliar subjects alleviates some of the pressure to ‘get it all done.’ Parents also have an opportunity to develop new friendships, and a setting in which to receive that much-needed encouragement to keep pressing onward.”
My own children would never have gotten to go on a field trip without our group! I’m so geographically challenged, I’ve been known to get lost in a parking garage, but we were able to caravan with others—and that gave me the confidence to take the kids places we would not have otherwise gone.
Maybe you are looking to share your passion for history or music or drama. Perhaps you love to plan field trips, or you have a gift for administration, or you just love to encourage other homeschoolers and would love to mentor other young moms. Local groups are not only about what you can get, but also what you have to give!
After all, a homeschool group is usually run by volunteers in their “spare” time, and the many wonderful opportunities for our children depend on what the various participants are willing to help coordinate.
But Don’t Take My Word For It …
I asked a few moms to share why someone should connect with a local group. Here’s what they had to say:
As someone who found homeschooling groups prior to actually homeschooling, having a network of families who were doing what I wanted to do gave me confidence in my decision. I didn’t feel alone anymore, and I was able to get answers to all of my questions. Now as homeschoolers, the group gives us the opportunity to make new friends, share ideas and worries, and feels like we have extended our family. I don’t think I ever would have taken the leap to educate my son at home if it weren’t for the homeschool groups I’ve found. (Jennifer P.)
Networking. Lots of programs, activities, and information given in groups. Field trips can be great with group pricing and carpooling. Your children can meet other children while you can enjoy adult conversation as well. Hear personally from others about curriculum and possibly sell or purchase from others, saving shipping costs. Groups are also great because you may be able to get help with certain subjects. (Pamela P.)
You build friendships—you can bounce ideas off of each other, offer and get encouragement—these are just a few of the perks of homeschool networking. (Janet T.)
You can learn so much from others who are going through the same trials and are having the same questions. (Or who have been there.) You make friends with other mothers, and your kids make friends, too. (Beth S.)
I think moms need the interaction as well as the kids. I have a group of friends, and we go out about once a month—just to be who we are, not a mom, wife, or teacher. This is my 19th year of homeschooling, and I have learned that I need time for myself once in a while. (Ruth O.)
Group activities really break up the tedium of working at home all the time. My kids view their very academically challenging co-op days as days off—they do not think of them as school days! They don’t seem to mind that they are doing rigorous studies in literature, history, science (and labs), writing, and art all in one day. In addition, the co-op holds them accountable for getting their work done, working toward a deadline, and working with others. (Kelly M.)
And our local group’s info card says it well: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)
Where Can I Find a Group?
For information about groups in your area, visit HSLDA’s state page, select your state, then click on the “Organizations” tab. Your state organization may also have a listing of groups in your area.
You may also find help through homeschool social media groups, website-only groups, and other homeschool network resources. I am a member of several of these groups online and find them to be very helpful and informative. Even if you are part of several of these groups, I encourage you to look for local, in-person connections as well.
No Groups Near You? There’s Help!
A mom told me she was feeling isolated and frustrated in her remote area and asked for suggestions to help get things moving in her local homeschooling community. During many of our homeschooling years, we lived out in the country, so I could empathize. In an earlier post, “Creating Our Own Opportunities,” I shared some ways that homeschool parents reach out to others to make connections and build community. (And of course, I’m happy to help you with a personal consultation! If you are a member of HSLDA, contact the educational consultant team for help, as well.)
You can also find legal, financial, and practical guidance for starting and running a homeschool group at HSLDA’s Group Services pages—written for leaders, by leaders.
And A Word about Your State Organization
I encourage you to join your state or regional homeschool organization for additional information about homeschooling and local groups in your state. Your state organization works sacrificially, year in and year out, to promote and protect your right to homeschool. Most state organizations are staffed by volunteers who spend countless hours monitoring current legislation and providing information and resources for homeschooling families. They also provide annual conventions, curriculum fairs, and legislative (“capitol”) days for homeschooling parents and families. Your participation and support makes their vital work possible. Find your state organization here.
Need more help? Want to check out some resources? Visit Homeschool with Confidence.
You may also like: The Life-Changing Gift of Friendship