by Rebecca Kocsis
Ah, it was summertime; the first summer in our new home. We had been there about a year, but we also had a new baby during that time. Finding a homeschool group right away was not our immediate priority. After the house was settled and we had settled into a good routine with the new baby, I noticed the void our old homeschool group once filled. We missed our friends and the encouragement we experienced when we got together. We were lonely. It was time to find a new community of homeschoolers.
Interestingly, homeschoolers in the region we came from predominantly chose to homeschool through Private School Satellite Programs (PSPs). For the first time, we decided to file our own Private School Affidavit (PSA). The PSPs we found were, what I considered, “high-accountability.” They were heavy on record-keeping and meeting requirements. They would not have worked for our family’s current season. Not only were we a growing homeschool family, we actively served in our church and the local pro-life community. So finding a Support Group seemed the most realistic. [For more information about different type of groups, check out the definitions here.]
After a couple of false starts, we eventually found our people. There were others who were looking for the same type of community that we were, and our little support group was born. Looking back, I didn’t realize that it would take so much time. I thought we would find a group, get plugged in, and homeschool happily ever after. We never found a group that fit us, but the Lord brought us a group of like-minded people over the course of several months. Then it took time to get to know one another. Then relationships developed.
Ultimately, we began to use our gifts and skills to serve one another. There was the parent who loved to plan field trips, the mom who loved literature, the science parents, and the music-loving parent. As we served one another, our hearts were knit together, and we became an extended family. We had common goals, the same sense of purpose, and had committed to encouraging one another not only in homeschooling but also in our walk with the Lord.
Here are a few lessons I learned in my quest for a homeschool community for my family.
The few false starts we had with groups in our new area were because I made assumptions. I didn’t ask for mission statements or a statement of faith. As a Christian family, we wanted a faith-based group. The first group we joined had a name that was an acronym HIS. I assumed it was a faith-based group declaring they were His; belonging to God. How sweet. As weeks turned into months, we just weren’t connecting. The kids and I were not meeting other kindred spirits.
At one gathering I asked the leader what church her family attended. She gave me a very strange look. “We don’t go to church. We aren’t Christian.” Then she explained that HIS stood for Home Independent Schooling. No wonder we weren’t connecting on a deeper level. Most of the group were not homeschooling for the same reasons we were. We made some lovely friends there and stayed in touch over the years, but we needed to be with people who were practicing home-based discipleship. If I had asked more questions at the start, I would have understood the nature of the group. When looking for a group, ask lots of questions. Better to find out sooner rather than later if the group’s mission and purposes fit with your family’s.
Count the Cost
This holds true especially when looking for a PSP. Find out what their requirements are up front. Because they are private schools, they have to keep your students’ records up to date. Do they ask for any records beyond what is required by state regulations? Many of them do because they provide transcripts. Can you keep up with the paperwork? Most PSPs have an enrollment fee and maybe tuition. Many support groups have fees, too. Can you afford it? Some groups require parents to attend meetings periodically. Does the group provide a framework for fellowship, or are they just for field trips or keeping records? If it’s a busy group, chances are families will be expected to volunteer in some capacity. Do you have time to do that? Find out in advance what they expect from you and what you expect from them.
Use Your God-given Gifts
God has given each of us gifts and skills to serve the body of Christ. Each of us has different gifts that are meant to support and complement the gifts of others. It’s called body ministry. I do not know one group that exists merely because the leadership wants to provide services for us homeschoolers. Their goal is to create community. Likewise, I do not know one leader who has every gift needed (or the time and energy!) to run a group on their own. God has given members gifts and skills that will complement the group and meet the needs of its members.
True, there is now a whole industry of homeschool service providers. You can pay for their services: classes, music lessons, tutoring, and other educational services. You can’t pay for relationships.
Rather than jumping from group to group or joining multiple groups looking for what you can get, stay put for a while. See what gifts you have to offer for the benefit of the group. Bystanders will never reap the same satisfaction as those who invest in the game.
Give It Time
Community only happens with commitment. Commitment takes time. We live in the time of instant gratification, but that’s not how relationships work. Relationships take investment of time and energy; physical, mental, and emotional energy. They need time to grow.
Let Grace Abound
I love looking over the homeschool landscape and seeing all of the different groups. Though they may fit neatly in one category or another, each group is as unique as the leaderships’ vision and the families in it. Every homeschool group is also made up of fallible human beings. In order to have community, we must overlook one another’s feet of clay. Learn to bear with one another’s weaknesses and shortcomings. Essentially, we must forgive one another for being human as we take this journey together.
A Word about Virtual Groups
Facebook groups are very popular. They provide a wealth of information. They can also provide momentary encouragement. There’s only so much a virtual group can do. They will not be there when you need a ride to park day, or at your door with a meal when you have a death in the family. They can’t trade teaching responsibilities. In a nutshell, you can’t do life with a virtual group. My recommendation is to find an in-person group, where you can put down roots and build relationships.
Take a Risk
One last word about getting settled in a group. There is an element of risk involved. If you want to have community, a certain amount of transparency will be required. Using gifts requires an element of faith and making yourself vulnerable. Investing in relationships may result in hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or disappointment. I’ve experienced it all. But I wouldn’t trade them for the thriving groups, the lifelong friendships, and the wonderful memories. The risk was worth it.
There are so many new families coming into the homeschool community. Or maybe you’ve recently moved to a new city? Or you’ve finally decided it’s time to get connected? I’ll be praying for you all as you get settled into groups. There’s no need to homeschool alone. Like me, maybe you’ve scoured the area and you can’t find a group that suits your families needs, start one. CHEA has resources to help.