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Networking

by Cafi Cohen

In person, and via the web, telephone, and snail mail, I probably talk to fifty to one hundred homeschooling families each month. During these discussions, I repeatedly hear the same query: Where can I find ____________ ?

Fill in:

  • An independent-study school for high-achieving teens
  • Flying lessons
  • Book with hands-on math units
  • Driverís training
  • Mentor for wildlife studies
  • Teen homeschool pen-pals
  • Inexpensive telescopes
  • Free, on-line Spanish course
  • Camp for homeschooled teens
  • Remedial Spelling Program

As a military family, we moved a lot when we were homeschooling. As a result, we all learned to find resources fast. In addition, as an information junkie, I enjoy networking for other homeschoolers. But I can only do so much. I face the age-old choice —give you a fish or teach you to fish. This article is an attempt to teach you to fish, to teach you to network.

Why is networking important? Well, first, those of us with adult children will all tell you that adolescence flies by. Your children will be gone before you know it. Usually, to help your teenagers pursue their interests, you have days to weeks, occasionally months, to find appropriate resources. Waiting for wonderful educational opportunities to land on your doorstep is like anticipating the Publisherís Clearing House Prize Patrol. It might happen, but donít hold your breath.

Second, networking is important because good networkers usually find the best resources because their networking activities typically yield several options. Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winning chemist, had a point when he said, "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas."

Third, networking, in addition to creating a plethora of choices, saves money. Among the "lots of ideas" that they generate to satisfy a particular need, networkers often hit the educational equivalent of a two-for-one sale. By researching and increasing options, they enhance the likelihood of finding inexpensive and free resources.

Networking also produces excellent evaluators, "critical thinkers" in educational parlance. With experience, good networkers filter worthwhile resources from the many options they discover. They develop their critical thinking skills, and so do their teenagers, almost by osmosis —which leads to the final point.

Good networkers raise good networkers. Networking parents know the importance of modeling and sharing these skills with their kids. Teenagers, by observing and working with you, learn to locate their own educational resources. Networking allows older kids to assume responsibility for their own learning.

So, it is important to hone those networking skills. Letís address two areas: How To Look and Where To Look.

How To Look

*First: Ask Everyone. Do you have questions similar to those above? If so, donít wait for the next homeschool support group meeting. Ask neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and others. It is impossible to anticipate exactly who will direct you to free foreign language lessons or an opportunity to volunteer at a radio station.

If you are shy about this, remember that most people love the questions: "Could you give me some advice?" or "Whatís your opinion?" Do not ask for help or resources or time; ask for advice. Sometimes you will get both — advice and help, resources, time!

*Second: Go To The Source. This is a real sticking point. I am constantly asked questions beginning with the phrase, "I heard that college X requires. . . ," often followed by the phrase, "and therefore we decided to. . ." These people are making a decision about todayís activities and a future college based on second-hand information. Not a good approach — especially in view of rapidly changing policies.†

I always ask them, "Well, have you called the college and asked them about this?" Never rely exclusively on "what somebody told you." Yes, second-hand information from other homeschoolers can be invaluable, informing you of pitfalls and questions to ask. Eventually, though, if you have a question about the state university, ask the personnel at the college. If you need information about insurance and driverís training, call insurance companies and local driversí training instructors. If you have a query about the PSAT or the SAT, call the test administrators. If you are unclear about aspects of your state homeschooling statute or regulations, read the original sources for yourself.

*Third: Focus. This may not apply to you unless you are an information junkie, like me. Without blinders, I am doomed to failure. On one hand, I enjoy gathering interesting homeschooling information from all quarters. On the other hand, sometimes I too closely resemble the tourist who stops at every attraction. The result? Tired feet and a blur of impressions — in other words, no result.

*Fourth: Evaluate Your Sources. When you obtain information about college admissions or standardized testing or curricula or community resources, ask yourself about the background of your source. Can you trust what that he tells you? Does he have the expertise to answer your question? Ask your source to justify his or her statements: "Why do you think/believe that?"†

*Fifth: Consider Alternatives. When we moved to Denver and needed a sport for our 15-16 year-old son, we considered running (anyone can train for and run road races) and martial arts (provided by private studios). Finally, though, a local homeschooler pointed out a world class diving program just a stoneís throw from our house. After checking out the program and the coach, Jeff joined the diving team, thoroughly enjoying it. It was invaluable for his U. S. Air Force Academy application.

*Sixth: Be Persistent. Donít give up. If one avenue is blocked, explore another. We queried ten to fifteen veterinarians for a volunteer position for my daughter before we found one that said yes. Ross Perot says, "Most people give up just when theyíre about to achieve success, they give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown."†††††

*Seventh: Follow-up Questions. After you ask for advice, always ask: Who else knows more about this? What books would you recommend? Can you tell me about another approach to this situation? What would you do?†

*Last: Allow Your Children To Learn These Skills. How? Apply networking skills to any problem you have with curriculum selection, applying homeschooling approaches, finding community resources, and interpreting state laws and regulations. Then, work collaboratively with your teens on these information-gathering forays. Jointly evaluate the options your research generates.† As your kids grow older, encourage them to assume more responsibility for research and evaluation.

Where To Look

*The first part of Where To Look is the same as How To Look. Talk to people in your community — friends, relatives, neighbors — as well as other homeschoolers. Anyone can provide good information.† My son found a source of free flying lessons from another teenager. My daughter got her first paying job through the supervisor of her hospital volunteer program. We heard about my daughterís foreign exchange program through the friend of a friend.

There is an adage that says you are never more than five people away from any piece of information. Howís that? If you ask somebody for certain facts and he doesnít know, you then proceed to whomever the first person recommends. And so on. The adage assures us that information is never more than five people deep.

Write to well-known people. Is your teenager intrigued the work of a well-known cartoonist, computer game designer, snowboarder, architect, scientist, chef, musician, athlete, writer?† Is she interested in emulating that person, getting advice? Encourage your teenager to write and ask for that advice.†

*Next stop is the local library. Too many make the mistake of perusing the computer card catalog, deciding what they want is not there, and walking out. Depending on the objective, your library research is incomplete unless you have: (1) perused the community resources; (2) chatted with the reference librarian; (3) asked about inter-library loan for any books or materials not in your local system; and (4) checked into the WEB.

Almost all libraries have display tables, bulletin boards, and sometimes files devoted to community groups and resources. Some libraries even maintain a homeschooling file. At almost all libraries, you will find brochures from local parks and recreation departments, YMCAís, musical groups, team sports, and many hobbyistsí groups. In larger communities, look for a free magazine detailing activities for children of all ages.

Consult the reference librarian for information on apprenticeships, college at home, the GED, financial aid, and special programs like Space Camp or Talent Search. The reference librarian can also help you find excellent books, magazines, and videotapes on almost any topic. He may not know the exact information you seek, but he can get you one step closer to finding it by directing you to other libraries, government and private agencies, and so on.†

To obtain materials not in your libraryís system, request an Inter-Library Loan form. For this short form, you will need the author and title of a book. At some libraries inter-library loan is free; others charge a nominal fee — fifty cents to a dollar is common. Typical waiting time is one to two weeks. Why more people donít use Inter-Library Loan to preview textbooks is beyond me. Wondering about English From the Roots Up or Saxon Algebra I, for example?† If your local system does not have the text, just request it Inter-Library Loan, and borrow it for a trial run.†

Finally, more and more libraries are making computer WEB access available to their patrons.† The WEB is such an efficient information gathering resource, learning to use it is essential.† If your library provides WEB access, not having a computer or modem (device for connecting a computer to the WEB) is no excuse.

Find sites for used/inexpensive curriculum, homeschooling kids with learning disabilities, free on-line Russian lessons, pen-pals around the world, writing contests, and much more. If you learned to drive a car, you can easily learn to navigate the WEB. With fifteen minutes of instruction (five minutes for kids!), most people are ready to begin researching.

*Schools. Teachers at colleges and local public and private schools can be a wonderful source of information and referrals. Curious about good hands-on resources for science? What about that inexpensive microscope? Call a biology instructor at your local high school or college. Occasionally, you will run across someone who does not have time for you, but most of these people live to give advice and will be flattered by your questions.†

Through universities, we have found piano teachers (call the music department), special summer programs for high schoolers (extension or high school program office), and access to foreign language clubs (French or Latin or Spanish department). Through high schools, we have located lab supplies (science department), college preparatory reading lists (English and history departments), SAT and ACT registration materials (counseling office), and volunteer program information (also at the counseling office).†††

*The WEB. If you have a computer, but are not on-line, consider taking advantage of the free month offers of American On-Line or any of the other large Internet Service Providers. If you do not have computer, check with your library or even with a friend for WEB access to help you research resources. I would gladly give occasional WEB access to several homeschool friends — but no one has ever asked me.

On the WEB, you will want to acquaint yourself with one or more search engines. Search engines are simply sites onto which you enter one or more search terms — much like using the subject index in a library card catalog. For example, if you were looking for free instructional materials from NASA, you might try entering "NASA" as a search term or keyword. The challenge is to find search terms that are neither too broad (resulting in thousands of hits), nor too narrow (resulting in no hits).

My favorite search engines (this month) are Google, www.google.com and HotBot, www.hotbot.com. If your child is exploring the WEB for the first time, have him enter a search term for a current interest. Examples are astronomy, skiing, wildlife, and so on.

If you prefer browsing to generating your own search terms, let me also direct you to several great sites that may have escaped your attention:

Homeschool Resource List, members.home.net/ct-homeschool/guide.htm

Homeschool Support On the Internet, www.geocities.com/Athens/8259/

High School and Homeschool Links, www.quailhaven.com/academy/hslinks.htm#HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE

High School Hub, highschoolhub.org/hub/hub.htm

Homeschool-Teens-College, www.homeschoolteenscollege.net

*Special Homeschooling Sources. Some homeschooling organizations and authors are particularly informative. They may not know the answer, but they can help you find who does. Here is my short list, together with examples of what they can provide.

National Home Education Network, PO Box 41067, Long Beach, California 90853. www.nhen.org. Visit this relatively new information clearinghouse with articles about home education; legal and legislative monitoring; support group referral; media contacts; mailing list information and much more.

Holt Associates, 2269 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140-1226 (617 864-3100) www.holtgws.com. publishes a subscriberís list (find teenage homeschoolers near you and families who have offered their home as a place to stay for traveling homeschoolers), pen-pal seekers, lists of helpful counselors, lawyers, and mentors.

Homeschooling The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen (me!). Read my newly released book replete with resources and contact phone numbers and web sites for everything from the three Rís to driverís training.

The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn has chapters on hands-on community based English, Math, Biology, Foreign Language, sports, history, and more. Each chapter also includes great reading list recommendations. The book is available at libraries (donít forget inter-library loan) or Holt Associates. Graceís WEB page for her yearly Not-Back-To-School Camp is www.nbtsc.org.

Home School Source Book by Donn Reed. The chapter on "Free or Almost Free Teaching and Learning Aids" alone is worth the cost of the book. Reed reviews all kinds of resources, not restricting himself to the usual homeschooling curricula, but instead concentrating on Real Books, tapes, materials from private and government agencies, and much more.

Leaders of State & Local Homeschooling Organizations can often help you find resources in your community. Be part of the information pipeline by joining local and state support groups and by contributing when you find a good resource. To locate a local support group, check the group lists at the Eclectic Homeschool Organization, www.eho.org.


Cafi Cohen homeschooled two children through high school and is the author of "And What About College?" How Homeschooling Leads To Admissions To The Best Colleges and Universities and of the new book, Homeschooling The Teen Years. Her web page is Homeschool-Teens-College, www.homeschoolteenscollege.net. She lives in Arroyo Grande, California with her husband Terry and dog Phoenix.

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