Why hooking up with the homeschooled can boost your pack.
The fastest-growing school in America meets at the kitchen table. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled students rose from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.5 million in 2007. The National Home Education Research Institute puts the total even higher—at around 2 million, or 3.5 percent of America’s school-age population.
Parents homeschool their kids for many reasons, and a concern about the local mainstream school environment and a desire to provide religious or moral instruction rank high on that list. But these two reasons offer packs both opportunities and challenges, says Todd White, Cubmaster of Pack 423 in Woodstock, Va.
White, whose pack is made up mostly of homeschoolers, says homeschool parents want their kids to learn values, but they also want to shield them from negative influences.
“Parents tend to be hesitant to put their kids around public and private school kids because of their extended exposure to the world,” he says. “There’s a lot of exposure that kids have to things like movies, culture, and video games that homeschooling families tend to be less excited about.”
While many outsiders think homeschooled kids need more socialization, that’s not always the case, says Bill Osuch, committee chairman of all-homeschool Pack 226 in Plano, Tex. “Other than Cub Scouts with 65 of their closest friends, they have karate classes, they have field trips, they have homeschool roller-skating nights, and things like that. One of the leaders in our pack is a Ph.D. scientist, and he runs science classes for homeschool students.”
Still, while homeschool parents are deeply involved in their kids’ lives, you can’t expect them all to sign up as leaders. Homeschool families typically run larger than average, so parents may have to juggle more activities and responsibilities than other parents in the community.
“They tend to be available, but they often have a lot of younger children to tend to,” White says.
On the other hand, many homeschool parents make Scouting part of their children’s education. “They will be the kids who earn all the awards because they can build their life around it. They have the time.”
To connect with homeschool families in your area, start with an Internet search for “homeschooling” and your city or state. “That will bring up the organizations, whether they’re loosely affiliated or a state organization, that cater to homeschoolers,” White says. You can also find a directory at Home Education Magazine’s Web site, homeedmag.com.
Homeschool groups’ curriculum fairs and back-to-school events create great opportunities to promote Scouting. “We set up a booth there, just like a regular pack would set up at a school during a join-Scouting night,” Osuch says.
Word of mouth also plays an important role, says White. His pack’s members mostly come through referrals from other families and through spring recruiting at the church where the pack meets.
White says homeschool families are usually tightly networked. “If you get a bad report from a homeschooling family, all the other ones will know about it and be on alert. If you get ‘Hey, this is really great,’ you will draw other homeschooled kids.”
“It’s a very under-tapped market,” he says. “It’s completely worthwhile once you make the effort and make some inroads.”