Homeschooling has increased in acceptance over the last year, but it is still ‘swimming against the stream’. New homeschooling families can experience isolation, uncertainty, and discouragement. Having homeschooled my children over the last decade I have come to the conclusion: All homeschoolers need community.
Families who have decided to homeschool have a lot of options to connect with others. What are some of the benefits that homeschool groups or co-ops offer?
Meeting regularly with other homeschoolers allows families to support each other. When all your friends and family send their children to public or private school it can make you feel alone and ‘odd’. If you are having a rough day or week, lack of support can lead you to question whether you have made the right choice, whether you are a good enough teacher, whether you are failing your child in some way. When things go wrong at school, one can blame the teacher or the system, but in homeschooling the buck stops with you.
One of the wonderful things a homeschool group offers is other parents who have gone through the same experience, can empathize, and importantly, can provide a reality check. We all have bad days, this is true whether your child is in school or whether they homeschool.
Experienced homeschoolers are a well of encouragement and advice. These relationships can often serve a valuable mentoring role, teaching new homeschoolers how to face challenges in instruction, scheduling, curriculum choice, or student motivation. For example, I found the best math and spelling curricula (in my opinion) through two mothers who had tried it all and had wished that someone had told them about these when they started out! For yearly encouragement and inspiration I return to the same three books that a veteran homeschool mom recommended to me when my oldest daughter just started kindergarten.
Finally, homeschool groups can be a great way to unwind and have some adult time over a hot cup of coffee (many of these gatherings have turned into great home-baked smorgasbord events).
Not all homeschool groups are made alike.
There are a great variety of established homeschool groups:
- Casual Social/Fun Groups – Meetings happen on a weekly basis at a local park or forest. There is no specific structure and things are kept informal. The main purpose of the group is to give the children a chance to make friends, socialize, and be physically active outdoors. Parents have a chance to connect and chat.
- Weekly Co-op Groups – Meetings happen weekly with different classes offered. Each parent takes on a teaching role, often reflecting a particular skill or interest area they can share. I have been part of co-ops where these classes were are wide-ranging as soap-carving, chess, introduction to coding, creative writing, photography, and public speaking. Students get to choose classes and experience different subjects and teachers. These programs are often semester-based and involve a low registration cost.
- Physical Exercise/ Sports Groups – Organized homeschool sport groups include hockey, track and field, soccer and many more. Many town sports facilities have space availability during the day as most programs are run after school and evening. This is a great opportunity to book homeschool group sessions (our family has an interest in tennis (mainly watching it:) and I was able to book tennis courts and instructors for interested homeschool students).Homeschool gym days used to be offered by town recreation programs, although these offerings are up in the air with new covid restrictions which limit access to gyms
- Academic Homeschool Programs – Meetings happen on a weekly basis and include courses in academic subject areas. This can relieve parents from teaching certain subjects that might be more challenging to do alone at home. The program I organized included full-year courses in biology (with messy dissections that are not so fun to do at the kitchen table), physics, chemistry, Latin, and logic. These programs are usually semester-based and involve some cost (varies according to the program).
It is important to find a group that is a good fit for your family. Sometimes this might entail driving a bit farther in order to join a program that meets your needs and has the ‘right chemistry’.
How can people become part of a homeschool group if they are just starting out with homeschooling?
In Ontario we have several organizations that can help you get connected with local homeschool groups:
Ontario Christian Home Educators Connection (OCHEC) -Area Reps can help answer your questions and guide you to one of 40+ Support Groups
Here is a list of Homeschool Facebook groups in Ontario that can serve as a starting point to connect!
As homeschooling has increased in popularity this year, many homeschool groups have waiting lists to join. If this is the situation you are facing, I highly recommend reaching out via facebook groups and/or homeschool group mail-lists. Introduce yourself (how many children, what ages, where do you live, etc.) and welcome others to connect with you: for social time, unit studies, swimming, a walk in the forest. These self-created small groups can often have the potential to grow into their own homeschool groups.