How to recruit home-school families

Every fall, Cub Scout packs recruit new members from schools across the country. But many overlook the biggest school of all: the home school. According to one researcher, about 2.5 million American kids in kindergarten through 12th grade are home-schooled, and that number continues to grow.

How can your pack serve some of those kids? Scouting asked two experts: Kira LaFosse-Baker, education programs coordinator for New England Base Camp, where the Spirit of Adventure Council offers home-school programming three days a week, and Eagle Scout Dan Warren, Ph.D., a BSA volunteer and home-school parent in Canton, Mass. Warren serves as director of youth development and education for Fluent Research, which provides consulting on educational and out-of-school programming.

A Gem With Many Facets

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Every home-schooling family is different, and understanding why people choose to home-school will help you understand how your pack can serve them. LaFosse-Baker says, “There are people who are in home schooling because they want more religion in their children’s lives. There are people who home-school because they want control over the narrative of social studies and history. There are people who do it for health reasons.”

But all these parents have something in common.

Like other parents, she says, “They want their kids to grow up to be well-rounded people of character, and they want them to have lots of really great life experiences — not just school experiences, not just home experiences.”

To achieve that goal, Warren says, “A lot of them are putting together the educational plans of their kids a la carte.”

They’ll do plenty of learning at home, but they’ll also plug in programming offered by parks, museums and other groups. In fact, LaFosse-Baker knows one family that uses the term “out-schooling” because they spend so much time learning away from home.

“We’ve been joking among our families that ‘home schooling’ is really becoming an inaccurate term,” she says.

Community Connections

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Because families home-school for many different reasons and follow many different schedules, it can sometimes be hard for them to build community. (An exception would be when home-schooling families are connected to the same religious institution.)

Although the same families might see each other at different activities from time to time, “it never feels like we’re raising our children together,” Warren says. “What Cub Scouting really brings out is this element of being committed around a certain set of values to helping each other raise our kids. It provides the parents with a consistent community, which I would argue is actually — given the developmental period of Cub Scouts — more important than the kids having consistent community.”

While home-school families might not naturally connect like they would in a traditional school setting, they are often connected through social media.

“One of the biggest resources is Facebook, because that’s where home-schoolers are all connecting with each other and sharing resources,” LaFosse- Baker says. She follows five or six local and regional home-school groups on Facebook and uses them to identify needs that New England Base Camp could help fill. For example, if several families are looking for a robotics program for preteens, she’ll set one up.

Recruiting Home-Schoolers

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Given the role of social media, Warren says it helps to identify key influencers in the community and convince them to give Cub Scouting a try.

“They’ll come, they’ll test it out with their kids, and then they’ll go back and they’ll get all their friends,” he says. “It’s finding who those key people are, who the community advocates and the mobilizers within the home-school community are, and connecting with them and building strong relationships with them.”

It also helps to rethink the concept of recruiting. People sometimes ask Warren when and where to do school talks with home-schoolers.

His response: “It’s going to be in someone’s living room on a Tuesday morning.”

And the kids are going to have more of a voice in the decision to join than they otherwise might.

Scouting as School

In a traditional educational setting, Scouting is an extracurricular activity, but many home-schoolers look at Scouting as an integral part of school.

“The home-school community is looking for a plugin for their child’s education,” Warren says. “They’re not looking for just this extracurricular experience.”

Some families even see Scouting as a framework on which to build their own curriculum.

“I wish I had a nickel for every person in the home-school community that came to me with the Scout handbook and said, ‘I just read this. This is genius. It’s like a home-schooler’s bible,’” he says.

“The idea of Scouting as education is something that we need to talk about much more actively, especially with alternative education becoming more and more the norm,” he says. “This home-school thing looks like fringe, but it’s not. It’s in the mainstream now.”

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