Making friends through homeschooling (without worrying about socialization)


The following is a guest post by Kara S. Anderson.

We were at a follow-up check for my daughter, who had surprised our ancient cat–and paid for it.

Her hand had become infected from a deep scratch, and for some reason, I was convinced this was a sign of terrible parenting. And so, I was already on edge when the doctor asked my 5-year-old how she liked school.

“Ummm, I homeschool,” she said looking to me for reassurance.

She is still not accustomed to people asking this. But I have an older son, and so I am used to it. I also know the inevitable follow-up.

“Do you have a group?” the doctor said turning to me.

“We do!” I answered brightly.

“Good. I just need to be sure they are being socialized.”

Being socialized? You need to be sure?

I felt my fists forming into little bony balls of rage.

But it was best to let this one go, because it probably seemed they were also being exposed to an old, crabby attack-cat. I needed this small parenting win.

It was the truth, though. We do have a group, one that we love — one that is the perfect fit for our family and how we homeschool.

But finding that group wasn’t an easy task.

We stumbled a lot. I stumbled, really. My children clearly inherited some sort of social gene from a relative who must have been part car salesman and part carnival barker. These two have never had trouble meeting people.

And yet, early on I thought it was my responsibility to help them along in the buddy department. We did the things many new homeschoolers do. We signed up for classes and activities. We stalked the local library for other homeschool families. And finally, we joined a group.

It was a group especially intended for younger homeschoolers, and it sounded like a good opportunity to meet other families. Members went to play dates at parks and visited the local twisty-climby kid spots.

Whew, I remember thinking — we were finally part of something. It was so handy to have that answer ready in my back pocket when the grocery clerk or dental assistant asked us how my kids socialized.

“We have a group!” I would say.

Problem solved.

Or was it?

eandecarousel

My kids were interacting. They were invited to birthday parties. They had “friends.” (The use of those quotes is meant in no way insult the great kids and parents we met. It’s more to denote that although my kids were spending time with other children their own age, and although I was meeting other homeschooling moms, there wasn’t a lot of deep bonding “best-buddies-for-life” taking place.)

Our activities seemed to revolve around parent chit-chat and trying to get a handle on this new homeschooling gig. We were our own little Ellis Island, brought together by circumstance, some of us not even speaking the same “homeschool” language.

Because here’s the thing with socialization: We all know that true “socialization” is not just finding yourself in a group. For some of us (let’s face it, a lot of us introverted homeschool moms) groups can be absolutely terrifying.

And groups where you feel like the odd-woman out? Where you bring up something you read about unschooling or you reference your family’s circle time and you get looks of confusion and panic? Nothing about that feels very social.

For kids, I have to imagine this is even more confusing.

Imagine a child who has a passion for playing the ukulele, meeting a kid whose favorite past-time is mixed martial arts, and for those two kids to be told they need to be best friends based on proximity and the fact that neither has ever eaten a “hot lunch.”

It makes me start to think that the stereotypical paralyzed, socially awkward homeschool kid is really just baffled that his mom keeps bringing him to these weird events.

Our culture is accustomed to classrooms full of 30 kids. Have you ever tried buying a pack of just eight Valentines?

But are these 30 kids all really “friends?” Certainly not in my public schooling experience. They are more accurately boys and girls who the educational system says can all be taught the same things by virtue of their birthdates and zip codes.

And so, just as all second-graders at the local elementary school will not instantly be friends, the smaller sampling of homeschoolers in any given homeschool group might not be best pals either.

Maybe one or two of these kids will connect with your child.

Maybe, you will connect with a mom or two. Somehow, it seems, the mom you connect with will never actually be the parent of the child your kid likes. That’s just the way these things work.

oandhhill

Three years later, we actually have found a group that feels like home. It’s a mixed-age, very diverse co-op of families. Its focus is less on parent-organized social events and more on our weekly classes. It isn’t for everyone. I am now co-coordinator of the group and I will say that without hesitation — because no group is for everyone.

My children (and I) have made lots of friends — kids and parents who share like interests and as the book says, are people who like us.

It feels really good. I know just how good it feels because we walked away from that other group.

Realizing that it just wasn’t where we were supposed to be was difficult. We had to start over. We had to be okay with realizing that spending time with people in a similar situation was not the same as having friends. Was it socialization? Only by the standard American definition of sitting in a room with people your same age.

“Socialization” as a homeschooling family is tricky: you can try to force it, and know the whole time that you are living in a contrived state that will please your family doctor and weird neighbor.

But friendship is easier. You find people who like you. It may take a while, but I promise, the wait is worth it.

Have you found a homeschool group that works for both you and your children?

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, driven by an unknown force to write everything down. She takes too many pictures, and never leaves home without a notebook. Read about her adventures with her two amazing kiddos at Quill and Camera.

Comments

  1. Teish says:

    Part of me is tempted to say to the kids’ doctor, “Nope. We live in a cave never interacting with humans. That’s why my kids so easily struck up conversations with half the people in the waiting room.” :-) I jest of course, but it would be funny to see the look on their faces! :-)

  2. Kate says:

    This speaks to me. Good stuff.
    We just moved across the country – in the middle of our first year of homeschooling….and oh, I’m having a very difficult time finding a group. I’m in a big city and I thought it would be so easy. I lean toward introvert – so this makes finding the motivation to stick my neck out there and find people….pretty crazy!
    Great read for me.

    Encouraged,
    Kate :)
    Kate’s latest post: A Post

    • karen says:

      Hi Kate! We recently moved across the country too – from MN to GA. We’ve been here 6 months. The early ones were hard but we are finding “our people” little by little! Take heart. :)

  3. Kristyn says:

    I’ve looked for a group and never found one that fit. I feel like I want one more for myself than my children. They have friends everywhere! Neighborhood playmates, friends from activities like martial arts, etc. I want a group for moral support, to share ideas with, for help tracking down information – to not feel like I’m reinventing the wheel of homeschooling. When I look for that, I’ve had the experience you describe. If I connect, my kids are at loose ends. If they bond, I’m scratching my head off to the side. Its such a bizarre dynamic and really the only aspect of homeschooling I’ve struggled with. I’ve also had a tough time finding a group that didn’t want specific weekly commitment. I’m a producer so my kids spend time in the theater with me, traveling at times, and our schedule is all over the place. It works wonderfully for us, but makes connecting to more structured groups challenging. My children have made some fascinating friendships through my work though, with people of all ages and backgrounds.

    Thanks for sharing this. It helped me process some of my thoughts about this topic!

  4. Amber says:

    Wow, great post! I quoted this in great lengths to my husband over breakfast this morning. :-)
    I’ve had some things happen (or not happen, more specifically!) that have made it abundantly clear that I really haven’t made any friends in this area in the five years I’ve lived here. All I’ve found are some families who happen to homeschool (albeit with very different methods – a stumbling block in itself at times), happen to go to the same church, and happen to live in the same general area. But when I get beyond that, there’s just isn’t much overlap! They are nice people and all, but without that spark of common interests there just isn’t much hope of developing a real friendship.
    I’m finding that it is lonelier to have acquaintances masquerading as friends than it is to not have friends at all. I’d like to have friends in this area, both for myself and my kids, but between living in a rural area and my introverted nature, I’ve had a really hard time figuring out how to meet people.
    Amber’s latest post: 7 Quick Takes, Vol. 2

    • Cat ManDu says:

      You just described my homeschool and my life, to a ‘T’. Wish we lived in the same rural town! lol!
      I’m trying not to get bogged down with the thought that we have to find a group, have to make friends, have to “socialize”, have to please Aunt Margaret, have to be perfect. We are what and who and where we are, because the good Lord put us here. And He will also give us who and what we need to enrich our lives and allow us to gain the wisdom and educations my children will need to get them to the spots that He has picked out for them in adulthood. We only need to BE.STILL.

    • Nola says:

      I also in in the same boat. I could have written this. I also find it more lonely having aquaintances than real friends. Hang in there! I am hoping it gets better for us both.

  5. Rita says:

    Wow!! You must have had a look into my life! This year we are leaving a group that my family was part of since 2010. I talk to some of the moms on FB, however, never felt like we could connect with the familes and it wasn’t from a lack of trying. There seems to be so many “already friends” in the group. I am hopeful we will find the group that fits us! Thanks for this post.

  6. tracey says:

    Having a good group is tricky. We almost lost ours this year and I freaking PANICKED. Thankfully, some divine intervention or something saved us, and we shall carry on. But the socialization question continues to drive me batty. I guess it’s because no one ever asks a similar question of public school kids… like, “Hey, where does your kid fall on the popularity ladder? Looks as though he/she might be a total victim/target…” You know what I mean? It’s just not polite conversation.
    tracey’s latest post: A Quickie, cuz I’m tired (that’s what she said)

  7. Dawn says:

    We’re just getting going on the homeschooling or unschooling front. This will be our first year with our almost 5 and almost 9 year old boys. We haven’t even started yet and already we’re getting the socialization question from just about everyone – this is so timely. I’m willing to join groups – even being introvert with extroverted boys. Yet I imagine that there is the probability that it will be the same thing I experienced when we did play date groups for the boys when they were toddlers – having kids in common sometimes just isn’t enough – just as having homeschooling in common sometimes just isn’t enough. I’m not worried though – our home is always a bustle with the neighborhood kids coming over to play with the boys. They have a large group they interact with on a regular basis and guess what? Not one of those neighborhood kids are in a classroom with them… imagine that…lol. ;))
    Dawn’s latest post: 21 Secrets Art Journaling Workshop

  8. Kei says:

    We don’t have a group because there are none in our smallish town. I have started “worrying” about the fact that my kids don’t have good friends. But that will come in time I suppose.

  9. Jennie says:

    What an encouraging post!!! Thank you! This fall will be our first official year of homeschooling. Our 5 year old will be in Kindergarden and we pulled him out of public preachool for many reasons and have done preschool at home this yr. We live in a big city and I thought it would be easy to find a group…we are still looking but think we found a co-op to try in the fall. Although, he is involved in sports, and plays with neighboorhood kids etc… I am not thy worries about him being socialized. Just hoping to find a good group of other homeschoolers to be involved with.

  10. Tammy says:

    Thank you for this post. My son and I are both very introverted types but very much would like to find a group to be a part of. I’m sad to say so far in our 5 years of homeschooling we haven’t found it. My area is limited with the groups. There is one very large group that just isn’t a fit for us. On top of it already being difficult to find a “group” to fit with we add Food Allergies to the mix. The very reason we started homeschooling. I have read the statistics and seen story after story of how badly food allergic children are bullied in school. I think I will pass on that kind of socialization for my son. I don’t understand the socialization questions from people either. Isn’t going to the grocery store or mall a social interaction? Baseball games? Basketball games? Spending time at the zoo or the gulfarium? Visiting with family and neighbors? Playing at the park? All of these places you are interacting and “socializing” with others. These are opportunities to meet people of all ages from all backgrounds. ( Definition of the word “SOCIALIZE ” -Verb -to Mix socially with others.) Well, the way I see it, we do that on a daily basis. ;)

  11. Emmalina says:

    On a slightly different tack I am always surprised at how many people think that the running of a different family comes under their ‘authority’. I find I really don’t gel with doctors, dentists, activity organisers, leaders of scouts etc because they seem to feel they can tell me how I should be raising my children and I seem to be incapable of not making it clear that it is none of their business! I have no problem with people asking questions but the tone that you need their approval for these kinds of decisions really gets my back up. I really enjoy the freedom and independence to set our own path that homeschooling gives us and one element is the freedom from the ‘experts’ that would otherwise be a much more frequent occurrence! Great post : )

  12. bryssy says:

    I’ve never received any real opposition to our homeschooling – mainly just curious questions. The socialization question is normally put to rest once they talk to my children. :-) That said, we wanted to be able to do some subjects with friends so our kids would have the opportunity to learn from and with each other. When we couldn’t find a local group that ‘fit’ we ended up starting our own. We finished our first full year of co-op classes (and some field trips) just today and it has turned into a wonderful group of families. I say, if your looking for community it can be done, even if you have to make it yourself.

  13. Faigie says:

    This is really funny to me. I did not home school my kids and even though I myself had been homeschooled I dont think at that stage in the game I could have done it BUT…so many kids I know are so miserable in school, bullying, social problems, its endless the grief many kids have to go to in regular school situations. I think that it many, many cases this “socialization” in schools causes more problems then it solves.

  14. Faigie says:

    mistake by the way I had not been homeschooled…I meant to say I WISH I had been homeschooled
    Faigie’s latest post: Summer is coming and is a prefect time to learn how to tie dye (video)

  15. Great post! I grew up being homeschooled as an introvert. I was somewhat forced to be social, but I have learned that that is not unique to homeschooling. My niece has gone to school most of her life and is the same way! I do have a great group for my boys, but it has been work to establish relationships within the group. I will just tell you that it is worth it!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Though the Bud be bruised by Jo Wanmer

  16. Ha! I was just asked this question by my pediatrician. She did ask it in a nicer way, but I knew she was getting at. Thank you for this post. I am struggling to find friends for my 6 year old daughter and we did join a group for that purpose. I think she will meet more girls when she joins the co-op next year. She is an extrovert, so I am doing my best to help her. She does have a best friend, but she’ll be attending public school next year and I am afraid she will see even less of her then.
    Amanda Espinoza’s latest post: Weekend Links

  17. judy says:

    I HATE the whole concept of “socialization”. I went to public school. my best friend throughout most of high school was four years younger than me, and my next two favorite people were in their thirties! Why are kids only considered socialized when they are thrown together with a bunch of other kids with whom they may have little to nothing in common? Nearly every kid I know in public school wishes they were homeschooled, and have told me so. My kids have never been to public school, and we’ve never had a group, mostly because we never felt like we were missing anything. But I certainly can see the value of being part of a group that you totally mesh with. My kids have good friends of all ages. Just being a member of our family requires developing good social skills. And they still have to practice how to handle conflict, disagreements, and undesirable behavior, both within our home and with their friends. They interact dynamically with adults and peers alike, and treat those younger than themselves and those who have special needs with kindness and tolerance. These are not skills that I learned in public school, and they don’t seem to be in abundant supply by those who currently attend public school from my observations. I think by today’s standards, Laura and Mary Ingalls would probably be considered horribly lacking in socialization, and yet the values that were seamlessly woven throughout their upbringing often proved them of much stronger character than those who spent far more time “socializing”. When did conforming become valued more than thinking, and clumping kids together become the gold standard of teaching social skills? No thanks, I’ll take real friends over “socializing” any day.

  18. Meghon says:

    Such a great post! We have moved frequently, and finding “the right group” is especially difficult when you are always new. But through many moves — to both coasts, in between, and back — my 12y/o daughter has had the same best friend for six years. We are now living a 2 1/2 hour drive apart, but I make it fairly often so my daughter can be with her best buddy. She has found some casual neighborhood acquaintances, but it’s still not the same. And just yesterday I had to admit that the homeschool co-op I had such high hopes for just isn’t going to work out for us. Sigh…I guess I’ll be making that 2 1/2 hour drive more often than I thought. I’ve also had to give up on trying to convince my 5y/o son to be chums with another homeschooled boy who lives in close proximity. Why they didn’t hit it off, I don’t know, but it sure would have been convenient! Another sigh….(-:

  19. Angela says:

    We’ve never found a group, and I was terrified for a long time by the idea of “How is my son going to ever make friends?” Recently, though, he started meeting kids in the neighborhood who he really seems to click with, and he’s told me that all he wants is an hour or so a week with one of them (to go a little crazy :)).

    I’d still love to find other homeschoolers close to us, but this will do for now.
    Angela’s latest post: “A Day in the Life” feature.

  20. Rita says:

    Oh what a great read, Thank you for this post. We have a few near and dear friends, and here I was fretting about not being part of a group. You are right, so much better to have friends.
    Rita’s latest post: Beets

  21. Becky says:

    I loved this post. Socializing is never easy, at least for me. Not only have I recently started homeschooling, but just prior to making that decision, we moved across country. It has been so hard, but I have waited before for that “right” group.
    By the way, I am still in utter disbelief that your doctor said that to you.

  22. Nola says:

    There is very little available where I live, so what we have is a group of about 5 of us who get together informally about once a month…BUT I really don’t feel connected to anyone nor do my kids. I don’t feel like we “click” so to speak with anyone. But it is better than nothing. There are no other groups (or other homeschoolers!) around to try something else with. I am hoping that something will come up sometime. For now I am also thankful my kids have each other!!

  23. Ruth says:

    What a timely post for me! I work full time and started homeschooling DS (10) in January. His major complaint is lack of “friends” but what he has forgotten is that those were proximity acquaintances and not one of them has contacted us since he left his class! I hope to check out the homeschool groups nearby over the summer while I am off but we are unschooling and I have found that most homeschoolers here are pretty structured so I’m not sure if that will work out. This encourages me to reach out to the larger city nearby for secular unschooling groups… it would be a drive but it might be a better fit… Thanks for the support, especially here in the comments section.
    Ruth’s latest post: Darth Homeschool update…

  24. Jenny says:

    Finding the right group is so hard! We live in a very rural area & groups are few. We have been apart of 3 groups now since starting homeschool 3 yrs ago. We are still looking for the group we feel comfortable with. My kids have some friends at church, but not any what you call best friends yet. I am not really worried, but it would be nice to find some other homeschool kids that they could be buddies with. I also would like to find fellow homeschool moms to talk with for support & share ideas with. I keep praying & know that God will lead us to the right group of homeschool friends when he’s ready to.

  25. Monica says:

    This is so good and SO refreshing. :) We too joined a homeschool group when we first started and have slowly drifted away. SOmetimes I feel guilty, but it’s just what it is. :)
    Thanks so much. I happened to write at my site today as well about friendships as my boys enter the pre-teen/teen years. As homeschoolers. ;)
    ALOHA!

  26. Sarah says:

    Very well said. Thank you for writing.

  27. Kat says:

    I love this post, but I have to admit, I’m really kind of concerned for us and our own status as a properly socialized homeschooling family. My son is 4, so according to the state, he’s not “officially” school age yet. We have a very active social life through our church. There are a TON of families our age with children my son’s age. We spend a lot of time with them all and absolutely LOVE having those deep friendship connections. However, I’m worried about when all of their kids will start school together and my son will still be home with me. Will those friendships he’s come to love completely fizzle out as they all bond deeper through their shared experiences at the local public school? Will he feel left out and excluded, or like a “freak”? And- the hardest part- the only homeschooling group near us is 30 miles away. And it’s the ONLY one. We’re Christians, and this group is Christian, but I’ve visited their website and they’re much much more conservative than we are. They even make you sign a contract defining family as “a group of people related either through blood or adoption with a heterosexual two-parent partnership.” We are foster parents! We don’t even fit into their poorly-worded definition of “family.” Based on this outside judgement, I don’t wanna join their group! I digress. What would you suggest for someone like me, committed to homeschooling but without many group or co-op options? Thank you!

    • Kara says:

      Hi Kat,
      It can be so hard to find a good group fit, can’t it? And if you are anything like me, it is really hard to not feel like you are responsible for finding other kids for your kids to spend time with. This was overwhelming for me, and the main reason that we stayed with a group that didn’t work for so long. But as someone said above — that can be even more lonely than being on your own.
      I know some moms who have started groups in their communities, through Yahoo groups or Meetup.
      We met some great families through library events and classes. For some parents, I know sports teams, or groups like 4-H have given them a chance to connect with other families.
      One of my very favorite approaches was a mom who made up free business cards that said her name and email, and the phrase, “We’re homeschoolers, but don’t worry — we socialize!”
      Just a few ideas! I remember feeling the same concerns, and I know it’s hard, but there are so many wonderful homeschool families out there looking to connect too!
      Best of luck!
      Kara’s latest post: The Sweet Moments

  28. Mama2AWE says:

    Initially, I think I thought very similarly to many who have commented; I tried to seek out other homeschoolers. It’s not so easily perfect, as many have noted. I have since taken another approach (minus the homeschool “beacon”)…we do what we need, what we enjoy, and what we feel led to…and in that day to day interaction we each find many different people in our lives: regulars, acquaintances, and even a very few dear friends. That is just about the best balance any of us have desired on most days.

  29. Janet says:

    We raised and homeschooled 12 kids. Some of the time we were involved in homeschooling groups; some of the time we simply did our own thing. At the beginning, way back in 1983, it was important to me to seek out other homeschooling families for support. We planned monthly outings such as trips to the Fire Station or the local newspaper. Some of those families became friends of our family, so we saw each other on a semi-regular basis. We planned Christmas Concerts and plays together, performing for other friends and relatives. It was great fun – more fun than being in a formal group.

    As we got older and found ourselves living way out in the country, it was far too complicated to attend group events 40 minutes from home. It was also a waste of our time. Our children enjoyed interacting with other homeschoolers, but, truth be told, they liked their own company just as well. They were free to pursue their own interests at home. They were free to invite friends over from time to time. This seemed to be enough. They certainly are all articulate and personable members of society.

    I really didn’t worry about it much. I figured that if the pioneer families (Think Little House on the Prairie) could raise children without going to town to see other kids for MONTHS on end, my kids were fine seeing kids at church and having other families over for a visit from time to time.

    Socialization is really a non-issue.

    My advice to younger moms? Relax, and do what seems best to you. :D

    Janet
    Janet’s latest post: Whole Church, whole gospel, whole world

  30. I was never homeschooled until I reached my junior year of high school. I ended up going to a co-op in my area got to know a few people there that were my age. 4 years later and I’m still good friends with some of them. It really is a great way to meet other people in the homeschool community.

  31. Linda says:

    My kids are in college now. But we homeschooled/unschooled for 10 years. And we not only found *a* group that we felt comfortable in, but several such groups! There was the main one – the one we got started with, where I got lots of advice when we first started. I met some other parents who became real friends, and my son, who is about as extroverted as anyone could be, made friends with everyone he met. My daughter, who is shy and introverted, found that all the girls in that group were either 2 years older or two years younger than she was, and none of them seemed to have enough in common with her to become her friends. So she “socialized” at the weekly park gatherings and classes, but did not make friends in that group. She had two friends in our neighborhood who were her “best friends,” and eventually one of them started homeschooling too, and that family joined our homeschool group, and my dd and her best friend were always seen together and not really mixing with the other kids much, after that. Until Best Friend moved far away. It took my daughter a couple of years to find another close friend. Meanwhile, she kept in touch with her distant friend through email, FaceBook, phone calls, and Skype. Interestingly enough, though, when the kids in our homeschool group all became teens, they formed a teen group that started having monthly get-togethers at the house of one particular family, and my daughter suddenly started enjoying being part of a larger group, and “friended,” on FB, many of those girls who were 2 yrs younger than her, whom she had known for so long but not really done anything with, along with some kids (both boys and girls) who were newer to the group. Most of the kids she hung out with during her teen years are in college now, and many of them are still friends. There are even a few steady couples among them. (A lot of them – including my daughter – go to local colleges and still live at home. I think that’s largely because of the economy. It certainly is in our case – although my son moved out when he started college, and has been supporting himself ever since – but that’s a different topic and now I’m rambling – LOL!) So – back to the topic …. Then there was the local unschool group, in which I had several friends, but the kids were mostly much younger than my kids, so we didn’t go to very many of their social activities;
    and there was another diverse/inclusive homeschool group that had weekly park days and classes that my kids used to go to for a few years – that group was another one where my son had lots of friends, but my daughter was still very shy and tended to hang out with me and the other moms. I didn’t make any lasting friendships in that other homeschool group, but I still enjoyed hanging out and chatting with the other moms (and my daughter, who, I must admit, really is also my “best friend”).

  32. Theresa says:

    I found encouragement/comfort in this article, but was wondering if there is anyone who can speak to the same challenge with the added ingredient of also having a disabled child? I’m afraid to even venture into finding a “group” because of our special lil man. I wrestle with guilt because I feel the other children miss opportunities because of the difficulty of caring for him while also watching/being involved with the other three. I have no one to watch him while we go out so we all must do everything together-but isn’t that “homeschooling”?

  33. heather says:

    Thanks so much for this post. This has been our struggle ever since we started homeschooling. It’s good to know I’m not the “crazy” one.

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