- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

After 18 years of home-schooling, I have become involved in an effort that has given me the home-schooling mom's perspective on the value of local support groups.
Crosswalk.com has a home-school channel and, among other things, asked me to join the chat room at 11 p.m. every Tuesday night to answer questions from home-schooling parents. I have been doing this for a little more than a year and thoroughly enjoy it.
As time has gone by, however, I have gotten to know a number of home-schooling moms who are far more qualified than I to answer a number of questions raised by newcomers to home-schooling who visit the chat room. If a question about a particular curriculum is directed to me, I defer and ask Abba4u or contentmom or firemom or KAThost or several other regulars I know to handle the question.
I know most of these ladies only by their chat handles, not their real names. Yet by watching the words scrolling by on the screen week after week, I know who gives wise advice and who can give realistic encouragement to struggling moms.
This is not to pump up the idea of chat on the Internet. Most chat rooms eventually will have wicked and dangerous people lurking in the corners, and I know of more than one marriage ruined by illicit relationships begun in chat rooms. Our little chat sessions in the controlled Christian environment of Crosswalk.com have really shown me what a real-life home-school support group is like. I see firsthand how women can help other women in ways that are difficult for any man even one with a lot of knowledge about home-schooling to replicate.
So my message is this: Find a way to link up with other home-schooling moms so you can be encouraged and educated on practical issues when needed. For the vast majority of people, this is going to take place through local support groups. You can find groups by contacting your state organization and requesting contact information for groups in your area. Information on state organizations is available through the Home School Legal Defense Association (540/338-5600, on line at www.hslda.org or through Crosswalk.com at http://homeschool.crosswalk.com.)
Want to know which series is best for kindergarten phonics? You can listen to a sales pitch from 10 companies, or you can ask three moms who have used the programs you are considering. Want to know how to help your 9-year-old learn fractions? You can read a book, or you can ask five moms who have succeeded in this lesson with their older children.
A big part of the value of these chats is more than information, it is the encouragement that you can do it. The life stories of other moms who have gone before you and have survived are of inestimable worth in moments when one wonders whether all the work and sacrifice are truly worth it.
In addition to real-life and cyber support groups, other delivery systems can provide encouragement. State home-schooling conventions feature workshops by successful home-schooling moms who dispense both information and encouragement. Additionally, some moms have taken time to write their stories for books. My wife joined the ranks of published home-schooling moms just a couple of weeks ago with her book "A Mom Just Like You" (Loyal Publishing).
Most women think Vickie Farris is not a mom "just like" them. After all, she has 10 children. And what ordinary mom, especially one with 10 children, has time to write a book? Here is the answer: Vickie only wrote about a third of a book. Our second-oldest daughter, Jayme, wrote the bulk of it. Vickie and Jayme went on walks to talk through ideas for a chapter, and then Jayme would write the material.
Many moms have found the story of how the book was written an encouragement all by itself. Not only can a daughter who has been exclusively home-schooled have the academic talent to write a book, she has had the opportunity to be with her mother enough that she can understand her mother's heart and write a book using her mother's voice. How many daughters understand their mothers that well?
A thousand stories of encouragement are waiting to be told. Just about every practical question you might ever have has solid answers. If you are a home-schooling mom or thinking of becoming one, your biggest allies are other moms who have walked before you. Find one or two and benefit from being their friend.
Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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