A real concern of homeschooling is finding community. We all know that the built in community in a school system isn't always great, but it is community none the less.
How do you begin to find community when you are brand new to homeschooling or to your area? How do you find community when you have mismatched ideals among your family members, with some preferring large group connections and some recoiling at the idea of being in a group of strangers? How do you find community while still protecting your schedule and time at home?
Finding the "Right" Homeschool Community
This doesn't start with going to every meet up or local co-op. The "right" homeschool community starts with you family and their needs. Talk through the social needs of your family. What individual needs are represented? What collective needs? How do each of your children feel about meeting new people? Ask your children what they want more or less of. In order to find the "right" community or the right fit for your family you have to know what you're looking for. You might find that it's you who needs deeper community but your kids feel content. Or you may find that your 12 year old is desperate for closer girl friends but your 6 year old could care less.
Only once you've identified the gaps that need to be filled in should you start searching for community. Knowing what you need will help you narrow your focus rather than just jumping in to any and all options you have out there.
Where Can I Find Homeschool Community?
In the age of the internet, there are many possibilities. I want you first to expand your definition of homeschool community. Homeschool community doesn't have to be just with other homeschool families. It doesn't have to just happen during the daytime. Community can come from all kinds of sources- clubs, sports, theater or drama programs, church, neighborhood kids, scouts, 4-H, nature groups, co-ops, play dates, etc.
Do some google searching for activities in your area. Find out if your local community center or school district has a booklet of community classes and activities. Join homeschool facebook groups for your state and your area and ask other moms in the group. Even if you only know one or two other homeschooling families, ask them--where do they find community. Their community might not be a fit for you, but it is a starting place.
What If It's Not Working?
Finding community can be hard. Sometimes it just clicks and sometimes it is a grind to find our people. Here's my best advice:
1. Be Vulnerable: You will have to sometimes be the one sticking your neck out there, inviting people over or doing the hard work of packing the kids up and driving half way across town (or the town over or more) just to have an awkward day at the zoo together. Be vulnerable. Do the asking. Invite others in. Sometimes it will be awkward. Sometimes you'll try something and you will know right away it isn't a fit. Finding community can be an uncomfortable feeling, but try something. For most of us perfect community doesn't just fall into our laps. It's clunky and challenging and feels like we're standing in the middle school lunch room, looking for a table all over again. But it is worth it. Keep trying on new things to see what sticks.
2. Let Go Of Perfection: We're all hoping for that perfect community, right? You know, the family that also homeschools and has kids the same ages as yours and has the same values and beliefs you do and where you all get along and is magically available on the very same days you are. I'm going to tell you right now--this does not exist. A perfect co-op or best-friend-family is not what you should be aiming for. Be gentle with your expectations.
I was at a conference this fall where a speaker said "Look for echoes, not soul mates." See echoes in the people around you and embrace the differences. It is so good to be in community with families who challenge us. Community is important and it won't be perfect every time. More than likely it will take time, so play the long game.
3. Enjoy The Community You Already Have: Maybe you live in a remote area or have extenuating circumstances that make community a challenge. Focus on what you do have. Do you have an online community you feel connected to? Do you have children in your neighborhood or extended family that are nearby? Community doesn't have to be a mirror.
Look around you and see the relationships you already have and enjoy those. In some seasons, that might just be your nuclear family. And that can be a lonely place (especially for those pre-teen and teenage girls, we know!). Acknowledge that this is hard. Put in the effort to change what you can. Pray for deeper connections, support and relationships. And look for the good in what is already there.
Finding Your Homeschool Tribe
Having the right expectations can change our perspective. Every child in public school isn't feeling connected or like they have a best friend either. If your child is walking this road of loneliness, talk with them about your own experience as an adolescent. Some feelings are universal in the process of growing up and really aren't connected to homeschooling at all.
If you're struggling to find community, this may just be a season. So look for people to meet you in the season you're in. You don't necessarily need to look for life-long friends, just someone to walk alongside you for the road you're on at the moment. It is my hope that as you continue to be open and vulnerable a community will come!