by Diane Helfrich, November 2021
You have made the jump and decided to homeschool. It’s exciting and scary all at once. You have so many questions: Will I fail my child? Can I manage all of this? What if I don’t do it right? What curriculum should I choose? Will my kids have access to the things I loved when I was in school? …and a hundred more questions. You are swimming in a sea of uncertainty, and, yet, you are certain that you want to move forward with homeschooling. What is my best recommendation for you? Join a support group!
When we began to homeschool, a woman at the library encouraged me to join a group. I only knew of one group which she told me about. I wasn’t sure I wanted the interruption to my week and the added commitment it would bring. Hesitantly, I jumped in; we signed up for a class that met for an hour every other week for one semester! While the commitment wasn’t significant, I almost immediately saw the value of my choice. Over time, our co-op became the source of many parts of our homeschool.
What’s in It for Me?
One would assume that the best part of joining a co-op or support group would be friends for your children. What I didn’t expect was what was there for me. I, too, needed like-minded friends on a similar journey. I was surprised at how quickly friendships formed and how much I looked forward to seeing these parents. Throughout our homeschooling time, I clung to the words spoken by parents with more experience. There were discussions of curriculum, competitions, testing, the SAT and ACT, high school transcripts, college, scholarships—endless conversations about things I needed to know over the years. Parents talked about the things they wanted their children to have, their issues, and how they dealt with them. I gravitated toward parents who had values and families I admired, and I found myself morphing to homeschool more like them over time. I needed this mentorship. I needed these friendships. My support group and my involvement made me an infinitely better homeschool parent than I would have been without them.
What’s in It for My Kids?
Of course, my kids found friends through our group; that almost goes without saying. In addition, our group provided things I was weak in (math is NOT my cup of tea!), opportunities that only work with groups such as competitions, and all sorts of enrichment activities other parents organized. We did many competitions: Math Olympiad, MathCounts, spelling bee, geography bee, science fair, National Latin Exam, Envirothon, team policy debate, and speech. We had choirs, proms, a wonderful graduation ceremony, a yearly fall barn square dance, and a multitude of field trips. My kids were on yearbook teams, gaining considerable leadership and time management skills; there was money involved and deadlines to meet. I taught classes that fit our needs and wants like philosophy, biology, chemistry, and dissection classes. These benefitted both my family and many others. Nothing was missing from our choosing to go away from traditional schooling. It was, in fact, a very learning-rich environment.
The Greater Community
It was through my support group that I became aware of NCHE and the sports offered. We went to the Thrive! Conference yearly. I was filled to the brim at these events, and I became connected with a larger pool of homeschoolers. When you walk into the Benton Convention Center filled with homeschooling families, you know you are part of something special before you even start listening to speakers! This larger community is as important as the local community. NCHE is where I became aware of the legislative support that happens for all of us without us having to do much. I now know that we have lists of groups. I happened into a great support group and co-op, but there are many, and NCHE provides a place to get connected through lists of groups. We participated in volleyball through the NCHE Athletic Commission (NCHEAC); I coached, my son was an assistant coach, and my daughter was a player. The sports gave us the final thing I was looking for to round out our experiences. Being a member of NCHE became more and more important to me because of the support for homeschoolers I witnessed.
Getting the Most from Your Group
Now for the part that many shy away from–the investment you make. Support groups require leadership and efforts from many hands to make them work. If the team you want isn’t available, COACH! If the class you want isn’t being taught, TEACH! If the prom or yearbook doesn’t exist, ORGANIZE. There will be other parents to help. As always, we get out of something what we put into it. We don’t have to know how to do it all; we can learn as we go. We have gifts to offer others, and they have the skills we need. Together, it all works. Yes, it takes time and commitment. But, through that commitment, you demonstrate to your children that nothing good comes without investment, and that is a fundamental lesson they need before they leave your nest. Serving the greater good is always something of worth to which we should aspire!
In closing, joining a group that fits your needs is the best gift you give yourself as a homeschooler. It’s a huge responsibility, and none of us does it best alone! In the world of best practices, this is a big one. So, find a group and jump in. You will be glad you did!