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Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families Review by Shauna Rumbaugh

Marcia Kay Washburn
Marcia Washburn

Marcia Washburn was a guest speaker at my local homeschool support group earlier this spring. I enjoyed her encouraging workshops and especially the practical, hands-on tips she shared. Washburn provides more of the same in her guide Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families. This mother of five served in several leadership positions in her local support group for 18 years, and she shares the wealth of her years of experience in this helpful book.

Washburn's informative guide provides numerous ideas for activity days and field trips as well as step-by-step instructions for planning, leading, and conducting them. She knows from experience that her ideas and methods work in practice because they were field tested in her homeschool group. Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families includes 154 loose-leaf pages in a three-ring binder with tabbed dividers. Though the book is directed primarily at homeschool support group leaders, many of the ideas can be used by individual families or small groups. Washburn provides not only ideas but also supply lists, detailed instructions, and tips for conducting each activity so that it will be an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone involved.

The author begins with an "Introduction to Activity Days" to explain the benefits of hosting them and to provide general tips on organization. She defines an activity day as simply "a scheduled event hosted by a homeschool support group," regardless of whether it is a regular or one-time event or how many families participate. Washburn stresses the importance of parental involvement in the success of homeschool support groups, and she encourages groups to share the responsibility for putting on activity days.

Washburn advises homeschool support groups to incorporate activity days into their offerings for several reasons. Homeschoolers can benefit from the gifts and areas of expertise of other members of the group, and activity days provide opportunities for group learning, socialization, and fellowship. Hosting activity days can also be a means of educating the public about homeschooling and being a positive example of its effectiveness in the community. Having regular activity days in a support group also gives opportunities for students and adults to develop much-needed leadership skills.

If you have little experience organizing group activities, the process of coordinating and implementing events can seem overwhelming. Washburn breaks the process into manageable steps and guides group leaders through these preparations, addressing issues such as what activities to do, how often to meet, where to hold the activity, what format to use, how to set costs, and how to handle discipline and safety concerns. She is quite thorough, and activity organizers will not have to worry that they're forgetting an important detail in the process of planning, organizing, and delegating responsibilities.

The "Ideas for Activity Days" section is the meatiest section in the whole guide, listing plans for 19 different activity days in a variety of subject areas. The activities are arranged in alphabetical order in the book, but Washburn also provides a helpful list of the activities arranged in order of complexity. Some activities require advanced planning and multiple coordinators to be done successfully, whereas other activities can be put together easily on short notice by one person. This information is very helpful when you are selecting an activity.

Some of the suggested activity days include Family Literature, Hobby Day, Back-to-School Picnic, Community Helpers, Pioneer Crafts, and Dissection Day. Other activities described in the guide cover topics such as math, holidays, music, and physical fitness. The activity day pages provide information about each activity, checklists for coordinators, suggestions and real-life examples based on Washburn's homeschool group experience, and supply and equipment lists. Several activities have a decidedly Christian emphasis, but they could easily be adapted for secular or inclusive groups. The content in this section is rich with practical information, and the author provides recipes, game ideas, and forms where applicable. Minimal illustrations, examples, and figures are also included.

Several of the ideas would work well for homeschool co-op classes. The Exploring Your Senses activity, for example, features several different stations and experiments that enable students to engage all of their senses. The most challenging activity described in the book is also the one that sounds the most fun to me--Hands-On Art. Washburn provides directions for seven different art activities that students rotate through. Each station requires a separate volunteer, and Washburn lists individual instruction sheets for each station as well as sample schedules and overall tips for training volunteers.

The next section in the book covers "Ideas for Long-Term Activities," which meet throughout the year or more regularly than the activities covered in the previous section. They also require more commitment from participants and volunteers. Some of the classes and activities covered in this section are Bible quizzing, performance groups, sports teams, geography classes, journalism and yearbook, and special interest classes. Several long-term activities for parents are also addressed, such as Mom's Day (Night) Out and couples' dinners.

The "Handling Field Trips" section is the shortest section at only one page long. Washburn provides a list of field trip suggestions, discusses the benefits of going on field trips, and gives advice about avoiding potential pitfalls. I would have liked to see more content in this section, as the ideas are rather general. But I understand that field trip opportunities vary widely depending on where you live, and listing specific ideas would not have been feasible.

The "Resources" section directs readers to a variety of related resources, organizations, books, and websites. The resources are arranged by topic; some are general homeschooling helps, and others relate specifically to individual activity days covered in the book.

Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families is practical and easy to use. Although it is desktop-published and the illustrations and layout are not as professional looking or as durable as in a professionally bound book, the loose-leaf format makes it easy to pass along individual instruction sheets to activity leaders. The book's copyright grants permission for materials in the book to be used by the purchaser and the homeschool group of the purchaser; the rights are not transferable to other support groups or subsequent owners. Washburn's material is well written and well edited, and her organizational suggestions take the guesswork out of event planning.

I am coordinating an outdoor activity day with several families from my local support group right now, and I will definitely continue to use Washburn's suggestions and ideas in our group. Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families is a helpful tool for homeschool groups and individual families, and I recommend it! Even if you aren't currently a support group leader, Washburn's guide provides all the training you need to get started as an activity day organizer for your group!

Product review by Shauna Rumbaugh, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2009