Call me cynical, if you like. Anti-social, even. But I'm just not a fan of the homeschool group. I have seen so many good homeschool families disappointed, hurt, and frustrated with the entire homeschool group scene. Personally I have never cared for them, those groups. Never taken my kids to one. I've seen the websites, the pictures of all the activities, the play days, the field trips, the back to school cookouts. I've heard the stories from people who have been there. And I've said, "Eh, not for us."
Well, I'll tell you.
First of all, and let's just get this out of the way. No one wants to talk about it or admit it but it's out there so let's just say it. Homeschool groups can be ultra inclusive. They can be only for families who use a certain curriculum. Only for families who use a certain method. Only for families who are Christians. Only for families who are ultra conservative. Only for families who are strictly secular.
But now, wait a minute...while I know (and am thankful) that homeschooling allows families to pick and choose what and how their children are taught, isn't the beauty of homeschooling that there are a thousand and one ways to do it that are all good ways? I love the Charlotte Mason method. I like a little Classical, a little unit study, even a workbook or two (grrrr, math!). We're Christians, in some ways very conservative. But I know some very good homeschool families who aren't. And I have a problem with segregating kids and families by just exactly how they do things.
I don't want to go to a group where I'll be criticized or looked down on because we don't do things strictly by the book, or because I'm considering switching to a more (fill in a new method) way of doing things, or because I don't let my girls wear bikinis, or because I do let them put blue streaks in their hair.
The horrible truth of it: the homeschool community has a tendency to be pretty darn brutal. We say, "Oh, all the wonderful ways to do things....as long as what you do lines up with what I do." Which is so, so, soooooo very far from where we need to be.
So....the first thing I don't dig about homeschool groups: they can be one giant clique, where if you don't fit the mold, well, they may not kick you out, but they'll be sure you don't exactly feel welcome either.
Second: I don't know about you, but I'm busy enough with my family without ever leaving the house. Which is not to say you should never leave the house! But homeschoolers, in some strange attempt to prove to the world just how socialized and "active in the real world" we can be, have overscheduled ourselves (not to mention our kids!) into a whole new realm of crazy. Do we really need to add in a once a week (or every other week) commitment to show up at group so our already tired kids can hang out with other already tired kids? Not so much.
Third: do you know what happens when a bunch of homeschool families get together? The kids go off to play or talk or whatever they do. The littlest ones are safely ensconced in strollers, playpens, or carefully guarded on blankets at Mama's feet. And then...oh, then....the mamas get to talking. It starts out nice. How was your week? Is little Timmy's cold better? How did that science experiment turn out?
And then it starts. The sighing. The complaining. The whining. The nagging. Oh, whenever women get together much it seems to happen. If only my husband were more involved. If only my mother were more supportive. If only we had more space. More variety. More structure. More money.
If only life were totally different, how happy we would be.
Some women seem to thrive on this kind of stuff. Personally it is a big turn off for me. Rule number one at our house: NO WHINING. Same rule applies to adults. Now, it's one thing to seek out a good friend and express concern and ask for help. It's another thing entirely to just sit around in a group for an hour or two complaining.
And then you know what happens? Something even worse starts. Sometimes it's disguised as concern or even as prayer requests. Well, you know, poor Mary....with what's going on in her marriage. And poor Susie, with that three year old of hers. And oh, goodness, poor Betty, with that teenager she's got.
It's. Called. Gossip.
And I can gladly
Last (fourth? Is that what number we're on?)....here's where we can be such huge hypocrites. We despise the forced socialization that happens in public schools, right? Then, why, oh why, oh why, do we now do basically the exact same thing to our homeschooled kids?
OK, my little Pavlovian puppies, it's now 1 pm on Friday afternoon, so we must load up in the car, drive across town, and spend the next two hours with a set group of people. We will spend time with them because they are homeschoolers like us and therefore we must be compatible. It matters not if we actually like any of them or not. We are all homeschoolers and therefore will spend time together.
The larger the homeschool group, the worse they seem to be. Any time you put large numbers of kids together, whether it be in public schools or homeschool groups, they tend to form up into groups. You must find the group you best identify with and hang out with them. You are rarely allowed to switch groups. And you certainly cannot flutter from group to group because you have shared interests with multiple people in multiple groups.
WHEN WE FORCE OUR CHILDREN TO SOCIALIZE WITH OTHER CHILDREN JUST BECAUSE WE'RE ALL HOMESCHOOLED, THAT IS FORCED SOCIALIZATION.
I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of that.
So, what to do? We want our kids to have friends, right?
Here's some things I've learned over the years:
1) Some kids don't want friends. They really, really don't. There are people in this world who are hard core loners and they really would rather just be left alone to read or write or draw or watch the clouds. If you have one of these kids, please don't try to force them to make friends. It doesn't work. Trust me. At some point in their life, maybe not until adulthood, they will probably make one or two very close friends, and that will be their entire circle of friends. And that's OK. Some of the greatest people in history were incredibly anti-social.
2) It's OK to have friends who are not homeschooled. Only about 2% of kids in America are homeschooled. Just because a kid is not homeschooled does not make him a bad kid. There are plenty of good kids who can be good friends out in that other 98%. Really.
3) Neighborhood friends are wonderful things. The best thing (or at least so easy for mom) to have is a neighborhood friend. You don't have to drive across town to play. You just let your kids walk down the street (or a block or two over) to meet and then let them play all afternoon. Some of my kids' very best friends have been kids who just happened to live a few houses down.
4) Homeschool friends are great, too. But in normal settings. And smaller numbers. I love to get together with two or three of my friends and hang out at the park at 1 pm on a school day. I love for our kids to get to play together. But it's not homeschool group. There are no dues, no regulations, no set schedule. It's just people who like each other getting together to have fun once in awhile. Ya know, like "normal" people do.
5) Church is a great place for friends. So is a sports team, choir, band, interest group, etc. Let your kids be involved in the things that interest them, and find one or two friends who share that interest, and then let your kids and those kids get together outside of that team, group, church, etc. That's what friends do. They hang out. In multiple places. On different days. Without a charter having to be drawn up.
6) Life happens. Kids who are social will make friends, as long as you're not keeping them locked away under house arrest all the time. They will meet people everywhere they go. They will strike up conversations. They will find people who they have fun with. At the library. At the park. At the empty field down the street. Let your kids out of the house, yes. Let them meet people. But don't force them to meet people. Don't give them a special select group of homogeneous kids and tell them, "These are your friends, go play." Let life happen. It does anyway.
So....no homeschool groups for us. I am sure that here and there across America there are some great small, fun, relaxed, loving, inclusive groups. If you are blessed enough to have found one, great. But if you haven't, stop torturing yourself trying to. There is a whole big world of real life interaction out there that does not have to involve "all parents must agree to help host at least two yearly functions" and the fear that you'll never quite fit in enough.
Real life. That's the homeschool ideal, right? So stop just saying it, and just go do it.