In a way, this is kind of related to my post from last week, about broadening your world rather than narrowing it when you homeschool. One of the big things that we do as homeschoolers is to try to find a group that we can be a part of: to participate in field trips, be a part of other group activities, have other adults to talk to about the journey that we’re on, give our kids friends that are schooled in a (somewhat) similar way, etc.
One problem, though, is that we tend to look for a group that can meet every need we think we have, one in which we fit in completely, like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.
But when you’re a single parent, and you homeschool, finding that perfect fit is unlikely. The main reason? We tend to be a rarity. Most homeschooling families that you’ll meet have a mother and a father (or a step, or two mothers, or two fathers, etc.). It’s doubtful that you’ll find a homeschooling group made up entirely of single parents, or with even a few. In fact, in my local group, I think I’m the only single parent in the group. There are a few parents in the group whose spouses work away from home, so they may have a little understanding of what it’s like to do this alone, but they’re still not single parents, so it’s not quite the same.
One reason for this is that, as single parents, we are so busy working to support our children, and homeschooling them, and doing all the other things that go along with these parenting and homeschooling gigs, that we just don’t always have time to join (or outright create) a group. Or we join a group, but don’t have time to participate – or the events take place at times that aren’t convenient for us to participate. As a single parent who works from home, I’m fortunate enough to be able to wrap my work schedule around our homeschool schedule, so we get to participate quite a lot, but it still isn’t always easy.
There are a lot of things to look at, though, when you try to find a homeschooling group that fits your needs. A few things that come to my mind immediately would be:
- Religious or not? Depending on your own religion and reasons and methods for homeschooling, you may want a group that is religiously based or you may not.
- Age range? Obviously, you want some kids within the group you join to be around the same ages as your own kids. In our group, kids of all ages tend to play/hang out together, which is something I love. But for all that I love that, I also love seeing my kids find other kids that are around their own ages within the group to develop friendships with.
- Methods? It’s not crucial, in my opinion, that everyone within the group use the same methods or curriculum. I find that the differences actually make things more interesting, because we are able to discuss our different methods/curricula and why we chose them. It gives us insight into options we may not have heard of or at least hadn’t considered – and sometimes even persuades us to try something “outside the box.” But you may feel that it is important to find a group that unschools like you do, or uses a particular curriculum that you do, to get that support and understanding you’re seeking.
- Timing of activities and types of activities? Obviously, you want to find a group that has activities you can participate in, both in terms of when they take place and in terms of what the activities are, where they are, and how expensive they are. It’s a waste to join a group that you’ll never see because everything they do happens while you’re at work. But at the same time, you can’t expect the group to revolve around your schedule, so finding that balance is crucial.
- Finances? Yes, finances can play a role in your choice of homeschool group. Particularly when you’re a single parent, your funds might be very limited. You don’t want to spend money on membership fees to a group you can’t actually participate in, and you also don’t want to join a group that has activities that are well beyond your budget. Weekly trips to Disney sound awesome, but when you’re supposed to fork over a few hundred dollars for that weekly trip, every week, you’re going to stop going. Of course, then everyone’s going to ask why, and that’s going to make you uncomfortable, so you’ll stop going to other events/activities because you don’t want to have to explain you can’t afford that weekly Disney trip. So you definitely want to look for a group that has people that are either in the same financial class as you, or has a good mix of classes, so that you can be assured that there will be a variety of activities at different cost levels, and also be certain that there will always be someone else who couldn’t/didn’t participate in an activity with you.
These are all factors you should be looking at, along with (hopefully) finding some other single parents in the group, too.
But you also need to prioritize. Figure out what things are most important to you. If you’re not a religious person, you don’t want religion taught to your kids, you don’t want to use a religious based curriculum and you don’t want religion to be a part of group activities, then clearly joining a religious based group would be a very bad idea. But if you’re fortunate enough to be a single parent who has no worries about money at all, then maybe the financial aspect of the group and its activities aren’t that important to you.
But I will suggest that you put “other single parents” at the bottom of that priority list. As homeschooling continues to grow, there will be more single parents that do it. But only about 2% of homeschooling families are single parent families, so it’s a factor that really needs to be low on your list of priorities, no matter how important it might seem.
This brings me back to my main point. When we join a homeschooling group, there are always going to be differences between the members. No matter what kind of group you ultimately join, there will be differences in religion, finances, politics, number of children in each family, reasons for homeschooling, (probably) methods of homeschooling – the list is endless. Don’t let yourself feel like you don’t belong just because you’re a single parent. If members of the group make you feel like an outsider because of it, find another group. But don’t tell yourself that you don’t fit because everyone else is married and you’re not.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no law that says you can’t belong to more than one group. Some groups may have rules against it (and if they do, I would question why to yourself), but most don’t. Belong to a couple of groups, if you want to and you have time. Maybe there’s a group where you felt a bit on the outside, but your kids really clicked with the other kids. Stay a part of that group, for their sake, but also join the other group where you feel more comfortable. There’s also no law that says you can’t do trial periods with groups, to try to find the one that fits. Some may charge membership fees that would discourage this, but if they don’t, try more than one group for a month – or even two or three. Find that group where you really feel like you belong, and you’re not wasting your precious time, money, or other resources to be part of the group.
What if you don’t have a lot of group options in your area? I know the feeling. My options are really limited in my area, and of those that exist, the majority are religious based, which was never something that interested me. I was lucky to find the group that I’m a part of, because it really is a good fit for us.
But let’s say that of the options in your area, none of them are a fit for you. Or that there are no options. Well, you do still have a few options.
- Start your own group. Starting a homeschooling group isn’t like starting a business. It doesn’t require any licenses, or any real financial investment. You can create a page on Facebook, and that’s the start of your group. By starting your own group, you then have control over what kind of group it is – you can determine if it should be religious or not, when and how often and where it meets, and what kind of requirements there are to join. Once you start it and have other members, you can later hand off some responsibility to other members who want to help out, and when your kids are grown and no longer homeschooling, you can find another member of the group and pass ownership to them.
- Join online groups. Okay, so it’s not the same as a local group, with get togethers and activities and field trips. But if none of the local groups are a fit for you, and starting your own group isn’t something you want or can do right now, it’s better than nothing, right? It’ll give you that community of support, ideas, information, and help that you’re looking for, and possibly from a wider variety of people than a local group, anyway. You can find a multitude of groups on Facebook, and you can Google to find even more. You can find groups that are for your state, for your country, or worldwide. Join more than one. Online participation will prove far easier than in-person participation, so belonging to several online groups will not be all that time consuming or difficult for you. If you find that some of the groups you’ve joined aren’t a fit for you, go ahead and get rid of them.
What factors do you look for when looking to join a homeschooling group? Have you ever created your own, online or off? Do you have any tips to give other single parents who homeschool?