Tuesday night was our "kick-off the new school year" monthly parent meeting, with over 100 people in attendance. We have a large number of "seasoned" homeschool moms in our group, which is great news for new homeschoolers eager for mentors! Mentoring homeschool moms happens to be one of my passions, and I am mentor coordinator for our group this year. Having been in support group leadership for close to 20 years, I can say that we have tried many different approaches to homeschool mentoring, with varying degrees of success. But recently we have found a few things that seem to be working especially well.
First, we just started using ASK ME badges for mentors/leaders at our monthly parent meetings. We usually have 40-50 people at a monthly meeting, and some months, like last night, there can be over 100. Everyone prints themselves a name tag at the check-in desk when they arrive, but it is hard for people to tell who are the experienced homeschoolers/leaders. So now, mentors and leaders at the meeting will wear a bright red ASK ME badge in addition to their name tag.
We are also changing the way that we do seating at a meeting. Rather than rows of chairs facing the front of the room, next month we are going to start setting up the room with rectangular tables and chairs. Each table will have 6-8 chairs and a mentor/hostess, who will be wearing her ASK ME badge, and will facilitate introductions among the people sitting at her table.The hostess might choose to bring a favor for all the people at her table - a new pencil, some candy kisses, a bookmark. Some mentors will be specific to the meeting topic that month. For example, when the topic is Teaching Your Challenging Child, we'll have several mentors who have children with special needs or learning disabilities. Our group has over 300 member families, so there is a large pool of people to draw from. While we haven't done this yet, we are very excited about this change, and the potential for our members to make connections at these monthly meetings.
For a couple of years now, we have devoted one monthly meeting each year to "Speed Mentoring".
This has become a very popular meeting! “Speed Mentoring allows veteran homeschoolers to connect with new homeschoolers who are overwhelmed with questions about anything (or everything!) related to home education. The “mentor” doesn’t need to be an expert in homeschooling—she simply shares from her experience. New parents ask their question(s) in a one-on-one setting, then, after an allotted time, a whistle blows, and they move to the next mentor to either ask the same question(s) or shift to another topic. This makes a fun, lively, interactive support group meeting " [Speed Mentoring, HSLDA.org] Sending out mentor bios along with a list of possible questions ahead of time helps things to run smoothly at the meeting. We have found that our members are most happy when meetings involve time for social interaction. As much as we love that we get to spend each day with our children, we moms also really enjoy the chance to hang out with adults from time to time! And we homeschool moms are really interesting people to hang out with!
A couple of years ago we invited amazing homeschool mom Vickie Bentley to come speak at our support group meeting, and as a result discovered her Home Education 101 Mentor Manual and Parent Workbook.
This is a fantastic tool for mentors to use either one on one or in a group setting, to cover basic information that is important for giving new homeschoolers a solid foundation as they begin their homeschool journey. There are 9 chapters, covering Beginning the Journey, Choosing Curriculum, Organizing Your Time, Learning & Teaching Styles, Getting Dinner on the Table, Testing & Evaluations, Teaching Tips, Organizing Your Home, and Lessons Learned. The manual includes information for the mentor to share, but also give spaces for adding in your own experiences as well as information specific to your state laws, etc. There is an accompanying Parent Workbook that contains reprints of some information from the manual, but also blanks spaces in which to take notes from what your mentor is sharing. Right now we have 4 small groups forming, for moms who have homeschooled for 0-3 years - 3 groups will meet weekly for 8 weeks in a row, the 4th will be an all-day Saturday crash course! I asked for testimonials from past Home Education 101 participants. Here are some things they had to say:
"At the beginning of my second year of homeschooling, with much encouragement from a friend, I reluctantly signed up to be in a mentor group. It wasn't that I didn't think I needed it, I just didn't want to add another thing to my calendar. I went that first night not sure of what it would be like and if it would even benefit me. I quickly learned that it would be a turning point for me in my homeschool years. ... God used several things over the course of that year to confirm that He wanted me to homeschool, but I credit the mentor group for bringing joy and grace back into our school. I would HIGHLY recommend joining a mentor group, even if you don't think you can add another thing to your calendar :) "
"Our group met twice a month. We sat with our mentor around the table and went over all the basics – from curriculum choices to finding your child’s learning style to making the most of your daily schedule. In addition to practical advice, I received support and encouragement from all the fabulous ladies who came – and there were even cupcakes! My mentoring group helped me hang on when I felt like giving up, and I’m so glad I did! I received valuable tips on working with my son. I learned how to schedule our day more efficiently. And I met other moms who also had messy houses! "
"I decided to homeschool only a few weeks before the school year started in 2013 and I was so unsure about ... everything. Having a seasoned homeschool mom ... to encourage us, and teach us, and cheer us on was invaluable. I loved that we could talk about marriage, meal planning, cleaning (or not), and how homeschooling affects every part of our lives as moms and wives. I left every meeting renewed and encouraged.... Should I mention the cupcakes? "
Which brings us to the topic of cupcakes. Several years ago I developed my cupcake baking skills in order to help my daughter raise money for a missions trip, and it has become my hobby, to the point that in certain circles I am known as "the cupcake lady". These are made-from-scratch gourmet cupcakes, and I have a list of over 50 flavors that I have tried. I started bringing cupcakes for the refreshment table at our monthly meetings, to our monthly leaders meetings, and to my mentor group meetings. You know what? There is just something about home-baked goodies that makes people feel loved! Store-bought cookies and bags of chips do not invoke the same reaction as a yummy treat lovingly prepared in someone's own kitchen! Neither do veggie trays. And if some of those treats are prepared with gluten-free ingredients, you will have the undying affection of those in your group who rarely get to indulge in the goodies at the end of the meeting. Note the reaction of one of our new members when I posted in our Facebook group that I was bringing gluten-free cupcakes to the meeting because she mentioned it in passing." OMG NO YOU DIDN'T!!! You are AWESOME...I always go to the parties and never can indulge because of it... I will kiss you when I get there!!!!" Part of successful mentoring is developing a relationship of trust and acceptance, and cupcakes are amazingly good at breaking the ice and fostering good feelings. Try it!