Loneliness isn’t something we talk about, but maybe it should be. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed, irritable, or just plain sad, loneliness might be to blame. Here’s how to understand why you feel so alone sometimes — and how to make the slow-but-steady connections that can help end your solitary confinement.
Sometimes, the way to get the homeschool community you really want is to build it from the ground up. If growing community is on your to-do list, try some of these strategies to make it happen.
What if you planned a field trip and nobody showed? For homeschoolers, this happens more often than you might think.
Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the second of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for adding classes and activities to your group.
Previously, I covered the basics of how to start a homeschool group. Once you are established, it’s time to add the fun! Have you decided to keep your group small? Or are you going big? Either way, you can expect to have some or all of these types of activities: field trips, classes, and co-ops. Here are some how-to points that can help you with organizing these activities.
Field trips are perhaps the simplest activity to arrange. Many venues have information on their websites about school or group visits. Usually, there’s an option will fit the needs of your homeschool group, but sometimes, you’ll need to ask the venue to tailor a program or create something from scratch. Education departments, at museums or elsewhere, may be new to the idea of a homeschool group. They may need encouragement to go outside their usual form—for instance, grade levels. If a site has a menu of field trip offerings arranged by grade, you can ask them to expand that. So if a program is for 3rd and 4th grades, you can ask them to expand that to include 2nd and 5th grades. I have often talked a museum into welcoming all ages, from infants to teens or tailoring a program to meet our group’s needs. It’s worth asking. Follow these steps to set up a successful group field trip:
1 :: Choose your destination. Museums, factory tours, nature centers—the options are plentiful.
2 :: Make arrangements with the venue. Be wary of places that require an upfront deposit; aim for a location that allows you to pay in full about two weeks ahead of time. Gather information from the venue, including:
- the name and location (note whether it’s different from the venue’s street address);
- contact info for the venue, including your contact’s name, email, and phone;
- what forms of payment the venue accepts;
- a detailed description of field trip;
- cost per student and cost per adult—per person costs are much easier to work with than a group flat fee, which can get messy;
- recommended age range (and whether that age range is flexible or set in stone);
- any minimum or maximum numbers required for attendance;
- expected start and end time; stroller- and carrier- friendliness;
- date for final head count (if you can choose, I recommend two weeks before the field trip date);
- lunch or snack details;
- and parking information.
3 :: Share details with the group, and start collecting payments with a clear due date.
4 :: After your sign-up deadline, contact the venue with the final headcount and pay.
5 :: Final confirmation with venue should be one or two days before the field trip. Be sure you know how the venue will contact you if there they need to make an emergency change the day of the field trip.
Arranging a class is usually going to be more involved than a field trip. To put together a class, you’ll need to add these items to your to-do list, in addition to the field trip steps in the previous section:
1 :: Find and secure a teacher—be sure to get a teacher bio to add to the class description.
2 :: Find and secure a venue—a free venue is best, especially if your group is new.
3 :: Arrange for at least two parents to stay in the classroom with teacher and students.
4 :: If the class is a drop-off, be sure one of the parents staying for the class has all the phone numbers for parents or guardians who will not be sticking around.
Co-ops (co-operatives) can be big or small. They can be casual or highly organized. A co-op, generally, refers to a set of classes/ activities led by parents who do not get paid. Every adult is expected to do something to participate, though everyone doesn’t necessarily have to teach. A group doesn’t have to have a co-op—and a co-op doesn’t have to be part of a group.
- Co-ops should be organized so that the workload is spread out and information is clear and easy to access:
- The schedule should reflect who is teaching what, plus any relevant details about the teacher and class.
- People should know their roles ahead of time—teacher, hall monitor, second adult in classroom, clean up crew, etc.
- Don’t forget behind-the-scenes jobs, like collecting money, posting the schedule, monitoring communications, etc.
- Finding a location may be challenging for this many people. Consider
- social halls (you’d need some sort of real or imaginary partitions between classes)
- church buildings or libraries—many have classrooms available for use or rent
- restaurants or supermarkets with community rooms
- parks (though you’ll need a bad weather plan in place)
There are two basic co-op models, and each has its pros and cons:
SMALL CO-OP AMONG FRIENDS (2 to 6-ish families)
- Location can change week to week or stay in one place
- Simple communication (email may be enough)
- Share the workload (take turns teaching, cleaning, providing a venue)
- Cost of supplies can be easily shared
- A strong sense of commitment to the other families will emerge
MEDIUM TO LARGE CO-OP (More than 20 kids)
- Can grow to 100+ kids
- Lots of different skills and personality types
- Need an official central communication (email is not enough)
- Insurance may be necessary depending on your venue (more on this in a future column)
You’ll also need to decide whether teachers will get paid for the classes they teach, get reimbursed for supply costs, or simply volunteer their time. Co-ops most commonly don’t pay parent-teachers, but a benefit of a large co-op can be a pool of parents with a wide variety of teaching skills.
TIP: Don't give surveys too much weight. Surveys seem like a good idea but they aren’t as helpful as you’d expect. If you ask homeschoolers what activities they want to do, they will want to do everything. Everything sounds wonderful, and they will tell you so enthusiastically (and mean it).
Based on that enthusiasm you arrange activities, and fewer than expected sign up. When the day of the activity arrives, only a portion of those who signed up will actually attend.
Do not take this personally. Expect it.
MELISSA ROBB has seven years of experience homeschooling her now-12-year-old. Since 2010 she has held a variety of positions in her favorite homeschool group (which has blossomed to 320+ member families).
We recently found a homeschool group that my kids love. The problem: The moms are super clique-y and not very nice. Is it worth continuing in a group where I’m miserable, even if my kids are happy with it?
Well, the question you need to ask here is, “Does it matter if this group is a good fit for me?” It’s possible that it doesn’t — you may have your own group of friends and a strong support network, and you can view this group as a social outlet that’s just for your kids. In that case, treat it as you would any activity waiting room: Bring a book or catch up on your phone calls or work on a knitting project, and grab a seat where you don’t have to deal directly with the not-so-nice moms. Smile and say “hi” when you arrive, wave “bye” when you head out, and don’t give any of your emotional energy to the situation beyond that.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible that you’re looking for a social outlet for you as well as for your kids. If that’s your situation, you may want to give these moms a second chance before writing them off. It’s possible that you misread their cues on your first outing, and they are really more welcoming than you thought. Sometimes what seems like shutting other people out is really just a group of people being so excited to catch up with each other that they forget there’s a world outside their group. If you jump into the conversation, they may welcome your participation.
If you’re dealing with a real mom clique — and they’re out there — assume that you aren’t the only mom to get the cold shoulder, and look for other parents on the fringe of the group. Strike up a conversation with the mom who always shows up with a book or the dad who spends the hour working on his tablet. And warmly welcome newcomers who show up, like you, hoping to find a piece of their homeschool community in the group. You may discover that the clique is only a small (if salient) part of the overall group.
If your best efforts still leave you feeling lonely and on the outside, it may be that this just isn’t the group for your family — even if your kids seem to enjoy it. New homeschool groups sprout up every year — you could even start one yourself — and finding one that’s a good fit for your clan can take time and effort. Sometimes moving on is the best way to deal with a snooty group of moms.
This Q&A was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of HSL.
We often think the best mentors are the people who’ve logged years of practical experiences—and those park day moms who’ve successfully sent their kids off to college are definitely founts of knowledge. But when it comes to getting fired up about homeschooling again, you might find more inspiration from the folks who haven’t been there and done that.
Researchers studying mathematical mentors have found that people in the first third of their careers—relative newbies—are the most successful mentors. (The study looked at how many of an adviser’s mentored students went on to train their own mentees. The younger the original mentors, the more mentees their protégés would go on to have.) This may be partly because the newer you are to a particular project, the more willing you are to try out new ideas—because you’re still figuring out how things work, you’re more open to possibilities of failure and collaboration than you are once you’ve found a steady rhythm. There are benefits to chatting with homeschoolers on both sides of the experience curve, but when you’re looking for an enthusiasm charge, seek out new moms who are still in their first or second year of homeschooling. Their enthusiasm can be catching, their new ideas may inspire you, and when you weigh in with your own experiences, you may find yourself rediscovering some of the reasons you love homeschooling.
Your challenge this week: Make a connection with a newer homeschooler. It doesn’t have to require any hoop-jumping: Respond to a question on your homeschool group’s email chain, or introduce yourself to that mom with the kindergartener at park day.
Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the first of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for starting your own group.
You’ve tried a local homeschool group, or two, or three, and they haven’t been a good fit. Or maybe there aren’t any groups in your area. You feel alone.
You aren’t the only one. If you feel alone, if you haven’t found a homeschool group that fits your family well, then there are others who feel the same.
It’s worth your time to find people who “get” it. It’s important to find the people who get you and your kids, your family and your way of life. People who speak your language. The language of homeschoolers.
It may seem intimidating, to create a group, large or small. Build it. They will come. I promise.
The first steps in starting a homeschool group are the easiest. It only takes a small investment of your time to begin.
1. FIND A PLACE TO MEET
I can’t stress this strongly enough. Putting a shout-out for a new group without a place to meet already set up is almost setting yourself up for failure. Starting a Facebook, Yahoo, or Meetup group without a plan in place will result in a lot of people saying “Yes, yes, we will join, sure, we want to meet.” Everyone will have different schedules, different geographical areas, different age groups, and it goes on and on. Everyone will show true enthusiasm. Then nothing will happen.
Find a place and date and time to meet, then go public. All those things can and may morph over time as the group comes together, gels, and grows, but the first steps really need to be decided by one person (or perhaps by you and your best homeschool buddy). You are the organizer. You are starting the group. Make it work for your needs. This doesn’t mean you have to take on all the work involved in making the group successful. But to start, keep it simple, and keep it right for your family’s needs.
Some places homeschoolers find to meet (for free or for a small fee): library meeting rooms, community centers, some retail stores that have space for groups to use (grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants), religious buildings, local social halls, parks, senior centers, playgrounds. Where does your local Rotary Club meet? They may have a great, cheap, location that you could use as well.
What if you can’t find a place to meet? Your group could focus on just field trips, never needing a set meeting space. That’s a very doable and workable homeschool group situation. But, in the same vein as step 1, you’ve got to actually set up places to go before you start the group. Have two or three field trips arranged before you go public. Again, make it places/dates/times that work for your family. Arrange only things you will attend yourself. Later, others can join in to arrange activities, but at the very beginning you need a plan in place or (as stated in step 1) it will all fall apart. Everyone will have ideas going in a thousand directions, and nothing will end up happening.
2. PICK A NAME FOR YOUR GROUP
It’s important for your group to have a name. It can be simple or catchy. It can be descriptive or general. It may be inclusive or very specific. The name of your group can be a help or a hinderance. It should help people find you when they are Googling. (Unless your intention is to create a sort of “secret” group that you only invite friends to. Maybe you are splitting off from a larger homeschool group, and you aren’t looking to be easily searchable—in which case, keep that intent in mind.)
- Homeschoolers of San Jose: easy to find when people are Googling or searching on Facebook/Yahoo/ meetup; inclusive
- HOSJ: not as easy to find
- Unschooling Boise: easy, not inclusive, specific
- Laid-back learners: not as easy
- Teen Homeschooling Long Island: Yup, it’s clear who this group is for
- Long Island Teens: not as easy (could be any type of teen group)
3. GET THE WORD OUT
Once you have a place to meet or field trips arranged, it’s time to let people know. You can do this via a variety of ways:
- Create an email address that you will use just for the group mail. It can be a simple Gmail address. This is helpful if you ever leave the group. You wouldn’t want your personal email address out there on flyers and websites.
- Create a Facebook group (great for chatting and for creating events), and start inviting homeschoolers you know. (Ask them if they want to be invited as many people really resent it if you add them to a group without asking first.) If Facebook isn’t your favorite option, then consider Meetup (great for organizing events but not as good for general chatting) or Yahoo Groups.
- Post info about your group in public places like the library or grocery store community bulletin boards. Online, try Macaroni Kids or other local sites frequented by families looking for activity information. Consider adding your group to some of the many online national homeschool directories. Those sites usually ask you to fill out a form, and then they will add your group to a list organized by state.
- Have a flyer or business card with you at all times. While you are out on errands, if you see a family with kids during the day, ask if they are homeschoolers and hand them a flyer. This can cost you next to nothing. Find a place that offers 50 or 100 free business cards, or print your own.
- Word-of-mouth is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to pass along information. Once a few homeschoolers know about your group, they will tell other homeschoolers. It can take a while to get things started (especially in remote areas with few home- schoolers) but once it does, word of mouth spreads like wildfire!
SOME THINGS TO AVOID
In my years as a board member of my homeschool group and as a leader of many Introduction to Homeschooling sessions, I have met some people who thought that they would be able to meet local homeschoolers via their district school department. They imagined that the school department would have a plethora of useful information about homeschooling or a contact list of local homeschool families in the area. They don’t—or at least it’s very rare if they do, because it’s not their area of expertise—and it would be illegal for the school department or any government agency to provide that kind of personal information. Homeschool family names should be kept private and not appear in school committee minutes and certainly should not be handed out to other homeschoolers.
You may be tempted to start by holding group activities/meeting in your home. It’s accessible, available, and an easy commute for you. That’s where the good part ends. You would be inviting strangers into your home. People you may not gel with would be on your turf. If your children were having a difficult time on a given day, you couldn’t gather them up and leave. If you were ill, you’d have to cancel the whole group’s day rather than just not attending yourself. Additionally, some people are uncomfortable going to a stranger’s home, which could add to difficulties in getting a group started.
However, if you have some space on your property, like an outbuilding that has enough space for a group, that may work. You could still retreat to the more private areas of your home if you needed to. Homeschoolers you haven’t met yet may be more willing to come to a craft day “in the barn” as opposed to in your living room. Your home doesn’t have to be avoided; it’s just not usually the optimal situation.
Stay away from creating a group website. It may be tempting, to hop over to WordPress and make something pretty and interesting. But then you are stuck with maintaining it. Keep that sort of thing off your plate for now. Stick to existing group sites like Meetup, Facebook, and Yahoo Groups. They are easy to maintain, and easy to add moderators as you grow and need help behind the scenes. If you grow large enough to need or want your own website, you can approach that when the time comes. For now, keep it simple.
Let the fun begin! You’ve done the work. You are ready to start meeting new friends. Welcome them!.Start listening to their needs but don’t bend too far from your own needs in order to accommodate others. Not yet. Once you’ve gotten a few months (at least) of meet-ups/activities completed, then it’s time to consider what the next steps are.
This column was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home | school | life.
Melissa Robb has seven years of experience homeschooling her now-12-year-old. Since 2010 she has held a variety of positions in her favorite homeschool group (which has blossomed to 320+ member families).
Introverts need people, too. Just not all the time. Grow your community by strategically investing your social resources.
Take advantage of online groups. Email and internet forums let you communicate when and how you want to.
Be proactive. Volunteer to help with an activity, and you’ll get a conversation topic and a purpose at events.
Look for activities with a clear start and end time. Open-ended activities can stress you out because it’s hard to pace yourself, so always go into an activity knowing when you plan to leave it.
Bring a conversation topic. Stash a book you’re reading, a curriculum catalog, or a knitting project in your bag. You’ll have something to do and something to talk about.
Know your comfort zone. It’s okay to skip a crowded homeschool day at a museum and to set up a field trip for a small group another day instead.
For more strategies for building your homeschool community—including tips for extroverts in search of homeschool pals—read “Socialize Yourself” in our fall issue.
We’re all familiar with the tired old myth of the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, spending their days locked inside, interacting only with their family members. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time disputing these myths (earlier this year I even wrote a post addressing every possible misplaced socialization criticism I’ve ever heard). Yet while there are plenty of wrong ideas on home education and socialization, I find myself pondering how unschooling has impacted the friendships I make and the communities that I’m a part of now, as a 20-something adult.
Like many homeschooled families, when I was young my family participated in a range of activities, from homeschool coops to French classes, group hikes to choirs. What set us apart from many other home educating families in my area at the time was just how much input my sister and I had in the activities and outings we were involved in, and on whether we stuck with those activities. I knew that my mother would step in when asked (and occasionally when not asked!) to help solve a problem—such as when the musical director of a production I was involved in was trying to use me, a “good” kid, as a human buffer between the two most disruptive children in the group—and that if there wasn’t a good solution that I was free to quit. If I didn’t like a group of kids, or found that certain adults treated me and other children unfairly, I was never forced to spend time around those groups or individuals.
That doesn’t mean I never had to deal with bullies or other unpleasant people, or that I didn’t on occasion feel trapped by commitment into continuing to participate in something that made me unhappy. What it does mean, though, is that I was never subjected to the type of forced association faced by children in school, who often have little to no recourse when faced with regular harassment and even physical violence from other students, or teachers who treat their students badly. It seems to me that too often children learn early on that they just have to suck it up, no matter how toxic an environment is or how frightened they are about seeing people who have harmed them in some way. They learn that they can’t act on their own feelings or judgement about a person or situation in order to protect their emotional or even physical safety. My feelings were treated as important by my parents, and my judgement was trusted (with plenty of discussion and guidance from them). As a consequence, I feel like I never had to learn, as an adult, to trust myself and my instincts. I already knew how to do that.
In my teen years, and now as a young adult, I often marvel at those who are dating people they don’t like very much just because they don’t want to be single, or hanging out with groups of people who make them feel bad because they just don’t want to spend time alone. I’ve grown up in such a way that, barring the occasional bad decision, I generally surround myself only with people who I genuinely like, care about, and who make me feel good about myself. And when I’m not spending time with people, my introverted self is mostly okay with being alone or with family. It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel lonely, or experience the struggle of meeting new people at an age where it’s no longer easy to find “peer groups,” or that I don’t sometimes find it hard to join new groups because of plain old shyness. But I do feel that I’m good about setting strong boundaries with less pleasant people, being choosy about the communities I become a part of, and surrounding myself with people who make me happy.
It’s always hard to know how much to attribute to unschooling, since by the very nature of such a personalized education, my life and my experience is pretty unique to me, my family, and my geographic location. Perhaps no matter what education I’d experienced, I’d have reached the same conclusions that I have now. I think that being able to grow as I did with so much freedom in my interactions, so much trust in my choices, and so strong a message of how well I (and others) deserved to be treated, definitely had a positive impact on how I build (or find) my social life now.
I guess what I’m saying is that, contrary to what many people seem to believe, I think unschooling actually helped me to develop healthy social skills. I genuinely enjoy meeting new people, but I’m very grateful for also having good boundaries, strong feelings about mutual respect, and the strength to walk away from individuals or groups that are causing harm in my life.
That’s the type of socialization I want, and the type of socialization I hope many other life learners can develop through our marvelously self directed, trust-filled, and respectful upbringings!
For my debut entry at the home/school/life Magazine blog, I thought I’d write about one of those happy side-effects of thirteen (or so) years of unschooling three kids. I call this side-effect: Unschooled Mom Friends.
This past week, you see, I drove to a playdate… alone.
It was the same highway that has been host to hundreds of games of I Spy With My Little Eye and a maybe a dozen versions each of 20 questions, the alphabet game, and can-you-rhyme that once kept my children entertained for the hour-long ride to the at-least-once-weekly playdates with our eclectic mix of homeschool friends. It was the same highway, but without the backseat full of chatter and kid/DJ riding shotgun, customizing song selections to set the mood for the day.
Our Mom-gatherings started as Mom’s Night Out, an occasion to dine together without anyone having to worry about house or kitchen clean-up. For several years, we called our meetings Book Club. We were even studious, intentionally broadening our horizons by occasionally reading books.
Playdates evolved. The kids did what kids grow to do. They went from trampolines and skateboards to driving around in cars. Some got jobs, joined clubs, tried out school, got girlfriends/boyfriends, suffered broken hearts…
With kids in tow, and sometimes without, we moms continued to gather as schedules allowed. Where we once assured each other over late readers and screen time, we continued to assure each other over our children’s relationship developments and first apartments.
Get-togethers without the kids began as our way of helping each other remember that the job of being Mom, while big, was not all-encompassing. We still needed to make time for ourselves, once in a while, and in doing it together, we gained experiences and explored and socialized, much like our kids.
The kids who once filled our houses and backyards when we gathered, or wandered off on park trails for hours at a time, got busy with their own lives, and my Unschool Mom Friends and I… we made a conscious decision, at some point, to keep getting together regardless of kid schedules, because we still had so much to learn from one another.
New friends for myself was not a perk I expected when I started on this journey so many years ago, but it’s one I would encourage every mom who makes a commitment to homeschooling to look for. Make sure you take some time to make friends with parents who are embarking on similar journeys. They will make you stronger, over time. They will help lift you when you are down. They will give you words you need to hear when you are at a loss for comforting your child, your teen, your young adult.
Your kids will refer to you collectively as “The Moms” and you will appreciate having adults in the lives of your children who understand the kind of investment and choices you are making as a family.
Yes, you are doing this for your children, but you are growing in your own right, as well.