We’re a pretty fiercely independent breed, we homeschoolers. We like to take things off the beaten path. Explore the unknown route. Forge our own way, and teach our children to do the same.
Sometimes though, we tend to forget that we’re not actually on this path alone.
Homeschooling is an odd, eclectic blend of rugged independence and tight community. We each do our own thing for our own reasons, but we do it together. In a weird way, our individuality unites us.
And that’s a pretty incredible thing. It’s something we need to remember, fall back on, and at times, protect.
So Many Options!
Just like there are many different ways to homeschool, there are many different ways to be “in community.” By “in community,” I mean that you are in regular contact with people that you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly with.
When your child takes his first steps, reads her first book by herself, or hits that game-winning home run, you have someone to share it with who won’t think you’re bragging. And when you’ve had a rough day and nothing seems to work, you have someone you can vent to. You have people who will love you through the ups and downs, who will see your emotions and words for what they are.
However, there are a lot of different ways you can do this. There is no “right” way; there’s the way that’s right for you, right now.
Homeschool Support Groups
This is probably the most common method of keeping up community, and it works well for a lot of families. There are support groups in every state, and in pretty much every area; if you’re in a very small town or rural area, you might have to drive a bit to find one.
There are a lot of perks to being part of a homeschool group, since it provides a ready-made structure that takes a lot of the leg work off of you. Each support group looks different, but there might be such things as monthly mom’s meetings, field trips, play days, clubs or game nights for different ages, and curriculum swaps. Some will even have co ops to participate in. There are ways for new families to get guidance and more experienced families to provide some of that guidance.
Every support group will have its own “flavor,” so to speak; some are Christian, some are secular. Some are based around a particular method (say, Charlotte Mason or Classical), while others are open to everyone. One group might have a fairly strict set of rules, while others are very informal. Some will require active participation, while others are just there to serve whenever you’re able to show up. And some are just for moms, while others are open to both parents for full participation.
Hunt around. Find the group that’s the right fit for you. Feel free to try a few on for size and settle down with the one that’s your cup of tea.
There are downsides to support groups, though, and they’re important to be aware of. Those downsides usually stem from the fact that we, as homeschoolers, are also people – and imperfect people, at that. We like to do things our own way, but we sometimes tend to forget that our way is not the only way. Other families are going to do things their way. And that’s perfectly ok.
Sometimes though, people forget this and say or do things that might come across wrong. Sometimes it’s because they’re just as new at this and are struggling to find their way as well, and sometimes it’s because they’re still learning facets of flexibility. Because those words or actions impact our children, we take them pretty seriously. Tempers can flare and situations can ensue. It’s not something that happens often, but it can happen; and when it does, it’s easy to get caught off guard.
Support groups are amazing, but they’re not perfect. They’re made up of imperfect people trying to walk a path that doesn’t always have the clearest blueprint. Giving and receiving grace can go a long way.
Co ops (cooperative learning) can be part of a support group’s offering, or they can be a stand-alone structure. Like support groups, each one will have its own “flavor” and offerings, and often there will be several choices in any given area. Each will serve a different age range, focus on different classes, and have a different “feel.” Some will be huge, with hundreds of families participating, while some will consist of a few families getting together once or twice a week to offer activities and electives.
Go with what works for you. (Yes, there’s a definite theme developing.)
The thing to be aware of with co ops is that no one group can provide everything you’ll want. Co ops are not there to teach your child for you, but to partner with you in offering things that might be difficult to do at home. There may be classes offered that you’re just not comfortable teaching (Chemistry, anyone?) or subjects taught that are really better learned in a group setting. (Speech class gets kind of boring when your student is the only one speaking every week!)
However, please don’t expect your local co op to offer every class you’re looking for, just because you’re looking for it. (I helped run and/or taught at a large local co op for about a decade, and you wouldn’t believe how often this happened.) Feel free to suggest classes and instructors, but it’s important to realize that every co op has its limitations. It just isn’t always possible to please everyone.
It is possible to come together to participate in an amazing co op, though! That’s really what makes each co op work – the families that come together, with purpose, to make it happen.
Online groups on social media platforms like Facebook are pretty plentiful, and they’re a great place to find support, encouragement, and people who “get it.” You can connect with other homeschoolers, new to veteran, from across town or around the world. This is a great way to get a little pick-me-up when things get rough as well as to find new ideas.
As with the in-person support groups and co ops, each online group has its own feel and “flavor.” Each one is its own little (or large) community. Some are centered around one specific city or region, while others are open to homeschoolers anywhere. Various groups are specifically Christian or secular, while others are inclusive of any belief system and simply ask followers to be respectful of each other. Some are huge, with thousands of members, while others are smaller, with anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred members.
Most online groups will be “closed,” meaning that you can only see the conversations if you’re part of the group. This isn’t done to be exclusive, but to protect the privacy of members while discussing issues regarding their children, prayer requests, or personal issues.
Again, find what works for you. If you are looking for a group, the one attached to this site is pretty darn friendly, and is open to homeschoolers around the world. Feel free to come on over to A Helping Hand Homeschool Chat if you like!
Life Outside of Homeschooling
Wait…there’s life outside of homeschooling? What’s this, you say?
Yep, I promise. It really does exist! And it’s something you shouldn’t let fall away during your homeschooling years, for a couple of reasons.
First, while this is not a revolutionary concept, it’s one that we often shy away from: the goal of homeschooling (and parenting) is to raise your children to be functioning, creative, resourceful adults. Eventually, they’re going to graduate and move out, and when they do, your life will look different.
When you reach that point, you’re going to have two options: you can either try to build a whole new life based around things you’re no longer familiar with, or you can transition smoothly into being a new phase in life and keep doing things with your friends and community.
Being at that point now, I can tell you that option number two is a whole lot easier.
Second, you are not only a homeschool mom or dad. By this, I don’t mean the stereotype of “only” a homeschool parent, as if it’s something that’s easy to do…it’s not. I mean that “homeschool mom” or “homeschool dad” is not your sole identity. It’s not your only role in life.
Having some sort of community in your life outside of homeschooling will help you to keep that in perspective. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to get enveloped in the idea of building our homeschools into self-sustaining little worlds of our own.
We need to be able to connect with friends in ways that have nothing to do with homeschooling. It seems like an odd concept, but it’s true.
There’s a balance to be had, and it’s one that’s important to see. It’s a good thing to build a vital, rich homeschool for our families, but it’s also a good thing to be part of life outside that structure. Doing so not only keeps us connected to a wide variety of people, it also opens our kids up to seeing the needs of others in the world around them. As they get older, they start figuring out how to meet those needs in pretty amazing ways – and that is incredible to watch.
Wrapping It Up
What types of community are you most comfortable being a part of? Are there ways that those communities could better serve you and your family? Sound off below – I’d love to hear your comments!
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