Home Education Magazine
July-August 1998 - Articles
Getting the Support You Need Without a Formal Support Group
I frequently get asked by both homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers whether or not we belong to a support group. Coming from non-homeschoolers this usually means: "Do your kids have any contact with other kids?" Coming from homeschoolers this usually means: "Is there a group in the area that I don't know about that I might join too?"
Well, we don't belong to a local support group so in answer to the non-homeschoolers, I assure them that my kids have all kinds of contact with their peers though scouts, church, folk dancing and anything else they may be involved in at any given time. (Anyone who has been homeschooling for more than six months usually has this answer memorized and ready at a moment's notice). It is the query from the homeschooler that always causes me to trip over my tongue.
There are several local support groups and they are all fine groups whose members benefit from being members. There are a couple of Christian-led groups that are open to any homeschoolers, and a couple of non-affiliated groups, also open to anyone. Members often overlap in these groups and everyone is the richer for it as information about special events, field trips, classes and "great deals" gets spread among them all.
So what's wrong with these groups that I don't join one or more of them? Or what's wrong with me that I don't join one? Those are the unspoken questions I hear when I tell people I don't belong to a local support group. In answer, there is nothing wrong with them. They fill many needs in the local homeschooling community. There is also nothing wrong with me, or at least I don't think so. For the most part, I don't like to belong to big groups and I never have. Perhaps I'm a bit shy. Perhaps I find it easier to forge friendships in smaller, more intimate numbers. Maybe I'm just not a "joiner". Don't get me wrong; I'm dedicated to homeschooling as a movement as well as the best educational option and lifestyle for my family. I belong to our state homeschooling group, not so much for personal support but to support their presence in the state and to keep myself informed on legal issues. I write letters to my legislators; I inform others about homeschooling issues; I attend and even present at homeschooling conferences and information meetings, and I always direct new homeschoolers to the local support groups when asked.
It's just that I don't want to be a member of any of them myself. Our family interests and philosophies, styles and personalities are different enough from the existing groups that nThem feel like "a good fit" for my family and me. So why don't I organize one of my own? (I see that advice given in many homeschooling publications). Frankly, I don't want to be the organizer of a support group. It comes back to not feeling comfortable being part of a large group. Besides, I've found something that suits me and my family better. And this is what I want to share with others who may find themselves wanting some close-at-hand support but are unwilling to join the local support group for whatever reason.
What we have is not a formal support group although for me, it acts as one. We don't have a name or a newsletter. We don't sponsor events for all of the local homeschooling community. We are just friends who all happen to homeschool. We met in various places and at various times. The adults and kids enjoy each others' company but we rarely all get together at the same time.
Where did we meet in the first place? My husband met the father of one homeschooling family at his workplace. I met one family at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. I met another at morning swim lessons, another in our neighborhood and yet another at my son's viola lessons. During school hours homeschoolers above the age of seven stand out. Whenever I saw kids who were of school age but not in school, I asked the accompanying parent whether they were homeschoolers. This is what happened at the swimming pool. I found myself visiting with another mom at the pool twice a week for the duration of the swim lessons. We "clicked" and the kids "clicked", so we got together for some play time. Soon, we were inviting them, or they us, for hikes, game nights, and making crafts. The friendship has endured. Sometimes we don't "click" with another family beyond a first playtime. That's okay too We just let the relationship die a natural death and try elsewhere.
Our friendships with the other families grew in similar fashion, over time and shared interests. Our activities with each family vary. We have gotten together to make gingerbread houses, to make rockets, and to talk about books.
My "support" group consists of these five families. Some have never met each other; some see each other more frequently than I see them. The kids vary in age from one to fourteen. Interests, availability and moods dictate when and with whom we spend time. My ten-year old son takes piano lessons from the fourteen-year old daughter of one family once a week. We also have game nights and do craft projects on a monthly basis with this family. We also exchange books and magazines about homeschooling, recipes, craft ideas, music, and suggestions for good books to read with this family. With some of the other families we get together for some fun hands-on science or for hiking, beach and farm trips, bowling, skating, trips to museums and a monthly book club. Naturally, because we all homeschool, the topic comes up frequently and we exchange our views, ideas, uncertainties and suggestions with each other.
We enjoy spending time with each of these families. The support we feel from each other is easy and in just the right doses. There is no newsletter, no announcements, no complicated organizing to do. We just call each other on the phone and extend an invitation.
We might be viewed as elitists by not including any and all homeschoolers in our activities, but then there are those who feel that homeschooling itself is elitist. We all know better. We know what is right for our families so we choose to homeschool. And we know how homeschooling works best for our families. I extend this to we know what kind of support works best for us. So I don't feel guilty that we're not creating a bigger, ever-growing group. Nor do I feel we need to join such a group. We might be missing out on some great field trips, classes and "great deals" but our lives feel full and happy just as they are. So, my advice to those who don't want to join an existing local group or start their own local support group is to look for friendly homeschoolers as you go about your activities and extend an invitation. You never know, it may be the beginning of a beautiful little "support group."
©1998, M. Roth
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