In the midst of back-to-school sales and school orientations, many homeschoolers are now planning something different for September - a Not Back To School party or event. Even homeschoolers who don’t organize academic learning by a traditional school calendar enjoy this type gathering, which celebrates the distinctiveness of homeschooling.
It seems that most Not Back To School (NBTS) events include picnics. I’ve hosted numerous NBTS events, inviting homeschoolers to our home, to a nearby park, to a rec center with a pool, and to a family campground. We usually ask everyone to bring food to share and plan some homeschooling-friendly activities. At the park, we’ve had kids bring their bikes and riding toys; at the campground, we enjoyed a hayride and story telling. Depending on your venue, you may also want provide or ask people to bring such things as sidewalk chalk, bubbles, lawn chairs, yard games (cornhole, bocce ball, etc.), skateboards (and helmets), or craft supplies.
Some NBTS events are “members only” activities for those who belong to a specific homeschool group or co-op. These events provide a great way for member families to launch their year, which will include future in-person activities. Guests and prospective new members may or may not be included, depending on whether the group is able to welcome new families. Co-ops in particular may have a set membership, so don’t be surprised if those events are not publicized to the general homeschooling community.
But there are several kinds of open events you can be a part of or organize on your own. Sometimes the members of a loosely organized homeschool email list, such as a local or regional yahoo group, are more than ready to get together for a once-a-year celebration of homeschooling. Pick your date and place, decide on the parameters, and post an invitation to the list.
I’ve hosted open events in all the communities I’ve lived in (we’ve moved around a lot), and you might enjoy that as well. I put a notice in newspapers, on library bulletin boards, and in online community calendars, in order to gather a group of people who may not even know one another but who would love to get to know other homeschoolers.
The open NBTS events are great for giving new homeschoolers a chance to meet experienced homeschoolers, and those of us with “getting older” families enjoy the chance to find older kids and teens who may have moved into the area during the past year.
Many people choose to homeschool one child while their other children attend school, or they may be homeschooling only because of a specific circumstance or during particular years of their children’s lives. Therefore, I like to keep the tone of a NBTS event on the positives of homeschooling; I’m not interested in creating an atmosphere of “school bashing” - which is not welcoming to those who may be new to the decision to homeschool.
I do usually try to make sure some long-time homeschooling families can attend on the date I choose; they can provide anecdotes and evidence about the long-term value of homeschooling. Additionally, if turn-out is low, but I have a couple of long-timers attend, I don’t end up feeling disappointed that few people came. I just enjoy the families that are there, and we can make plans for future activities that might attract more new friends.
Frequently, Not Back To School events have served as a springboard to developing greater community among the homeschoolers in the places I’ve lived. They don’t have to be elaborate to be fun and effective.
A few tips:
- If you are planning a shared meal, don’t forget to figure out drinks, eating utensils, plates and napkins. Keep in mind that some park picnic tables aren’t very appetizing; table covers can add a lot. If you have a few friends helping with these basics, you can share the responsibility.
- Provide name tags.
- Use index cards, a sign-in sheet, or a laptop with a spread sheet to gather contact information of those who would like to stay in touch with one another. It’s often helpful to gather information about ages of kids and special interests. Decide how you will share this information, and make that clear. Don’t use people’s contact information unexpectedly, such as to market products or for non-homeschool events.
- Check out the guest policy and “outside food” policy of facilities like rec centers or YMCAs. Some will allow guests during less busy times once regular school has started. If there is a fee, be sure to let people know before they arrive.
- Make clear any special rules of the venue, such as no pets.
- Consider having a table for people to swap books, curriculum, and gently used children’s clothes and toys. Make a policy that people will either take back anything that no one wants or that everything will be donated to a worthy cause. If you decide everything will be donated, be sure to have a plan to facilitate the donation.
- Consider providing note cards to label foods that may be allergenic, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. Nothing says “welcome” like understanding that some people have special dietary needs.
- Provide information about homeschooling. Magazine publishers will frequently provide complimentary sample copies, and your state homeschool organization may have free brochures or resources you can hand out at your Not Back To School event. You may also be able to type up and hand out a simple list of local resources, homeschool groups, or field trip ideas.
- Publicize your event ahead of time if you can, especially if you are in an area without an existing tradition of a Not Back To School event. If that takes more planning than you can muster, but you’re in a strong homeschooling community, just call a few friends and have them call a few friends.
A Not Back To School event is a great way to celebrate homeschooling, and you might be able to start a new tradition in your community - or you just might find a few new friends.