Wondering how you can find a core group of homeschool moms? Want to be part of a homeschool tribe? I’ve been looking for a homeschooling tribe for some time now and through chatting with a friend and fellow homeschool mom I’ve really been encouraged. I loved what she shared with me so much that I asked her to write an article for my blog. I hope that you find her words as encouraging and as entertaining as I have. In this post my friend Kayla of Mompson shares her story and tips for How to Find Your Homeschool Tribe as a NEW Homeschooler.
A Not-So-Brief Guide on How to Find Your Tribe as a New Homeschooler
So you’ve decided being a mom isn’t hard enough and you’re going to become one of the “one percenters” (it’s actually closer to 3.4%). You know, THOSE ones that pull their kid from public school in favor of homeschooling (or worse, NEVER sent them in the first place). It’s a mom-eat-mom world out there: the reality is moms, in general, are crazy. Shrink the mom-cosm down to the 3.4% of all outliers everywhere and these people are NUTS, kidding (not really). The homeschooling community really is a MIXED BAG of families, styles, kids, needs, etc. but the good news is there are other moms out there that are your kind of “normal”. To find YOUR tribe you’ll need to throw your net wide and once you’ve found them hold onto them for dear life. So how do you go about finding this elusive posse?
Throw your net wide, plug into local homeschooling groups and start LURKING. If you’re stuck with where to begin, watch your local libraries for Homeschooling Information sessions (these are typically run by organized groups)–and get your butt to a session, even if it’s just as a lurker. Listen to what they share and recommend, it can be a great starting point for finding local area resources.
Personally, after attending such an information session, not only did I have the name of a few Facebook groups and larger organizations but also met a veteran who lived in my city and landed an invitation to a playground group. After that, I had a lot of luck with Facebook groups, simply searching for my area + homeschool has gotten me plenty of return. Approval may require you friending the admin of the group or sending a private message. Do whatever you have to do! Google the hell out of it–if you’ve got a local resource that’s tapped into the community you might be able to find an all-inclusive list. Decide what you are going to be looking for (just a play group or a cooperative or perhaps something else) and start searching for that too. There are a lot of methodologies and strategies out there. Just by absorbing what is being said can help give you direction on what’s important for you to pursue and what might be right for your family.
When I say be a lurker, I mean it. Be actively looking at what other people are talking about and what other people are planning so that you know what’s out there and maybe what niche needs to be filled. You’d be surprised with what you will come up with!
If you’ve done a good job lurking you’ll see visible people who are authorities in the community. They are OBVIOUS. Their names will pop up often in response to many questions/concerns. Many of them are group admins and leaders. If you find yourself in a bind with the school district these folks are the one’s you’re going to need. So sniff them out early.
These same people are typically full of resources or know folks who can get you access to information specific to your area or your needs. You just have to ASK. The whole point of homeschooling is to better advocate for your child right? And as the mom, in uncharted waters, you need to advocate for yourself. This is a new adventure for your family and it’s already hard–don’t make it harder by isolating yourself. Ask about resources, ask for recommendations, other homeschoolers are usually more than willing to offer guidance and advice, but you have to ask! No matter what kind of support you may need, someone has been there and can offer support.
SHOW UP & KEEP SHOWING UP
Find a group, any group and show up. Throw your net wide on this one too, drive as far as you need to find interesting opportunities for your family. I know that sucks (and as a typical New Englander, I need to pack an overnight bag if I leave my zip code) but get used to it. Driving for unique experiences for your child and awesome opportunities to meet other moms is your new norm. (Trust me: I drive about 35 miles one way to get to our group’s community center.)
*Disclaimer* If you are a preschool mom brace for impact. If you’re looking for an organized group and your oldest child isn’t of “reportable age” yet you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. Typically veteran homeschoolers have sent their kids and then “pulled them” OR don’t start doing anything formal past playdates and trips until their kid is of “reportable age”. You know those folks–the ones that jump all over you if you ask for “curriculum” advice or educational direction. The “let them play” people. So prepare yourself for that response if you ask questions and are trying to plug into a group. Do what’s right for you and plow forward.
Go to a lot of events and go OFTEN.
The goal is to meet as many people as you can so you can weed out the crazies. You don’t want to be stuck with the first homeschoolers you meet if it isn’t love at first sight just because you were being lazy, right?
It’s HARD and AWKWARD breaking into new groups. You need to be ready to approach a stranger and say “Hi I’m new here. Are you with the ____ homeschooling group?” (GROAN). I know that SUCKS but model this behavior for your child; that is essentially what we are asking them to do every time we show up at a playground and say “go play.” We can’t ask our kids to do these things and then refuse to do them ourselves. You have to take the initiative. You want your kid to be able to go into a group of new peers (especially now that you are fighting against the “unsocialized homeschooler” stereotype) and be able to introduce themselves and roll with it.
Personally, we attended our local area park day group and found it was all big kids (like ages 8+). My kids were 3.5 year and 1 at the time. I walked into the group and NO ONE talked to me. I know now that new homeschooling moms whose oldest is a preschooler are typically lumped into the “not committed, actually looking for a moms group” tribe and easily written off. I had to introduce myself and say a bunch of awkward things like “what curriculum do you use” (which I know now is so silly–better questions would be do you belong to any groups or cooperatives) just to try to make a connection with these people and by the end of the meetup still felt pretty unsuccessful.
They’ve already got their relationships. It’s you who needs them.
They weren’t unfriendly, they just weren’t overly interested. They’ve already got their relationships. It’s you who needs them, not the other way around, so it’s you who has to do the work. Try very hard to connect with one or two people and then plan to do it all over again at the next meetup. Use the group leader as a starting point. They will introduce you around but you’ll still have to do the work. IT SUCKS. It’s like blind dating.
If you go the first time and you think “well that sucked. I am never going back”. F. that. You have to go back, you have to keep trying. Another thing to be aware of is homeschoolers are NOTORIOUSLY flakey. Don’t be “that mom”. Prove your commitment and they will take notice. Show people you are worth making the investment in.
IF YOU CAN’T FIND A GROUP THAT WORKS, MAKE ONE!
So guess what, I attended that large play group for six weeks, and we still weren’t seeing kids even close to my kids’ ages. So I started asking around and I found out that not only did the 12-2 timeframe SUCK for people with nappers, preschool families showed once saw that there were only kids MUCH older and never came again. I don’t know what happened to these people perhaps they just became reclusive but we NEVER saw them. My whole goal going into the summer was finding a tribe–there had to be other people out there like us!
Host stuff IN PUBLIC and advertise it wide.
The summer or fall is a great time to start a new group. Grab a list of “recreational sites” in your area and go scout these places out! People are hesitant about going to a play date at a stranger’s home. It takes a lot of balls to ring someone’s doorbell when you don’t even know what the person on the other side is supposed to look like. So if people can be looking for you at 10 am with school aged kids in September (and they’ve got a 98% of being right) they’ll be more likely to show up.
With the help of the only other preschool mom I ever met and clicked with (I met her at a Homeschooling 101 that lead me to the big play group), we launched a spin-off group. A better time, a different day and a specific target audience: “Littles”. The whole goal was to organize a group for kids our kids age. There was a need. Many of the area groups didn’t really include preschoolers. We advertised and we grew the group–it took a little while to catch on but we were successful! Last summer our group was 10 members, this summer we are pushing 40 active members. WHAAAT?!? 40 families that were looking for something that wasn’t there already.
Once you find an organized group that works for you–get involved early and volunteer: teach classes, plan trips, host events, DO SOMETHING. If you volunteer then you have BUY IN. It shows people you are serious AND gets you plugged in. You’ll get to meet people who you may not have as just a “participant”.
Luckily, after attending a Homeschooling 101, I joined the largest secular homeschooling community in the area. I LURKED for a bit, SHOWED UP a lot and did a lot of that “I’m the new kid” stuff. We joined their cooperative program but making connections was still hard. They were an established community. Breaking in was going to take some time and a lot of awkward introductions! I know there’s no better way to be visible than volunteering, so I offered to teach a cooperative class and ran point on a few field trips. I used my volunteer duties as a platform to meet other families and grow my tribe.
I also volunteered to be the Executive Board Secretary. I figured I could take notes and help drive the direction of the organization. I knew I was committed to homeschooling my children so why not? My feet were barely wet with homeschooling, my kid isn’t even of reportable age, but they needed someone and I could help. This opportunity plugged me into a wealth of information. My boss knew people who knew people, I was rubbing elbows with homeschooling gurus, this opportunity not only got me in a place to drive the future of the organization but it got me an upline to New England homeschooling.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I got lucky waltzing into a leadership position but I got a jumpstart only because I VOLUNTEERED. The Executive Board position did get me plugged in to resources but what made me recognizable to the community was our ACTIVE participation. It was the actual SHOWING UP and VOLUNTEERING, putting in the face time with other homeschoolers, that helped me find my tribe.
RECOGNIZE & ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR TRIBE
There’s a lot of fish in the sea and you’re undoubtedly going to have to kiss a few toads before you find your perfect match. Prepare yourself for this. Remember you are dealing with a small percentage of all outliers everywhere. You are definitely going to run into a few “crackpots”. Look for similar souls and nurture these relationships
When you find a mom and kid combo that is “normal” it’s fair to say something like “Holy shit. You’re normal. I’m normal. You are my unicorn. Did we just become best friends?” Don’t make it harder than it needs to be! Find someone you click with and flat-out say it. If you’re looking for someone they are probably looking for someone too. Recognize and acknowledge they are your kind of people and connect with them on Facebook, get their number.
Once you’ve found them honor them like the unicorn they are. Invest time in growing the relationship with their family. Make the effort to plan things together, help each other and lean on each other.Then HOLD ON TO THEM FOR DEAR LIFE while moving forward. You only need one or two.
CHECK YO’ SELF
Once you’ve found a tribe it’s easy for your group to attract others. Folks tend to gravitate to already established and welcoming groups. It’s easy to fall into a routine without giving it much thought. However, it’s really important to be aware of the people you are choosing to surround your family with. Make sure you’re spending time and energy on fostering relationships with appropriate peer models (for both you and your kids) and not just hanging with people because they were “the only ones you could find”. Watch the kids your kids gravitates to, watch their parents and THEN do a little self-check. What kids are just not getting along with your kid? What people do you dread seeing? What moms make you a worse mom? Re-evaluate relationships often.
Surround your family with others that support you and are passionate about homeschooling. Gently, leave the others behind. Homeschooling is very fluid. Be open to welcoming new families and new opportunities. I’ve found “normal” homeschoolers tend to find their core group and then go underground. This is a disservice to their kids and the kids of new homeschooling families–so try to stay open-minded.
DON’T FORGET YOU WERE NEW ONCE TOO!
After a year of hard work, doing the “awkward” introductions and working hard to be recognizable, I’ve now found my posse and connected to the larger community. I’m plugged into a lot of groups and have access to various kinds of support. Once you’ve found your tribe please don’t forget what it was like being the rookie. Be compassionate to new homeschoolers, be welcoming and be willing to help. Be a resource and an advocate. Never forget how hard it was to be “the new kid”. There is someone looking for you and needing your support.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find your tribe! And don’t forget to share this post in your homeschool groups and with other homeschooling parents! This article would be a great way to start a discussion about how to improve your homeschool community for new members.
© 2016 – 2017, Stir The Wonder. All rights reserved.