From the time that we started talking about having children, we planned to homeschool them for at least the early years.
That was over eight years ago: our oldest is five and we just officially kicked off her career in formal education. Meanwhile there have been many changes, revisions, and outright tossing altogether of parts of my philosophy of education since I wrote it as part of receiving my education degree.
One thing that has remained is that for our family schooling at home is what my husband and I feel is best for us. That’s not to say that we don’t see some of the challenges and we certainly plan to reevaluate regularly. It’s just that at this point we’re very confident that this is best for us, for our children. The first weeks of our very informal but learning filled kindergarten have been very successful and have gotten me really excited for the years to come!
I spent 10 out of my 12 elementary/secondary years being homeschooled so our children are actually second generation homeschoolers which I think is kind of neat. I also feel that it gives me a bit of a unique perspective on what it means to be educated at home with both the positive and negative sides to that.
One question (of many) that I have been asked my entire life in one form or another was, How did you have any friends? And then of course my favorite, the statement “That must have been so hard on you socially.”
Already, we’ve found that is a common concern from well-meaning friends, family and strangers alike. While at times it’s just slightly offensive, there are times when it is a legitimate concern.
Quite truthfully, there were times when I was lonely or wished that I had more friends that I saw regularly. On the other hand, I often was glad that I wasn’t part of the mad one minute, friends the next minute drama that seemed so common between school friends even during my last years of high school.
Looking back, I also feel that being homeschooled honed my ability to relate to, converse with, and enjoy the company of any age group. Knowing my personality as I do, I also think that by being homeschooled I learned slowly but well how to choose my friends based on qualities besides popularity (when I definitely saw that my tendency was to lean in that direction).
Something that is quite different for our children in their homeschooling experience is that I grew up in a remote location or as my brother insists on saying “out in the sticks”, whereas we live right within a small community where the elementary school is just a short bus ride away.
I often wonder how that is going to affect our choice to homeschool. I really do worry about it at times. Even though I know that our choice to homeschool isn’t a statement about the local school it isn’t easy to make that clear to others. Being at home does separate our girls from the other children in some ways; there is no way to avoid that.
Truthfully, I’m not actually worried about the girls not seeing friends on a daily basis, I don’t think that they need that in order to develop into well-rounded, socially-able people. At the same time, community is something that we value and is something that we have been grateful for since moving here. We really don’t want to lose that simply because our children don’t attend school. We just want to structure their education, learning, and social development in a different way while still engaging in our community. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means but I’d like to offer a few ideas that we have found to work well for us thus far.
1. Take part in organized sports
This is a common one that we already enjoy. We aren’t really a family that is constantly involved in multiple organized events and sports but we have found that summer soccer, swimming lessons or fall ballet has been a good opportunity for the girls to spend time with a group of kids regularly.
2. Attend community events
I try to keep track of any events that are intended for children or that are kid-friendly. We tend to more often end up at events that are arts and music centered but we’ve also enjoyed community meals, games nights, and even a community apple cider pressing afternoon.
3. Be the host
We really enjoy having people in our home – whether it’s for a harvest party or a simple birthday supper. Sometimes it’s hard to just invite people over for coffee or a meal but its so worth it for both our own friendships and also for the girls. I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be fancy and my house doesn’t need to be spotless; most people are warmed by a sincere and welcoming heart that doesn’t stress too much over how everything looks .
4. Take part in school events
That might seem strange and may only be applicable to smaller communities but I think that it makes a big difference to show that you really do support the local school. Maybe that happens by attending a school event, buying some flowers from a graduating student, or making a plate of cookies for the bake sale. Whatever it is, I feel that it can go a long ways to breaking down the us versus them walls for you, your kids, and others.
5. Be friendly, be open, be confident
I know from experience that as homeschoolers it can be easy to be on the defensive, looking for an attack at every turn. I’m still working on peeling my defensive layers off from my own homeschooling days. It can be really tempting to find the homeschooling group and build your kids’ (even your own) friendships only there.
Perhaps that works at times but for us, that would take us out of our community and that isn’t what we want. While still maintaining the privacy and rights of our family, we’re committed to answering questions (with grace) when possible and living confidently in a way that shows our desire to live in community even though we’ve chosen to educate our children differently.
6. Accept that as a homeschooled family, community and friendship will look different
There are aspects of school life that homeschooled children really aren’t able to take part in. They aren’t playing with the same kids each day, they won’t be invited to all the birthday parties, and their friends won’t likely all be the same age as them. That can be viewed as them “missing out” or it can be taken as an opportunity for them to experience something different yet every bit as meaningful and arguably even more positive.