Monday, August 8, 2011

No Homeschool Support Group? No Problem!

Homeschool support groups can be wonderful resources. Some simply have parent meetings, others have park play days, group field trips, parties and unit studies. They can be an instant friend and peer group that helps keep you motivated and provides practical and emotional support for your homeschooling journey. I've been in some really wonderful homeschool groups that were all of the above. I've also been in a homeschooling group that ended up collapsing when the group leaders got into such a violent argument with each other that the police were called, restraining orders were issued, and all the rest of us were forced to choose up "sides" or leave completely.

What we all fear is going to happen at "Park Day"
Goya, via Wikimedia Commons
Some places don't have homeschooling groups, or only have homeschooling groups that require you to be a member of a specific church or religious outlook in order to join. You can always start your own group, but not everyone feels comfortable or motivated to do so. If there isn't a great homeschool group for you to join, don't be afraid. Your kid doesn't have to have a homeschool group to belong to in order to have a social life. It's a nice to have that can be wonderful (or, as in my one example, a scary trainwreck!), but it's not necessary.

I Wanna Be Where the People Are!
So if you don't have the option of joining a homeschooling group, how will you keep your kid from becoming a desperate hermit? There are several strategies you can use to keep from going stir crazy from staying at home too much and give your kids ways to interact with other children.The most important thing is to figure out ways to join in that work for your family.

Craft Classes
Hobby stores, Art museums, and even DIY places like Home Depot offer short crafts and hobby classes for kids, usually on the weekends. This is a low commitment way to get out of the house and maybe learn a little too. Usually you pay for these classes one at a time, so it doesn't have to be an expensive or long term commitment. You can pick and choose the ones that interest your kid the most.

If there's an "adult" class offered in a skill that your child would like to learn, don't be afraid to ask the teacher if your child can join. If your kid has the coordination to do the craft and the ability to behave in an appropriate manner, the teacher might let them in. If not, the teacher then knows that there is some interest for a children's class and might be persuaded to form one up, with help from friendly parents.

Library Events
Libraries often have reading programs, chess clubs and other "afterschool" activities. They also often have bulletin boards with community events postings.

Local Clubs
If your kid has an interest in a hobby such as birding or Astronomy or amateur radio or model trains, there may be local clubs. If they're primarily adult organizations, you might need to join up with your kid. As with the adult craft class, you might form enough interest for a children's group as well. The YWCA and YMCA sometimes have activities and classes for children as well.

Sports and Dance classes
A perennial American activity, juvenile sports associations, dance classes and gymnastics classes can be a great way to interact a bit with other people. Sometimes these can be somewhat expensive. There might be less expensive classes or intramural sports offered at a local community center. And check out various ethnic societies for folk dance clubs.

Scouting and Related Groups
There are several "scouting type organizations in the U.S. While Boy Scouts isn't going to be a comfortable fit for most liberals or non-Christians, there's Girl Scouts, Junior Explorers, Campfire USA, 4-H (not just for country kids!) and Spiral Scouts. I'm sure I'm missing some! Please drop a note in the comments if you know of other great scouting type groups.

My son is a Civil Air Patrol Cadet, a great program for kids ages 13-21 interested in community service and the military. Unlike Junior ROTC, CAP Cadet units aren't associated with schools, so your kid doesn't have to be in public school to participate. You can see his Squidoo page about CAP, if you'd like!

Homeschool and School Days
Museums and amusement parks often have "homeschool days". You usually don't have to belong to a homeschool group to take advantage of these discounted days. Some places don't have separate "homeschool" days, but will allow you to come on the days they're open for public school field trips. Frankly the "public school" days aren't as fun as homeschool days. Crowds of homeschoolers are in my experience inevitably better behaved than mobs of public school kids, but sometimes we need to make do with what's offered.

If getting to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas is at all feasible for your family, it's completely worth the trip to go to their Homeschool days. Although it's not a great way to make local friends (unless you live there), it's a great program that encourages group learning, team work and is incredibly fun.

Hanging Out
Last but not least, there is hanging out, as I said at the beginning, where the people are. Go get an ice cream and play in the playscape at the fast food restaurant if your kids are in the playscape age group. Ask around where kids of similar age to your kids go to have fun. Look for paint ball, laser tag, climbing gyms. Even roller skating is coming back "in" these days, a slightly tamer choice than the skateboard/skate park scene. You of course have to use your own discretion with these, but actively going out where the people are can do a lot to alleviate the cabin fever that can set in with homeschooling.

Do you have a favorite activity, club or group that helps your family's homeschooling life? Please share in the comments!