When people first come to me for advice about homeschooling I always tell them to join a support group. When my son was little I was very hesitant to join support groups as I am quite an introvert and going along to meet other people that I did not know was somewhat daunting and at times depressing. I remember going to one group about ADHD and I just sat there listening to everyone’s rather sad stories. They did not seem to relate to me or my situation and I was too shy to really intercept any conversation so I just sat, listened and waited and then when the time was up I just picked up my coat and walked out that door not having made one friend, not feeling supported or understood and certainly not uplifted. It felt nothing like how I had envisioned a support group! However in the past 15 years things have changed rapidly with the meteoric rise of the internet. Now you no longer even have to leave your house if you have access to a computer, smart phone or some other form of technology that will enable you to access the web. There are so many online support groups now it can feel a little overwhelming but don’t give up. There are local, national and international – the choice is yours. I think it is a good idea to choose a few and just get a feel for them and see whether they resonate with you. I find most of my support groups on mediums such as Facebook where there are a heap of closed groups that give you privacy to be able to speak your mind. When the group is closed it means that only the members in it can see what you have written and nobody else will have access to it on your news feed. This gives benefits to those who seek privacy and don’t wish for everything they write to be shown to all on their friends list. If a group is run properly then when people ask to join they will be screened. It they are not a friend or a friend of a friend then an admin person should be clarifying with them why they wish to join the group. This protects other members as it can be an avenue for opportunists who just want to get into the group and sell their wares or pedal a business. It will never by 100% full proof but on the whole the groups can be kept safe and if any rogue person does gain access the admin can delete them and block them so that they cannot gain access again. This really is only a problem for some of the larger groups. SunnyHomeschool Support Hub that I started on the Sunshine Coast was intended to support local people who were new to homeschooling and wanted help with paperwork or other advice on the practicalities of homeschooling and how you become registered or join a distance education provider. It has however grown into far more than that and we now have nearly 400 members covering a substantial distance. It has meant a bigger workload and we have needed to take on more administrators to share the load but it has been wonderful connecting with other homeschoolers across Queensland, Australia and some from overseas. We have so much to learn from each other. The majority of the activity does however come from locals who interact and arrange meet-ups, excursions, courses, field trips or whatever else our wonderful online community can come up with. There are also many smaller regional groups popping up all the time and it is a great place to shout out and find if there are other homeschoolers in your local area. It has also been a place to cry, laugh and share troubles in a non-judgemental arena and nobody has to leave their house to do so (unless they don’t have the technology to access this kind of support). If you don’t have it at home there are always internet cafes and libraries that can assist you. For me the online support groups have been a lifeline where you can share ideas, success stories, group gatherings, resources, information of all kinds and offload any concerns that you may be harbouring and it does not bring the social worries that actually face to face meetings can bring about for many of us and especially for those on the spectrum. Even for my son who was very much unschooled and just did his own thing alone at home (never wanting to go and meet other homeschoolers), when he decided to access Brisbane School of Distance Education when he was doing Year 11 and 12, the online community became such a gift to him where previously he had struggled with friendships in real life because of some of his differences, online he was accepted. He could be himself and chat with others with a lot less judgments being made than when he was at school. He could access forums whereby discussion would take place on subjects he was studying and students could support each other in a far less threatening way than actual physical meet-ups. A real joy for us was that when he eventually went to University some of those online friends that he made went with him and they are still friends today 4 years down the track. That is a real blessing for a boy who grew up with very few (if any) real friends.
Many of these online groups make times where they meet up in real life so then if that is important to you it is available. Not everyone just enjoys online relationships. Often we use that time as a park play for our children and the parents will chat and put the world to rights amongst themselves whilst their children go off and have fun and make connections or the parents might listen to a speaker on a relevant topic that may be of interest. It is such an important part of homeschooling for me and I have found the benefits to be enormous. Whereby previously when my son was young and I had no access to support groups I found the journey a lot more worrying and stressful when all I had was my own head to try and sort out my worries and nobody else to give advice, suggestions or just a hug or pat on the back so that I felt I was not alone and was doing ok. As the saying goes a worry shared is a worry halved and it has certainly been the case for me. Although I like lots of my own time, meeting up with others occasionally to give and receive support has become an important part of my homeschool journey.
Support groups do not come without their downsides as I have learned along the way. A whole group of people coming from differing walks of life, with different life experiences, expectations and needs is always a place where sometimes conflict can occur and especially within our ASD community where sometimes quirky behaviour is on display. I try to be very accepting of others and although I agree that we don’t all have to share the same ideals, educational philosophies or parenting styles I do feel for the harmony of the group we have to agree to differ on some points and be respectful of each other when that does occur and accept that all of us come to where we are with our own stories and that is ok. There is no right or wrong way to homeschool, parent nor live, just the right way for you and your family and none of us have the right to pass judgement. I feel that we more than others need to be aware of difference and be inclusive and accepting. Many of the families that I meet have left school after experiencing harrowing times and they have been friendless and often rejected as we once were. It is important to me that any group that I facilitate is inclusive and shows kindness and compassion to each other. We often have enough to fight with when our children have issues that need treatment, therapy and a lot of our time and energy. We do not then need to then find conflict within our support groups. That is no support at all. I know it is sometimes hard but it is an ideal that I try to adhere to as much as I can. Life is too short to invite conflict into our lives.
I think we also need to be mindful of the information that we are given within some of the support groups we go to and take everything in with an open mind. Some people will swear by a resource that has been the best thing for their child or a system that has worked for them. It may not be the best for you and you don’t want to be taking on that advice and spending lots of money to set up your homeschool environment when that is not actually the way that will work for you. I think we can all start panicking when listening to other people who seem to have the best way of doing things and all seems rosy and bright in their world and it can actually make us feel worse rather than better! When I feel like that I walk away from those interactions. I don’t need competition nor to start doubting myself. I find the best support group for me in those times is the beach! Take what you need from a group but disband with what you don’t. I have learned that along the way too. Also we don’t need to be friends with everyone. That is not possible but at least make all the interactions you do have kind ones and don’t exclude people. You never know how much of a difference your support one day can make to a person in need even if in your heart you really don’t feel a connection with that person we can all be kind.
Some other support groups offer practical help such as learning co-ops where resources are shared as well as parental skills. These can be great if your child wants to learn a particular skill and you are not able to teach them yourself or pay for someone else to do so. Pooling resources and skills is a wonderful way to connect with other homeschoolers and learn along the way. Even giving each other some time away from the children can be of support to many especially if you have a high need child or children. A reciprocal child-minding circle if your child is open to that and they don’t mind spending some time away from you can be great. There are so many different ways to give and receive support. Everyone needs a helping hand at some point in their life and we can all offer each other so much if we just reach out. Happy homeschooling everyone J
Some good homeschooling support groups to start with are:-
Homeschool Australia at www.homeschoolaustralia.com
Unschool Australia at www.unschoolaustralia.com
SunnyHomeschool Support Hub at