by Katie Julius
I’m sure that if you’ve even suggested the idea of homeschooling to your family and friends, you’ve heard the question, “What about socialization?” It’s probably one of the most common “concerns” that parents have when considering educating their children at home. However, if you’ve been homeschooling for more than a few days or weeks, you have probably learned by now that homeschooled kids are some of the most socialized kids out there! But, that specific topic is for another day (and you can read more from our blog about socialization that’s part of our Homeschooling 101 series).
In California, in particular, there are so many different opportunities for social activities. How do you know which ones to choose? It would be so easy to fill your schedule to the brim with a plethora of activities that you find yourself overbooked, overwhelmed, and worn down. If that’s you, I want to encourage you to seek out a homeschool community – one that offers something more than just cool field trips or classes for your kids.
Our family is actually part of two different co-op groups. Neither offer weekly classes and none of the activities are drop-off. They each serve different purposes for our family and both are an important part of our homeschool experience.
Support for Parents
Perhaps the most important thing that differentiates a homeschool community like a co-op, support group, or many PSPs, is the support that is available to parents (typically more so for the parent who is attending the activities with the kids). Some of the most soul-filling conversations I’ve had have been during park days or at lunch break during co-op. Both of our groups are faith-based, and it is so beautiful to see the body of Christ functioning as God intended. We support each other through challenging circumstances – hospitalization of a spouse, death of a parent, declining health of another parent – and also celebrate joyous occasions like the birth of a new family member.
The women that I have developed relationships with in these groups have not only offered words of encouragement, support, and advice over the years, but they’re also a source of accountability. A few weeks ago, I prayerfully decided to join a 40-day sugar fast with several other moms in our group. We have a text thread between us to share our triumphs, frustrations, and “aha” moments. Another larger group of mamas is starting a virtual book club to read Mama Bear Apologetics.
An added bonus in both of our groups is the monthly Moms Night Out events. Whether it’s dinner and conversation at a local restaurant, a movie night in the backyard, a gathering to pray for our children, a mom sharing her talents (baking scones, hand lettering, painting, etc.), my heart is always filled and my spirit renewed after spending a few hours with these women.
Friendships (and More) for Your Kids
Of course, one of the main reasons many parents seek out a homeschool community is for friends for their children. In this area, our two groups differ and give us two different experiences. The first group is a small, local group of about 10 families, with the majority of the kids within a 3-4 year age span. There are some younger siblings in the mix, but for the most part, they’re developing friendships with their same-age peers. This does make planning activities and classes a bit easier because you can target them to that specific age group.
Our second group is much larger – 70 families currently. It’s a well-established group and there are even some moms who were part of the group as homeschool students themselves. There are families with kids ranging from newborn all the way up through seniors in high school. As a mom, it’s been neat to watch how the older teens interact with the younger kids and how the middles have begun to grow to fill the role of the older kids as some of our graduates have gone off to college. It gives the teens opportunities for leadership (we do sometimes offer an ASB program if there is interest and a parent wants to lead it) and also holds them accountable since there are so many littles’ eyes on them. My nine-year-old daughter is right in the middle of the pack now, and it’s a joy to see her developing relationships with kids of all ages – how careful and gentle she is with the little ones and how her face lights up when the teens encourage her.
Missing out on traditional school “rites of passage” is another thing I often hear from new homeschooling families as a concern. While we could debate whether or not those are essential to one’s schooling experience, many families desire for their kids to be able to experience them. Personally, I did not attend my Senior Prom.
Both of our groups put together a yearbook. It looks a little different than your typical high school yearbook, but it’s a reflection of the unique community that homeschooling allows. We don’t have class photo pages, but rather, each family gets to create their own page as a memento of their year. We include photos from all of our varied activities – park days, classes, field trips, family events, etc.
One group hosts a Promotion Night, which includes a High School Graduation, at the end of year. Since it’s not a PSP, the group does not issue diplomas, but the parents do have the opportunity to do so as the administrators of their own school. We also give families a minute or two to speak about each of their children and officially “promote” them to their next grade. There is a special acknowledgement of those who are graduating from sixth and eighth grades. Families bring some of their favorite projects or work from their school year to display on tables around the room. This is a great way to get ideas for your own kids! It’s an encouraging way to end the year and celebrate the accomplishments of all the kids, regardless of their age. It also gives the younger kids something to look forward to when it’s their turn to graduate.
Another activity we have been blessed with is our Performing Arts program that is part of our monthly enrichment co-op. We have performers as young as three and through high school who are part of the show. The kids go through auditions where the director, a fellow homeschooling mom, provides a safe and encouraging environment for what can be a very anxiety-filled experience. Each family fills a volunteer role as we craft props and sets, design and make costumes, photograph the cast and show, produce programs, sell tickets, plan the snack bar, and more. Each parent is able to share his or her gifts to make the production come together. It’s an experience unlike any I had while in public school.
Field Trips, Co-Op, Park Day, and More
Learning is often more fun when you do it with your friends! While I do teach all of our core subjects at home, having the opportunity to get together with others to go on field trips makes the learning even more exciting, especially when you have an extroverted child like I do. We’ve gone to many different places, such as the zoo, planetarium, museums, aquariums, historical reenactments, ice skating, and restaurant tours. You can usually get discounted rates at many venues. The possibilities really are endless.
I’ve already talked a bit about our co-op classes, but one thing I particularly appreciate about them is that they’re all enrichment. Very rarely are they core subjects. There is never required homework. We can go to our classes with just some basic supplies and come home with new knowledge or a fun project to show off. My daughter has taken subjects like Edible Art, LEGO, Road Trip USA, Nature Journaling, Kitchen Science, Artistic Expression, Cooking Around the World, Gardening, and more. These classes are all volunteer parent led, with parents teaching subjects they are passionate about or where they have knowledge or experience. It’s a great way to use skills or a degree that maybe you’re not using if you’re a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. Parents of the students enrolled stay with their kids and help the instructor as needed.
Park Day is the lifeblood of both of our co-op groups. It gives kids the chance to run around and play, unstructured, with their friends while the moms look on and have those conversations I mentioned earlier. We sometimes have holiday activities at park day – literary themed pumpkin carving, Christmas cookie decorating, valentine exchange, egg hunt, etc. Sometimes families bring sports equipment so kids who want can participate in an organized game. Some families bring bikes or scooters.
The activities of a homeschool community are as endless as what the members want to plan and commit to doing. Hiking, family camping, holiday family meals, art shows, science projects, talent shows … you name it; it can happen with a homeschool group.
I’ve shared a bit about what our homeschool communities look like and how they fill varying needs of our family. I encourage you to seek out groups local to you. Don’t be afraid to look outside your immediate area, too. We drive 35-45 minutes to one of ours. Groups that are part of CHEA’s Support Network can be found in our Directory. If you can’t find something, start it! There are probably others in your area who are looking, too. Keep it simple. Start with a park day once a week. Share it in your local mom or homeschool groups on social media platforms.
If you want to make things more formal, check out this blog about things to consider when starting a homeschool group. You can always contact us with questions during our office hours, at 562-864-2432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org