Monday, February 13, 2006

Homeschool Support Group Meeting Attendance Low in Area

I have been chatting with other homeschool support group leaders from my state on an internet chat list about attendance this year. Although this is not a scientific study, all who participated in the discussion and those who I have chatted with off-list as well report that adult support group attendance is down across the whole state. Some leaders have been wondering what is going on. After discussions with their members, here are the things that they attribute it to.

People are finding homeschooling support on the internet now more than ever! Free support is found on email discussion groups, online bulletin boards, from reading blogs or websites. People report that they find answers to their questions by using internet search engines and reading the information. Others ask questions of experienced homeschoolers on discussion lists. The convenience of the internet and email is useful for busy people; they can ask a question when it is convenient and then read the reply when it is convenient (whether it is midnight or days later).

Some report that they seek very specific homeschool support from others with the same exact issues on internet chat lists, which is harder to do with local groups. For example, people connect about homeschooling with a Waldorf inspiration, homeschooling gifted children, homeschooling only preschool aged children, unschooling, or homeschooling with living books. Another reason why some people have told me that they like the internet versus local support groups is that they can avoid feeling judged about their personal choices for homeschooling methods. For example, a general homeschool support group meeting may draw eclectic homeschoolers, unschoolers, those doing ‘school in a box’, very religious people, pagans or atheists. Some seek advice from those doing exactly what they are doing. Some don’t even want the possibility of feeling judged by others.

Some read homeschooling magazines and books for support and information. However I am hearing that more often people seek free information on the internet on websites and blogs rather than spending money on magazines or books. People seem to find the time to read snippets of information on the web rather than sitting down with a book to read it cover to cover. Some people have told me they don’t want to spend money on homeschooling books since they can get the information for free.

Some experienced homeschooling families find themselves very busy. Finding time to attend an adult support group meeting gets difficult. After spending a busy day homeschooling their children and/or running around to various classes, going out at night for an adult support group meeting is not always desirable---relaxing at home with the family is more fulfilling. (Another perspective is sometimes a person sometimes feels too relaxed at home with family and wants to get out and be with other like-minded adults!)

Veteran homeschoolers who have been attending adult support groups meetings in past years or who attend homeschool park days have made connections in the past. They have already found friendship with other homeschooling parents, for support from others, and also connections for friends for their children. As needed, friends call or email each other for support, a shoulder to cry on, to have a laugh, or just to shoot the breeze.

One leader reported that she has held only one meeting since September. I have had lagging attendance in my support group and have considered terminating the meetings or the group. I surveyed my members and they are asking me not to do this. We have a meeting set for later this week and we will see what happens. I was disappointed in the past that the people that said they want the group to hold meetings would say they were coming, then they don’t show up, or they cancel literally at the last minute. I was disappointed that some recent meetings had only 2-3 attendees. The conversations are always lively and interesting, though, so they do seem worthwhile. For now I will continue holding evening meetings!

(Side note: a friend who is a La Leche League Leader reports an all time low attendance in the last year compared to the other 10+ years she has been holding breastfeeding support group meetings in her hometown. Meeting attendees also shared with her that they find most of the answers to their questions and self-education on breastfeeding and parenting free on the internet.)


JennC said...

This trend is especially disturbing for me, as I'm not a veteran homeschooler. My children are 2 and 7 years old, and I've only lived in my town for a couple of years. I've tried several ways to find close friends for my children, including organizing a homeschooling park day. Finding people who are committed to maintaining close frienships for their children, or even person-to-person support for themselves, has been a struggle right from the start.

christinemm said...

Well, what can I say?

We really can only control our own actions. If you want meetings in your area the first step is to attend them yourself.

I went to my first meeting when my oldest was three years old.

There usually is a core group of dedicated veteram moms who attend meetings in order to provide support to new people. However sometimes a group will suddenly find only those core veteran meeting-attending moms there. If the new people aren't coming and don't need the support then even the veteran moms stop going. That is one reason that my own attendance at other group meetings is down (I haven't attended a single one this academic year.) If I am busy and I think no one is going to show up then I may not go myself.

My own support group meeting had just two attendees last month. One was a new person to our group. I had a blast answering her questions and discussing things with just the three of us.

I actually find it inspiring to meet new people and to answer newbie questions.

So get out there and start attending meetings!

I am sorry about you having trouble finding close friends for your children. I struggled with that for two or three years and only now am at a place where I feel my kids have enough close friends. Now the challenge is to connect with them on a regular basis. I have blogged about that challenge before...everyone being so busy makes it hard for 'just playing' time and 'just friendships'.

Hang in there.