Maybe you've been homeschooling a while, and you're feeling confident in what you're doing. Maybe you're just getting started, and you're still reading about homeschooling and researching your options.
Either way, chances are you have benefited from homeschoolers who have gone before you. They have started homeschool organizations, lobbied to keep homeschooling free and legal, blogged thousands of the ever popular "day in the life of a homeschooler" posts, organized conferences, published homeschooling magazines, arranged park days, started geography clubs, shared curriculum ideas, and written homeschool help books.
What have you given back to homeschooling lately?
Without the volunteers and entrepreneurs who have a mission to help homeschoolers, each of us would have to figure out from scratch how to make a homeschool high school transcript, what the resources are for learning foreign language, how to impact our state lawmakers, and how to solve hundreds of other homeschooling dilemmas that face us daily and yearly. Instead, we are able to reach for books, magazines, internet resources, conferences, experienced homeschooling parents, and local homeschool groups to give us information and ideas about our homeschooling journey.
As a consumer of this collected wisdom, you are in a position to pay it forward. You may not realize it, but a lot of homeschooling organizations and businesses operate on razor thin margins or at a loss, because the people who believe in homeschooling are so fierce in their desire to help people determine if homeschooling is the right option for their family. For your family.
How can you pay it forward?
- Volunteer for your state-wide homeschool organization. Most groups have large, medium, and small jobs--some that span for years, like serving on a board; some that are ongoing but not forever, like answering a homeschool telephone helpline; and others that are one-time short-term commitments, like helping with a mailing or finding a place for a local meeting. My state-wide organization, VaHomeschoolers, has a Help Wanted page at its website; if yours doesn't, send an email asking how you can help.
- Donate money to your state-wide homeschool organization. Here, I recommend you make sure you understand the political and religious positions of your state organization, to make sure that what you support with your pocketbook is (1) in line with your personal beliefs and (2) good for homeschooling. Many homeschool organizations take positions on non-homeschooling issues that may hurt homeschooling politically, so it takes a bit of study. This article, "Bigger than Campaign Promises: Homeschooling, Tax Credits, and Politics in Virginia," posted by my state-wide homeschooling group, VaHomeschoolers, may open your eyes to the problems of associating homeschooling with specific candidates and issues. Other state-wide homeschool organizations offer support that is only helpful to those of a specific religious faith, which may not be your faith or the faith of other prospective homeschoolers. However, homeschooling organizations frequently do not qualify for grants like other non-profits, and they appeal to such a narrow segment of the population that it's difficult for membership fees alone to support the work of the organization. Consider making financial gifts to a homeschooling organization that does not mix religion and politics with its support for homeschooling, or, at the least, that reflects your religious beliefs and political viewpoints. Financial support of effective state-wide homeschool organizations helps those organizations work with your state's Department of Education, legislature, social services organizations, local school divisions, and most importantly -- with homeschoolers themselves.
- Attend local homeschool meetings. Ask your questions; share your experiences. Either someone was at meetings doing that when you got started, and you can be that person for other beginning homeschooling families -- or someone was not there -- and you recognize that it would have been beneficial to you. Even if you are new to homeschooling, your questions are valuable; you are probably voicing concerns that are on someone else's mind, or your questions will elicit answers that will be beneficial to many parents in attendance.
- Organize something for homeschoolers. Are you one of the people who always benefits from what other people arrange? Maybe you have special circumstances, and you really cannot be an organizer at this point in your life, or you give back in other ways. That's legit. However, I have talked to numerous people who have said, "I could do that, I just never get around to it." This is not fair. We are never going to get a full supply of "Round Tuits." Meanwhile, you are taking your kids to park days, dances, choirs, chess clubs, and bowling days that Other Homeschoolers arrange. Maybe your homeschooling community could really use a Phys Ed day at the local Y or a game day in the library's community room, but you don't "get around to it." I'm not asking you to chair a conference with 30 speakers in a giant hotel conference center (though yes, I know of a need for that as well); I'm asking you to set up a movie night or a field trip to the fire department. Get out your calendar. Make the phone call. Post it to your email list. One of my favorite articles about organizing homeschool activities is about fifteen years old, but "Time for Family Baseball" still provides great insight into a "just do it" approach to setting up an activity families will enjoy.
- Start a homeschool group. If your community lacks a homeschool group altogether, or doesn't have a group that is open and welcoming, start one. Homeschoolers all around the world have experienced the "build it and they will come" phenomenon that works in many communities -- rural, suburban, and urban. Yes, there are some places where meeting "in real life" really won't work because there are so few homeschoolers. However, this also means most homeschoolers do not live there, and at least statistically, most readers of this blog do not live in such a rural area either. You can do it. I started inclusive homeschooling groups in three different small communities. Of course, people who have done this before you have collected their ideas on starting homeschool groups to make it easier for you.
- Write, edit, or publish. Tell your story in writing, or help others tell their stories by being part of the editorial process. This applies to blogs, homeschooling magazines, homeschool group newsletters, websites, state organization publications, and email lists. When you write, you may provide a lifeline to homeschoolers who need just the idea, inspiration, or example you can tell about. You may respond to a question about homeschooling with toddlers underfoot on an email list, or you may write an article on how to organize a co-op for your state homeschooling magazine. You may offer your skill as a proofreader, a graphic designer, a website administrator, or an editor, to keep the information flowing. You might write a curriculum review or provide a website with getting started info. The written word becomes part of the soup of information homeschoolers can sample.
- Donate your homeschool materials. Does your homeschool group, church, or conference offer used curriculum and homeschool resources for sale? If you can donate or consign your materials, you usually help in two ways: the organization gets the proceeds from the sale, which it can use for ongoing projects to support homeschooling, and buyers get access to reasonably priced used materials. Some larger homeschool organizations have a library you can donate to, and then other families can borrow homeschooling materials, some even for year-long use. Even offering your used resources for sale on homeschool lists is a benefit to homeschoolers who have to be budget-conscious, and of course, donating to individual families in need can be a real blessing to them.
- Patronize conference vendors. Consider purchases and services from businesses who support state organizations. Let them know where you saw their ad or booth. When you visit with vendors at homeschooling conferences, be sure to reference the conference even if you make your purchase after you've gone home. Understand that the businesses who pay to exhibit at conferences are often the main source of income for the conference, making the conference or convention more affordable for families.
- Become involved in a homeschool conference. Volunteer to help at a conference. Attend a conference. Speak at a conference. Make a purchase at a conference. Encourage your friends to attend a conference. Conferences are a big source of "getting started" information for homeschoolers, as well providing support for homeschoolers who are entering a new phase of homeschooling (high school, a new baby, a special needs child, a change in homeschooling approach, etc.). You may be able to serve coffee to vendors, make copies of handouts, help with registration, or do another job that will allow that conference to reach a maximum number of families as smoothly as possible. Your business or employer may also be in a position to donate, loan, or discount items or services needed by a conference -- from office supplies and name tags to projectors and screens.
- Be an ambassador for homeschooling. Not every family wants to be seen as the "example" of a homeschooling family. However, some homeschooling parents are well-positioned to be interviewed by the media or make presentations to community organizations about homeschooling. I know that's what led to our family being featured in TIME magazine about a year and a half ago -- we were a great example of an issue that came before the Virginia General Assembly about homeschoolers and sports. Contact your state-wide homeschooling organization for guidance on effective community outreach, or read Mary Griffith's free ebook, The Homeschooling Image: Public Relations Basics. You could also do outreach on a case-by-case basis, such as explaining to someone why your grade school age children are in the grocery store with you during school hours. Again, this is not for everybody; it can be tiresome to answer questions and possibly be put on the defensive about your educational choices. On the other hand, you may find you have the right personality for this, at least during times when your personal resources are high. If you give some thought to how you handle casual encounters, you may develop a good "elevator speech" that opens people's minds about home education.Homeschooling families or homeschool groups can also volunteer in the community, demonstrating goodwill and service to others.
- "Sponsor" a homeschooling family. Can you provide a scholarship membership to someone who would benefit from belonging to a homeschooling organization? Can you pay for a subscription to a magazine or help with a registration to a conference? Some state homeschool organizations accept donations expressly for this purpose, because they are sometimes contacted by parents who desperately want to attend a conference or become a member but are unable to afford the fees. Can you loan some copies of your favorite general homeschooling books to people from church, Scouts, or your food co-op, when they express an interest in the possibility of homeschooling? Invite them to a Not-Back-To-School Picnic or other event.
- Work with your library. Can you help your librarians understand the books, resources, and services that homeschoolers would benefit from? Can you help them address potential "problems" they may see with homeschoolers -- educating those in your group or circle about concerns librarians have with, for example, poorly supervised children or "closed" groups using public resources? You might be the interested parent who can help librarians and homeschoolers work well together. In many communities, librarians are among the most ardent supporters of homeschooling, and with some encouragement, they can be instrumental in creating a positive atmosphere for homeschoolers at your local library.
Homeschooling has become mainstream enough that you may not have had much trouble finding information or support for your efforts. However, there are people, businesses, and organizations who are well aware of homeschooling's relative minor status, and they work every day to make homeschooling understandable by non-homeschoolers and accessible to prospective homeschoolers.
It might help to think that your helping others homeschool today may be what keeps homeschooling available to your grandchildren. In an increasingly complex world of education (virtual schools, charter schools, Common Core, standardization, etc.), creating and maintaining support for independent homeschooling is critical, and there are concrete ways you can help.
You got your homeschooling together on the backs of homeschooling parents doing a lot of stuff to make homeschooling work for you. Now it's your turn to do stuff to keep homeschooling working for others.
If you need other reasons, it's a great way to meet people, network on behalf of your kids, and use professional skills. But really, it's just the right thing to do.