Start with a core group: Find two or three families that share your interest and work well with your children. Before we started Homespun Storytellers, we discussed the idea with the families of two of Marina's friends and met for several months before offering it to the homeschooling community. This helped to assure that there would be at least three families when we officially ran the group and they would always be prepared.
Decide on a time that works for your schedule: Since you are running the group, it is most important that you show up for your own event. If you can't commit to a particular day and time, how do you expect other families to? Once your group has been established, you can discuss the possibility of any time/day changes together. Our group originally ran on the third Wednesday of the month at 11am. After several years, it was decided to change the time to 12 noon. This gave several families a little more wiggle room if they were trying to cover subjects in the morning or if they needed more time to travel from greater distances.
Whenever possible, be all inclusive: This is a big mistake I have seen among new homeschoolers. You might want to set up a group just for girls between the ages of 6 and 9 to accommodate your only daughter, but the reality is you will draw more interest if you broaden your age range and allow both boys and girls. If I wanted to have my kids play with only one age group, I would send them to school where divisions have already been made. As a mother of two girls and a boy of varying ages, I am more likely to go to an activity that at least two of my children can be involved in.
Make friends with your host: Whether your program is held in a public area or in someone's home, always be a proper guest. Make sure you leave the area as you found it. Try to intermediate if there are any problems between one of your group members and the host. Be gracious and thank your host for the use of their space. Feel free to offer a gift during the holidays. We always give our librarians an assortment of cookies as a thank you. I've also given them book and DVD donations from time to time. This lets them know that you appreciate that they let you use the space.
Try to keep down costs: Another mistake I have seen is organizing long term events that are costly up front. Most homeschooling families have enough expenses, and we are usually stretching one salary to meet them. If one of my children is in martial arts and another takes dance, I have limited funds remaining for costly activities, no matter how educational. My children would have to be begging me to go for me to put down a lot of money for an extra costly activity.
Always plan for free time: It's always best to have a buffer of time when the kids can just enjoy each other's company without parental involvement. We always invite families to plan to stay after storytelling since there is a playground and ballfield right outside the library. In the winter, we tell families to bring sleds as there is a great sledding hill. Sometimes our children spend twice as much time playing as they did at the program itself.
Advertise: Once you have set up your program, tell people about it! If you have a local homeschooling newsletter, advertise it. Send email reminders to your homeschooling community one week to four days before the event. Why am I so specific? Reminders sent earlier than one week before tend to be forgotten. Too close to the day of the event and many homeschoolers have already committed to something else.
Be Patient: Again, this is why you start with a core group of families. Our monthly event didn't take off from the start. Our first year we mainly read to each other. It was the effort of keeping it in mind through advertising and inviting others that made it successful.
Grow with your program: Our storytelling program started with only our core group doing the storytelling. As interest picked up, many parents would ask me if their children could read as well. We accommodated by offering a "guest storytellers" segment of the program. Then it became clear that many of the guest storytellers were reading too softly to be heard or picking stories that were too long. The program time was getting too long. I started running annual workshops in September to teach storytelling to everyone. I later added a second workshop since we tended to lose some of our core group to other commitments in March.
Even a successful program will have slumps: Another event might overlap and cause conflicts for your program. In the winter, we sometimes lose people to ice skating or someone may plan a limited time program at a museum or park that overlaps with our event. Sometimes viruses hit the community and you end up with several families missing due to illness. We have had years where hardly anyone came and years when we didn't have enough chairs for the amount of people who came. Likewise, the ages of the children fluctuates. Some years we have had many young children that couldn't sit through a long story and other years we had more teenagers. Sometimes there are more boys, sometimes there are more girls. We have been running our monthly storytelling group for almost ten years now, so I can assure you these fluctuations are natural. Don't be discouraged. Keep advertising your activity and letting people know about it. Consistency is the key to success.