Top homeschooling sites focus on local resources
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I think I can truly say I’ve seen all the homeschool support group websites in the world. The very top support group sites do not try to duplicate the efforts of state association sites or comprehensive homeschool websites, but focus instead on what they know that the “Big Guys” do not: their local resources.
After the usual homeschooling information on your support group website, what local homeschoolers would really like to see are pages with links to your unique regional resources. Don’t try to build a huge, general homeschool website. The bulk of your site should provide local information and resources.
Top 22 list of local resources
May I suggest that you do local research to find and link such resources as:
- Art resources (museums, suppliers, mentors, classes)
- Banks with free children’s accounts
- Bookstores and Used Books Sales
- Businesses and industries that give tours (Contact information)
- Children’s theater and musical groups
- Drivers ed resources & teen driving regulations
- Educator Discount retailers who include homeschool teachers
- Genealogy collections available locally
- Historic sites, reenactments, societies
- Kid-friendly gyms, athletic clubs, and community athletic teams
- Libraries (and how to access online)
- Music schools, piano teachers
- Museums (especially kid-friendly, hands-on places. Info about classes.)
- Natural areas, especially those that have nature guides
- Publications that list family activities
- Science supply outlets (low priced) and classes
- Sports Complexes
- Trails (within the city or out; bike paths)
- Tutoring and mentoring services (especially math and reading)
- TV stations with community college classes or similar programming
- Volunteer opportunities for young people
- Youth organizations (scouts, 4-H, Campfire, etc)
The World Wide Web is just that: global.
People are real hopeless when it comes to geography, so never assume that others know where you are. Be sure to spell out all the cities that your members come from and what state you are in, and even what country. Often cities with the same name are in a couple of states. People looking for you will typically search using the keywords of their city and state and one or more of the homeschooling words. Add your county or nicknames for your region as well. Link to online maps for to ensure that those in your region have a good idea that your group is close enough to their homes.
Attracting New Members
If you want to attract new members, you’ve got to have contact information that will actually reach a current active member who is willing to check for messages at least 3 times a week, and will answer queries in a timely manner. Some groups will form two Facebook groups: one public for posts that they want to go out to the general public and to attract new members, and a second private group just for members to keep information about families and locations of events among members only.
The group needs to decide if contacts from the web should be invited to an event with children or not. Often it is a good idea to have a membership chair who meets with a new family just to get a gut feeling if the potential new member will be a good fit or not. They could meet at some public place where all would feel safe. If the potential new member would not be a good fit, be ready to tell they why. Be ready to recommend another local group that might fit their needs better. For example, maybe your group has mostly teens, and they have a only very young children. Maybe you know of a feeder group with young children who grow up and then join your group.
If your support group has a specific focus, state this clearly.
A vibrant homeschool support groups meets the needs of its members. It supports leaders within the group willing to take on a task to meet additional needs that have become obvious. Decades ago a group would have needed someone to manage a telephone tree to remind members about activities. Now a group needs someone with the ability to text message everyone, and figure out how to contact some without that service.
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Every group gets complacent, and needs fresh sources of ideas. Have a means of gathering up ideas and figuring out if they can be implemented. Which are easy and which are hard? Which cost little and which a lot? Which might draw in new members and which might lose old members?
Be honest if your group mostly consists of 4-7 year olds, and link to other nearby groups that have older children, for example. If your group has a defined religious perspective, say so up front. Throughout the years as I have updated support group links, I have found that those in small towns which are inclusive seem to last longer than groups that only allow those of one religious persuasion to join.
In order to consider your group inclusive, you need to go overboard to keep track of important religious holidays of some members, and not plan major events that might interfere with any family’s celebrations. Think how you would feel if a field trip was planned for Christmas if you are Christian. Just ask the families which days or weeks they want to keep clear, that’s all. Assume nothing.
State Regulations for Homeschooling
Some suggest that you have the state regulations on your support group site. If you have a parliamentarian in your group, willing to keep the laws updated, fine, otherwise, link to a reputable homeschool legal page. Write an essay that tells how your local school district tends to treat those who withdraw their children from school. Name names! Who is helpful and kind, and who is not! If there is misinformation about homeschooling on your district’s website, comment about it. Does your city have a daytime curfew and do homeschoolers have a problem with it? Any other local issues, controversies or court cases going on?
What is the local district’s policy toward participation of homeschoolers in classes or activities?
What are the pros and cons of participation? Does your group welcome those who go through the public school “homeschool” program or not? Do they welcome you? There have been many homeschool groups that have been hammered by members deciding to go with Charter schools, which keep formerly active group members far too busy to help out any longer. There may be hard feelings if the local charter will not allow your members to go on their field trips, or try to recruit them when they do, and yet charter schoolers want to be included in your field trips because they still have friends in the group. This can be a hard decision, but should be clearly stated on your site: do you still welcome all, or not?
Post guidelines for participation.
I love finding a site that has a planning outline for field trips. These allow any member to easily plan an event without any missing details. The completed outline can then be distributed to members.
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Keep your online calendar of events up to date and accurate.
Consider just how much you want public. It may be enough just to publicize the activity on the internet, but keep the details among members on an email list. Password protect pages with private details.
Last but not least, illustrate your site with photos of your members having fun. Let the world see homeschoolers exploring a city venue or out in a gorgeous natural setting. A picture can convince a new family that they really would like to be a part of your group. Label the photos with “ALT” tags: a short description about the photo.
A support site like this can become a heavily visited resource for your whole city!
To form a Non-profit or Not?
A homeschool group that primarily meets at a public park, and has activities on a pay-as-you-go basis, and does not want to have a board of directors, does not need to have a formal organization any more than would an informal group of friends meeting at a park. Each has liability on for their own family’s behavior or misbehavior. Field trips are also pay-as-you-go, though if carpooling, you may want to check that each driver has adequate auto insurance. Ask your own insurance agent about that. A waiver of liability might help. Frankly, I’ve never been in a local support group that formed a non-profit. My state homeschool association, however, is. If your group gets more formal and, say, forms a co-op, and starts taking in funds to run it, then you may want to contact Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA, about forming a non-profit.