Once I was a member of a few local organizations for homeschoolers, I was ready to start narrowing down the mass of people to those who were searching for the same support and community that I was.
I don’t want this to sound elitist. There was no a situation where I would pick and chose who I was going to hang out with. Instead, if I can continue my wide-net fishing analogy, now I was looking for people who wanted to take the bait and form a community.
Not every homeschooler out there is jumping at the chance to be part of a group. Some already have packed schedules, older kids, or more rigorous courses of study that keep them busy. Others are helping run the family business or caring for elderly parents.
And still others may already be happily involved with a support group and co-op. While friendly to everyone, they are not really looking to switch communities.
If an existing community is a good fit for you, then by all means go join it. If not, you may have to take matters into your own hands to form the community you are looking for. It really isn’t that hard.
Start Planning Events and Field Trips
My first step was to ask to be an admin for our local Facebook homeschool group. The group was largely an online chat space at the time, but from conversations I knew the opportunity was ripe for gatherings and meet ups. Once an admin, I began planning field trips, setting them up as events, and inviting the entire group to participate. Almost immediately I began to get takers.
Here’s the key to using this method to find your homeschooling tribe: only set up trips to please yourself, ones that are perfect for your family. Remember, your goal is to build a like-minded community.
You can only do this by planning trips and events that are perfect for your schedule and the interests and ages of your kids. If mornings are better for you then schedule your activities for mornings.
Plan activities that are age-appropriate for your crew. I never had it happen, but you want the trip to be one you would enjoy even if no one else shows up. Don’t visit a stuffy museum (let’s face it, some are) if you would be happier at the fire station.
Here are some trip and activity ideas which have been very successful for us:
- Berry picking
- Art and story time at a local craft store
- Fire station
- Post office
- Police station
- Grocery store
- Home improvement store (This as one of our best field trips ever. This national chain home improvement store had aprons, a building activity, a scavenger hunt, and a snack ready for our kids. They were just as excited to have us as we were to be there!)
- Nature class at a local nature park
- Telling Time party (We set up an event with five or six fun activities to help kids practice time-telling skills.)
- Christmas party
- Pool party (public pool)
You will want to have a written policy in place to address issues before they might arise. You will need to gauge the homeschoolers in your area and try to anticipate problems, but the most-likely ones are failure to show and arriving late.
A couple of ways to deal with these issues is to always require payment for activities in advance and have a date after which refunds are not available.
Group members used to pay me via Paypal or by mailing a check to my home address. I would then write a check to our venue for the entire group. This typically kept no-shows to a minimum — I had their money!
To combat lateness, I would always publicize the meeting time for the event at least fifteen minutes before it actually began. I also made sure we started all events on time and did not wait for late families. If you start holding up events to wait for late-comers your start times inevitably get later and later — no one will think you are serious about the start time after all!
I have been blessed to never have problems with bad behavior from the kids (or parents) at any of my activities. It is entirely possible, though, that this could happen. If you have concerns, having behavior expectations in place beforehand and reserving the right to ask someone to leave the group (this should be in writing) are handy to maintain order.
A special word about park days. In order for them to really work, sometimes it just takes time. There may be some weeks that you sit in the park by yourself for an hour or more before someone shows up, if anyone comes at all.
There might be grumbling, though, if you leave early and someone arrives after you have gone. I always set up my park days by stating that I would be in the park for a set amount of time only, which I publicized in the announcement. If the day was going well, we would often stay longer, but I made it clear that I might not be there past the set hour.
In the early days I also issued park day invitations by mouth to some of my closer friends. This made sure that I wasn’t sitting in the park alone, my kids pestering me because no friends were showing up to play. Park days eventually became one of our most popular activities.
With just a little bit of work on my part I had created two things — a bunch of fun trips and events for my family to participate in — and a core group of homeschoolers who kept coming back to all my planned events, trips, and park days. Our group was slowly starting to form.
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