September-October 2006 Selected Content
Ask Carol - Carol Narigon
Let's Put on an Information Night!
At this time of year lots of new homeschoolers contact me or others in my homeschool group for information on homeschooling. Can you give me some ideas on how to put together an information night? It seems like a lot of hard work but so is helping people one on one. Thanks. - Carey
Putting together a homeschool information workshop can be daunting the first time you do it. Once you've set one up, pulled it off, and learned whatever lessons you need to learn, it becomes much easier. There are as many ways to inform people about homeschooling as there are methods of homeschooling, but I think an information night (or two or three) is one of the most effective ways to reach a wide number of new or potential homeschoolers, whether your intention is growing your group or just helping out a fellow homeschooler. For the ones who have already decided, the support is invaluable. Prospective, fence-sitting homeschoolers may be proselytized into joining us in our educational adventures once they've learned how easy and rewarding it is.
First, decide who will do the talking. Who in your group knows the most about the code and the various problems people run into and is also comfortable speaking in front of groups? You might want to choose people who use different methods of homeschooling or who have different ages of kids. You may decide to join with one or two other homeschool groups that will each send a representative. In any case, keep the number of panelists at three or under. One person can do it; three will give more perspective.
Your second decision is venue. A private home is my least-favorite place for holding a public workshop, but it works well if a small contained group of parents wants to learn more about homeschooling or if you have a number of new homeschoolers joining your group and you just want to talk with them. Probably you'd want to do it in one of their homes; let them take care of the snacks and cleaning, and hold the session around the dining room table. You may also be able to hold a workshop for new group members at a park shelter while the kids play, but anything that involves kids playing will be plagued by interruptions.
For a larger, public workshop, you'll want to find a welcoming space, preferably one that's free. Often libraries offer the use of their conference rooms. Some churches will donate space for free or for the cost of a collection basket. (Unless your group is affiliated with the church, you'll want to clearly state that your workshop is strictly for homeschooling. Some people who don't want to join a religiously affiliated group might be put off or form the wrong impression by meeting in a church.) Bookstores have contacted me in the past about running an information session. I was able to take them the handouts I wanted printed, set out an impressive collection of homeschool books (they'll often order in more than they usually stock), and they did most of the advertising. I usually score a gift certificate as well--a bonus no homeschooler turns down!
You'll want to advertise your event if it's open to the public. No use going to this much work if nobody comes. Send press releases to your local newspapers and even those in neighboring towns and invite them to come and cover the event. Post notices on your state and local email lists, and send an email to any individual homeschoolers you know who might pass it on. You'll also want to make up some flyers to put up at libraries, grocery stores, bookstores, educational supply stores, and possibly some churches. Be sure to let other groups know as well, even if it takes a phone call.
Once you've set up the venue and kicked off the advertising campaign, you'll want to gather information to copy and make into packets. I would buy a box of cheap colored folders and put the following documents into as many as you think you'll need, plus another ten: a copy of the law or code for your state, any official notification forms, examples of a few different notification samples if applicable, a copy of HEM's free resource guide (http://www.homeedmag.com/ORD/mtrlst.html), a list of favorite websites and possibly a list of local homeschool groups. The folders and copies will cost money, so ask for a donation of a few dollars to cover the cost of printing.
On the night of the event, arrive early and set up the room. You'll want your "experts" seated at a table or on chairs at the front of the room so they are obviously the people who are the designated speakers. Set up as many chairs as you expect to need, plus another ten. On a table to the side or back, set out a collection of favorite homeschool books and magazines, educational supply catalogs, one copy of everything in the folders and a stack of note cards and pencils for taking questions.
Now you're ready to start the show. Here are some tips for running the workshop. Start on time. Use a moderator who can introduce the speaker(s) and read the questions that you will ask participants to write on note cards.
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. Don't open the floor up to questions until close to the end. Require that questions be written on note cards and given to either the moderator or to one of the speakers to read. If you don't control who gets to talk, your workshop time will be eaten up by people telling their school horror stories or giving advice they've read in back issues of Home Education Magazine, whether or not they've ever homeschooled before. Ask that audience members save their comments until all the questions have been answered. If you have time, then you can open the floor for discussion. The moderator or speaker may still have to remind the audience of the reason for being there. People tend to become passionate about their disappointing experiences and their exciting discovery of homeschooling, but you have a mission to accomplish and their stories have to wait for the appropriate audience.
If you decide to have a panel of speakers, make sure each speaker gets a chance to talk. Ask them to keep their comments on each question to about a minute if possible. Or have them take turns answering questions they feel most qualified to answer. Each panelist doesn't have to answer every question.
End on time. If your speaker(s) wants to stick around and visit with audience members, some will appreciate a little extra attention. Try to have members of your group there to meet-and-greet after the workshop officially ends. Do have a final ending time in mind though and have the room cleaned up and ready to vacate on time. You aren't giving up your life for this homeschool workshop.
Of course, there are other issues you might want to consider. To snack or not to snack might depend on the rules of your venue. A big decision is whether children are allowed. I would suggest making the workshop adult-only except for babies-in-arms and teens. Kids are notoriously uninterested in the topic of homeschooling. One thing I would suggest is creating a notebook outlining how you put the workshop together, along with notes for improvement, so the next person won't have to reinvent the wheel.
As you can see, a homeschool information night takes some pre-planning and a little labor, but helping new homeschoolers can not only be rewarding, you might make some new friends as well. Good luck!
© 2006, Carol Narigon