by Kris Bordessa
Upon making the decision to educate your child at home, you automatically forfeit the usual avenue of meeting playmates for your children: school. I have heard from countless families who are new to homeschooling that this is their biggest concern. For these families, though, it's more than just finding a playmate for the kids. The parents themselves are in need of a friend or two to support their endeavor.
Unfortunately, it's not as easy as simply finding another family educating their children at home. The children must get along reasonably well, and the friendship of the parents themselves will fare better if the families share similar values and schooling philosophies. For instance, a family who thrives on a regularly scheduled day, with "school time" done at the same time each day is likely going to feel very frustrated with a family more relaxed in their studies, and willing to do spontaneous projects in lieu of daily book work.
Finding the right fit for your family will take some effort and an incredible amount of patience! Start your search by determining what homeschooling groups you already know about. If you are doing studies through a local school district or belong to a charter program, find out if they offer any support groups. Consider starting one yourself if one isn't already operating and advertise it through their office, newsletter or website.
If you belong to a church or temple, talk to other members. Often there is a large contingent of homeschooling families who do things together outside of worship hours.
Some communities have home school support groups that provide activities. Finding these groups tends to be a bit difficult, however. The best source I know of for a list of support groups by community is at Jon's Home School Resource Page on the web.
Check your local newspaper's classified section for ongoing meetings. It's possible that a really organized group would advertise there. Also of help would be the freebie type of parenting magazines often seen at local retailers catering to children and their parents; they usually have a calendar of ongoing events.
Enlist your local librarian's help; often he or she will know other families who homeschool, and may be able to put you in touch with them.
Utilize daytime hours for enrolling your child in classes such as gymnastics or karate; other children participating during this time frame are probably not traditionally schooled.
When you are out and about during traditional school hours, you have an opportunity to meet other homeschooling families. During your daytime visits to the park or the grocery store, be aware of other families with school age children. Chances are good that they, too, are schooling at home and would be willing to talk with you. The most valuable resource for finding support and information is other parents.
If you are hesitant to approach strangers and ask about their education plan, you can always use the book trick -- make certain that wherever you go, you have on hand a book about homeschooling. Read it with the cover plain to see, or keep it on top of your stack of stuff. This provides other parents an open invitation to ask about your reading materials, which gives you the opportunity to find out what they know!
If you have absolutely no luck with any of these ideas, you may want to try setting up and advertising your own group. Plan a park play day and spread the word around town with flyers or an ad in the local newspaper. The benefit of doing this is that you are able to choose a day and time that works well for you and your family.
When I started asking questions of seasoned home schoolers (who were already pretty well set up with friends, play dates and plans) four years ago, I was incredibly frustrated by the people who told me it would take the entire first year to make solid connections with other home school families and to get into the swing of things. I felt isolated and alone and I wanted support now, not later! I should have given them some credit; after all, they had already been through that first difficult year. Now that I've made it, I unfortunately have to repeat the same statement to new homeschooling families I meet: It will happen!