Why start a Support Group?
Making the decision to home educate is, for most people, a really big deal, and not a decision arrived at lightly. Often, the new home educator will be challenged by friends, family, school heads/teachers and even complete strangers about the decision they’ve made, which can cause the home educating parent to doubt themselves. “What about GCSE’s?” they’ll be asked, “and what about socialising with other children?”
Going against the norm is hard enough, but without support, and with others questioning your competence, and your ability to make good decisions for your children, it takes even more courage to push ahead.
Some home educators are fortunate to find that there are active, thriving support groups already available in their area. However, there are still many who battle to find a group that is the right “fit” for them and their children, and might be better off starting their own. With home education growing as steadily as it is, there is a need for more support groups. If each group recognises that it may fulfil the needs of one, but not of another, there is no need to feel like the groups are “competing” with one another – indeed, in many areas of the UK, home education groups may co-exist in a region quite happily, with overlap of members, allowing for the different needs of individuals.
What is the purpose of a Home Education support group?
Home Education support groups arise out of different needs. They can cater for a specific academic or extra-curricular need, for example STEM groups, art, drama, or sport. Many groups meet so that children have the opportunity to participate in group activities, such as crafts, and thus also fulfil a social need.
A home education group can also qualify for school discounts at attractions and historic sites if they book as an educational group.
Parents benefit from the support group as they get the opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges they may be experiencing, and get advice from other home educating parents. It helps to affirm them in their decision to home educate, and avoid feelings of loneliness and isolation.
What do I need to start a Support Group?
If you only know a handful of other home educators, don’t be put off. A good way to approach it is to plan activities that you and your children would enjoy doing anyway, and invite others to join you. That way, even if initially it is just your family, you need not be discouraged, but if others do join you, it’s a bonus!
Two to three families is quite normal for a group just starting out. Set up a Facebook page, and with a bit of word-of-mouth, you’ll be on your way!
Small groups don’t normally need too much to make them work, and can meet in the different homes or at a park or museum initially. Keep it simple and manageable until it becomes necessary to accommodate more people in a more organised fashion
As your group grows, you may eventually decide to investigate hiring a hall on a regular basis, splitting the costs between the participating families.
How are support groups run?
If you are starting the support group, it is very much your prerogative to make decisions about how the group will be run. Obviously, it’s wise to consider the feelings of those you might want to attract to the group, and a group run on a more consensual model will encourage members to “take ownership” of the group and help run it.
A person with high energy might want to take individual responsibility for organising everything, but, generally, sharing the load benefits everyone. It also helps ensure the continuity of the group to have more than one person involved in the planning. A strong team makes for a strong group that will continue long after individuals have moved on.
You may want to start off with meeting just once a month, and adapt that later according to the needs of the group. Meeting for about 1.5 – 2 hrs is normally adequate, but, once again, this can be adapted to suit the group.
It’s important to establish what your group’s AIMS will be, as that will help to shape the form the group will take.
You may decide to begin with just one monthly meeting or field trip initially. If that works well, and you are not finding it too stressful, you may then increase the frequency of events.
If doing hall meetings, it’s helpful to have a theme to work around. There are many good ideas out there, and the possibilities really are endless. You could structure your sessions around a themed talk, and then have some organised activities which will help the children to consolidate their learning.
Do plan to have refreshments (coffee, tea, squash, biscuits etc) available at least once during the meeting. You may also choose to have lunch together, either as part of your meeting, or going off to the park afterwards.
Most groups these days make extensive use of social media to communicate with their members. A “Closed Group” is the best format to use, as administrators can ensure that anyone wanting to join is vetted by a process of their choosing, thus protecting the privacy of members. Content posted onto the group page can also be moderated, to keep it relevant to the group.
Ideas for Themed Meetings
- STEM themes – learn about electricity, chemistry, mechanics, etc.
- History themes – choose a specific period or event in history, and look at things like dress, food, weapons, transport, government of that period
- Food-related themes – make your own pizza, plants as food, historic foods – there’s always a way to bring food into your themes!
- Geography themes – “Around the World”, where each family picks a country and does a presentation. Each child can get a “passport” to be stamped for each “country” (presentation table) they visit; Rivers and waterways studies, which can include outdoor activities such as pond-dipping, and boat trips; different types of climates, weather etc
- Lego clubs – have one family provide the Lego (you don’t want to get different lots mixed up), and suggest themes or challenges for children to build around
- Arts and Crafts – themes (as above) can include craft activities, but you may wish to have dedicated art or craft meetings
- Speakers/presentations – there are many organisations, museums, interest groups, etc, who will be more than happy to visit your group to do a talk or presentation, if you feel like this would benefit the group. It’s also a really good way of educating your visitors about home education!
The possibilities really are infinite, and you can poll your group to find out what they’d be most interested in. Most groups will have a few really creative members who will always offer fresh ideas and suggestions. Pinterest is also a really good source of ideas for activities and crafts.
The Support Group as Community
Groups that meet regularly, and which have good, consistent leadership, may find that, for many of their members, they become a strong support community. As friendships between members develop and are strengthened, it may become possible to provide much more than just a “mutual interest” group. It can become a place where children feel accepted and have a sense of belonging, where they have friends to hang out with, and where parents are encouraged and empowered.
Here are some other ideas for helping your group grow into a vibrant, active and supportive community:
- At the beginning of each meeting, provide an introduction session where each family can say something about themselves – name, number of children and ages, where they live – so that parents can find and connect with others who have something in common
- Take care of each other – arrange a rota of meals provided to families where mum is unwell, or a new baby has arrived. Help each other out with childcare when needed, throw a baby shower, or help with transport to group outings
- Encourage meet-ups outside of the group meetings – mums’ nights out, picnics in the park, birthday parties – these all give opportunities for families to get to know each other better
- Sports days – organise fun sports days in the warmer weather
- Christmas events – organise a special celebration with your group, such as a Christmas dinner, or concert/nativity play, or carols by candlelight. Children can be involved in the planning of the event.
- Family camp – book a campsite during the week in term-time (discounted rates!) for members to camp together. Activities can be organised for the camp, and many friendships will be forged as you sing around the campfire and toast marshmallows!
- End of Academic year event – Hold an awards evening, where parents can recognise their children’s progress. It’s a good idea to limit certificates to 2 per child, or you could end up with a long, drawn-out event! It’s also wise to discourage “prizes” such as expensive gifts at this event, as children might perceive this as unfair. Simple certificates acknowledging that the child has achieved progress in academics, sports, character development, or other skills, is more than sufficient. It can be fun to combine this with a BBQ or shared meal for all the families.
Some other tips:
- Keep an attendance record: This helps you to get a picture of who attends regularly, as well as average numbers to be catered for. Ask for the name of the family, and ages of children.
- Buy a cash box: Fees for attending the group should be sufficient to cover hall hire, materials and refreshments. You can set a different rate for single child families and larger families, as well as discounted rates for paying for the whole term, as opposed to “pay as you go”
- Delegate! Groups function well when the load is spread. Get other parents to assist with supervising activities, and providing refreshments. Recognise individual strengths and talents and put them to good use!
- If funds allow (and they should!) be sure to reimburse others for any expenses incurred, as long as they are reasonable and receipts are provided. Any large expenditures should be agreed with those involved in planning, and should only be for things that will benefit the whole group.
- Resolve issues with kindness. As groups get larger, there are bound to be problems and disagreements at times. Most of the time these can be resolved by speaking directly with the parties concerned, but try to avoid a “knee-jerk” reaction, as most problems occur as the result of simple misunderstanding. It’s important to be clear on the facts and not react emotionally. Also, remember that sometimes written communication (such as text messages or Facebook posts) can be misconstrued, so wording should be carefully chosen. If any group members still choose to leave as a result, it’s still better if they do so on amicable terms.
If you would like to find out more about starting a support group, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.