No kid is an island: Homeschool co-ops give social opportunities to children who learn at home
Beyond local co-ops, other networks exist to help homeschooling families find each other and learn about what’s going on in their area’s homeschooling world. State-wide umbrella organizations typically sponsor online lists of smaller networks, organized by geographical areas or homeschooling philosophies.
Donna Keeble, of Dyer, Ind., is the moderator for one such group. The Illiana Homeschool Society draws participants from the greater Chicago area in Illinois and Indiana and prides itself in “promoting socialization and education for all families.” Other entries on a list of Indiana homeschool resources advertise book groups, play groups, mom’s night out, groups for German language speakers only, classical education groups and Bible-based groups requiring members to sign a belief statement.
Keeble tried formal co-ops, but likes the flexibility of the Yahoo group. Through it, homeschoolers find others in their area to form co-ops with and plan group outings. By using the list, families can join to get group discounts on tickets to museums, plays and concerts. At the events, their children see old friends and meet new ones.
It was important to Keeble for her list to be all-inclusive. A Jewish atheist surrounded by evangelical Christians, she’s not comfortable with everything the faith-based groups plan and recognizes that some parents in her area might not wish to participate in everything her children do. The informality and flexibility of the list allows families to pick and choose.
Some activities planned through the list are educational; many are purely social. A weekly roller-skating night that requires a minimum of 40 kids has been running continuously for more than a decade. A recent bead-making activity in a public library’s social room drew an enthusiastic group of 30.
For the past two years, Keeble’s daughter, now 18, organized a homeschool prom through the Yahoo group. Public school kids were allowed to attend, too, if they were friends of the homeschool participants. Teenagers in formal dress enjoyed the usual prom trappings, which were assembled in a rented hall — decorations, a DJ, a photographer — and refreshments, of course.
Van Loon once wrote in her blog for Christianity Today that human nature sometimes causes homeschool groups to turn into the rigid kinds of organizations that many homeschoolers sought to avoid by removing their children from public or private schools. Despite challenges, the groups are worthwhile, she wrote.
“Parents were never meant to shoulder the entire responsibility of this mandate alone, nor are they supposed to allow a peer group to do their thinking and obeying for them,” she wrote. “Homeschooling families will thrive if they work together, not maroon themselves on separate islands.”
Perfection isn’t possible, though, she added.
“It’s not the party line that you will hear at homeschool conventions, but homeschooling won’t exempt you from mean girls or cliquey groups of moms,” she said. “That kind of stuff can be kind of hard. All the peer pressure rules still apply.”
The nice thing about most homeschool co-ops, though, is their flexible nature. If a situation isn’t working out, it’s usually easy to withdraw and look elsewhere for the situation a child needs.
“Every family has different dynamics,” Chevrier said. “One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that I can address the need of each child, instead of putting them all through the same kind of program.”
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