Saturday, December 31, 2005

Starting a Group - Recipe for Success

by Samantha Stopple

Starting a new homeschool group can be fun when you have the right recipe. Samantha Stopple, homeschooling mom to Jade (10) and Corbin (7) and co-coordinator and founder of Lawrence Area Homeschoolers Network (LAHN) shares her recipe for starting LAHN.

Name the group.
As much as I wanted to find a clever name for the group, I think simple has served the group well. Lawrence Area Homeschoolers Network clearly describes what we are and its shortened form, LAHN, is easy to remember. It has inspired three more groups in Kansas, as well. (TAHN, MAHN, and GAHN) If you can think up a clever name, go for it. Otherwise, keeping it simple can be best.

Create a mission statement that describes the group.
Daydream a little. When you imagine the group meetings, what are you hoping for?When I daydreamed about LAHN, I imagined moms talking and helping each other’s kids, laughter, games, and fun. LAHN’s mission statement emphasizes social gatherings as the focus of the group. Our group is only a year old and several families have made lasting connections. I also wanted a group where experienced homeschoolers and new homeschoolers could get support and inspiration when they needed it.

Make meeting times and places consistent.
New families are more likely to attend if they can count on the location and time. Pick consistent meeting days (i.e. 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month) and set a time. In the summer, LAHN meets at a local park that we picked to avoid daycare groups and make it central for the families who attend. GAHN meets at a public library where we do crafts and play games. In the summer time, we head to the park for more playtime and in the winter the group will stay at the library a bit longer. LAHN meets at an old school in the winter where we have a classroom to use as well as the gym. In the classroom, we do open-ended crafts and play games. TAHN will meet at community centers in the winter.

When you meet at a park, make rain date plans. When the group is small and new you might be open to having things at your house. When the group grows too large for indoor meetings at a home, a children's museum or McDonald's playland can be good alternatives. If for some reason you can't find a consistent place to meet, consider creating a schedule a few months in advance.

Additional activities.
Encourage additional activities that support your mission statement. Because I wanted LAHN to be about making friends and having fun, I encouraged several holiday parties including a Halloween Party and a Valentine's Day Party. If you don't have the time or the skill to organize parties, ask another member to do it. When other parents suggest activities that support the group - do it! One mom set up a trip to Great Wolf Lodge, which was a great success. Our group plans to do it again. Another mom in the group suggested we start a Mom's Night Out (MNO). Several moms look forward to this every month.

Start an email list on yahoo or smartgroups.
These free email list services are great because you can store homeschooling information, set up a calendar that lists activities for the group, and send reminders, plan future events, share resources, and keep in touch between meetings. For group safety, you can set up the list so new members can join by approval only.

Advertise, advertise, advertise!
Get your group listed on as many places as you can on the web or in print: National Home Education Network, A to Z Home's –Cool, local city information pages, post information on homeschooling forums, on statewide homeschooling lists, local parenting magazines, the local newspaper etc. The more places your group is listed, the easier it will be for homeschoolers in your area to find you.

Create a website. A website isn't an essential ingredient, but it offers an additional way for homeschoolers to find your group. You can also use it to share more about the group.

Distribute flyers. Include your group name, the mission statement and contact numbers. Post them anywhere you think might be helpful such as local coffee shops, community buildings, and the library. Hand extra flyers to new families so they can give flyers to their friends.

Tell your children’s librarian about your group. Often families considering homeschooling ask their librarians for information, so introduce yourself to your librarians and let them know about your group.

Make some business cards. I have found business cards useful because they are easy to carry and hand to homeschoolers I meet around town. I use them to pin up on bulletin boards too. I also gave cards to members of the group to hand out to their friends.

Be Patient.
I expect some groups will take longer to get going than others. I was fortunate with LAHN's early success because not only did the kids make friends immediately, the moms did, too. I think our success comes from the camaraderie between the parents who look forward to coming to the group as much as the kids.

Kansas Homeschool Network would like to hear about your recipe for success starting an inclusive homeschooling group in Kansas. Email goobmom23 AT yahoo DOT com.

Additional help for starting a homeschool group:
NHEN-NewSG: The list for people seeking to start homeschool support groups in their area. The list hopes to provide encouragement, advice, and support to those working hard to foster connections between homeschoolers via support networks.

A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling: Starting a Support Group