Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters, episode number 55.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts, that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-host today is Mystie Winckler. Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. She writes about practical, classical homeschooling and organizing attitudes at Simply Convivial. In today’s episode Mystie and I are talking all things Scholé Sisters fall retreat planning with Jenn Discher and Danielle Cyrus. Jenn and Danielle both hosted large retreats last year and have lots of great tips for you. As you probably noticed, early-bird registration is open for the Scholé Sisters fall online local retreats. To register, just go to ScholeSisters.com/laugh. This year’s theme is laugh. Please don’t think that we’re doing standup comedy. This is about joy and levity and faith and the heart of what it means to be at peace while you homeschool. It’s true, you can register and do the retreat all by yourself. A fair amount of people do that. But, the retreat was designed to give local groups the opportunity to have a nice, local retreat for themselves, a real all day getaway without lots of planning and logistics. Whether you’ve wanted to put together a local retreat but doubted your ability or you’ve done one before but looking for fresh ideas, this episode is for you. And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:02:18] Why We Do the Retreats the Way We Do
Brandy: We are here for the first of our two special summer season episodes. We’re going to be discussing the fall retreat and I think, really quickly, we’re going to start off with talking about why we do it the way we do it. That was a very purposeful decision that we made early on that we wanted to encourage local retreats, because we felt like other retreats and conventions and conferences and all that stuff, those are awesome and they’re great, but you often go by yourself and meet people that you’ll never see again (at least in your daily life), so we wanted to create something that made it easy for local groups to have a retreat where they didn’t have to do lots of intense planning and flying people in but allow them to actually meet with people who they could have a book club with or have a co-op with, people that could actually have their lives intersect more regularly. So that was very intentional. And so, we’re hoping (we’re hoping!) that that’s what’s actually happening for a lot of folks out there.
Mystie: It’s not just getting those local groups together. That’s a big part of it. But it does provide an event that seems like a real deal to take the day off and just do. It’s not just an evening book club, it really is a day out, and a reason or excuse to have a day out, away—so you still get a little bit of that “getting away from the daily duties,” and some meatier ideas to talk about, and actually having some meals together with other moms because sometimes it takes time for those conversations and relationships to warm up. So it’s kind of that right balance between having a day out but also not having to arrange overnight transportation—unless you’re the one group that actually did do an overnight type thing.
Mystie: There are options. And that’s the fun thing is that doing it this way each group can figure out what is a good fit for their people. Do we know how many local groups we had last year? That would be a fun fact.
Brandy: I think I can look it up. So I think we had about 50 groups do it live, I might be off because I’m basically saying everybody who did it in September did it live. So, total we had 71 groups.
Mystie: Okay. Wow.
Brandy: I think they were on, I want to say, three continents too, which is fun.
Mystie: That’s fun.
Brandy: With that said Mystie is going to introduce our guests for today, Jenn and Danielle.
Mystie: Yes. So we brought on Jenn Discher and Danielle Cyrus. They each put on a rather large local event (large as far as other groups that happened) but still small enough to have conversation and meet together in not an extensive location. So I suppose I should have checked when I was emailing you guys, but Jenn and Danielle, are you guys planning on doing another local retreat this year?
Jenn: Yes, I am now, right?
Brandy: “I’m never doing it again.”
Danielle: We have a tentative date picked out as well because we won’t be doing it live again this year.
Jenn: Actually, same here. We did it live last year, but I might have to do it on a different date.
Mystie: Okay. So Jenn is a mom of three where her kids are 9, 7, and 4, and she lives in Georgia just outside Atlanta, and she was a high school history teacher before she had kids. And then now she has been home schooling from the very beginning. And Danielle is from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and has three kids who are 12, 10, and 8, and they’ve also always homeschooled. And both of them are classical Charlotte Mason, learning and growing, and we thought it would be fun to bring them on here. And one of the cool things about the retreat information that these two can bring is that Jenn’s event was live. So she brought her group together on the same day, same time, and they streamed the retreat talks live. And then Danielle put on an event in October, so she was using the replays, so we’ll get a little bit of a different perspective that way and probably also some feedback on how we can make it easier for the group leaders.
[00:07:34] Logistics for Local Retreats: On the Day
Mystie: Alright, so let’s dig in. For the logistics for the local retreats, how did you let people know about what you were doing? How did you pick your location? What did you do to pull it all together? Jenn, do you want to start?
Jenn: Sure. Well, first I started sharing it with a co-op that I host; it’s a monthly co-op of about five other families, and then I shared it with our nature club moms, and then I also host a homeschool mom book club. And so, once I had a few of those ladies say they were interested, we picked a date—or actually, we were just going to do the live date—and then I shared it with a larger co-op that I’m a part of as well. And so, I had several moms from that group respond as well.
Mystie: That’s fun.
Jenn: It was great. So I knew everybody, I think, except one. And we ended up about 12 to 15 moms. And then as far as location, I love to host things—that’s something that brings me a lot of joy. I enjoy it a lot and I’m blessed with a space for it. So, I was happy to do it at our house. Though I think if we had reached a certain size we would have had to look elsewhere. Did you say food and …?
Mystie: Yeah. What went into your event? What did the day look like?
Jenn: So for food, we did it potluck style. We just had everybody bringing a treat or a heavy appetizer to share, and I provided coffee and other drinks and plates and all that stuff. And then other materials, things like sign-in sheets, I printed the discussion questions, schedule. I also printed hymn lyrics. I was very ambitious and wanted to sing a bunch of hymns together before we started. I think we got one verse of Amazing Grace in, so that ended up not going as expected; it was fine. It was good. The size of our group did make it necessary to break into smaller groups for discussion. So, I checked in with a couple of the other ladies ahead of time to see if they would be okay leading discussion groups and we kind of switched up discussion groups too. Each time there was a break for that so that people could get to know each other because not everybody knew each other ahead of time.
Brandy: So did you need to charge for your event? I know you had to charge the base fee, did you have to add anything?
Jenn: No. No, I didn’t.
Jenn: I guess childcare was another component that had to go into the logistics of it because my kids are on the younger end, but my husband, thankfully, was really great about taking them out for the day. I think he actually got together with some of the other dads whose wives were at the retreat.
Brandy: That’s really neat. Oh, nice.
[00:10:38] Logistics for Local Retreats: A Later Date
Brandy: So, Danielle, what about you? What did yours look like? Yours was later, right?
Danielle: Yeah. So we did ours partway through October and we have a lot of homeschool moms who have older kids and that seems to make them really busy in September so trying to plan an event there. I just went to our Facebook pages on the classical side and also on the Charlotte Mason side and I said, hey this is it is an option, when are you interested? And two, here are two dates: one in September and October. It was overwhelmingly towards October. So we just went ahead with that and I actually just do the same thing again and got feedback like “yes, please not September, no things in September.” And so that’s how we went with that and like Jenn said I used my Facebook groups or book groups that I’m in or for the co-op that I’m in and just advertised that way so I didn’t really do a lot except for just say, “Hey, this is happening,” and we ended up with, I think, about 27 moms.
Mystie: I think you had the biggest group.
Danielle: Yeah, it was really good size. And I can’t take any credit for that. That’s just an indicator of the homeschool community in our area. There’s moms who’ve been leading and working on the scholé attitude for a long time. So really, I was just tapping into what was already there—providing a venue for it. We met at a church. I’m in the Classical Conversations Community and it meets at this church and they’ve expressed over and over that they want to really support the homeschool community, so it wasn’t hard to say, “Hey, can we have our event here?” And someone that came to the event was also going to that church so that always helps. So we did test the technology ahead of time even though it wasn’t live I didn’t want to be standing up there like, “So … now I’m going to tell some jokes.”
Brandy: That’s this year’s retreat.
Danielle: My husband just downloaded this app called ‘Dad Jokes’ so I’ll have to get him to send me some for backup. So we did test the technology and as we were doing it there were different people who said, “Hey, what can I do to help?” And one of my friends actually said, “I just love to cater,” and I said, “You’re hired.” She just put on a big salad bar for us. There was chicken and beans and things to make it a real meal. And then I just let moms know ahead of time that this is about how much it’s going to cost and they could add that on when they paid for the base charge. So the church didn’t charge us, we just had the base fee, plus a little bit for the salad bar. And I did get question discussion leader helpers ahead of time (with that large of a group it was really necessary). I love the idea of swapping groups around during the day. I didn’t do that. I think I’m going to tuck that away for next time too. And I printed the questions. Oh, and one thing that was fun is we had someone bring floral arrangements, just a couple of mason jars of flowers just to make it look a little bit not like a church fellowship hall. So that was fun.
Brandy: So were you using like big round tables?
Danielle: Good question. No, we had just three or four rows of chairs. And then when we broke up we just rounded them up into little groups.
Danielle: There were tables in the room and we use those for lunch.
Brandy: Okay, just curious. I try to visualize this.
Danielle: So rows in the front and the tables are the back and then we set up the salad bar on an additional table in the back.
Mystie: So I think the one thing that makes people most nervous, it seems, is getting the technology to work. So what did you use? How did the connection work? And how complicated was it?
Danielle: We were using my laptop and no, we ended up using the church’s laptop, so they had a laptop setup attached to speakers (like big worship type speakers) and also to a projector that was mounted to the ceiling. And that really was set up in a way that I was not familiar with. So it was really good to have the person who was our connection to the church, I had her there. And then one of the pastors came in and said, “This is how you use it.” She was able to just be in charge of that and I didn’t have to think about it because it was a little bit like a flip this switch and this switch and this switch for it all to line up. If I hadn’t had that, I’m not sure, I maybe would have tried to beg someone’s projector or something and try to figure that out with my personal laptop.
Mystie: And Jenn, for your home, did you use your TV?
Jenn: I did. I hooked up my laptop to my TV (and I’m, kind of, the worst about technology) so that was the part that made me most nervous. I had to buy a special cable and then I just connected it and tested it ahead of time. It ended up being just fine.
Mystie: Yeah, somehow what’s on the computer screen has to get to the other screen. So that is nice because often churches will have someone who knows how to use a technology and was probably willing to help figure that out too, if you ask. Or even get it set up ahead of time.
Danielle: Or write down directions for you.
Mystie: I know other people have also used Chromecast if they have that—just the ability to somehow get your screen onto the other screen.
Brandy: A lot of churches will have someone present if there’s an event going on, which is nice. We had a situation at GHC where we were trying to get slides from a laptop to a screen and it was like my laptop decided in-between sessions to broadcast things differently, like in a different way. I didn’t touch anything, we just turned it on and it was doing something different. And we had never seen this before, we didn’t even know how to fix it, but because there was a tech person there who really knew computers he walked up and was like, “Oh, if you push this button this control panel pops up and then you just do this,” and we were like, “We’re so glad you’re here because I never would have figured that out.” But it was amazing to me how the technology just decided to (even though we had tested everything in advance and we had just used it in a previous session) it just decided to, I don’t know, it had a mind of its own. So who knows what happened but it’s always nice to have a tech person around.
Mystie: Yeah, that would be a good job to assign to somebody maybe?
[00:17:30] Discussion Groups
Mystie: So with the small group discussion, about how many people were in your different small groups for the discussion questions?
Danielle: So for mine, I think it ended up being about four or five people. So I got quite a few discussion leaders so that the groups could really break down, enough for people to have a chance to talk.
Jenn: Yeah, that was the same for me.
Brandy: So did you guys assign leaders in advance?
Danielle: I did too.
Brandy: Sorry, we have to raise our hand or something.
Jenn: Yeah, yeah. I need to be called on.
[00:18:14] Other Tips
Brandy: Alright, so any other tips like things that you just feel like went so well and other people should know them?
Jenn: I would say keep it simple, but that’s probably goes for hospitality across the board. I love that we did the potluck thing; that just made it really easy. And just to not hesitate to ask for help or to accept help when offered.
Danielle: I think that’s a good one too. And I was thinking there were people along the way early on who said, “Hey, I’d like to help,” and I didn’t really know what I needed at that point, and so, I just kind of tucked them away in my back pocket for later. And so then when something popped up I was like, “Hey, I have a job for you as I’ve been saving you for this job.” So that was really helpful. Something that I did is I just really didn’t want to be dealing with money on the day of. So I tried to get as many payments as possible ahead of time, whether that was cash if I saw people or with Venmo—or all of the different ways that you can get money—and that really helped free me up on the morning of to just greet people and introduce people that didn’t know each other and just not be taking money.
Mystie: That’s a good thought.
Jenn: I wish I had done that. That’s a great idea. But one thing that we did too, that I forgot, was we had a book table. I put out I had a dining table that we weren’t using or for most of the time and so I put out homeschooling books and then other parenting or homemaking, that sort of thing, books and that was really fun. Well some, a lot of them were Cindy’s or Teaching from Rest or For the Children’s Sake, Charlotte Mason related, and so it really sparked more conversation afterwards which was really neat.
Danielle: I like that.
Brandy: Can we back up just a second? What is Venmo?
Danielle: Oh. Well, it’s just an app and it works the same way that PayPal does.
Danielle: Or Cash App, or like there’s so many. I’ve tried to pay my babysitter’s that way too so that gets me in the know of these money apps that the young people use. It just works the same way as any other digital payment thing. You just set up an account and then you can request or people can just find you on there and send you money.
Brandy: Do they have to have an account for it to work for them?
Danielle: They do. Yeah.
Brandy: Okay. I’m just wondering because that was a new one to me, so I thought, ‘I need to know this.’
[00:20:49] Ending the Retreat
Mystie: On the day of your retreat how did you end your day? Did it go much past the talks or how did you wrap it up?
Jenn: We did. That was partly because at that point my kids were home, naptime was over, and they had been out of the house, my husband then basically had been kicked out of the house all day, so there was a little bit more sense of urgency to kind of bring it to a close, but some of the moms, it was really sweet to see they went out and got coffee together or maybe hung out, you know outside talked a little bit afterwards, and I think I might want to tack something like that on to it this year where we all go get dinner together because there was kind of a desire to debrief at the end and the discussion questions were so good and we loved that time. I mean, we could have gone way beyond the time allotted for those discussion questions. Just everybody, I think, was just really excited to chat.
Mystie: And Danielle, with your event being not live did you still use the same time frames or did you adjust those?
Danielle: Because we weren’t live, our lunch (and I could tell that the lunch break conversation was pretty rich) I didn’t cut that off after the 45 minutes or whatever that was allotted for that, so by the time we got to the last session it was pushing later in the day and we just kind of prayed our way out and then I could see as myself and some others were tidying up I could see there were groups in the hallway and there were groups in the parking lot, people chit-chatting as they went, but we didn’t have an official, you know, I didn’t have a dinner or anything like that afterwards.
Mystie: That was the other question I was going to ask since you didn’t do it live how much did you flex around the schedule or did you stick pretty close?
Danielle: We did flex a little bit. I tried to be aware. I felt like I had made a commitment to these moms like this is when we’re going to be done. So I tried to keep to that as much as possible but also allow just a few extra minutes when it seemed like people really were digging into the questions and having a lot to say.
Mystie: What time did you end up starting your day?
Danielle: We started at 9 then we were ending, I think, a little after 4:00. Is that right? Somewhere around there.
Mystie: That sounds about right. So it sounds like there’s a lot of communication via Facebook and getting the word out via Facebook and some even using the technology to help with taking payments too and what are you going to do differently this year than you did last year?
[00:23:39] What Would You Do Differently?
Jenn: Besides probably not doing it on the day I really do want to build in a little bit of time at the beginning for singing hymns together and just having that be how we open and then I’d either like to have our discussion time go longer because we would have the freedom to do that if we weren’t doing it live. Or maybe if we end up doing it live tacking on a dinner at the end or something, some kind of get together.
Danielle: I like both those ideas that opening with the ice breaker or not that a hymn is not an icebreaker but something that joins everyone together. And then have a continuous experience on the other end. If I had my act together, I think it would be really neat to do some sort of follow-up meeting. So we have an established scholé study group that meets once a month and maybe if I just prepared a couple of follow-up questions or even just brought the same questions and asked them again, so how have you been thinking about this content, how is it different a couple of months later? Doing some sort of follow-up to keep the information fresh and percolating.
Mystie: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Brandy: I love that.
[00:24:51] Was It Worth It?
Mystie: So would you recommend putting together a local group? Was it worth the effort? Part of the reason why we asked you two is looking at the different information that we got it seems like probably your groups took the most effort. So was it a lot of effort and was it worth it? And what kind of benefits did you see for your local community?
Jenn: I think it was absolutely worth it. One thing that I thought was sweet about our group was just the unexpected diversity of homeschooling experience. Some moms had been homeschooling just for maybe a year. Their other kids were young. And then you had other moms who’ve been doing it for 20 years. And it was neat to see those moms even kind of pair up from time to time and that those were two of the moms who went out and got coffee afterwards. And a lot of them didn’t know each other. One mom came not knowing anybody and that was the case for a couple of them, you know, not just being super connected. So I think that was really sweet to seeing the connections being made and then I also think that a lot of the ideas presented were probably not new to maybe about three quarters of the group, but for that other quarter, I mean I ran into a mom a few months later who said that she was wanting to revamp her whole homeschool philosophy based on a lot of the ideas she had heard at the retreat and that was really neat to chat with her about that too. I think it was totally worth it.
Danielle: I would say it’s definitely worth it too. I was thinking of it like a gift for myself that I get to invite everyone else to enjoy as well. So the work that was put in really was minimal for what the output was because the content was all there and like you guys have said you really provide a lot of the infrastructure in terms of the questions and “here’s what you should do” and schedule so if planning events was very stressful for a person there was a lot of bumpers to get you through that. As far as our local community there were a couple of people that came to it that I had been kind of touching base with, they had been interested in this or that that was going on and just hadn’t made it yet, and so, I finally got to meet them in person and you know have a face with the name and then also, like Jenn was saying, I saw some connections happening too of people that weren’t plugged into the community that’s really very rich and very supportive. So that was really exciting to see as well. And also for me personally, I don’t like the classical Charlotte Mason schism. And so, getting people from both sides into a room and say, “Okay, here’s some really big ideas that we all can agree on or that we see from different sides and we can learn from each other about,” so that was personally really rewarding for me and I think good for all of us.
Mystie: Nice. That’s awesome.
Brandy: You know, I’m wondering as I’m listening to you guys, I mean, I haven’t done a lot of events, but my husband and I used to run a homeschool conference and one of the things I felt like was we never enjoyed our conference. And I don’t mean like we were grouching around the whole time, but I just mean it was so chaotic, and part of it was because we chose to have a vendor hall (I don’t recommend those) but listening to you, you sound very relaxed about it, so I’m wondering do you feel like leader gets to benefit? I mean, I know the replays are available, but the leader gets to benefit on that day?
[00:28:28] Did You as a Leader Benefit On the Day?
Jenn: Absolutely. I really do because Danielle said y’all really provide the infrastructure and I love to host and I host a lot of things throughout the year and this is one of the easiest things to host, I think.
Danielle: Yeah, for sure. As a leader I got to actually sit down and be in a group and answer the discussion questions instead of running around and making sure that this was ready or that was ready or you know, if I was a speaker, am I going to speak next? What am I going to say? I was very relaxed about it.
Brandy: Good. Okay. I feel like we did that right then. That’s what we wanted. We wanted it to be that it wasn’t like there were a few people who didn’t get to participate or something. So
Danielle: I didn’t feel like that at all.
Mystie: Alright. Well, on or off the record, do you guys have any suggestions for us for how we can help make it an even better experience?
Jenn: The only thing I would have said is the longer discussion time, but I know that y’all are also bumping up against wanting to keep it to a certain length. And so that makes total sense. But I mean if I don’t do it live then that problem is solved for me. So that was the only thing I would have said. We lost a part of Cindy’s audio on one of her talks. But you know, it’s not a big deal if you have the downloads to listen to later. So that was no big deal.
Danielle: I was just going to say … I wasn’t going to say anything really, I don’t really have any suggestions. It was very well-supported, and I do think that the lunchtime wouldn’t have been long enough if people were leaving but because we had lunch there that that really helped.
Brandy: And that makes perfect sense.
Mystie: And one of the things with Crowdcast, which we use to stream, is usually those kind of things, when the sound or the video goes out and it doesn’t say, like if it’s on our end, it’ll usually say “waiting for host to reconnect” and if it’s on the viewers end, usually hitting “refresh” on the browser fixes it most of the time.
Brandy: I wonder if we should have that in big letters somewhere, Mystie.
Mystie: I know, like just running on the bottom of the screen the whole time. Just cut and paste that like every two minutes.
Brandy: It’s a good idea.
Mystie: Actually, that should go in the information for the leaders.
Mystie: Well, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing about your events, and what you did to make them work, and encouraging other people to put on their own group. A lot of the conferences and retreats and conventions that are out there involve travel and a lot of extra expenses. There are a lot of online things available now too, but we just think that it’s so helpful for everyone involved when community can come together and learn together and talk about it in the midst of learning instead of it just being an isolated event. So thank you for sharing about your local retreats.
Brandy: And thank you for pouring into your local groups that way.
Danielle: Yeah, thank you for having us.
Jenn: Yeah. Thank you.
Brandy: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the Sisterhood of the podcast. You listeners bring us such joy. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a second of our two-episode bonus summer season. Mystie, Pam, and I will be discussing our retreat topics with our special guest, Cindy Rollins, who will be joining us at the retreat again this year. If you want a taste of our Laughing Well retreat that episode will be perfect for you. Until then, we want to remind you, once again, that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes and look around you, find your sisters.