Strengthening Support Groups: What Are They and How Do You Locate One?

Strengthening Support Groups: What Are They and How Do You Locate One?

Posted in Craigs Keystone articles

by Christina Coward and Craig Smith

A local home education support group might be nothing more than two families trading ideas and resources or as big as dozens of families who share in teaching each other’s children, run seminars and resource libraries, and keep in touch with a monthly newsletter.

They reflect home educators very well: just as each family is completely unique and has its own personal way of doing things, so each local support group is completely unique and develops and grows along with the needs of the members of the group.

Neither the Ministry of Education nor the Education Review Office officers are “officially” in the business of giving advice to home educators. They are by and large, however, people of integrity and expertise and will happily answer whatever questions they can. It seems clear that these officials will be referring more and more requests for information to local support groups. It is therefore prudent for local support groups to seek out reliable information on issues as they arise and endeavour to keep it on file. It is also a good idea for both prospective and long-time home educators to associate themselves with a local support group, as the MOE and the ERO see this as a real plus as they consider exemption applications and review reports.

In the early days of home education in NZ many families thought they were the only ones in the country considering such a wild idea as teaching their own children at home. One such family from Invercargill attended a homeschooling conference in Palmerston North in 1987 and went home encouraged to go public with the concept. They appeared in the local papers and soon discovered six other families there in Invercargill doing the same thing! This illustrates one characteristic of many home educators: they tend to take a low profile. If you take on a package curriculum it is very likely that your national administrator will be able to put you in touch with others in your area doing the same curriculum. Otherwise advice networks such as HENA (Home Educators’ Network of Aotearoa, c/- Kate Jaunay, PO Box 11645, Ellerslie, Auckland 1131) or NCHENZ (National Council of Home Educators New Zealand, c/- Peter George, PO Box 288, Hamilton) or SIHE (South Island Home Educators, c/- Dot Brown, PO Box 186, Rangiora) or CHomeS (Christian Home Schoolers of NZ, c/- Craig Smith, 4 Tawa St., Palmerston North) may be able to help you locate other home educators in your area.

How Do You Start One Up Yourself?

It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who constantly ask, “What happened?” If you start something off, you may safely assume most who come along will happily let you remain in the driver’s seat. So start simply, realise that each person will have a different level of commitment, that an event which worked well in another region may not be that successful in your region, and that the bottom line of a support group is to meet existing needs rather than create new ones, such as AGMs, quorums, elections, budgets, etc.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men….for you serve the Lord Christ. — Colossians 3:23-24

One or two people need to be leaders/organisers/co-ordinators. Two can easily make decisions, plan a calendar, delegate jobs and then advise all the rest. Once you form a committee or try to get a consensus from all concerned, it bogs down quite dramatically. Leaders who have assumed the responsibilities also automatically take on a measure of authority as well. People will look to you, the leader/co-ordinator, for guidance and will begin to expect you to be an authority on many subjects associated with home education. You become the ear to whom some confide, the shoulder upon which some will cry, the sounding-block off which some will bounce ideas, the avenue through which some will want to push their barrows, the mediator between mere mortals and lofty government officials upon whom some insecure parents will depend. You will be praised by some and maligned by others in the same group over the same event! So be sensitive, respect confidentiality, be wise, be humble, be flexible, and hold onto pet projects with an open hand. And all you support group members, you who benefit from the voluntary work put in by these dedicated support group leaders, remember to volunteer for something whenever you are able, and remember to give your leaders an occasional word of thanks and a pat on the back to show your appreciation.

Usually the objectives of support groups include the encouragement of like-minded people and the provision of educational opportunities hard to obtain by individual families. This could lead to the formation of support groups open to all comers, or limited to perhaps those of a specific religious denomination or maybe just to those with secondary-aged girls. Some may want to have written objectives, a constitution, a catchy name, a paid up and committed membership or one that operates on a volunteer basis. There is usually a need for money at some point, at least to photocopy the list of planned activities. So the policy of how much money is required and for what purposes, how and from whom it is collected, and who manages it must be clearly defined for all to see.

Types of Support

There are an inexhaustable number of ways home educators can help themselves and others through a local home education support group. Here are just a few ideas:

Sharing resources. The group can compile a master list of who has what resources they are willing to lend. Or they could buy and build up a central library of resources reserved for their own members.

Group outings & field trips. This is especially beneficial when going to places which employ their own educational personnel such as museums and art galleries. But visiting a friend’s chicken farm or an enthusiastic hobbyist like a ham radio operator can be even more fascinating.

Co-op teaching. Some parents may be experts in certain fields and also happy to share their expertise on a regular or occasional basis with the children of other families. Perhaps a core of parents could take turns planning and teaching a unit or two on topics in which none of them has any particular expertise.

Training workshops. The group could organise seminars/workshops with experts from within the Ministry of Education or from local organisations or with visiting experts.

Newsletters. These are a good way to keep in touch, advertise items for sale or swap, advise of upcoming events, philosophise, share tips, book reviews, etc.

Exploiting community services. This can be really good value. Your local home education support group may be able to get organisation or bulk-buying discounts from all kinds of suppliers. The library may operate a learning exchange where you may find a tutor for a certain subject. One of your group may be able to make a professional approach to a local school about your members attending specialised classes such as chemistry lab or metal shop. Are there night classes being offered by a local high school or the polytech? Home educators have access to the National Libraries, whereas the normal public does not. Computer hardware and software is often offered to educational groups at substantial discounts. Get St. Johns to give you a demonstration, get the health board to test hearing and vision, get the traffic cops to show videos and give talks on road and bike safety. See if a local school needs more players on its sports teams.

Telephone trees. With two or three reliable people ringing all the rest rather than each person ringing one other on the list, a last-minute attraction or outstanding bargain can be circulated quickly and accurately.

Activities among the group. Pot-luck socials, show-and-tell days, sports days, end-of-year breakups with prizegivings, a concert and even a yearbook comprised of contributions from each of the support group’s members all give a sense of belonging and contributing to an excellent cause outside ourselves.

Publicity As home educators each family, each member of each family, is automatically on the Homeschooling Public Relations Team. Behaviour on field trips, in public during school hours, while visiting institutions, while being visited by guest speakers all serve to give home education and home educators a certain reputation with the public at large. Your local support group may want to appoint a press spokesperson/ liaison officer to produce press releases of your end-of-year breakup, special accomplishments of your members, or to invite the press to special functions you may stage in order to raise the home education profile and promote the concept to your local community. Also, it is the number and diversity of the individual home education families and the individual home education support groups which make their letters and submissions to Parliament so effective on those occasions when political lobbying is necessary.

The Most Important Supports T

The Lord God is the only One Who will not let you down. Christians can embrace this incredible promise: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” — Isaiah 41:10

Your family & extended family, especially your spouse. If Mum came up with the home education idea, or if Dad did and then delegated the job to Mum, Dad still needs to be 100% behind the endeavour and to be the constant support to Mum and the children. He should actively contribute as much and whenever he can, be it academically, socially, sportswise or ensuring that Mum doesn’t do all of the housekeeping as well as all of the educating. Usually home education becomes an all-encompassing lifestyle which just about demands that all family members become part of the programme. The immediate family’s support, especially that of your spouse, spells the difference between happiness or horrors. Grandparents should be recruited, as they may have a lot of spare time and would jump at the opportunity to have such a vital input into their grandchildren. Although they may be bewildered about the home education concept and feel hurt because they reckon you are telling them they didn’t do their best for you, they have a wisdom of years and skills and stories of the past which will surely enrich our children’s lives.


There are already many local home education support groups right throughout NZ, the numbers are increasing all the time, and they each reflect the individual local needs, concerns and characters of the families involved. Both the MOE and the ERO like to see home educators attached to local support groups. They are spontaneous groups, run on a volunteer basis for the common good. The support and activities offered vary widely from group to group. As much as they offer, local support groups can only supplement, and not replace, the vital foundational support which is only found in the family’s faith and the commitment of their own family members. With these supports in place, the home education family is well endowed to successfully embark upon one of the most exciting, challenging and fulfilling adventures that life has to offer!

From Keystone Magazine
May 1999 , Vol. V No. III
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig