Putting together an Information Night isn't nearly as hard as it might sound. There are a few choices that need to be made before you start, and if you have at least three or four homeschoolers willing to help shoulder the work and a few more willing to attend... well, you could find yourself with quite a successful event! This is basically a "how-to" of planning this kind of activity. Here are some of the things we did with our group and some things I'll share that I wish we had done! Nevertheless, take what will work for you and leave the rest. At least this way you won't have to reinvent the wheel.
This type of event can easily broken down into 3 categories. And each category should have a person willing to coordinate the duties that fall there. One is the location/set-up person. The contact for the location, in our case the Educational Resource person for Barnes and Noble bookstore, really needs to communicate with only one homeschooling person. This will help you avoid a lot of confusion. Another category/person could be in charge of the PR. Publicizing the event can be as big as you'd like for it to be. Letting one person handle that section of the planning, prevents duplication as well as assuming that someone else has handled something that in reality, no one has. Thirdly, one person can be the contact person for the homeschoolers attending as well as the materials that are going to be available.
Find a location
First, when a group decides that they want to hold a Homeschooling Information Night, open to the public, a decision of where to convene, needs to be made. We chose Barnes and Noble bookstore, for several reasons. First, it's free. Second, they were enthusiastic about having us. They were very flexible and easy to work with. They offered to section off their "Fireside area" in the front of the store to allow for easy access and good visibility. They also agreed to allow us to move the furniture around to suit our group. We gave them a selection of homeschooling books that we wanted them to have available in our area. Be sure to give them enough time to order more of the books they have in stock. But don't be timid - they will gladly order any books that you think your local homeschoolers might be interested in purchasing. These were then set on a table of their own near the sign-up table. Another reason we chose the bookstore was because of the traffic. People can easily come and go, linger to chat, ask and answer questions, and sip their mochas in a relaxed atmosphere. This was definitely the mood we wanted to promote.
Another reason we chose Barnes and Noble was that they were very interested in helping us advertise our event. They ran it in their monthly newsletter and made large signs in the store several days in advance indicating the date and time of the upcoming event. But a word of warning about allowing someone else to handle your PR: they may not value it or present it in the same light that you would. They offered to handle all of our advertising - it was a sincere and generous offer. And being a novice in the advertising world, I eagerly accepted their offer, quickly taking that one "off my plate." But we were the first event of the month, and several places that they contacted didn't have ample notice to get the event publicized. Ours was one of eight events that Barnes and Noble was promoting. My point is simply, do this for yourself. It's not that tricky.
A well publicized event can really turn into a huge success. Here are some places to consider contacting:
* Local Newspapers - Contact the writer assigned to the Community Events section or the writer assigned to the Education section, and preferably both. At larger newspapers, the Community Events person usually just wants facts and dates. Be sure to ask them to run it in the Sunday paper prior to the event as well as the weekday newspaper on the day of the event. The Education staff person may like to do an article on homeschooling or on what the plans are for this activity. Homeschooling is a fairly "hot topic" to newspaper people and usually the mainstream papers have a difficult time figuring out "who" to turn to for their homeschooling questions - and voila! There you are for them!
* Smaller newspapers - Don't forget the local parenting newspapers that most communities have now. These and are easily found for free in the entryways of bookstores, toy shops, restaurants. Check there too for the calendar section. Remember that if it is a monthly publication, that newspaper may go to print a full month or so prior to the time you find it available at the newsstands. Often this information regarding deadlines can be found in their paper. These newspapers also like to run stories about local people. Contacting their Editor (however, often their Assistant Editor is quicker to respond) may be a good opportunity to "get the word out." We were able to do this through telephone interviews and giving website URLs to help them understand more about homeschooling. If you want to see an article with any depth at all, you may need to contact them at least two months before the event.
* Radio - When radios announce community events, they are usually pre-recorded - sometimes weeks in advance. You will need to contact the local stations to find out just how far in advance they do this. Each station may be different. This is a free service too. Be sure to ask how often you can have it run.
* Flyers - Ask everyone in your support group to help distribute flyers, posting them on bulletin boards in libraries, grocery stores, toy stores, anywhere that will let you! I even hung one at the end of the "Back to School" display at the local Wal-Mart! Of course, it is always best to check with the manager of the establishment before taking it upon yourself...
* Internet - Email lists and message boards are incredibly quick ways to spread the word about your event. Independent homeschoolers often use these to keep informed. We had several homeschoolers that weren't active in our support group but showed up to participate in the information night - all because they heard about it on an email list. Even a local politician, whose aide was on The email lists, arrived - just to show his support for homeschoolers. There are many different message boards on the web. Home Education Magazine has a message board that can advertise your event at www.homeedmag.com/wlcm_brds.html
* Homeschool Magazines - Home Education Magazine and Growing Without Schooling will both advertise your event in their support group section, although they need plenty of advance notice. Their printings are much earlier - often two months prior to the dates at the tops of the magazines! However, both Home Education Magazine and the American Homeschool Association have monthly email newsletters that will gladly help you disseminate information about your event - with relatively short notice.
The Actual Event
We explored two options for our Information Night. The first was the idea of a parent/panel style format. Each panel member would present a different homeschooling method, giving a brief explanation of the way they homeschool, and what they recommend to new homeschoolers. This choice requires a bit more preparation on the parts of the parent speakers, presumes that all of these parents feel comfortable speaking in front of large groups, and expects all of the guests t arrive on time to avoid missing the presentation. This was a mighty tall order for our support group! Instead, we opted for a more casual "let's just chat" approach, which fit the style of our group much better.
We brainstormed about what a new homeschooling family would want to know. And on the top of our list was that they would simply want to "pick the brain" of a real live homeschooler! Second on the list, was the concern about where to find homeschooling materials and educational resources.
Initially we planned to have homeschoolers arrive early, find all of the fun learning tools that they have in the store and bring them up to a table in our area. Field guides, drawing books, good literature, kits - showing just how available these materials are. But at the last minute, the larger tables were unavailable.
So we placed smaller tables around the perimeter of the Fireside Area, and one or two families "stationed" themselves with materials that they had brought from home. Our general idea was to bring our favorite educational item... what we wished someone had showed us when we first started out. Being an incredibly diverse group, a variety of materials were available. Unit study options, math textbooks, packaged curriculum - and even a laminated library card on an easel! The only negative about this approach was that it forced the homeschooling families to stay at their tables as opposed to "milling around." Some books for sale, some items for free, and others only for viewing, made it a little confusing at times. However, some homeschoolers said that they appreciated having "props" to help them initiate conversations.
Guests signed in and picked up name tags. Copies of newsletters were available in a notebook, so they could see how our support group operated. Free catalogs were available along the hearth. We made "welcome flyers" that gave a description of our support group, contact telephone numbers and email addresses, a recommended reading list, a favorite homeschooling website list, and a few helpful tips for those just starting out. The bookstore also printed free bookmarks which promoted our support group name and our recommended reading list. These were then available to our guests and were also stuffed into bookstore patron bags at checkout time that night.
But most of all, we brought accessible homeschoolers - a diverse group willing to share "how they homeschool" with anyone who wanted to know. Seeing each other all at once, encouraging new families beginning their homeschooling journey, sharing our ideas with each other... all made for a delightful homeschooling event. We were glad to do it and hope you will try this too! Sue Patterson publishes a web-based homeschooling publication, the Chart and Compass.
©1999, Sue Patterson
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