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All articles are presented to stimulate thought and assist Christian families in homeschooling their children. Articles may or may not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the management of HomeschoolChristian.com.

Forming a Homeschool Support Group

By Pete Storz with help from Mary Leggewie

Should I Do This?

This is the hardest question, one that only you can answer. The first thing you should do, now and throughout your decision and planning process, is pray. God loves you, knows what is best for you, and knows what ministry He wants to accomplish through you. God directs us in various ways, including: His Word, the Bible; circumstances around us; concerns He places in our hearts; things others say or do.

Recognizing a need, believing you could address it, having the time and experience required: these are possible indicators that God is calling you to start a homeschooling support group. Poor health, inexperience in homeschooling, a busy schedule, having significant family stresses, your spouse not agreeing: these might be indicators that God is not calling you to start a support group, or that the timing is wrong.

The decision, with the careful prayer and consideration entailed, is yours to make. Why not pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea, and spend a little time reading about what you might be getting into.

Why Would You Do A Thing Like That?

OK, you probably won't be asked that question in that manner ... not by others, anyway. On the other hand, if you are asking it of yourself, it probably means you are entirely normal, and you need to have a good answer. Why indeed? What is moving you to take this step?

Is there a homeschooling support group in your area? If there isn't, but there are homeschoolers in your area, there is probably a need. But don't stop reading now and rush out to design your group's flyer.

Even if there already is a homeschooling support group in your area that doesn't mean there aren't unmet needs. It isn't easy for one support group to be all things to all homeschooling families in your area. It still doesn't mean it's flyer printing time, but if you see unmet needs, you should think about whether you could help meet them. First, check to see if you can work within the existing support group to meet those needs and improve that group. If the leaders of that group don't wish to do this, and if there are other homeschoolers who have this need, then it may be time to move forward to form a new group.

What kinds of needs might there be? Homeschoolers are a diverse bunch. Some prefer a religious group, while some prefer that religion not be a group emphasis. Some people want support for their more formal style of homeschooling, others for their informal style of homeschooling. Some people will want the group to plan their social schedule, others will want minimal activities. Some have younger children, some have older. You will find experienced homeschoolers, and you will find newbies (newbies may need extra support at first, but later they may become the core of the group, and even future leaders in the group).

If you get the feeling that a support group is about meeting people's needs, you've got it! That doesn't mean meeting needs won't be fun, only that it should be your group's major focus. Be sure that as you plan and mold your group around particular needs your focus doesn't become too narrow. Your special emphases will attract people's attention, and will be the personality of your group, but strong, broad support will persuade people to stay, especially the newbies noted above.

The bottom line is needs. Is there a need for your group? Can you meet needs others are not? Can your group meet a sufficiently wide range of needs to be a homeschooling support group in the fullest sense?

What Is Your Why? (Purpose statement)

There is a lot of need everywhere; you, the homeschooler considering starting a homeschooling support group, are just one person. Knowing what you want to do, your objectives, especially writing them down, will help you in several ways.

Defining what you hope to accomplish will help you know whether starting a homeschooling support group will be appropriate for you.

Looking at your objectives will help decide whether or not it is reasonable for you to start a homeschooling support group. You can use that list of objectives to select activities that fit them. Conversely, the list will help you recognize activities that wander too far from your purpose and to choose not do those activities (or bring them to an end if already begun). Working from your objectives list, you can plan out milestones to decide whether and when you need others to assist in organizing and leading the support group.

This doesn't mean that you are a slave to your objectives statement, written or mental. You created that list, and it should be "living." You should respond to changing circumstances and opportunities flexibly wisely, and incorporate changes as needed into your group's objectives statement.

Keeping Focused, Keeping Flexible

There are an infinite number of needs in this world, and an equally vast number of opportunities to learn and have fun, more than any human or moderate-sized group of humans could possibly handle. Among those myriad opportunities, though, are there some that would be appropriate and valuable ones for your support group to pursue? How to choose?

Whether on paper or in your mind (paper is patient, and often has a better memory than we do), you should make a list your group's objectives, and plan out some specific steps to help you accomplish those objectives. These are tools will enable you to recognize and select appropriate activities for your group. In general, avoid pursuing activities that are unrelated to your objectives so that you don't dilute or wander away from them. Don't be so rigid in applying this that your focus gets too narrow, though.

While your objectives and milestones toward them should be used to help you maintain your focus, remember that these objectives are your servants, not the other way around. Many of them were derived from the specific needs of your group's members. Those needs will change as new members join, others move on, and the group's membership as a whole gains experience. Be flexible and responsive in the face of continually changing needs.

Be in prayer as you think on and compose your list of objectives and milestones. As your group forms, you should share the objectives with the group, especially with your fellow leaders. They may have ideas to add to the list, or to trim it to improve your focus. A prayerful review of the list should be an annual event, to be sure the list still reflects your group's needs, interests, and capabilities. Include all your group's leaders in the review process.

Philosophy and Goals - Keeping Focus

There are an infinite number of needs in this world, and an equally vast quantity of opportunities to learn and have fun; more than any human or moderate-sized group of humans could possibly handle. Among those opportunities, though, are some which would be appropriate and valuable for your support group. How to choose?

Whether on paper or in your mind (paper is patient, and might remember better, too), you should list your group's purposes and set out some specific goals to help accomplish those purposes. These are tools which will help you recognize and select activities for your group.

While your purposes and goals should be used to help you maintain your focus, remember that these purposes and goals are your servants, not the other way around. Many of your goals derive from the specific needs of your group's members. Those needs will change as new members join, others move on, and your membership as a whole gains experience. Keep flexible and be responsive in the face of the changing needs.

Be in prayer as you think on and compose your list of purposes and goals. As your group forms, you should share the goals with the group, especially with your fellow leaders. A prayerful review of the list should be an annual event, to be sure the list reflects your group's needs and capabilities. Include all your group's leaders in the review process.

Are You Secular, Religious or Inclusive?

Before diving into this topic, let me provide some definitions to help you understand how I will be using the terms in the title of this article:

  • Religious - religion is a motivation or a significant factor in homeschooling for a support group identifying with this term
  • Inclusive - a support group that intentionally "includes" and works with homeschoolers of various religions, including none at all
  • Secular - religion is not a motivation or a significant factor in homeschooling for a support group identifying with this term, though a lack of religion may.

There is much variety within these terms.

Religious support groups may range from a group within a specific religious congregation, to one of a specific religion (e.g.. Christian, Jewish, Islamic) with a statement of faith, to one of similar-minded religious families with no group-specific set or statement of beliefs. If the group has a statement of faith, how it is used may vary, too. Some groups require that a family sign the statement as a pre-condition to membership, their signature signifying agreement with that statement of faith. Some groups notify members that the group is lead in accord with the statement but do not require that members sign agreement to it as a condition of membership. Discussions and presentations in meetings and in informal settings will also tend to reflect the religious character of the group.

Inclusive support groups have a stated purpose of providing support to homeschoolers regardless of religious or non-religious beliefs. My view is that doing this successfully requires the continual, active, commitment of every member to this purpose. Without this commitment, members' sensitivities will eventually lead to minor tensions that grow into frustrations and problems. I've seen comments in homeschooling discussion forums concerning such frayed sensitivities. I've also known inclusive groups that have made their philosophy work for a period of several years.

I don't have experience with secular support groups, except that I know they are not very plentiful. At present, secular homeschoolers comprise a minority of homeschoolers, with Christians being in the majority. This was not always the case, however. Although the shift in proportions took place 10 or more years ago, many secular homeschoolers (and some religious homeschoolers who aren't Bible-believing Christians) are uncomfortable and even upset with being in the minority. I've seen much frustration, and occasionally even anger expressed about religious groups that have statements of faith, specifically those which require members to sign agreement to it as a pre-condition to membership. Frankly, in areas where there are few homeschoolers, a support group that imposes such conditions to membership does limit significantly the opportunities available to homeschooling families - e.g. field trips, classes, park days, Moms' meetings - who can't truthfully sign agreement with the statement and won't lie about it.

What did we do? Our support group, SELAH Christian Schools is, as its name states, a specifically Christian, religious group. SELAH does have a statement of faith, but membership is not conditional on agreement with it. To date, SELAH has not, that I am aware, had a member family which was/is not Christian. This probably is because there are many homeschoolers and support groups in our area of various styles.

So, will your support group be Religious, Inclusive, or Secular? Ultimately that answer will have to come from you. Here are some factors you should consider. Are there other homeschooling support groups in your area? If so, are they Religious, Inclusive, or Secular? What effect might your decision have on relations within the homeschooling community? Ultimately, most importantly, what is the vision God is giving you?

Play Group or Social Planning: Make Structure Serve Your Purpose

Homeschooling support groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some groups are loosely organized, with participants coming and going, little leadership structure, and activities based on what people feel like doing. Others are very formal, with pre-planned and scheduled meetings and activities (and meetings to plan those meetings and activities), membership-by-application, statements of faith, and so forth.

What do you want to do? The structure used by a formal, highly active group would be silly if imposed on group that only wants low-key park days and a few field trips. On the other hand, a formal, highly active group that tries to do without leadership and membership structure risks experiencing problems that could lead to dissolution of the group and hard feelings all around. You need to use a little forethought at the beginning, and select a structure (or non-structure) that suits your purposes, people, and circumstances.

Going a step further, if your group will have more than 10 or 15 families, and wants to do more than have park days, field trips, regular Moms' meetings, and maybe a newsletter, having at least two group leaders will be helpful. If the newsletter or phone-tree can't be handled by the leaders, you will need to ask for volunteers, or do without those functions. Try to make your structure flexible enough to accommodate unexpected growth or shrinkage.

How should group leaders be chosen? You're the leader (initially at least), so ultimately you get to decide (or the leaders as a whole, if you have more than just you). If you know who some of the members will be, you could ask their opinions, though, should you decide differently than some member advises, they may get upset. Some groups elect leaders annually; some have leaders who hold that position until they pass it on to the person(s) they select; some have a leadership committee. Each manner of leadership selection has its own potential strengths and drawbacks (see below).

Written rules, or bylaws, while not especially fun, can be helpful in clarifying how things should function and avoid future unpleasant confusion. Bylaws would not have to be written before the group is begun; having input from the members could be very helpful in the writing process.

Take Me to Your Leader

One of the ways homeschoolers' individuality can be seen is in how they select the leaders of their support groups. Sometimes leader selection may even be a contentious discussion topic. Wherever you fit in the styles mentioned below, it is wise to choose how this will be done early in the setting up of your support group to minimize confusion and uncertainty. As time passes, you will encounter other homeschooling support groups that choose their leaders differently. This doesn't make them somehow lesser as homeschoolers or as providers of support to homeschoolers.

The two basic styles of support group leadership are "democratic" and "appointed". Each group leadership style has features and concerns worth weighing. For what it is worth, the support group I helped start and lead had, and still has, appointed leaders. I'll try to avoid this coloring excessively what follows.

In the democratic group leadership style, the members choose their leaders directly, often annually. Larger groups may elect a leaders' committee that later divides up the specific responsibilities, or the group may directly choose specific persons for specific tasks.

Potential Features:

  • Members feel and are involved in the running of the support group
  • Persons with needed talents may be recognized and chosen for positions sooner than might happen in a group with appointed leader
  • Since the persons holding leadership positions change regularly, this tends to avoid leadership fatigue.

Potential Concerns:

  • Popularity may influence votes more than ability
  • If nobody runs for a particular position, this may diminish the effectiveness of the group or overload another leader who has to do two jobs
  • Annual leadership changes may disrupt the continuity and consistency in how the group serves its members and be confusing
  • Members who feel their ideas are consistently voted down and ignored could disrupt or split the group.

In the appointed group leadership style, the group leaders may be the founding leaders, or may have been chosen by the previous group leaders. They in turn may delegate responsibility for various functions to persons they believe to be willing and able.

Potential Features:

  • Leaders may be chosen for their suitability and abilities rather than popularity
  • Greater continuity and consistency in how the group serves its members
  • Less time and energy from the members for the group is devoted to operational nuts and bolts

Potential Concerns:

  • Control-freak-itis (not delegating when necessary)
  • Pride and aloofness on the leaders' part
  • Leaders may lose touch with members' needs and concerns
  • Leader burn-out

In either group leadership style neither the strengths nor the concerns are guaranteed to happen. The strengths need to be cultivated, and the concerns may be avoided. Keep in mind that either group leadership style can be made to work. Neither group leadership style is somehow morally superior to the other. The key factor is in what will work best for the group's members.

Delegation or Insanity? You Choose.

Some groups are large, some are small; some are very simple, some are elaborate. One serious error in leadership can be to try to be in control of, and involved in, everything. This can lead to serious consequences: leader burn-out; the group can be susceptible to disputes and splits; taking initiative is discouraged; the group could suffer a leadership vacuum should the control-freak leader suddenly need to step down.

It can be hard for some, but sanity can be spelled "d-e-l-e-g-a-t-i-o-n!" It is easy to forget, since you are so involved in planning and leading, but the group isn't really YOUR group. It "belongs" to the members, and in a larger and truer sense, the group belongs to the Lord Jesus.

To avoid burn-out and have time to homeschool your family (remember them?), the wise course of action is to seek out or ask for volunteers to handle various tasks. There is always some risk, but the eventual benefit is that more ministry and support will happen and it will be done better. Another future benefit is that people get "trained" to take on group leadership, should it be necessary for one of the group leaders to step down from leadership. Your family and the group will thank you if you have the wisdom and courage to delegate.

Leadership is Serving

Jesus stated it best in Matthew 20:26-27: "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave." OK, being a support group leader isn't the same as being a mayor, or a church pastor, but it is leadership. Your attitude will have a LOT of influence on whether your support group "flies" or "fries". A leader who serves, who works to help those with needs, attracts others - those with needs AND those willing to serve along side. A leader who orders people around and lacks a caring attitude won't be a leader for long. Your serving attitude will encourage a similar attitude among members, and members will become more supportive of each other.

Serving isn't being a doormat; any more than is serving being a know-all, do-all. It does mean lovingly helping with what you know, admitting your limitations, and pointing people toward sources of assistance. It also means helping people find and implement solutions that will work for their families. The tone you set at your group's beginning will characterize the group for years to come.

Instant Guru Syndrome

One of the challenges a homeschooling support group leader faces is that, by virtue of being a leader, you are assumed by group members and others to be an expert in most aspects of homeschooling. While you may have the experience and resources to qualify, for those of us who are more limited, don't worry.

Most people are reasonable and realize leaders can't know everything. A leader needs to network and develop a "nose" for resources - people and things. You should get to know other experienced homeschoolers, including other support groups' leaders (they need to know you, too!). Learn about resources in your community, such as tutors, music, art, and dance teachers, and sports leagues. Get to know your library and teachers' supply stores. It can be a valuable tool for your support group to have a library of catalogs, books and tapes on homeschooling.

You also need to become fairly familiar with your state's education laws - a scary thought. Your statewide homeschooling support organization and Home School Legal Defense Association can help with this (and much more). Unless you are a lawyer (which I am not), you cannot give legal advice, and should qualify any suggestions you make by stating this fact.

You don't need to be an expert on everything possibly related to homeschooling, and probably couldn't. Directing someone with a need to someone who can help with that need is as good as being able to help directly. Ultimately, you can only assist, not resolve people's needs.

Confessions of an Infoholic

Hello. My name is Peter Storz, and I'm an Infoholic.

It all started innocently enough. I've always enjoyed reading, and while still in school I started reading literature, history, and science. There's no harm in that, but I should have sensed the potential for trouble when I started reading our family's encyclopedias. That is a bit strange. It really got serious, though, when I became interested in apologetics and Creationism, and started collecting books related to these subjects.

Then it took a final (?) turn for the worst when we started a homeschool support group. All of a sudden we started getting questions, questions about California law, about curriculum, about music, art, and sports leagues, about supplemental classes, and on and on. Worse still, now my wife was becoming an Infoholic too. We found answers to those questions and even looked for more.

But we didn't stop there. No, we published what we learned in our support group's newsletter. And we went a step further. We collected and edited information about local activities, events, and resources that were ongoing, rather than one-time, into a resource directory for our support group and other interested homeschoolers in our area.

Looking back, I'm not ashamed of being an Infoholic. No, by being Infoholics we've been able to help homeschoolers, new and experienced, with information and resources to help them start and continue their families' homeschools.

If you're thinking of becoming a homeschool support group leader or are one, you might want to join us. You too should consider membership in Infoholics Unanimous.

Mary Leggewie: Hello, my name is Mary Leggewie, and I too, admit to being an infoholic.
I stop total strangers on the street during the day if they have school age children and ask them if they're homeschoolers so I can invite them to join in activities in our area.
I cozy up to the librarian and take cookies and other bribes so that she'll get books in specifically for homeschoolers, which isn't hard considering she's a homeschooler too.
I write letters to the editor every time an opportunity comes up to help promote homeschooling in a positive light.
I started an e-mail group listing so that I could tell other people what's going on in our area and bluntly ask people for their e-mail addresses whenever I'm out. I pass out my cards with Web site and e-mail information on it.
I ask total strangers in the area if they'd be willing to be our field trip next month.
I risk looking like a fool on a daily basis.
Will I stop? NO!

Hello World! Making Yourself Known

Unless you are starting out with many of the homeschoolers in your area already aware that your group is being formed, you need to let your local homeschoolers know that you exist (or are about to exist). Use phone calls, flyers, newsletters, whatever suits you and your community. Here are some ideas (in no particular order of importance):

  • Post a flyer on the bulletin board of your local library(ies)
  • Contact your homeschooling friends
  • Put an article or flyer in your local homeschooling newsletters
  • Contact area churches to ask that your name be given to homeschoolers in that church
  • Contact your statewide homeschooling support organization so they can refer inquirers from your area to your group
  • Hang out at your local library(ies) and start up conversations with parents carrying curricula you recognize (they might be homeschoolers)
  • Organize and publicize a "How to Homeschool" presentation and discussion night at a library community room or similar community center (you don't have to be the only speaker)
  • Encourage members of your group to tell friends, to tell friends, to tell friends ...

Mary Leggewie: I have had our local paper run a paragraph for me in the local interest section of the paper (sort of an announcement of local activities section). I sent it in by fax, expecting it to run once, and they ran it for 3 months! It was simply a short blurb about "homeschool network forming in our area." I can't agree more with Pete about hanging out at the library! An occasional nice plate of cookies for the librarians also does a world of good, and give your name and number to the librarian so that people can contact you.

I organized a "Homeschoolers Orientation to the Library" day that was covered under the summer budget for the library, so we didn't have to pay insurance. We used the back room for punch and cookies (donated by homeschoolers via a sign up sheet). Our children's librarian did a 10 minute introduction to the library for the kids. They had extra help for our 2 hour time slot to sign up the children for library cards and for the summer reading program. I would recommend a 2 hour time slot, with the librarian speaking on the hour (i.e. at 1 p.m. and again at 2 p.m.). I also brought a few boxes of homeschool reference books, and several curriculums for new folks to take a look at. Then I grabbed a bunch of library books off the shelf and added those. The program required a small back room, a table for curriculum, a table for refreshments, and a table for library card sign-ups. Be sure and leave the room spotless! We need to always be aware of our image in the community!

Whatcha Gonna Do? Meetings and Activities

Every support group's circumstance is unique: state laws; local climate for homeschooling; members' needs; local resources. These all may vary. Meeting those needs, including the need for fun and fellowship, within your group's context, should be the focus of your activities. Whenever you consider a new activity, one-time or ongoing, always ask, "What will this accomplish?" Try to keep a good balance between fun and substance.

A Mom's meeting, sometimes called, "Mom's Night Out," is a very flexible activity, providing the opportunity to address many kinds of needs. It can range from a discussion of curriculum to a guest speaker. Administrative stuff, such as announcements or handing out fliers, should be minimized or not done (give out fliers and newsletters at the door before or after the meeting). Allow for "milling around" time - this is valuable fellowship time (relationship building and support in action).

Park Days are another common support group activity. This is a good setting for informal fellowship and discussion. For the children, Park Day is PE and an opportunity to develop friendships (you know, the "socialization" homeschooled children supposedly don't get). It can also be a good time to discuss and plan field trips. How often should your group have park days? Your group should decide that. Groups I know in our area vary from monthly to twice weekly.

Field Trips combine fun and education. A field trip may be visiting an ice cream maker, a pizza place, a museum, a car manufacturing plant, a farm, a stuffed animal maker, whatever is in your area (our group has done all of these). Look for businesses, museums, historical sites, or nature sites that are interesting and are willing to do group tours. Possibilities are limited solely by your local area and your group's imagination. Make sure planning, arrangements, and driving directions are thorough.

Etc., etc., etc. Guest speakers, seminars, co-op classes, group family picnics or dinners, retreats, group camping trips, Christmas caroling at hospitals, used curriculum sales, graduation ceremonies, new homeschoolers orientations: there is a LOT a support group COULD do. You and your group's members need to decide what, and how much, to do. What do you all need, what interests you? Do be careful of attempting to do too much.

Mary Leggewie:I have heard of some support groups that required each member to set up and take care of all the necessary details for ONE field trip per year. Where we live, there are a lot of homeschoolers, one private ISP and a government charter school homeschool program, but no one was organized. I decided that I would donate my time to create a Web page that would be kept up-to-date, and an e-mail group list to e-mail anything anyone in the group wanted to e-mail out. This requires very little of my time, and is bringing us altogether to enjoy field trips and park days together, without the hassles of forming an official group. I have been tracking the traffic to the Web site, and it is very low, but I am constantly being thanked for the e-mails. I don't send out humor or inspiration e-mail. I also make the subject line very clear, and at the top of the subject line make a table of contents for what is on the e-mail in a numbered list. I know other families are also tight for time, and I try hard to make it easy to read and clear. My only challenge has been to be sure and send out the e-mails several days in advance. Not everyone checks their e-mail daily (hard to believe, isn't it?). No one seems to want an organized support group, but everyone seems to be appreciative of field trips, park days, and special activities.

Dress Codes and Discipline and Rules! Oh Yuck!

OK, using our best 5-year-old's whine, "Whyyyyy?" Well, much as we might wish it otherwise, children aren't perfect (including our own), nor are adults. As the Boy Scouts put it, "Be prepared": don't make up your discipline policies "on the fly".

Human misbehavior can be so varied that trying to cover every possibility in detail would be a fruitless exercise, here, or in your support group's handbook. Rather, you should emphasize what is conducive to support and education: behavior and dress appropriate to your group's activities, the unity of the group, and relations with other homeschoolers and the community at large.

Expressing your rules, when possible, in general and positive terms will help them sound less overbearing. Try to emphasize Paul's admonition in Phil. 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

On rare occasions, wrongful behavior requires more than a quiet, private, verbal correction. Examples - misbehaviors and possible consequences - might be:

  • Rowdy behavior on a field trip - the person is not allowed to participate further in that field trip
  • Repeated rowdiness on field trips - the person is not allowed to participate in field trips for several months
  • Repeated gossiping - if the person persists after a prior warning, expulsion from the support group

A consequence for misbehavior should be proportional to the offense and the "injury" that offense could cause. In the example of the habitual gossip, this person, male or female, child or adult, is a threat to the function and unity of the support group.

Don't burn time, however, with seeking for ambiguous offenses or trying to anticipate hyper-sensitivities. Discipline should not be a major focus of the support group. Fellowship, learning, encouragement, and fun, however, require that freedom be exercised responsibly.

Handling Tough Situations

Not everything in life goes as we plan. Sometimes God has to give us a whack to point us in the right direction. Sometimes human faults or limitations touch us in unpleasant ways. Here are a few instances as examples of how such things may be handled.

An Unhappy Member -- First, find out what it is that troubles them. Sometimes you will be able to correct the problem; sometimes you can help them through it (if that is appropriate); sometimes they won't let you help; sometimes resolving the stated problem won't satisfy a member, because the real cause of their unhappiness is elsewhere. Do your best, and accept the fact that you are a limited human being - you can't work miracles, nor can you control how the unhappy member responds to what you do. Sometimes all you can do is learn from mistakes and wear rhino-hide armor. If the unhappy member leaves still unhappy, pray that God will bless them.

A Member or Leader Leaves to Form a New Support Group in the Same Area -- It may be rhino-hide armor time. If there was a problem, try to find out what it was and learn from it. Pray that God will bless them and the new group, and accept that God may be guiding them in their endeavor. Try to keep peace in your area's homeschool community, even if the other person behaves unpleasantly.

A Gossip in Your Group -- Gossip, even when the information is true, is corrosive. It can damage a support group severely (trust relationships are broken) and, more importantly, hurt the ones who are the subjects of the gossip. Decisive action is necessary, and Matthew 18:15-17 gives the appropriate pattern for action.

First, the injured person should speak with the gossiper. If they do not resolve the problem, you, as the support group leader should accompany the injured person in speaking again with the gossiper. Either a persistent refusal to resolve the problem or a repeat offense should result in consequences: temporary suspension of membership privileges or termination of membership, as appropriate to the degree of injury and the gossiper's attitude.

He Said - She Said Syndrome -- To the extent possible, the support group and its leaders should studiously avoid involvement in private disputes. Don't get sucked into taking sides!

Confine your action to pointing the mutually offended parties to Matthew 18:15-17 as a process for resolving their dispute, and warn them that if either party tries further to involve group members in their dispute, both parties' membership will be suspended. Make clear that if such action becomes necessary, the action is taken to protect the group, not punitive. Take care that a marginal member doesn't use this to hurt a member who is quite active.

Stepping Down From Leadership -- Nothing here on Earth lasts forever (not even a 2-year-old's tantrum). The family situations of your and other leaders' families change, people's health change, etc., making it necessary for a leader to step down from leadership. This is where your wise choices in having found and "groomed" other leaders in the group can make the difference between a difficult and a fairly smooth leadership change process.

Depending on how your group is organized, and how immediate the need for the change, a time of transition during which the one stepping down helps the new leader become familiar with and assume the position's responsibilities should be helpful. It is also important, though, to be sure that the group knows that the new person IS the leader.

As difficult as it may be, the one stepping down from leadership needs to let go, to let the new person learn (yes, they may make mistakes!) and reshape the task or group to their personality and abilities, even if the one stepping down from leadership is you.

Organizational Issues and Growing pains - Our Support Group's Experience

Our support group started out with the name, "Christian Family Schools - West Valley" and later changed to "SELAH Christian Schools" (acronym: Students Educated Lovingly At Home). Organizationally, homeschooling support groups may range from very informal co-op-style groups with almost no organizational structure to highly organized groups that pre-screen members according to their particular criteria and may set limits on membership numbers. While SELAH attempts to be an organized group, it is not quite that highly structured. Some people criticize groups that are highly structured; personally, I'm inclined not to be critical, organized or informal, as each group's circumstance and vision is different. Support group organization is not a moral question, and each group should follow its vision and respond to its circumstance and the group's needs as the group and its leaders deem appropriate. At the same time, a group with narrow membership criteria can be hurtful in a community that has only a few, very diverse, (philosophically or religiously) homeschoolers.

Here are SELAH's experiences in handling certain organizational questions and a crisis.

"Statement of Faith": this has become a near swear-phrase for some homeschoolers. SELAH has a Statement of Faith, but acceptance or agreement with it is not a condition for membership. Members are informed that SELAH is led in accordance with it by leaders who agree with it, and are required to sign an acknowledgment that they have been so informed, but agreement with it is not a pre-condition of membership. The Statement of Faith is a general statement of Christian faith, and doesn't touch on denominational distinctives.

Limited membership: SELAH grew very fast (we were very surprised by it). In September of our third year, membership reached 90 families, 50% more than the previous, very challenging, year. Since Mom's Night Out attendance typically was 65% - 75%, with a similar participation rate for park days and field trips, this posed some logistics challenges - where to meet, how to organize meetings so that actual support could occur, field trips for 50 or 60 families. It also was a problem for one of SELAH's characteristic strengths - SELAH was (and still is) especially supportive of new homeschoolers, which requires lots of fellowship, discussion, and chatting in an informal way. That doesn't happen readily in a large meeting format and venue. In order gain time, try to deal with these structural issues without losing our sanity, and be sure we knew who were willing and capable leaders (this was just the start of our third year!), we decided to decline membership applications received after October 1st. We struggled through that year (not very satisfactorily in the directors' view), trying to have a small groups' time within the large main meetings. That spring the directors decided we had to reorganize in the following year. We asked ladies we thought would be good leaders, and who agreed to do it, to form home groups of 6 families or more (as many as they believed they could handle). In this way, SELAH was subdivided into semi-independent home groups, each with a leader and a co-leader. We were convinced that mutual support requires plenty of fellowship, such as happens most easily in small groups meeting in people's homes. We didn't announce, however, that if no leaders volunteered for the home groups, SELAH would probably have to close down. Six groups were formed. They were partly "geographic" (families who lived near each other) and partly based on families' interests and needs. SELAH has had open unlimited membership ever since. Because San Jose has many homeschooling support groups, we referred families that SELAH had had to decline to other support groups, giving the group name and contact phone numbers. SELAH was criticized at the time, but the persons offering criticism were not aware of SELAH's situation, and weren't in the position of having to deal with the problems.

Each home group may, if they wish, plan their own field trips, park days, and Mom's meetings, and publish a newsletter. Each group gets a "budget" for expenses such as their newsletter and supplies. The full group publishes a newsletter (to which the home groups may contribute), has regular leadership meetings (for encouragement and coordination), maintains the membership database, helps new people find a suitable home group, has 3 full group meetings a year, holds a new members and new homeschoolers orientation "day" (a Saturday morning), and has a lending library. It was our thought at the beginning that there might be home groups that liked their independence so much that they would split off to become a fully independent support group. We were cool with that. Whether for loyalty to the main group, or whether the main group did enough that the home group leaders didn't want to take on, that hasn't happened to date. On the other hand, SELAH has had one smaller independent support group merge into SELAH to become a home group, something we didn't anticipate at all.

Membership applications: SELAH does this, though not usually for acceptance-rejection purposes. The information requested is what is needed for member communications (phone tree and mailing), understanding the needs of the group (number of years homeschooling, children's ages, homeschooling philosophy), curriculum used (so other members know who uses a curriculum they might be considering), and skills and professions (field trips, needful expertise). The sensitive, privacy-related information is not distributed to the entire membership.

What You Bring to the Table: In Jesus, You Can Do It

Along with the rewards, being a support group leader can be demanding. You're planning activities, people look to you for ideas and answers, and, oh yeah, you have a family. It is a lot of work at times, and if you're a human being, you undoubtedly will wonder if you could do it.

In your reflections on how ordinary a person you are, keep in mind that most successful people are also ordinary people, but they decided to do what they did anyway. People tend to underestimate themselves. Most people can do a great deal more than they think they can.

Even more important, remember that God's hand is working in your life and in this ministry upon which you are about to embark. Resist the temptation to take on everything by yourself. Avail yourself of God's wisdom and power! Through prayer, let God be involved in and directing all you do, from planning and starting the support group, through every activity it does. You'll find God is a better planner, arranger, and finagler than you ever will be. The God who worked wonders through fishermen, bureaucrats, and tradesmen can also do much through you.

Keeping It Simple--A Minimalist Approach

Not every homeschooler wants a highly organized, busy support group, and not every homeschooling support group has to be that way. If you read the other sections of this article and thought it sounded unnecessarily complicated, this section was written with you in mind!

A wise support group leader keeps in mind the fact that most support actually takes place among the group's members, often person to person, and is done wherever and whenever it is done. You don't have to have a 2-hour meeting with a 20-item agenda. Likewise, the kid-to-kid fun stuff often happens best when the kids are turned loose in a fun place. So you can accomplish a lot without having to get really complicated (are you organized types listening?!)

One really easy way to have a simple, non-formal support group that is fun and supports is to invite your homeschooling friends to meet at a park that has lots of fun stuff for the munchkins. While the munchkins have fun, the parents can discuss meeting this way monthly (or whatever schedule suits everyone). If you like, you can swap phone numbers, curriculum and book ideas, whatever. You can also arrange to share in each others' trips to museums, historical sites, businesses, and such. Or you could just leave the group as an anyone-can-drop-in, word-of-mouth, munchkins-play-while-parents-chat group. Your munchkins won't care if your group doesn't plan out your social calendar for the next 5 years.

I need a 25-hour day! Time Management Ideas for Support Group Leaders

One of the fun and challenging aspects of leading a support group is balancing the time spent in helping folks (especially those who are just starting) with family time. As you and your group become known as being willing to help people, you will be sought out. Helping newbies start out is one of the more valuable things a support group can do; experienced homeschoolers need assistance and encouragement too. Then there are things like meeting and field trip planning, newsletters, and the administrative "stuff" almost no one loves.

With all this, you need to be sure the energy and time you devote to support group work doesn't crowd out what you devote to your family. They are your first priority. Here are some ideas (no special order):

  • Make sure your spouse and your munchkins help out with house stuff (they should be anyway!). Make a point of showing everyone where the broom, dust pan, mop, and vacuum cleaner are, and how to use them. Ditto for the dishwasher and washing machine. Running the house is part of being a family, as well as part of your children's education (your future sons- and daughters-in-law will bless you!). Think of it as an ongoing Home Economics class.
  • Consider having planned times for talking with folks ("office hours"). Once folks get past what might seem like coldness, they'll appreciate knowing there are times when they have a good chance of being able to speak with you. You'll be able to focus on what you are discussing, and will have fewer disruptive interruptions.
  • Get an answering machine and screen calls; I know, this too sounds cold, rude, and all those other adjectives, but it will give you the flexibility to keep doing something when an interruption would be disruptive, or to pick up a call when it is urgent or you are interruptible. And if you don't pick up a call, you'll be able to hear the entire question, think about it, and be prepared to answer when you do call the person back. Just think of all the telemarketers' calls you'll "miss".
  • Since there are questions you'll hear frequently ("FAQ"), have your answers for those questions prepared ahead of time. Building a FAQ notebook is much more efficient than reformulating your answer every time, and will help you avoid forgetting part of the answer to an involved question.
  • Set up a newbies' night (or morning or afternoon - I just liked the alliteration) so you can share the time among several families and multiply the value of your time and advice. Having a Q's and A's time will help you address special concerns and help the folks start thinking through what will work for their family.
  • Share the load (part 1); As soon as you recognize other helpful, experienced folks, arrange with them to share in the work and blessings of helping newbies and others. Besides helping you keep from being spread too thin, it also brings a wider perspective to the ideas being shared;
  • Share the load (part 2); Not everyone does every task well. As mentioned in the article, "Delegation or Insanity? You Choose.", above, delegating things like administrative "stuff", or the newsletter, or meeting planning can save your sanity, have a person doing the job who does it well, and also start "training" future group leaders;
  • Share the load (part 3); Have members of the group plan many, if not most, of the field trips and activities. Train yourself to say, "That sounds like a great idea! I think you should organize it?" This lets the people who find certain kinds of events and activities interesting plan what interests them. It also helps you spot potential future leaders.

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