With Marie Grace Berg for Homeschooling Conference 2020, July 13-19.
My membership request was rejected from the local homeschooling community in Singapore when I wanted to find out more. My child was 2 at the time. And there was only 1 major homeschooling community that gathered homeschoolers based in Singapore. The moderator said that they only took in homeschoolers whose kids were 7 and above, could I please join the preschool group instead? But I didn’t want a preschool group. I wanted to chat with homeschooling parents who were veterans, whose kids were grown up. I wanted to know about homeschooling from them. So I started my own homeschooling community on Facebook. I called it Homeschool Singapore. That was 8 years ago.
Today, Homeschool Singapore is well known as a community that promotes homeschooling in Singapore. We :
- Run a website to give the public more information about homeschooling. It is the first site on Google (after you take away the paid advertisements) when you look for “homeschool” “Singapore”.
- Organise the annual homeschool convention, sports day and other activities round the year for homeschoolers. Our activities and some of our voices have been featured in local media.
- Work with other organisations and groups for homeschooling related issues. Our recent campaign with a motherhood organisation, Mums for Life, features 96 parents in Singapore who are battling cabin fever and child rearing in Singapore during lockdown.
The community that runs these programmes behind the scenes is a group of 60 families. From small children to parents who regularly keep in touch, we are committed to helping one another grow. Within the Homeschool Singapore committee community, we take turns to care for each other’s children, teach, mentor and share our parenting journeys. It is a small, safe space for us to build one another, build outwards for the public.
Homeschooling is a journey that is rewarding. You have complete freedom to choose and direct your children’s educational pathway. But it is a journey that must be undertaken with others, and not in isolation. Since you are serious about educating your children, you must find that village willing to raise children with you.
A community is a group of people with a common interest. The community can be of any size as long as the people in the group feel attached and have their needs met. A successful community has a vision, and is intentional about providing a good experience for its members. A homeschooling community can be as small as a co-op of a few families, to a dedicated interest-based fee-paying group (e.g. kayaking club), to social media groups for members to connect conveniently. Depending your family’s vision and needs, you may need just one or a few communities to complement what you are looking for.
A successful homeschooling community is consistent with producing outcomes in line with its values. Instead of taking someone’s form and saying, I want it exactly like that, you need to start from a more realistic viewpoint. Because someone else’s success is not your success, is not your journey. For example, if you like Homeschool Singapore because you like the idea of great programs, you need to ask yourself, does my family have time to produce big programs at this season of our lives? If it is going to cost you time with your children, perhaps you are better off looking at another model. Or better still, design your own from scratch. This is how I would advise people :
Start from your deepest need. If what you need is to build friends for your children and yourself, then friendship with like-minded people would be a top concern. And if friendship is what you want to focus on, then you will not be focusing on paid programmes, but playgroups, co-ops and a small chatroom with people who you want to know more about. Because friendship takes time and trust, doesn’t it. If your need is to build a learning programme for your children and your friends’ children, then you will build a community of great educators that you can develop and grow. So what is it you need? And to what extent would you spend time to work on making it happen? In some ways, build a homeschooling community is like a business idea – answer a need successfully.
I have a personal checklist for what healthy homeschooling communities look like, regardless of size or purpose:
1) Serious about serving homeschoolers.
Homeschooling is a very unique situation. It is not just parenting, or just education. It is both. Parents who homeschool will not feel at home in an academic circle of professors and lawmakers. Educators will not feel at home in a community of parents who talk about their children incessantly. You really need to know the unique selling point of a homeschooling community. Homeschooling is largely a parenting journey that focuses on children’s rights for quality education. Expect a lot of conversations around parenting, education and children. So a successful homeschooling community knows who it is looking for.
Communities that seem to want to attract everyone will not be able to meet anyone’s needs. It is too spread out. Don’t be eager to include vendors, partners, collaborators unless your homeschooling community is stable. These stakeholders have different intentions. You don’t want to dilute your vision.
Leadership is crucial. Whether you’re helming a small co-op or a friends-only get together, whoever does the organising has a responsibility to the people he or she attracts. To sustain a successful community, you have to be very self-aware. Are you a reliable person? Do you show up on time? Do you deliver what you promise? While each community has a certain life-span (for example, some co-ops open for 6 weeks only), a poor leader sounds the death knell for her community. Nobody wants to participate in a group that is poorly run, even if it is a friendship group focus. People need to know who they can go to for direction and conflict.
If you are looking for a homeschooling community to join, check that the leader of the group is reliable. Can you speak to him/her and get an honest answer? What do others say about him/her? These are good questions to start with. The homeschooling landscape in Singapore is small. Word gets around if a leader is good or unreliable. Because homeschoolers move around as families, the children and parents deserve responsible leadership.
A healthy community stays active to keep ideas growing and people engaged. As people grow up in a community they commit to, their expectations change. A new member may feel intimidated or unsure, but a veteran member has an idea of how she wants to grow with her family. How will you keep a meaningful engagement for your members? It takes time. It is almost a job to run a successful community but with intention and care, you will be glad you invested your life. I find it harder to keep looking for a tribe to belong. I don’t want to keep searching for groups to join. I want a group that stays put and will help develop my family.
Activity can involve programmes for one another to show their talents. It can be of any scale, from community work to a small movie outing. As long as someone is willing to make it happen, help them. This will grow your community to be a fun place to be in.
There are ‘dead’ communities simply because people’s lives have moved on. Don’t try to revive a community if you do not have the resolve to make it succeed. It is better to close it down and start a new one.
If I am serious up about others taking care of my needs, then I better do the same for them. Do I want a homeschooling community that constantly puts up advertisements or asks me to buy things? Do I want people who only turn up when they are given special roles? I think about these things often because leaders aren’t aware that members don’t feel valued when they are marketing their products at them all the time. Homeschoolers need good products but they can find them easily online. It is harder to find good people. Focus on giving your homeschooling community good people to hang around with. Nurturing includes taking the time to listen to one another, to show up for one another, to practice hospitality and care when others are in need. Does your community create space for nurturers?
Do not be fixated with the number of people your community attracts, but the welfare of the members. In fact, the bigger the homeschooling community, the more problems you encounter. So scale your expectations. Would a 1000 member group really make everyone happy?
Does your homeschooling community offer diversity of opinions and backgrounds? One of the reasons why schooling can be insular is because you only meet people of a certain background, or income level. Homeschooling gives you a broader perspective of life if you are open to letting your family meet others who are different from you.
Inclusivity should be defined up front before people join your group. Have it up on a membership announcement board. Let people know who they might meet, and how to engage in a respectful manner. In our community, expats, locals, SEN kids, and parents of diverse opinions are welcome. We are open to speaking about religious issues, government issues, as long as these discussions help open our perspectives about homeschooling. But we don’t mock people’s beliefs. And we don’t make minorities feel unwelcome.
Even if your community is focused on a certain demography, like religion or curriculum, think of ways to be inclusive within that framework. For example, I want a develop a homeschooling community around my religion. Then name the groups of people that are welcome, e.g. children with special needs, people of your faith from across the world, caregivers who homeschool but are not parents… When you make an effort to include, rather than exclude, you will get wonderful opportunities to learn about your community’s focus. That is an education in itself.
Everyone should be free to create their own communities for their learning purposes. If you feel you are in a community that does not meet your needs, you should move on. You can’t change the vision of the community you are in to suit you, but you can build your own, or find another that fits.
In our country, once you are out of the mainstream system, you will find it easier to speak your mind. Overseas, some people are lot more outspoken because they come from a place with a culture of freedom of speech. In Singapore, conformity to the government’s education outcomes is the norm. And habits are hard to break. For us, when we are able to be honest about our thoughts, suddenly, we are able to make independent choices because we think more critically. I do not know what it looks like in your country, but critical thinking is key to a healthy homeschooling community. Any group that demands conformity risks homogenising its members.
To keep the group smart, I encourage my members – children and parents – to always speak freely with me. This is how I really get to know them, and to respect them, and to make informed choices that I would not have known if you had not been honest. For example, you can talk about religion but you must also accept opinions of others who don’t agree. You can talk about any form of homeschooling but you must be open to being wrong, just as you are open to being right. In short, be open-minded and allow others to speak into your life. And if what they tell you don’t make sense, don’t believe it, and don’t follow it. But you should not form a group of yes-men. I like listening to veteran homeschoolers. They are very hardy. They will tell you the truth. They will not flatter you. There is simply no desire to ‘fit in’ as you would have in a mainstream school environment.
7) Not greedy to make money off members.
A good homeschooling community does not seek to make profits off its members. I run away when I see a community providing a platform for advertising or acts like an MLM. When a community is not focused on growing its homeschooling members, but using members to earn money, the community is not healthy. Always seek to find out how money is used if your community collects fees for membership. Homeschoolers tend to stay with a community for a long time. You will have spent a lot by then, so just be careful and opt to be well informed.
In our community, we all volunteer. Nobody is paid. That is an advantage because you cannot make use of others’ time – leaders or members – by taking them for granted. We tend to be more unkind towards people who charge fees. We demand the sky just because we pay. My intention is to keep the community as a non-profit so we can keep building people up, instead of whether they can pay to belong.
But if you have a vision for a community that involves paid membership, then let people know how money is used as much as you can. Again, this is the uniqueness of a homeschooling community. Because we are involved in the development of children, we want to be part of groups that have the welfare of children, and their families at heart. How money is used tells us about the focus of the group.
I am an education consultant for homeschooling matters in Singapore. I focus on helping individuals achieve success in their communities. I mentor home educators, and homeschooling children from 5 to 18 years old by teaching, and community building. My dream is to see educators and children actualise their potential in their lives. I believe great education is customised to the individual, and cannot be mass produced. The closest model is apprenticeship. Teaching is interventionist. Learning is intrinsic. You can learn without teachers, but good teachers help you shape your ideas to point you in the right direction. This also means you need to know how to find a good teacher, and how to design your own learning process for your best fit this season. There is no short cut to mastery – it takes time and practice. I am happy to chat with you about we can make your learning very enjoyable and successful. You can find out more information about my consultation and teaching work on my website, dawnfung.sg. For homeschooling community work based in Singapore, you can check out homeschoolsingapore.sg.