Sometimes, the way to get the homeschool community you really want is to build it from the ground up. If growing community is on your to-do list, try some of these strategies to make it happen.
Whether you’re a new homeschooler looking to find your tribe, a long-time homeschooler whose community is undergoing a disorienting shift, or just someone who never really found the homeschool community you were looking for, 2018 can be the year you find your people. There are two keys to getting the community you really want, says Niofer Merchant, author of The Power of Onlyness. The first is to make building community a priority — it’s probably not going to magically happen on its own if it hasn’t already. The second key? Take it one small step at a time. You don’t need to get from A to Z with one big leap, says Merchant. Getting to B is great progress and much more achievable. These small steps can get you moving in the right direction.
Find a different seat. We tend to stick to the same patterns in familiar places, but if you always end up in the same corner of your co-op sitting room or beside the same moms on park day, you might be missing an opportunity. The more you’re willing to venture outside your comfort zone, the more resources you find, says Merchant. Little changes, like sitting on the opposite side of the room, checking out a different park day, or hitting the homeschool day at your favorite museum in the afternoon instead of in the morning can broaden your community.
Extend your age range. Senior centers are always excited to get new blood, even if you only have a few hours to give, says Kimberly Trusty-Doughty, general manager for volunteer services at the Hillsborough County Department of Aging Services in Florida. Seniors may not be your first thought for your homeschool community, but one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that we get to do real socialization, the kind that’s not limited by age or grade level. Volunteer a few hours at a senior center, and you may be amazed at the results: You can find surrogate grandparents, sure, but you may also find local resources and connections you didn’t know anything about through your new friends.
Host a Jeffersonian dinner. The typical Jeffersonian dinner — modeled after the historic gatherings Thomas Jefferson used to host at his home Monticello — brings together eight to 15 people to discuss a specific topic — for homeschoolers, that might be how to tackle language arts or thoughts about online classrooms. Keeping the conversation focused on a specific topic means that the people who show up are genuinely interested in the topic of discussion, which may lure people who don’t regularly join into your regular homeschool activities. (Bonus: This kind of structured socialization is introvert-friendly.)
Refocus your routine. Your regular routine can be a great opportunity to build community. Not only does developing a routine help get you get into the habit of getting out of the house regularly — a habit that can make your community feel bigger all by itself — it also puts you into the path of other people who have similar routines. If you always hit the same park on Friday mornings, visit the library every Tuesday, stop by the coffee shop on Monday, and go shopping at the farmers market on Thursday, you create a rhythm where it’s easy to feel connected to the people at your regular haunts.
Show up if you say yes. Homeschoolers can be notoriously flaky, and we’ve all had moments where we appreciate the amazing flexibility homeschool life offers. If we want to take off on a field trip to the mountains or watch movies in our pajamas all day, we can! But with freedom comes responsibility, and if you want park days or field trips or social activities for homeschoolers in your community, showing up when you commit is essential. You don’t have to commit to everything, of course, but when there’s an activity that you’re really excited about or that you’d like to see continue in your community, a firm “yes” and actually showing up for it can be the best way to ensure that activity doesn’t vanish. “A ton of work goes into planning classes or activities, and if the turnout is low or people don’t show up, there’s no motivation to keep an activity going,” says Loren, who runs a small homeschool group in southern California. “If someone no-shows twice, I take them off our group’s mailing list.” Just showing up is a big part of building a homeschool community, so be wary of saying “yes” or even “maybe” if you’re not pretty sure you’re willing to follow through.
Manage your expectations. You may not find the homeschool BFF your child has been dreaming of — but maybe you can find a pal for karate lessons or a buddy for robotics class or a friend for park day. The higher your expectations for a new friend are, the less likely you are to find someone who meets them, so instead of looking for a perfect fit, look for someone who fills a specific community or social need. It’s great to have a math nerd friend to text tricky problems, even if that friend doesn’t also like skateboarding and Minecraft. Expand your notion of friendship to include a wider community instead of pinning your hopes on finding one perfect pal.
Think local first. I love a one-day Amazon delivery as much as the next homeschool mom, but if you want to build community, shop local, recommends David Downey, CEO of the International Downtown Association in Washington D.C. The surest way to grow your local business community is by shopping and spending time in it, says Downey — so do your weekly debriefing at the coffee shop on the corner instead of the chain store with the big drive-through, or bring your booklist to the independent bookstore on the square. Bonus: These businesses are community businesses, and as you become a familiar face, you’ll start to feel like you really are part of your town’s community.
Offer to lend a hand. Whether it’s a new family who looks a little lost at homeschool day or a stranger juggling a stack of books and a baby at the library, offering a little assistance is an easy way to connect that makes you feel good even if it doesn’t end up leading to a long-term relationship. If you’re shy about starting conversations with strangers, offering to help can be a great conversation starter.
This article was originally published in the winter 2018 issue of HSL.