Make Room for Homeschoolers
By Abby Johnson
Mon, 04/23/2012 - 14:54
Children educated at home can help make a library more fantastic
Consider providing science fairs, spelling bees, book clubs, and storytimes to your homeschooling community. Older kids too can enjoy database workshops, book discussions, and a tour of the local art museum.
Did you know there are an estimated 2 million home-educated children in the United States? According to a report from the National Home Education Research Institute, there were approximately 2.04 million American homeschoolers in 2010, and that number is increasing by 2%–8% each year. That’s almost 4% of all school-age children in this country. Do the math for your service area and you may be surprised.
In Floyd County, Indiana, there is a substantial homeschooling population, and many of them visit the library regularly. I knew I wanted to provide programming for the homeschooling community, but how to start? I read Adrienne Furness’s excellent Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (ALA Editions, 2008) and followed her advice by talking to our homeschooling families.
The first step was to bring ideas to them, including a homeschool science fair, a spelling bee, a book club, and storytimes. We learned that many of these programs were already offered in the community and that we would need to tailor programming to a variety of ages. Our homeschoolers were also able to tell us on what days regular community activities—such as Cub Scouts, 4-H meetings, etc.—were already scheduled.
We decided our first program would be a library tour and scavenger hunt to introduce new families to the library and promote our resources. Next, it was time to get the word out. In addition to distributing a news release, we mentioned the program to homeschooling families that visited the library, put signage near the parents’ shelves in our Children’s Room, and sent information to all the local homeschool groups and discussion lists. Joining local homeschool discussion lists helps me promote library programs and keeps me aware of homeschooler issues as well as what books parents have recommended so I can purchase them for the library.
In January 2010, we started a monthly program for homeschoolers called Fantastic Friday. Knowing that homeschooling families often have multiple children of different ages, we try to offer something for everyone. Sometimes the group splits up and there’s an activity for the younger kids and a different one for the older kids. On other Fridays, the whole group is together. Parents and kids can decide which group they will join; there are no firm age limits.
On days when the group is divided, we often do a storytime and a craft project on a seasonal topic for the younger kids. Programs have run the gamut—bug stories and coffee filter butterflies, winter stories and Styrofoam snowmen, superhero stories and superhero flip books, and Native American folktales and paper towel–tube totem poles and more. Older kids have enjoyed database workshops, book discussions, book spine poetry, and a tour of the local art museum’s Underground Railroad exhibit. Whenever we need more ideas, we ask the homeschoolers.
One of the most successful programs was the September 11 Back to Homeschool Party, where children partied while parents met and swapped homeschooling ideas. Homeschooled teens helped supervise while younger kids enjoyed crafts, snacks, video games, toys, and books. While kids were having fun in our meeting room, I met with parents to promote library resources, and then listened and took notes about materials parents suggested to one another.
Fantastic Fridays has connected the library with the homeschooling community. Not only are we now serving this previously underserved group, but homeschooling families are giving back to the library. Parents have gone on to serve on the library’s Community Planning Committee during strategic planning development. Homeschooling teens volunteer at some children’s programs, and one family volunteered to videotape and edit a summer reading club video by the teen advisory board. Some homeschooling parents help with our collection by noting which series of books have gone missing or by suggesting series or titles that have curriculum connections.
Having homeschoolers in the library definitely makes our library more fantastic.
ABBY JOHNSON is children’s services/outreach manager at New Albany–Floyd County (Ind.) Public Library. Find her on the web at www.abbythelibrarian.com.