Finding Community as a Homeschooler

At first, particularly if you are new to homeschooling, it may seem like there are no homeschoolers around at all. But chances are very good that they are just hidden in plain sight!

Photo credit: Hickman Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Hickman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Families in many areas have established homeschool groups that meet for field trips, projects, playtime, and even parent-run classes. Finding them can be the hardest part. Some homeschool groups maintain a low profile to respect or protect the privacy of their member families. So it can be challenging to make that first connection. But homeschoolers, in general, are very resourceful and well-connected, and once you’ve found one local homeschooling family, you may soon hear about others.
Have you wondered about how best to find other homeschoolers in your area? Here are some suggestions for where to look.
Ask at the library. Most homeschooling families develop an active relationship with the local librarian. He or she may be able to connect you with other families.
Put up posters at the community center, grocery store, town office, or other places where homeschooling parents and children are sure to see them. Your poster could say something as simple as, “Do you homeschool? We’d love to connect!”
If your community has an online bulletin board or a local newspaper, you might be able to publish a classified ad or notice. Advertise a playgroup, potluck, or not-back-to-school picnic and see who responds.
Photo credit: Laura Nance (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Laura Nance
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Go to the park, indoor playground, or other local kid-friendly venues during school hours on a school day. If you see another family there with school-aged kids, ask them why theirs are not in school. With luck, their reason will be the same as yours!
Although homeschooling is more mainstream than ever, it has roots in the alternative and natural parenting culture. So if you are a secular homeschooler, you might see if you can find likeminded parents through the local natural foods store or parenting groups such as La Leche League. if your homeschooling focus is religious, your faith community is a great place to start.
Sympathetic local or state school officials are sometimes empowered to connect homeschooling families with each other. Inquire with whomever is in charge of homeschool enrollment or registration for your locale.
Seek out regional homeschooling organizations and homeschool conventions, if there are any near you. Attend any local events you can until you’ve made enough connections to sustain you for awhile.
Photo credit: Nevada Wolfe (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Visit local learning centers and attractions such as museums, environmental education centers, aquariums, historical sites. They often have special rates or visit times for homeschoolers, so ask their recommendation on how to connect with other homeschooling visitors.
Put out the word! Let supportive friends and family know that you’re in search of homeschooling connections. They may not know of any local homeschoolers, but they may know someone whose Aunt Martha has a neighbor whose son homeschools in your town. It’s worth a try.
Look online. There are many groups, boards, pages, lists, and websites devoted to homeschooling. (Oak Meadow’s Facebook page alone has over 27,000 followers.) Some homeschooling support boards are for members only; others are public. Some focus on particular regions. You may find one local to you, or you may need to post something specific asking for responses.
Jump right in and talk with people wherever you go! You never know where you might make a connection or get some helpful information.
Don’t be shy about seeking connection, and be persistent if you don’t find it right away! Being proactive is the best way to find community quickly. What resources are there for connecting with homeschoolers in your area? Tell us about the best resources you know of and where to find information. Other families near you will be grateful! How did your family find other homeschoolers to connect with?
 

What About Socialization?

The question of socialization comes up often in conversations about homeschooling. Parents who are new to homeschooling or considering it as a future option may recognize that school provides more than just academics. They may worry about how they will recreate those other learning opportunities in their home. Well-meaning neighbors and family members may ask, “But what about socialization?” Well, what about it?

What is socialization, anyway? Societies have an interest in making sure the younger generation has the social skills and expectations needed to fit in with and be productive members of the group. The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines socialization as the process by which somebody, especially a child, learns to behave in a way that is acceptable in their society. Many people expect schools to do the job of seeing children through this process of becoming acceptably behaved citizens who understand the norms of their society and how to fit in without being a burden to the community. So they might wonder how homeschoolers will gain these skills outside of school.

Is this something I need to worry about? Not at all. If you and your children are involved in activities with a range of other people, your children will have many opportunities for healthy social development. In fact, some people assert that the kinds of social learning situations that occur in the classroom and on the playground impart a very different skill set than what children will actually need as adults. Typical schools group children by age and developmental ability, resulting in large groups of children who all have similar skills—and shared deficiencies.

In contrast, homeschoolers tend to interact with more diverse groups and individuals. So they are able to gain new skills from people who are much more socially adept and affirm those skills by mentoring those who are younger or less experienced. The more socially experienced members of the group provide a model for the others to learn from. This is a valuable form of socialization that is not usually part of social learning in a group of same-age children.

How can I meet my child’s needs for socialization? How do others families do this? Socialization happens in any situation you can think of where your children are interacting with other people. Music lessons, art classes, sports teams, church groups, scouting, 4-H, wilderness groups, summer camps, mission work, community activism, and all sorts of other activities provide the opportunity for homeschoolers to interact with others and develop interpersonal skills. If your child needs more social opportunities, they’ll let you know. You might seek out a homeschool group in your area or start one if one doesn’t already exist. There may be volunteer opportunities at a local nursing home or daycare center where your child can learn from elders and/or mentor younger children. Perhaps a neighbor would like someone to help them side-by-side with yardwork or housework. You might match your child with a caring teen or adult who has similar interests. If you live in a very isolated area, you might consider using the Internet or a pen-pal arrangement as a way for your child to connect with others socially through the written word. Here are more ideas from readers on Oak Meadow’s Facebook page.

What do I say to family/friends who press the issue? Well-meaning family and friends may react with concern. Sometimes it can be helpful to dig a bit deeper to uncover their fears and respond from there. What exactly are they worried about? What social skills do they think will be missing from your child’s experience? Perhaps a simple explanation of how you will fill that gap is all they need to hear.

When you choose to homeschool, you may appear to be removing your child from the community’s collective method of raising its children. People may wonder if this means your family will now become isolated. They may assume that your child will be at home all day and will not have enough of a chance to develop and practice social skills. They may know adults who are unable to function in a socially appropriate way, and although there is no reason to connect this outcome with homeschooling, they may wonder if there could be a connection.

They may be concerned about homeschooling simply because they do not have any experience (yet!) with healthy, well-adjusted, well-socialized homeschoolers. It’s likely that they were indoctrinated with the belief that schools are the only place where children can learn what they need to know to succeed socially. Homeschoolers typically prove that wrong, but it may take some time for the people in your life to see that evidence unfold. It may help to remember that these questions are generally posed out of love and concern for your child’s well-being. Be patient with the process and assure them that with your attentive care, your children are doing fine.

How do I make sure my children get what they need? Decide for yourself what social and behavioral skills you feel are essential for your child to learn. Consider your child’s developmental level as you set your expectations. Stay tuned in to your child and his or her needs, and follow your inner compass in figuring out how best to meet those needs. Make connections with others in your community and include your children in those interactions. Model socially appropriate behavior in different situations and support your children as they practice interacting with various people.

Many homeschoolers find that socialization comes easily and naturally as part of their everyday interactions with others. So the next time a well-meaning friend asks, “But what about socialization?” just smile and invite them to become part of your child’s ever-expanding social network.

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