Homeschool Groups

Our family has many reasons we homeschool, but socialization is increasingly becoming one of the main reasons.  I'm not just talking about avoiding the problems with bullying, peer pressure and cliques that kids of all grades face.  I'm talking about the extreme lack of normal socialization that happens in schools.  

That sounds counterintuitive at first, because aren't school kids spending the whole day with other kids? Well, technically, yes.  But their days include less and less unstructured time together when kids are allowed to play together, have conversations and interact freely.  The national average is currently 26 minutes of recess time per school day. That's just 2 hours and 10 minutes per week! Many local school districts are providing far less. And because schools are dealing with more and more conflicts and violence at recess, they are increasingly opting to eliminate recess entirely or imposing supervised structured activities during recess.  (Many Portland schools have subcontracted a  company called Playworks, a California based company that organizes inclusive games at recess.) The demands of prep for high-stakes testing combined with budget cuts make it difficult for schools to include things like art, music, theater, sports, social studies and science in the school day. So if families want these learning opportunities for their children,  they may need to enroll their kids in structured lessons outside of school hours.  Plus kids need time to do homework and time to spend with their families. So kids may find that much of their social lives are conducted via social media and text messages at younger and younger ages.  This is surely not the way to learn good social skills.  Polls are showing that employers are rejecting new college graduates because of a dismal lack of social skills. Employers are looking at American grads, the majority of whom are the products of public schools, and are having a hard time picturing these young people making a good impression on clients, working effectively on teams, or being placed in leadership roles.   All of these require good social skills.

What are the most important things in life, the things that will ultimately bring your child the most happiness throughout their lifetime? Money, possessions, achievements...these things may be nice, but we all know that life can throw curve balls at anyone.  It's the loving and supportive relationships we form that carry us through.  Our kids won't learn how to form positive relationships while sitting in classrooms where they are meant to be paying attention to lessons rather than playing together. They need to be able to spend time together, just being kids.

In the past 6 years, I've known many families that have tried homeschooling but ultimately sent their kids to school.  Some have faced divorce or job loss that resulted in the homeschooling parent having to seek work. But many more have stopped homeschooling because their kids asked to go to school.   I have never heard of young kids asking to go to school because they don't think their parent's choice of math curriculum is rigorous enough, or because they love cafeteria food. When parents post on homeschool message boards about their kids wanting to go to school, loneliness is the only reason I have ever seen a parent mention. Homeschooling parents need to take social time seriously from the beginning.

As homeschoolers, social time is strictly DIY. But if you weren't capable and resourceful, you wouldn't be homeschooling, would you?  In the Portland area, there are so many classes and activities for homeschoolers to spend time together and connect that it can be difficult to choose.  We have always wanted our son to have a consistent group of friends to see regularly, so for us the solution has been belonging to a homeschool group. 

There are homeschool groups for particular faith communities, educational styles, age groups, and neighborhoods.   Some are oriented towards particular activities.  Ours is open to members with kids in grades 2-6, throughout the Portland metro area, of all faiths and educational styles.   If you are looking for one, be sure to track down local message boards for homeschoolers and ask.  I have a bunch of these message boards listed on my Homeschooling Resources page.  Keep in mind that what most kids need is to see friends in person. They don't care how many Facebook groups for homeschoolers their parents have joined. So look for the ones that meet regularly in person. If you find an existing group that meets your needs, that's a thing of beauty.

Starting a homeschool group is a good idea if you don't find one that fits your needs. Keep in mind that many others are likely to have the same need, and you will just need to be persistent until you find them.  My advice is to post on local message boards that you want to meet up with others to get a group started, and work with those families who actually show up in person.  Be sure everyone involved is willing to contribute both by attending get togethers and also by planning them. Homeschool groups need people who participate mainly because they enjoy each other's company and prioritize seeing friends consistently, not people who may want to attend a get together once or twice a year based on whether they'd enjoy an activity someone else has organized.  While our homeschool group has certainly allowed us to do many activities that are much easier with a group, such as going on group field trips and hiring presenters, the friendship and support we've been given by other homeschooling families is far, far more valuable.