How I Started a Homeschool Resource Center
at my Church
By Teri Ann Berg Olsen
In January of 2003, I rearranged the church library at Crossroads Christian Fellowship in New River, Arizona, to make room for a homeschool section. This idea had come to me back in October around the time of Make a Difference Day. Inspired to do some community service – and simultaneously pondering the cluttered condition of our school room at home because we had run out of shelf space – I thought to combine my library education with my passion for homeschooling and make use of my extra books, while also providing an outreach opportunity for the church. The pastor and his wife homeschool their own children and they thought it was a good idea.
Before long, everything came together to take my library plan one step further. The lady who was coordinating the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for our homeschool group was wishing she had a nearby location to do the standardized testing. She needed a building with several different rooms, which we have at our church. A few days later, a friend of mine from another homeschool group mentioned that she was having trouble finding a place to hold her workshops. (Since we’re out in a rural desert area, there aren’t many buildings with meeting rooms. We didn’t even have a local public library.) My friend also knew a couple of people who were interested in teaching classes for homeschoolers. Consequently, we decided to set up a homeschool resource center.
I started the homeschool library with about 200 of my own books. As word spread through the local support groups that we were creating a homeschool lending library, more homeschoolers brought in materials for the collection. Families with recent homeschool graduates were happy to donate their entire old curriculum. We received educational games, magazines, audiotapes, videos, and software as well. I cataloged all of the items using a database called Readerware. The software also keeps track of loans and due dates, although I haven’t been assigning due dates. I simply ask people to bring the items back as soon as they’re done with them, and they can keep curriculum for up to a year. (If someone requests an item that has been checked out for a long time, I will contact the current borrower just to see if they have finished using it yet.)
Several different companies generously donated books and educational resources to our library. In appreciation, I placed their logo and link on the resource center website, listing them as sponsors. We also have an assortment of catalogs from various curriculum publishers and distributors. Making the catalogs available helps people who are looking for certain items or who want to compare different curriculums. We have past issues of homeschool magazines on display, and I distribute new copies of The Old Schoolhouse and Homeschooling Parent magazines. In addition, since a homeschool resource center qualifies as an educational organization for the purpose of Campbell’s Labels for Education and General Mills Boxtops for Education, we are collecting and saving those labels and boxtops to put toward getting a microscope or other science equipment.
As independent home educators, we have the freedom to choose the instructors who will best meet our needs. They may be homeschool moms, hired teachers, or people from the community who are professionals in their field. Parents that teach classes usually have experience in the subject matter. Since the students are getting their primary education at home, we concentrate on enrichment classes rather than core curriculum. Various homeschool courses that we have offered include: Art, Music, Drama, Creative Writing, Geography, Sign Language, and High Tech Kids. Other activities have included the Pizza Hut Book-It reading incentive program, standardized testing, Gettysburg dramatization by Bob Farewell, book sale, fire safety presentations and first aid course. The local homeschool honor society and a support group also hold their meetings there.
The resource center and library are open about once or twice per week, whenever homeschool classes or activities are taking place. While we favor instructors, resources and courses that have a Christian worldview, the resource center is open to all homeschoolers in the area no matter what church or support group they belong to. We have had classes for all ages from preschool to high school, and even for moms. Certain classes by necessity are loosely divided into age groups. For the sake of convenience, we try to set up the classes so that they run back-to-back all on one day. Some children attend only one class, and other families have children in several different classes. Although a few parents drop their kids off and pick them up later, others stay to observe the classes or browse through the library books, and many moms like to sit and chat. We have a fenced-in playground and playroom with educational toys for the toddlers and preschoolers. Older children who aren’t in a particular class like to get together and play ball, chess, or other games.
In the spirit of a co-op, the resource center enables homeschooled children to enjoy a group experience, providing interaction with other teachers and homeschooled kids. Unlike a traditional co-op, parents don’t take turns doing the teaching but instead hire someone else to provide the instruction. Often when a mom would like her children to study a certain subject, she suggests that we should have a class. She may even seek out an instructor who we then contact, make arrangements with, and spread the word to everyone. The parents pay the instructors directly, and my position is purely voluntary. However, we do charge a nominal $5.00 per family per year for the privilege of checking out books (to cover the cost of supplies, book repairs, etc.), and we request an additional dollar per student per class which we give to the church for the use of their facility. I must say, the church has been very flexible and accommodating! Being firmly committed to parent-led education, and to keep in touch with families’ interests, I also created a survey on which parents can indicate what classes and activities they would like to see. I then use this “wish list” to help determine needs and plan future course offerings.
The homeschool resource center is more than a co-op, and it isn’t a support group or school either. It’s like a community center where families can obtain information and resources, borrow books and teaching materials, take classes, attend meetings, and participate in activities. One mom mentioned to me several times how much her son enjoyed going to his weekly class. Another mom stated that her daughter was moaning about missing her classmates during the summer. I know that my three boys – ages 5, 10, and 15 – all look forward to spending an action-packed day of fun and learning with their friends. Even church members who do not homeschool can find biblically-based family resources in the library’s homeschool section, some of which may be used in Sunday school. For these reasons, the resource center has become a vital part of our community.
Teri Ann Berg Olsen is a home educator, librarian, and author of Learning for Life: Educational Words of Wisdom. An AFHE member since 1995, she and her husband have always homeschooled their children. In addition to serving as resource coordinator for the Knowledge House Learning Resource Center, Teri is the leader of Desert Hills Christian Homeschoolers and Arizona State Coordinator for The Old Schoolhouse. She is currently researching the history of home education in Arizona for her next book.
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