Submitted By Janell E. Robisch
The challenge of fitting in is a global one. Whether young or old, most people naturally seek out a group of like-minded folks with whom they can talk and share their lives and experiences. Even in a pre-made social structure like school, children and school staff can face a lot of difficulty finding a group of individuals with whom they feel comfortable. Homeschoolers are no different, and they face the difficulty of being physically spread out and initially disconnected. No one plops every homeschooler in a region together in one room or building and says, “Here are the other homeschoolers. Go find a friend.”
New homeschooling parents may find this a particularly vexing problem as they try to establish a community for their children, who are often fresh out of school, while simultaneously trying to figure out which style of homeschooling is best for them and which materials and curricula work best for their children.
Where Is Everybody??? Finding a Community
Your first and hopefully easiest option is to see what’s already out there. The Internet, while not a perfect solution, is a lifesaver in this regard. Through places like The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Yahoo! Groups, and Facebook, you can connect with other homeschoolers in your area and maybe even get a feel for them before you attend your first playdate, park day, or class. I’m sure it was much harder to connect with other homeschoolers before the Internet unless you already shared another community, such as church. Religion, by the way, definitely plays a part in finding your homeschooling community. There are distinct groups of religious, secular, and inclusive homeschoolers out there, and ending up in the wrong group, even temporarily, can be uncomfortable at the least and a downright bad experience in other cases.
Toni Popoki Reed, a homeschooler from San Diego, California, told me that as an atheist/agnostic family, they had trouble fitting among religious homeschoolers in their area; they were sometimes asked not to come back to park days, and sometimes they “just got tired of being asked to various churches.” On the other hand, those who homeschool for religious reasons might feel persecuted or out of place among a more secular crowd and might prefer to seek out other homeschoolers who make religion and worship a core part of their study. Finally, there are inclusive groups where everyone is welcomed and hopefully respected whatever their viewpoint. These groups try to find a happy medium where anyone can join and hopefully find children and parents that mesh well with their own families.
If the Mountain Will Not Come to Muhammad…Creating Your Own Community
Unfortunately, the world is not a perfect place, and finding a community can be a challenge. Religious issues, homeschooling philosophy, and family issues can all be barriers in finding the right fit. Sometimes, geography also stands in the way. In my small town in the Shenandoah Valley, the homeschool population has been small but steadily growing over the nine years that I have lived here. I have found myself driving at least 45 minutes the majority of the times we meet with other homeschoolers. For us, it has been worth it, but a lack of time and money and kids who get carsick are many factors that make this a less attractive option. The “over-flexibility” of some homeschoolers can also cause problems for those seeking out a new community. Who hasn’t shown up to a homeschool park day or field trip—or several—just to find out that no one else showed up? Repeated instances of this can sour anyone’s attitude.
Gleamer Sullivan, a homeschooling mom from Grottoes, found herself in a similar situation when her children were young and her oldest was just reaching schooling age. Despite joining a co-op and going to every park day and swimming day she could find, Gleamer found that it was not enough to meet the needs of her very social and outgoing daughter.
At some point, Toni, and Gleamer and I all came up with the same solution: We started our own communities. I started a homeschool co-op, which struggled on for about a year. I can’t say it was completely successful. I found that my small town community still wasn’t large enough to support it, and geography proved too large a barrier to many of the out-of-towners that were driving in. Also, meeting the needs of the various age groups and different needs of the children was somewhat of a challenge. However, I know many who have formed and maintained successful co-ops. Toni and a friend of hers started their own all-inclusive homeschool park day. They have earned a reputation for being open and respectful among other homeschoolers and their group draws in families of all faiths and those with no faith. Gleamer took it one step further and, with her husband, started Raw Learning, a private democratic school and homeschool resource center. It allowed her to give life to her learning philosophies while providing her children (and others) with a consistent community of children and parents who could grow and learn together over the years. For her, it has been a successful endeavor that is now starting its fifth year.
Climbing Out of the Box: Expanding Your Community
You may at some point, especially as your children get older, find it necessary to take the word homeschooling out of the whole community equation at least some of the time. Your friends and your kids’ friends obviously do not all need to be homeschoolers. My children and I have made many friends (even some who are homeschoolers!) through the dance, gymnastics, and martial arts classes offered at our local gym. Scouting, 4-H, and other “after school” clubs remain another option. According to Toni, “While we continue our exploration of our world through unschooling more and more, we have found less time for the homeschooling community and more for the world in general. In a sense, our community went from a limited amount of a subgroup within a group that is already an alternative way of living to a bigger group of just regular people who happen to value education as a way of life.”
Go Online or Get Out of Town
Finally, when all else fails, at least we have the Internet. In those periods when it seems like it’s impossible to find a group or even just a few like-minded homeschoolers, your virtual community can keep you sane, offering a place to vent your homeschooling difficulties and to find ideas for learning. Also, consider alternate ways of socializing, such as finding your child (and maybe yourself) a pen pal whether online or through snail mail. Having a pen pal in another region or country can be an enriching experience for all involved and can broaden the horizons of any family.
As far as our family goes, we are still working on finding a permanent community, but fortunately, we have many tethers and many friends in our area, even if they are spread out a bit!
How did you find a place for you and your children? Leave a comment and let us know!