While you’re in a deschooling period with your kids, I hope you’re doing some of the reading I suggested in Part 2 of this parental deschooling series. Another thing you’ll find beneficial is to begin networking with other homeschooling families. There are two basic versions of homeschool networking, online and IRL — in real life. Both are valuable in helping you with deschooling — the transition from school to homeschooling.
Online Homeschool Networking
I recommend trying email lists, Facebook groups and pages, and internet forums for homeschoolers. These resources are often arranged by locality (state, regional, or local), homeschooling style (Montessori, Waldorf, unschooling, Classical, etc.), or world view (evangelical, Catholic, LDS, secular, inclusive, etc.)
There are also lists and forums for certain age groups, such as homeschooling teens or homeschooling preschool, and there are lists and forums for certain specialty areas, such as single parent homeschooling, working and homeschooling, African American homeschooling, homeschooling gifted children, and homeschooling special needs.Introduce yourself online, telling a little about your family.
Read the description and guidelines for the group and follow them in order to get the warmest welcome. Some homeschooling groups can be famously touchy if you “advertise” a class you are teaching, while others welcome such information. Some groups expect every member to hold the same religious beliefs and religion is woven into every message; other groups consider themselves inclusive and don’t allow anything but passing mentions of faith since organizers want everyone to feel welcome to participate regardless of differing religious backgrounds.
Floating a few questions to an online group is when the networking really starts to work. You will receive a variety of ideas that have worked in different families. This is also where the “deschooling” part of the process takes place — you realize just how much people are customizing their children’s educations, which can be very liberating. You’ll find one parent is committed to a curriculum or activity that another parent found worthless. You’ll find one family starts school at 9 am each weekday Labor Day through Memorial Day, while another parent keeps no particular schedule but also takes no time off from learning, year-round.
Support Your State-Wide Homeschooling Organization
While I’m at it, I recommend you become a paying member of your state-wide homeschooling organization, and volunteer if you can. Being a member means you’ll be in touch with the people in your state who are on the front lines of advocating to keep homeschooling free and legal there, and they are probably also doing cool things like planning a workshop or conference, producing a magazine you’ll be interested in, and helping people who are experiencing the occasional challenge with a school division in your state. Your state-wide org is looking out for you, and membership is a most basic form of networking. If you volunteer, you’ll get to know more homeschoolers that way, too.
IRL Homeschool Networking
During your deschooling period and beyond, you’ll find that meeting with real, live homeschooling friends and acquaintances is helpful. In all but the most rural areas, there are homeschool groups that get together for field trips, social activities, and parent meetings. If you can’t find an activity or group that works well for you, create it yourself and invite others. In homeschooling, this “build it and they will come” approach is common and expected — you’re not working in “the big box of school” any more where everything is going to be provided. It’s DIY time!
VaHomeschoolers, my state homeschool group, has a great video guide to homeschooling, which includes an episode on Finding Your Community. This video is not specific to Virginia, and it will help you think about how to connect with other homeschoolers.
Again, each “real life” homeschooling group may have a different flavor. Those arranged around a specific approach to homeschooling will expect to varying degrees that its member families will be using or interested in that approach (Charlotte Mason, unschooling, Thomas Jefferson Education, etc.).
Some groups with a religious world view may require members to sign a statement of faith. This is reassuring to some people who want to homeschool with those of a similar faith; it can be off-putting to others, who seek community but do not share the same religious beliefs or for whom statements of faith are seen as a way of keeping people out. If this is important to you, ask whether there is a statement of faith policy before you attend.
Again, it is when you get into discussions within a homeschool group that these IRL connections become valuable. Ask for book recommendations, activity ideas, and deschooling tips, and you’ll no doubt get a lot of thought provoking suggestions. Ask how other people homeschool — what their days are like, what their children are learning, and what they like or don’t like about their own homeschooling situation.
Of course you can search online to find IRL groups. Don’t forget to check your statewide homeschooling organization’s website — many of them have a page listing local and specialty groups.
And — among the best sources for information about “real life” homeschooling groups are librarians. Ask them where the other homeschoolers are. I’ve moved around a lot, and I’ve never failed to find a librarian who could direct me to the nearest and most active homeschoolers in my community.
When you are still deschooling, these new friends can help you with the transition by providing answers and examples of how they’ve done things. Over time, these homeschoolers — or the others they lead you to — will become your homeschooling colleagues. You may start a homeschooling bowling night together, organize a geography club, or take field trips together.The homeschool networking you do will be part of the transition, leading you from deschooling to learning together.