I keep running into the same problem, and I can’t tell if I’m doing something wrong or if homeschoolers really are just super-flaky. Last year, I planned a field trip for our homeschool group to a local science museum. Ten families RSVP-ed “yes” to the event, but when the day of the field trip arrived, only one family showed up. (They hadn’t RSVP-ed at all.) No phone calls or messages to cancel — people just didn't show up. I planned another field trip to an art museum a few weeks ago, and the same thing happened — even though this time I specifically confirmed the field trip with everyone who RSVP-ed. I’m obviously over planning field trips for this particular group, but is there anything I could have done differently to avoid the frustration of flaky homeschoolers?
It’s not just you — planning activities for a homeschool group can be an exercise in frustration, with lots of excited input during the planning stages and low turnout for the actual event. The good news is that plenty of homeschoolers are as fed up with flaky homeschoolers as you are — you just have to find them.
If you want to understand why homeschoolers are prone to last-minute flakiness, Patricia Rosen, etiquette expert, suggests that this kind of flexibility may be a feature of your particular homeschool group. “Once you realize that other people don’t feel obligated to show up for events and activities, it gives you the freedom to just not show up, too,” Rosen says. That can be a good thing for new homeschoolers, who often bite off more than they can chew trying to squeeze in every fun activity that comes their way. It can be reassuring to know that activities come with a no-repercussions opt-out. These homeschoolers are probably genuinely enthusiastic about the activity you’ve planned — but they’re also enthusiastic about lots of other things and may have trouble fitting all of them into their real-life schedule. “A lot of flaky people just plain overestimate what they can actually do in a given day or week,” says psychotherapist Stephen Burglas.
You can’t change a flaky homeschooler’s attitude — though Burglas says some people do improve over time — but you do some things to minimize the frustration factor for yourself. Next time you plan a field trip, collect the admission fees when people RSVP, and you’ll quickly get a sense of the people who are serious about making space for the field trip in their schedule. Make it clear that fees are non-refundable (even if you’re willing to be flexible about refunding money to people who have emergencies or illnesses that keep them from attending). Even if a trip is free, charge a couple of dollars per family. “Getting money involved, even if it’s just a couple of dollars, seems to help people take homeschool commitments more seriously,” says Jeannie Briscomb, who plans field trips for her California homeschool group.
Briscomb says she also regularly prunes people who don’t participate in field trips from her email list and automatically deletes no-shows after the first offense. “A few people have complained, but I point out that I never delete anyone who reaches out to say they aren’t coming — only people who RSVP ‘yes’ and just plain don’t show up,” Briscomb says.
Over time, you’ll probably find a cadre of similarly committed homeschool parents to plan field trips with — you’ll know them because they are the ones who, like you, show up when they say they will. “I plan activities for the whole group, but when I get free admission or discount tickets, there’s a core group of families I email first because I know they’re going to be reliable,” Briscomb says.
What if you’re the flaky homeschooler? Obviously one of the great things about homeschool life is the ability to wake up in the morning and choose the shape of your day as you go — if your kids get excited about backyard bug investigations or pulled into a major Minecraft project, you don’t have to hit the stop button for a field trip or anything else. But if you’re a frequent flaker, be aware that your actions have consequences beyond one particular field trip. Field trip planners who deal with one-too-many flaky parents may stop planning trips entirely, leaving you with fewer extracurricular options when they do fit into your schedule. You may also find that you’re left off some planning lists or event invites because you’re too often a no-show. That doesn’t mean you have to reshape your life around plans that don’t work for your family on a particular day, but it does mean you should avoid getting a reputation as a flake: If you change your mind about a field trip, shoot its organizer an email to let her know. That’s a tiny courtesy on your part that shows that you respect the organizer’s efforts and the inconvenience you might be causing the group by bailing at the last minute.
This Q&A was originally published in the winter 2018 issue of HSL.