Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding Friends while Homeschooling

I wrote this e-mail to a woman who sent an e-mail to a group discussing her worries about her daughter having enough friends. I sent this response:

I am sure you are going to get a lot of e-mails telling you to not worry. I disagree however. Being an introvert (I don't know if you're introverted or actually anxious about social situation) myself, I see that it is very difficult for my daughter to not have a lot of friends (a lot meaning around 5 or so). She dislikes homeschooling because of it. While we have homeschooled for three years, I cannot blow off her desire for friends like some other parents would recommend or trust that it will 'just happen'. We are homeschooling now because I want to assure that she has a strong academic foundation and I have not felt that sending her to school at this point (even if she wants it like mad) would be best for her.

It is wonderful that you understand your personality and are thinking about this in advance. I can offer some advice.

Go to groups. It doesn't matter if it's a weekly group or monthly. I hate dragging the kids out (I also have a young one and it's a lot of work to take the 18 month old out with the others) but I recognize that I NEED to do it for the kids. Go to park days.

Be prepared to drive distances (you'll hardly ever find things within 10 minutes of your home) but if you're willing to drive 1/2 an hour (my personal limit) or 45 minutes (I know parents who do up to an hour), you'll find the number of people your daughter (and you) can befriend will increase dramatically.

Go to classes or groups even if you're not sure that they will be interesting. This is actually a rule I DON'T follow--I do not like to spend a lot of time out of the house just to get out of the house. Since I'm homeschooling for academic reasons, I need seat time for the kids. But it is probably worth while to find one or two that you can live with even if they aren't exactly what you'd prefer for your daughter.

Be flexible! Friendships DON'T happen in clubs or classes or any structured activity. They happen during down time. If kids are staying after a class to play, then stay! Be prepared to stay after every event. If it looks like your daughter is getting along with someone or talks to someone, then even if the kids aren't staying, then be prepared to offer invites. If the class was before lunch, then ask if they'd like to go to a local McDonald's (hopefully that has a playscape). You can even just make a general announcement that you're heading to a nearby park to play for a while and hope to see others there.

You can join town activities, but the same rule holds for town activities. It's really hard to make friends when kids only see each other at structured activity. The structured activities should be seen as conduits through which to meet people for scheduling play dates, not the actual place where your daughter will make friends.

Hardest for me: get people's phone numbers and call them! I get phone numbers but rarely ever follow through on playdates. This is a detriment to my children and thus makes me unhappy, so I personally really need to work on this.

Not all homeschoolers are going to be good playmates for your child. Some homeschooled children really do have social issues--I've seen kids hit and behave inappropriately. Just because people are homeschooling doesn't mean they're parenting well or that their children are well-adjusted. Also, not all personalities mesh well, so not every decent kid you meet will be a good fit for yours. Going to a group where kids have been homeschooling together for a while can lead to your daughter getting the cold shoulder even if she is willing to put herself out there. Failure happens! It's disappointing, but she will get over it if she has other opportunities for success.

If you are having a hard time meeting people or finding a class/club that fits your schedule--START one! It could be a play group, a book club, a craft club, a sports club, a park day, a girls' club (that's what I did). Hosting something in your house involves a great deal of work--organizing the activities, having lots of kids over--usually leads to messes, having parents over means the house has to be clean (very hard for me though it does have a bonus that my house is cleaner than it would be), providing snacks, having strange kids using your bathroom (lids up, misses, pee on the seat), but you can allow kids to stay and play for as long as you like and you know that people who are willing to travel to your house are generally close enough for play dates. People you meet at places that are far away from your home could be an hour or more away.

The activities you read about in groups and the ones posted on-line are probably 1/2 to 1/4 of the activities going on for homeschoolers. Many homeschoolers organize activities and run classes or meetings without ever needing to invite the general population--they fill the classes through people they know personally. The ONLY way to find out about these opportunities is to go to the park days, clubs, and advertised classes and meet people. Expand your network!

It might seem daunting, but I hope those ideas help you right from the start. I had to learn them slowly over the last few years.


Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb said...

Really nice post, Kim. Thanks so much for putting in the thought.

christinemm said...

Nice post

I would add that just because homeschooling starts does not mean the homeschooled child must have only homeschooled friends.

My boys (now aged 9 and 11.5) have for their two closest friends, schooled kids, one parochial & one public. They met them through Cub Scouts and clicked strongly but it was getting them together for playdates which cemented their friendship (not what was done inside of Scout meetings). One boy has been a steady friend x5 years and the other for the last 2 years.

I find, oddly, that the schooled kid's parents are more willing to let them have playdates on weekends and then they can have long times together 6-8-10 hours and then when older, sleepovers.

My kids have a number of acquaintences and then a small circle of friends they like a lot then of those a few that they see on nights and weekends. Sadly some they like very much are just too busy for much social-only time. Meaning, the parents have the HSed kids in classes for "a purpose" but don't make time for social that is "just fun".

If a child is leaving school they can keep on friendships so long as the other child(ren) wish to maintain the relationship.

I hope this makes sense.

terri said...

pls pls contact me with how you did the girls club!!!

youre words are the first ive seen based on reality as i have know it. it doesnt always happen magically; kids DO want UNstructured play time and parents never ever seem to leave room for it. its all structured stuff. this is single biggest obstacle we havent overcome :(

terri said...

btw thank you thank you thank you!!! you have validated several points that ive tried to express to other hs'ers but because their experience was so different, they couldnt see. :)

SarahovertheRainbow said...

Hi Kim, I found you through #homeschool, and your article caught me at just the right time - I'm currently trying to figure out our 'schedule' for the fall and this is a great reminder to me (the introvert) to make that extra effort to remember my kids need other kids.

I echo the point Christine made, I think it broadens the children's perspective to (hopefully) be friends with a wider range of kiddos than just the homeschoolers.

Kim said...


I am often amazed at that one stark difference I've seen between homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers. Having been a working mom, weekends are a great time for play dates--they don't interfere with homework or activities. But many homeschool moms I know only want to schedule play dates on weekdays--and usually during school time! I have to be prepared to give up an afternoon usually spent doing school work to have play dates sometimes.

I think partly it could be related to needing down time. I sure know I prefer to get some other things done on weekends sans kids. And who needs another day of carting the kids around. Or it could be about family time and not wanting to squander time that could be spent doing a family activity.

The lack of weekend play dates heads right into what you were saying about kids being REALLY busy too. So many classes and activities that it takes weeks to come up with a suitable day. Hey! I'm one of those. When soccer season hits, with two kids having practice 2x a week with a game on the weekend, we have a hard time getting time.

Kim said...

Thanks Sara, Terri, and Deb. I always appreciate hearing when I've hit on something that other people have noticed as well or could possibly use!

Shez said...

Excellent post. I too homeschool for academic reasons and I am an introvert. My kids are introverts as well. They love people but become very, very tired when they are around people too often. We often have to force ourselves to attend group functions.
We're trying an experiment this year by schooling for 4 longer days and having Fridays off. I'm going to try to limit playdates for Fridays instead of Mon-thurs. Weekends are family time. We don't like playdates when we have dad to ourselves.

Amy said...

As an introvert and future homeschooler, I am wondering how this issue will play out. Thanks for this glimpse of the future. I like what you said about staying after the structured activity. That makes sense. What about finding friends in your neighborhood? My 2 year old has already made a good friend just by hanging out in the front yard. We never have a playdate but they see each other almost every day. Of course, that will probably change when the neighbor is old enough to go to school.

terri said...

do you find that parents follow-through more on scheduling events that serve a "purpose" than they are open time? sometimes it seems the trick is to sell the parents on the idea and then the kids reshape it into what they really need ie it always becomes open-ended play after a class is done . its frustrating cuz i see kids have a need to be & explore who they are as people just as much or more as they need to identify insects or label rocks.

Shez said...

We often schedule a time that includes free play. Creative writing is on a Wednesday from 2-4pm. First hour is writing, second is play. Often play goes on longer. Chess is on Thursday from 11:30-12:30pm. Then they play, have lunch and we all go to homeschool park date. I've found that my kids especially like to know that there is play time after a class. This is why I schedule as many classes as I can in the afternoon. Playtime in the morning means that I can't get my kids back to their school work.

SmallWorld at Home said...

Great post. When my daughter was 5, we started a group called "kindergarten girls" with about 10 girls so that they could get to know one another and do traditional K group activities. It was SO much fun. We did it once a month with a different mom taking a turn. Seven years later, ALL of these girls are still close friends except the 2 that have moved away. It was such a blessing for my VERY shy daughter--and I gained lots of wonderful friends, too.

And thanks for submitting to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Rana said...

We had swim lesson this summer and last and when class was over I always made sure the kids could stay longer and just play with the other kids.

My kiddos also have PS friends that I make playdates with during the weekends. I get them around 2 or 3 and keep them for dinner and drop them off at home after.

We also have homeschool friends that we play with during the week.

Pat said...

This is an important topic. Our experience may add something to the subject.

We are the parents of four entirely homeschooled kids. Our oldest is 19 and our only daughter. Like most of you, we did a lot of work at great cost financially and physically to round out her K-12 experience.

I hosted a writing club for three years in our home. I co led with a friend a three year high school art class for girls. We did a tremendous amount of traveling and attending piano competitions, group lessons, camps, master classes, junior symphony, not to mention weekly private lessons. Church stuff, galore.

These had what we hoped were the makings of friendships, but you know what? Nothing really materialized. She has a group of ladies her age that she enjoys being with at different things, but that one to one friendship never happened. When she went to college last year, she had trouble socially fitting in. She made two friends, but both of them dropped out so she did, too.

She plans to attend a private college closer to home this Fall.
That first college was very far from home.

We are trying to evaluate and adjust now for our three sons, ages 17, 14, and 11, and have decided to enroll the younger two in a private school with homeschool status, mostly due to our daughter's inability to connect in a significant way with friends in our homeschool circles.

Homeschoolers are so busy in high school that if it hasn't happened (close friendships) by junior high, it gets much more unlikely in high school. I think THIS woud be my personal journey nugget to add - get those friendships in place when they are young. I was slow to do this and really didn't begin working on it until she was in 8th grade.

Homeschoolers are very independent and can pursue personal specialization in studies, which is a great plus for us, and yet.... there's something about being forced into the same building with other kids that settles into friendships for dayschoolers.

We are not sure why she struggled so much to make a fit in college. Likely it is a combination of her personality, homeschooling, and the college itself. I do know that had she made friends there she could have stuck it out.

This is a very important area to develop in our kids and it was much more important in her personal development than I realized. She showed signs of relational problems, but we honestly didn't know how to "fix" her. In fact, I don't think it is in our power to do so.

I think kids often do mess up in friendships as teens, but they learn to work it out themselves. They need a lot of opportunity to do this. I do agree that homeschooled kids are less likely to do long weekend visits, or trips or other extended visiting. There's something in the amount of TIME spent together that cements things and we just didn't give her enough of that, I think. It was often focused time spent with other kids and families in an event or occasion. She needed time alone with friends to mess up and learn.

I'm still learning a lot in this area,


Ruby in Montreal said...

"Friendships DON'T happen in clubs or classes or any structured activity. They happen during down time."

This is a wonderful insight, and good for all parents to remember regardless of how/where their kids are schooled. Our kids made few friends at PS - or dance class, or even in Guiding. The reason? Activities were generally very structured, and the kids didn't have a lot of down time to interact with the others. Even recess and lunchtime play didn't help much.

It's good that you've found some strategies that help your kids make friends. This is good advice for anyone wondering if their children have enough friends.