Saturday found me drooling over stacks of books at my local Catholic homeschool conference. I have more self-control than I used to, but my heart still races when I walk past some of those tables of new, glossy books. How can I not NEED every. single. one?!
But the other great thing about that conference is getting to meet with friends I only see once or twice a year. Online, we may chat more frequently, but due to distance or circumstances, we rarely see one another face to face. However, we are all members in the same homeschooling community. The physical boundaries are hard to pinpoint, but through occasional run ins and the availability of online groups there is little we cannot share with one another and support each other through.
When families who are considering homeschooling come to me and ask, how should they start, what curriculum do they need, I try to always quickly bring the conversation back to a more important matter: are you a member of a homeschooling group? Where do you live? Do you know any other homeschoolers nearby? Your preschooler will thrive with whatever games and crayons you throw at him, but YOU will quickly get discouraged, even early in the journey, without a homeschooling community to sustain you.
My homeschool community starts at my church, where many other families homeschool. My network continues through my local Catholic homeschooling group and expands through another New Jersey based group. Finally, through my blog and through Facebook, I continually meet and keep up with other homeschoolers on the East Coast and beyond. I have shared countless problems and joys with these ladies and received more than my fair share of advice, consolation, enthusiasm and heavy-duty prayer.
That is my homeschoolig secret weapon; my homeschooling community, and if you don’t have one, you need to find one, and if there isn’t any, prayerfully consider whether or not God might be calling you to start one. I guarantee if you need one, there’s other women near you who are searching as well. I have been in various positions of planning and leading and here’s how I suggest you find your tribe, or build one.
1. Search for local groups online through Facebook, Yahoo Groups, Home School Legal Defense Association or Google. Start with geographical location, then look to see if there are any Catholic specific groups (or groups based on your ideal method i.e. Charoltte Mason, Classical,Unschooling, etc.) Once you find a group, or groups, reach out. Introduce yourself and your family and if you have any pressing questions, get them right out there. Ask if there are any up coming activities for children your ages. If not, see if anyone wants to meet at a playground. If you want to sit down over coffee, or wine, with just moms, say that and invite women to your house, or meet at a local restaurant. Don’t be afraid to show up to events because “you don’t know anyone”. Homeschoolers are a pretty friendly bunch. If you can put yourself out there, you will meet people.
2. But what if there are no local groups? Go back to Facebook, and Yahoo Groups and start looking for Catholic, or other specialized, homeschool groups. Also check with specific curriculum providers as some may have active forums (like The Well Trained Mind).These groups will have hundreds, if not thousands, of members across the country. Join, introduce yourself and see if there’s at least a few other families within your vicinity. The online forum will provide you with a place to post questions, vent and learn from the example of women who have seen the process through to college. If you can meet even a handful of other families within a short drive through these online groups, monthly or bi-monthly picnics or outings are possible.
3. You might even find you have enough families to start a local group. If so, do it! Create a quick website so other new families can find you through a search and then set up a group page on Yahoo or Facebook where everyone can meet to talk. Post in other homeschooling groups that you’re starting a new, location specific group for Catholics, or Jews, or Unschoolers or whatever. If you know of homeschool friendly parishes, ask to get a notice in the bulletin with the website listing or a contact person’s information. Post fliers at the library. There should be one person new members are refered to. That person will give whatever online access/ approval is necessary to join the online boards and possibly even decide if the new member is a good fit for the group. Maybe there’s a group closer to where the new family lives they should be connected to. Maybe they’re not Catholic/Jewish/Unschooling or whatever your specialty is, and there’s another group close by that they might like better. As you learn of other groups, tell them about your group so they can refer people to you as well.
4. Lastly, once you find your community, interact with each other. Plan regular activities; playdates, field trips, moms night out, a yearly All Saints or Christmas party. Attend Mass as a group and visit a local shrine. If you’re an introvert and just reading these sentences makes you wonder if your children will ever be socialized, don’t worry! Us extroverts usually like to step up and plan things. Can you moderate a forum? Send email reminders for events? Bring supplies to a party? That’s a big help too! If you have only a few members who enjoy planning, it is entirely possible that they will burn out, unless they are well supported behind the scenes. Consider leading a one time event; a craft group at your house, a backyard playdate, a group trip to a nature center. You might not mind it as much as you think and hosting regular craft sessions might become your niche. House too small? Many libraries or churches will let you use their facilities for free or a small fee.
It can take a while to find or build up a community of like-minded homeschoolers, but for your sake, it’s just as important as any test or textbook. And if you can’t find your exact niche of homeschooler, expand your search a bit more. I firmly believe no mom, for her sake or her children’s, can be a homeschool island. Still uncertain where to look or how to proceed? Leave a comment (or consider homeschool consulting. I’d love to help you with your family’s homeschool as well as help you establish a homeschooling support group in your area.) And experienced moms, what advice do you have for newbies trying to connect with other homeschoolers? I look forward to reading your words of wisdom as well.
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I am SO glad that you addressed this.
This is my third year of homeschooling, and I’m getting ready to speak at our local Catholic homeschooling conference. One of the things I plan to address is the curriculum issue.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out …. it’s one of the LAST things you need to worry about. You need to be a student of your children, find out what they love, their interests and how they learn.
A sense of community is vital, because DUDE – this homeschooling is HARD. That’s something no one ever told me, and I never realized until I was in the trenches. I didn’t have a local community – all I knew was the sunshine and rainbows I was reading on line.
Kudos to you, Kelly.
I completely agree! In the beginning, I homeschooled for several years without a group or support system because the first group we joined was not a good fit for my family. It was very hard to stay upbeat through those years. I knew I was supposed to homeschool my boys, but I really needed community. Luckily, I finally found it!
Yes! If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
I couldn’t imagine homeschooling without a homeschooling support network. My best advice is to find a homeschool group and join it. Then find another one and join it. Try out each homeschool group in your local area, and see which is the best fit.
Attend as many function as you are able to, as it is only with repeated meetings that you will make friends. Don’t expect to meet your best friend the first time you go someplace. Keep attending and getting involved and doing what you can to reach out.
The best fit may not necessarily be the one you have the most “in common” with, but the people you click with the best. It’s worth trying different activities and coops and groups until you find something that works. I also agree with starting your own group..it can even be something simple….a craft group or a chess club or a lego club…whatever your kids are interested in.
Also, I can guarantee that moms are looking for a mom’s night out. Set something up at a cafe style restaurant (like Panera Bread)…where there is no pressure to buy a whole meal. Meeting without the kids (except for nursing babies) is a great way to make friends and get support.
This is such great advice. The hardest thing about deciding to homeschool has been suddenly needing to find new friends. Since most of my friends with children close in age to mine sent their youngest kids off to Kindergarten this year (while I was just deciding to homeschool my oldest for Kindergarten), we now live in different worlds. Our area is very rural, and it’s been a challenge to find people with whom we can connect for field trips and other activities (or just to talk with someone who “gets it”). By the end of this school year, I feel like we are finally finding a niche with some other families with whom we relate well. It makes all the difference in the world.
This is a subject near and dear to my own heart. When I was in Korea, I was very much on my own as a homeschooler. There were a few other families that drifted in and out of homeschooling, but for various reasons, it was really difficult to connect with any of them. When we moved back, I went to my old park day. I completely surprised myself by breaking down into tears at the sight of my kids joyfully running off with their old buddies. Since then we’ve joined another group and made even more friends. Thank God for California and the awesome homeschool communities here.
Good post. I wish I could have made it to CHAPLET and chatted with you again, but this year it was the same day as our homeschool co-op graduation. Hopefully next year. I almost thought it was silly to join a homeschool co-op when my oldest was just three, but now I have had two great years of getting to know people and having other like-minded families around for my kids to know. It is so worth it already, and I know it will be even more helpful as the kids get bigger and things get more challenging.
Hi Kelly, I have been enjoying your blog for a while now, sometimes commenting and sometimes just walking away happy after a good laugh with you. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts, so now that the chance has presented itself, I passed on to you the “chain letter” called a Catholic Writer’s Award – see my post at http://leazsingh.blogspot.ca/2014/05/catholic-writers-award.html
Thank you Lea!
At the end of the day, you get to see the best parts of your kids as they grow and learn. Simply priceless!
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