All homeschoolers need community. Meeting regularly with other homeschoolers allows families to support each other, provide encouragement and advice, and grow together in relationships. There are a great variety of homeschool groups and co-ops and families will likely move through different ones as they adapt to the social and academic needs of their children. There are many existing homeschool groups; some meet just for social time, others for organized sport, others still for academic classes. Some groups are very loosely structured and are free; others require parents to take on teaching responsibilities and have a membership fee. In Ontario, a good place to start connecting with a group is OCHEC (Ontario Christian Homeschool Educators Connection) , OFTP (Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents), or Canadian Home Based Learning
Our Homeschool Group Experience
When we started homeschooling we did not know any families in our immediate area who had also chosen this route. Many of the homeschool groups that we read about were too far away, or were more suitable for older students, others still were filled to capacity and had no room available. Our family thus decided to start up a new, local group simply by making an announcement on a homeschool group site. We immediately received responses from several families who were interested in getting together and thus our homeschool group started:
Early Years: We started our homeschool journey when our daughter was four years old. There was thus a lot of freedom in simply meeting for weekly forest walks and outdoor play time. At this point we had around eight families with children all of kindergarten age and it was not convenient to meet in our homes because of the size of the group. We were able to rent a room at a church which we used for story and craft time. Each family signed up for a given week and would plan the activities and prepare the needed materials for the children. The other parents would assist when necessary and each family contributed to the cost of the rental. We would also bring our different curricula so that parents could examine them and would share our experience in using the materials. After about a year, some families decided to leave the group because of the needs of older children. travel distance, or because they decided to enroll their child in public school. This prompted the remaining families to spend some time examining what we shared in common in our vision of homeschooling and allowed us to move forward with a renewed focus toward the elementary school years.
- Lessons learned:
- Families may have different ideas of homeschooling and also different levels of commitment to the group. This can pose a challenge when planning activities if families only attend irregularly.
- During the early years many families may be trying out the idea of homeschooling but may decide to place their child in school once compulsory school age starts in grade 1.
- Having conversations about why each family is choosing to homeschool can be very helpful in determining the focus for the group.
Elementary Years: During the early elementary years I organized a weekly science group with lessons and experiments and we joined a weekly homeschool gym program. Our family had decided to pursue a classical education approach and we thus invited families to join us for weekly science study in astronomy and later physics concepts. Science is one of the areas of homeschooling which lends itself very well to group study and parents often appreciate conducting an experiment together. This saves time and cost and is also a lot more fun to do together with fellow students. I would read about the topic and present visuals from different books, we would prepare a related experiment, make a prediction, perform the experiment, and finally summarize our observations in a brief report. The other parents had time to talk and enjoy a break together and they would contribute toward the cost of the materials.
- Lessons learned:
- Organizing a small group yourself has the advantage that you can choose the curriculum and content of the lessons
- Other parents benefit from having some time off and students enjoy spending time together learning
- If you are someone who enjoys teaching, this type of gathering can be a wonderful way to serve your homeschool community; if teaching is stressful for you, you may want to consider taking turns teaching lessons
Middle School Years: When we started the middle school years I started a more academic program which included presentations, public speaking, debates, spelling bees, and speed math. I wanted my children to have some classroom experience where they could work in groups, strive to do their best, and also have some positive competition. The program I designed was offered in sessions that lasted 8 weeks (4 meetings on a bi-weekly basis) Each session would have a particular focus such as biography study and presentations, public speaking training (based on Toastmasters), debate, and even calligraphy. In addition to the main focus, students would also master a list of Latin stems, spelling challenge words, and engage in speed math games. During the first three meetings students would work together on their group projects, practice their spelling challenge words with fun activities and games, and have fast-paced Right Start Math game competitions. The final meeting was devoted to presentations, a spelling bee, and a ‘speed math showdown’.
- Lessons learned:
- Most students thrive when they are challenged at a level that is attainable
- Having positive competition can activate students’ engagement
- Keeping things fun and devising unusual ways of practicing skills can freshen up the learning experience (pairs of students would get to do multiplication and spelling drills by tossing a tennis ball back and forth; however, every time they dropped the ball they would have to start over again – lots of laughs in this:)
- Because the sessions were only 8 weeks long, no long-term commitment was required
- This type of program works best with students of similar age/ability levels. Our group was offered to students from grade 4-6.
- I set the pace at a bi-weekly basis in order not to feel stressed out by preparation
- Parents loved this model, but wished that it would be available on a weekly basis and for all age groups