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 homeschool 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 homeschooling 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 isn’t an active, local homeschool community? 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 homeschool 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 homeschool community of like-minded parents, 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 below. 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.