There are many home education support groups around the world, particularly in the US and UK. These can be an excellent way of getting to know other families. They can also help you to find out about local regulations or facilities, and how friendly your LEA is likely to be. Support groups can also be great for your children to mix with others of different background. Some of them have regular meetings or outings, too.
You can find a list of web-sites and mailing lists of several UK support groups, listed mainly by county, on my local groups page.
What if there is no support group locally?
Ask yourself, first, why you would like to join such a group. Is it because you would like the support of other home educating families? Or is it because you and your children feel isolated? Or would you like help as you think about educational issues?
Then consider whether these needs could be met in other ways. If your children feel the need for friends, you could try a local activity group based around their interests. For instance: sporting, musical, craft-related, helping out at the local stables, or joining the Scouts. Home educated children may not suffer the peer pressure and other stresses of school, but they are basically normal children. There is no guarantee that your child will mix well with others merely because they don’t go to school. If your children want friends, they are most likely to find them amongst others who share a specific interest.
Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be gained from a home educators’ support group. If you feel that you have something to offer, you could consider starting a group of your own. This may be difficult for new home educators, who may not know the local situation well. But if you are confident, perhaps a seasoned home educator, then starting a group could be helpful for others.
Starting a home education support group
There are all kinds of support groups. If you’re starting one, you can decide what type you want. Some people like unstructured gatherings for parents to chat and for children to play. This is most appropriate if you have toddlers or young children. You could meet in a home, or – if there is lots of interest – somewhere like a church hall. This is the easiest kind of group to start if you know of other home educating families with young children. It can also be a good way of helping other parents to make up their minds how their children will be educated, if you make it open to all.
If you have older children, you might prefer a more organised groups with craft activities, or field trips. Or you might like a group so you can study certain topics together, or do projects. If there are some activities which your children would like to do, but which are not easily available locally, this might be possible in a support group. Perhaps they would like to learn another language, or make clay pots, or start an orchestra. Nothing is impossible, but you will need to do some local research to find out what is available. Depending on your own background, you may want to look for an expert to guide or teach the group.
Keep the group informal to begin with
Once you have an idea of what kind of home educators’ group you and your children would like, and know of some others who are interested, start with an informal gathering. Suggest a venue: perhaps your home for the first meeting. Fix a date and a time, organise a few snacks. Be prepared to take notes as you discuss, together, what you would like to do in future.
If you don’t know any other local home educating families, you could contact one of the national organisations and ask if there are others living near you. You could advertise in the local paper, or put up posters in your library. However it’s easier to start with a small number and build up to a larger group.
Start to plan your support group
At your first meeting, take note of names, phone numbers and email addresses of all present. Encourage all ideas that anyone has, even if you think they are impractical. Make sure you have a few ideas yourself. Rather than long-term projects, it might be wiser to suggest activities which can be done on a single day. Sometimes there are local groups who could teach something like circus skills, for instance. Or you may know someone who could organise a drama session. Wait until you have heard other suggestions before you propose your own.
Find out, too, what other people hope to gain from a home education support group. You could also ask what other activities they already take part in. There may be local activities which you were not aware of, which might interest your children. You will need to discuss questions of finance, too. Do people want to pay a weekly subscription towards refreshments, or take turns to bring drinks and snacks? Are they prepared to pay experts to come and teach activities, or is there sufficient expertise amongst the group? Do they want to go for educational field trips, or would they prefer picnics and long hikes?
Structure – or otherwise – for a home education support group
You will probably want to meet at least once per month to ensure continuity. If you’re an organised person, perhaps you can plan the first three months’ worth of activities at your first meeting. Then you can produce a newsletter and circulate it to all who attended the meeting, and anyone else who is interested. You will have to work at keeping people’s interest at first, or the group might dwindle to nothing.
Another possible approach is to meet informally every couple of weeks for a few months and build up ideas slowly. If you’re happy with this, then it’s the easiest way to begin a group, and see what happens. You may find that someone else emerges to organise events, or suggest activities. Someone who does not like organising might be willing to become ‘secretary’, to send out information or reminders by email.
Alternatively, you could suggest an informal committee. Different individuals could produce and distribute newsletters, organise finances (if appropriate) and remind people about bringing refreshments. This might sound over-structured, but without a certain amount of organisation at the beginning, your group will probably flounder.
Possible home education support group activities
Some groups like to have one group meeting per month, in someone’s home or a local meeting hall, and one ‘field trip’. Perhaps to a museum, or a swimming session, or to visit a farm. A field trip can be whatever appeals and is possible locally. For the first few meetings, text or phone everyone a day or two in advance. Remind them what you have planned and encourage them to come. You may get group discounts for some activities if you book in advance, so it’s worth knowing how many to expect.
If there is a lot of enthusiasm, you may want your group to meet every week. This can be too much of a commitment for some families. But if you find a regular day and time, different people can decide to organise and take responsibility for events. When a group meets weekly, it’s easier to remember. It also means that nobody has to attend all of them. Missing a monthly meeting leaves a big gap. But missing a weekly one is far less significant. Unless you are a born organiser who enjoys taking charge,
Once your group has some kind of structure and can consistently plan two or three months in advance, make sure you advertise on local home educators’ web pages. It would be a good idea to develop a Facebook page or mailing list for your group as numbers increase. Make sure that you have access to your local regulations about home education (if any) and ways of making new members feel welcome.