Looking to meet homeschooling families and potential friends? An excellent low risk opportunity is the Homeschool Park Day.
Many official homeschool groups and co-ops, as well as loose knit homeschooling companions, gather regularly at community parks throughout the United States. The "park day" is the activity that has the lowest barrier to entry for new homeschooling families. Homeschool Park Days are held at public parks, so people can come and go, and there is no cost or commitment for joining a group because you're not joining a group.
You may indeed find some groups at the park are having organized activities from time to time for their own specific homeschool group's membership -- such as a picnic or field day -- and you won't be able to join those. That would be like finding a family reunion at a park and helping yourself to their potato salad and sack races.
But in general, the playground time, adults-on-park-benches-talking time, and chasing-after-kids time is a mixture of homeschooling families new and old, group members and freelancers, visitors and regulars. Some homeschool groups specifically hold park days because they are accessible for potential new members. Some groups purposely meet on the same day as other groups to encourage wider community.
A few hints about Homeschool Park Days:
- Find Homeschool Park Days. Look on local Facebook groups and social media, Meetup lists, library bulletin boards, state and local homeschool websites, and recreation department newsletters and social media.
- Try more than one. Park days can have a different flavor depending on the group or person who has organized them. If you go to one park day and don't find families you seem to click with, go to a park day somewhere else or at another time. Homeschoolers aren't all alike, and you'll find people with different approaches to homeschooling and socializing at different park days.
- Try more than once. It's also true that because park days are low commitment, you will see a lot of variety in attendance. It is the thing that homeschooling parents may "let go" during a busy week or when everyone is fighting colds. A small attendance this week may not mean "no one ever comes to park day," but that more people will be at the next park day. Your child's new best friend might not be there this time but might be there the next time. You have to go back.
- Respect established groups. You may run into a park day that is attended by people who are all in one homeschool group or co-op. Keep in mind that while they might be really nice and even welcoming, some co-ops or groups go through periods of having "capped membership" because their numbers are too large for their other indoor meeting place or for specific classes or activities they do that are not held at the park. Other homeschool groups have specific requirements for membership, such as faith-based groups and groups organized around a specific type of homeschooling. Be friendly, but understand that some groups may not be able to invite you to all their events right now. Networking to find out more about such a group and meeting individual families you may have something in common with are the most likely ways to create more social opportunities without barging in.
- Take what you need. Homeschoolers at park days are a self sufficient bunch. You will find people have brought thermoses of water and tea, knitting supplies, sandwiches and snacks, and bags of entertaining stuff for the kids -- sidewalk chalk, magnifying lenses, hiking sticks, soccer ball, and more. Don't be surprised to see kids with things you wouldn't see in zero-tolerance zones, such as pocket knives and play swords.
- Organize a park day yourself. Homeschooling works on a "build-it-and-they-will-come" basis. If your community does not have a park day that meets your needs, organize a weekly, monthly, or twice-monthly park day yourself. Plan to attend for at least three or four sessions yourself. Promote it on social media. A great approach is to find at least one other family who will agree to attend a certain initial number of sessions with you, so if you attend your own park day, you won't be the only family there, which can be discouraging when you are in search of socialization.Again, one of the beauties of park days is the low barrier to participate and organize -- you don't have to set up food or membership lists, and you don't need to invite strangers to your home; usually you just need to set a date and time and make sure people know about it. Be specific about where you'll meet ("the playground nearest the restrooms" or "Shelter 11") and any special circumstances ("Parking Lot A is closed right now" or "This is by a small pond so bring fishing poles and personal flotation devices.") Plan an activity for your kids in case your first park days don't attract a crowd -- bubbles, scooters, baskets for a nature walk, playground time, etc.
- Encourage park staff to organize park days. In some communities, the staff at a park may be willing to organize events for homeschoolers if you just prompt them. In my area, this is particularly true of state parks, but it might true at your local level as well. While social time may be the only goal at an open-ended "park day," sometimes you can combine that social time with a park event that is organized and promoted by the park -- such as a series of nature study meetings or events organized around kids' archery lessons or photography walks. Encourage the park staff to leave adequate time for social gathering after any organized activity.
Keep in mind that park days may or may not be an end unto themselves. Your kids may love going back time and time again, or maybe once you meet a few families you enjoy, you will develop other activities with them that fit your family better.
However, it's always nice to keep in mind that attending your local park day -- even when you are a more established homeschooler -- may be a relatively easy way to provide support for newer homeschoolers. Park day is a simple way to get started in finding friends, and attending with your family is also a simple way to give back on behalf of those who befriended you.
Finding homeschool friends is not always a walk in the park -- but it's a good place to start.