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Home Education Magazine

January-February 2000 - Articles

Electronic Homeschooling Support: A Warmly Human Endeavor - Teri Brown

My daughter and I wandered around the Washington State Capitol grounds waiting in nervous anticipation. Am I a nut case? I wondered. Was this a stupid idea?

I was there to meet a friend in person for the very first time. We had met in an online homeschooling chat room and had just clicked. Michelle was smart, funny and warmly supportive. We had, over time, exchanged phone numbers. After the first few phone calls we exchanged addresses and she surprised me a week later with a package containing a lovely teacup and some of her favorite tea. I sent her flowers on her birthday and friendship cards. Meeting was the next natural step in our friendship and we chose the Washington State Capitol as it was almost exactly between our two homes. Plus the capitol grounds are a public place, and neither of us is stupid.

To those outside the cyber world of online support what we were doing was strange at best, dangerous at worst. But to the hundreds of thousands of us who chat, encourage, love, and cry with one another via the Internet it was a normal phenomenon. I was surprised how many homeschoolers I met online who have gone out of their way to meet other homeschooling moms in real life.

I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that the cyber world is changing the face of homeschooling. Between chatrooms and support lists, people from different parts of the country are getting to know one another. These people may have different faiths, different philosophies of education, and different interests, but they all have one thing in common. They and their children have embarked on the wonderful, amazing journey that is homeschooling

Changing the homeschool statutes in her state was The reasons Christine Webb of Oregon started her discussion list. For those of you who are not online, a discussion list is a group of people who write to one another exchanging information, lending encouragement, and monitoring political issues. Members write to one main address and the email is sent to everyone on the list. ORSIG (Oregon Special Interest Group), was started as a political group to change state laws concerning homeschooling. But as Christine puts it, "It has become so much more. Oregon is a big state with many homeschoolers being the only ones that are homeschooling in their entire town. For those that are geographically isolated ORSIG may be the only support they have. We share resources, give advice and encouragement to those just starting out and every once in a while someone will set up a field trip and we will get to meet some of the people we have been writing to for so long."

ORSIG is just one such group. There are over 541 groups on just The several international list servers. The diversity of these lists is staggering. Browsing through some of them, I was surprised to find homeschooling groups for Pagans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, unschoolers, Libertarians, and conservative homeschoolers. There were lists for those homeschoolers who are homeschooling learning disabled children, only children, large families, blind children, autistic children, hearing impaired children, and the choices go on and on.

This kind of diversity and acceptance is just what Alice Steen from Georgia was looking for. "In many face-to-face support groups your race, age, and family financial status dictates how you're accepted. I know it's not supposed to be that way, but let's face it... it happens! Online... I'm myself. Without having to overcome those obstacles, we can get down to the business of helping one another on our children's journey in education!"

Chat rooms are another source of support. Besides being free for chat most of the time, many chatrooms also schedule topical chats weekly, such as homeschooling preschoolers, unschoolers, special needs kids, and high schoolers. The hosts are usually knowledgeable on their particular topics and the chats can be very helpful to those looking for answers to certain questions and problems. During free chat moms come and go, and a variety of subjects are discussed, men, childbirth, food, housework, and making money in your spare time. There is a lot of information passed on and a great deal of silliness as moms unwind from their hectic days. A few dads show up too and are welcomed.

For some mothers, encouragement from friends they have made in chatrooms is the only homeschooling support they'll get on a regular basis. I've heard people who are not involved in cyber-friendships worry that they provide artificial substitutes for real, in-person contacts. But in my experience, a cyber-friendship, already rich in its own ways, often generates a desire for the greater depth that an in-person friendship can provide. I did an informal poll and found that more than half the moms had arranged to meet other homeschool chat buddies in person.

Looking across to the fountain in front of the Capitol I noticed a woman with three small children holding a miniature rose. I knew it was Michelle. My daughter and I walked up to someone I had talked to for hours but had never met. After the initial awkwardness we had a wonderful time. So wonderful, in fact, that my husband and I, along with the kids, traveled up to their place and spent Memorial Day weekend with her family. What started as a chance meeting in a homeschooling chat room has grown beyond monitor and modem, becoming a friendship that both our families fully expect to last our lifetimes.

2000, Teri Brown

January-February 2000

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