How to: Start a Secular Homeschooling Group
Though I am no expert, I’m going to share my thoughts and methodology on stating and running a group – be it a secular (or non-secular) homeschooling group, a playgroup, a mom’s group – whatever kind of group you want. I’ve started a few groups over the years, and most have been successful. Some are even still around, though they may have changed in form or function, but many served a specific need and met that need so I’d call that successful.
The main reason that I start a group is because I want to do or have something that a group format would be better suited to than just doing it on my own – like a homeschool group or playgroup. So that’s where I start: examine what it is I’m looking for and make sure that isn’t being provided somewhere else. No need to re-invent the wheel, after all.
One of the first steps I take when starting a new group is to create a Yahoo Group and start adding stuff to the calendar. Yahoo Groups are a group email format, so all the messages come to your inbox and replying to one message sends it to all the group members, or one can read the messages forum-style on the group’s webpage. I’ve tried other groups and services, but Yahoo has the best combination of features and ease of access in my opinion.
I usually spend some time setting up the group – adding files that detail how the group operates or whatever other information I want people to know when they join so I don’t have to personally send them that stuff. Yahoo allows you to set ‘auto-send’ files, which is very helpful. You can also set the group to allow anyone to join right away, or so that you approve all new members, and you can control who sees the group’s messages (public or members only), links and other group tools. (I’m not posting screen-shots here; you can find ‘how to’ videos and step-by-steps elsewhere on the web – but it’s pretty self-explanatory after you click ‘start a group’ on the main YG page.) I’m a fan of ‘branding’, so I usually come up with a logo or something that identifies the group as well – pictures are good for fliers and business cards!
Some groups wait to set that stuff up after they’ve had a couple of meetings, or elect a committee to go over those things and decide on guidelines, others wait until there’s a need – I usually start with at least some guidelines so that everyone starts out on the same page. In a secular homeschooling group, especially, I have found that a clear-cut ‘this is what we mean when we say ‘secular” notice has been helpful. We periodically edit and update them as needed.
Next, I decide what I want to do – activities, meetings, events – then I start planning stuff. I usually plan a few weeks out at least, and start calling, getting information, making reservations and asking for discounts. Most places offer a group or educational field trip discount, so I get those if I can. Where I can, I add events to the group’s calendar.
After the group is set up, I usually create a Facebook page for the group and send a note to anyone on my friends list I think might be interested in it. I’ll also go to a local online free classified site and create an ad there. I may also make flyers and take them to the library or park, grocery store – anywhere I think my target audience might be congregating. If you’re shy, you don’t even have to talk to people, just hand them a flyer or leave a stack on the counter (if management will allow it). At this point, it’s an advertising game – I find that the more you have ‘going on’, the more people are interested in what you’re doing. Our group has been around since 2004, but active only in the last year – so know going in that you are the heart and soul of your group. If you’re not interested in updating or posting, none of your members will be either. I update our website at least a couple of times a month, send messages through the group at least once a week and try to post something from the Facebook page every day.
Then go out and do it. That’s basically it. I would be taking my kids to the zoo or a museum or on a hike even if it was just us. Then, I’d talk about it here or on Facebook, and sooner or later, someone will want to join in. Before you know it, you’ve got a group. For me, that’s always the thing that gets left out – even if you don’t have a bunch of members in your group yet, do the things you have planned anyway! Call your group ‘small’ or ‘close-knit’ or ‘exclusive’. Take pictures and show people how much fun you have – they’ll want to come play, too. It’s hard when you’re in a small community, or when your beliefs are so different from everyone around you, but I think there are many people who would be willing to go out and do if only someone would start an awesome group for them to join. Why can’t that awesome someone be you?