In last month’s blogpost, Anna wrote about community and how to be a part of it. In this post, I’d like to share the "How" of building community. I hope through sharing my experience, you’ll find something that will help you in your own journey.
I’m going on my 6th year in homeschooling and I have 5 kiddos aged 14 months to 11 years old. We’ve been homeschoolers since my oldest hit kindergarten, with a 1 year hiatus in there during a crazy year of job searches, 2 moves, my 4th pregnancy and living with my mom in my childhood home.
As an extroverted introvert, with a mix of introverted and extroverted kids, I wondered how the social part would work out for us. Our first year was delightful, and, I have to say this because I know I’m not alone in this, we were also L-O-N-E-L-Y.
My eldest’s friends were all suddenly in public school, and therefore, so were their moms. We managed to see people, but it was more in the form of friends who had preschool aged kids, sweet women at the gym's childcare, and my mother.
That year started my passionate and essential venture into the realm of finding friends for my kids, for myself, and for other moms in the homeschool community. Everyone will have their own way; this is mine. I hope it will inspire you on your own journey.
Meeting your family's needs for friends and a supportive community is most often done successfully through reaching out to family, neighbors and people in the homeschool community who have similar interests to your family and who want to join in on the fun. Heads up right now--we're all feeling the strain, organizing consistent things is hard for everyone, and you CAN do this. The greatest part about working to find friends for you and your kids is that once you do, there will be more who will want to share in on the workload because it is so rewarding for all of you.
And a note to those of you who are thinking you could maybe do this but who are nervous no one will show up--it's okay. We all share this same fear. And, no worries. I'm not going to let that happen to you. I've got tips to share to ensure you have a successful experience!
Groups, Clubs, Field Trips
Lessons: Baking, Piano, Handwriting, Woodworking, Art, Running, etc.
Preschool age: Playdates, Form a rotating preschool, Music & Movement, Park Days, etc.
Groups: Girls' Service Group, Tween Group, Knights Club (ie learn chivalry and fight with swords), Quilting Group, Slime and Science Group
Enlist retired neighbors to teach what they know best
Clubs: Pokemon, Game Clubs, Sewing Clubs, Book Clubs. You name it, it can be done!
Meeting up at the park
Fieldtrips: Friday fieldtrips, Utah History fieldtrips, Adventure or Hiking fieldtrips, etc.
Youth Church Groups
Many lucky folks in Utah have a plethora of family members who live nearby and who form a natural community for their family. Congrats! I used to be one of those…but then they all moved away and then I moved away. But my mother still lives within 30 minutes of our family. She is a core part of our homeschool since she is passionate about education and her grandkids. She has played many roles for our family. Piano teacher, Cooking instructor, Reading Specialist, PE teacher, Fieldtrip Supervisor. When you don’t have much of a community, family is hopefully something you have to lean on. And the Covid pandemic showed us that it doesn’t even have to be in person--conversations and playing games over the computer count, too.
When we moved to our neighborhood here in Spanish Fork, I was determined to turn those lonely days around as we started our second year of homeschooling. I didn’t know any other homeschoolers, so I turned to who I did know--my neighbors. I was dying to get my 3 year old daughter into a dance class where she could twirl to her heart’s content, dressed all in pink. But it wasn’t in the budget or in our schedule with a newborn.
What I knew I COULD do was a simple class where we would dance to the music, learn a few elements of dance, and I invited the preschool aged kids in our neighborhood to join us. My 5 and 7 year old sons joined in, too, and surprisingly had a great time. While we didn’t develop homeschool friendships, we DID solve the loneliness problem.
Themed Groups & Field Trips
After this 8-week class ended, my boys wanted something all of their own. Yeah, watch out, suddenly your kids will want you to organize things right and left. They will have complete confidence in your ability to make things happen! If you’re a beginner to homeschooling, I need to stop right here and say--you don’t need to teach a class or take on a huge commitment in order to find your people. This level right might become your sweet spot.
Not much needs to be said about this--you’ve maybe even done this before, just not in a homeschool way. Playdates, trips with friends to a museum or the aquarium or a park, all of these fall into this category. The key is to find a core group of people (remember, you and one other family can be a group!) and to do something regularly together.
Here’s the awesome part and the key to doing clubs--you get to do it your way. And you NEED to do it your way. Create what works for your family’s needs and invite others to join in. You make the rules--timeframe, location, class size and price (free is, of course, an option!). Don’t add extra stress to yourself by trying to please others. There will be interest in what you do, believe that. And make it work for you, not against you.
For my boys, I realized I was bored of teaching the Music & Movement class for my daughter after 5 weeks. So, I limited the classes to just 4 weeks each. I posted on a FB homeschool group that we would host at our house and do a Pokemon club for 4 weeks and a LEGO STEM club for another 4 weeks. My boys made friends with kids of similar ages and interests, it was all in the comfort of my home, I timed it so we'd have something to look forward to during the winter Blahs and I made friends, too. I am still friends with a few of the moms who participated and that was 4 years ago!
My Top 10 Tips
Here are my top 10 tips to help you be successful with your efforts:
Balance Kids’ Interests With Yours: It's Your Time, Too
Get Firm Commitments: Even Asking for $1 or an RSVP Will Do the Trick
Team up: Work w/a Partner When It Makes Sense
Extend Personal Invites
Plan What Matters; Leave the Rest
Consider Community Needs
Should I Include Food? YES
Record Contact Info Right Away
The Timing Must Be Right
Things will fail. People will choose not to come. You are doing this for your family. Find joy in small successes, like when your daughter explores and dances in the car, because you taught her to feel rhythm, when your boys take the initiative to create their own Lego summer camp as 11 year olds, because you showed them it was possible to make a Lego club when they were 7.