‘Unschoolers’ launch day

Dear Readers,

My co-author Sophia Sayigh and I have been working on Unschoolers for a while and I’m delighted to announce that it’s available now.

unschoolers-front

Visit our website for various ways you can purchase the book in e-book and paperback formats. I hope you’ll consider spreading the word among your friends in conversation, on e-lists, or via social media.  Perhaps you’ll even feel moved to rate the book or write a review.

I welcome direct communication, too. Drop me a line and let me know what you think! Thanks, as always!

‘Unschoolers’ coming in March

I’ve been a homeschooler with an unschooling philosophy for 26 years. I’ve read a lot of great books on the subject, but it’s rare to encounter homeschoolers and unschoolers in fictiounschoolers-frontn. It’s even more rare to see our lives portrayed as anything other than extreme in one form or another. So, I, along with my longtime friend and colleague Sophia Sayigh, have thrown my hat into the ring. Together, we’ve written “Unschoolers,” a fictionalized portrayal of the lives of a group of homeschooling families. Release date is in March, mailing list open now at unschoolersbook.com. I look forward to comments and feedback!

Getting the most out of your support group

What about socialization? is a question often heard by homeschooling parents. Experienced homeschoolers know it’s a non-issue. Social opportunities for homeschoolers abound. One of the best ways to take advantage of the wealth of available resources is to join a support group.

Some groups are loosely organized networks, while others are structured in a more hierachical fashion. Some are open and inclusive, while others cater to particular educational philosophies or beliefs. Families often join more than one. For those wondering how to make the most of a homeschool support group, a few suggestions follow.

Don’t forget the face to face Virtual support groups and e-lists abound, but there’s no replacement for getting together with others on a face-to-face basis. Look for groups with less e-list chatter and more opportunities for real time activities.

Participate! Those group activities and classes you’re enjoying were likely organized by a volunteer. Most groups depend on members to keep things vital and rolling. Think about what you have to offer and put it out there. Whether it’s hosting a group meeting or potluck, teaching a class, organizing a science fair, or planning a field trip, becoming an active member of the group is a great way to make the programs you want happen, meet new friends, and help others.

Don’t be shy Breaking into a new group can be tough for anyone. Do your best to introduce yourself and feel free to ask questions about homeschooling, and about how things work in the group you’ve joined. Even a virtual introduction on a list serve can help you connect with others who may share your interests and goals.

It takes time You finally make it to the playground with your kid, and it seems that no one is paying any attention to him. Worse yet, it feels like the parents are chatting happily with each other and completely ignoring you. First, take a deep breath. These parents and kids are at a group event enjoying each other, as you would be — and probably will be — once you get to know everyone. Introducing yourself, sharing your interests, and contributing to the group will all help speed up the process.

Practice Tolerance Homeschooling parents tend to be an opinionated lot. Views on parenting and education are bound to differ among families in any support group. If conflicts arise, do your best to stay true to your own principles while acknowledging that others may have different views.

Whenever possible, let kids handle their own social struggles As homeschooling parents, we’re often well acquainted with the families of our kids’ friends. This doesn’t mean we should butt in when our kids are experiencing issues with them. Growing up is a thorny business. Our children are learning how to communicate effectively in relationships. While it’s easy to jump right in and get involved, sometimes the best way to help is to just listen. This is especially true when we’re parenting teenagers.

Where are those groups? For more info on local groups in your area, ask your state homeschooling organization. Here’s mine.

The benefits of age-mixing

What about socialization?

It’s a question homeschooling parents hear all the time. Those of us who are seasoned homeschoolers know it’s a non-issue.

In fact, the opportunities for mixed-age socialization is one of homeschooling’s great benefits. At homeschooling park days, kids of all ages interact and play with each other. My teens attend one where some kids engage in a game of ultimate frisbee, while others play capture the flag, and still others enjoy the playground or brook.

Generally, it’s teenagers who play ultimate frisbee, but an interested and motivated younger child would not be turned away. Sometimes, you can see younger children watching the game with rapt attention, clearly admiring the “big kids” and looking forward to joining their ranks. When a younger kid wants to be in the game, the older kids get to mentor them.

In recent years, I’ve noticed a tendency in homeschooling support groups to create events that are age-segregated. If these gatherings are a small part of a person’s life, and the person is engaging in the larger world full of many different kinds of people, they can be just one component of a full life. But sometimes I feel like the push toward creating age-segregated events in homeschooling groups is driven by our cultural obsession with age segregation.

There’s research on the benefits of mixed-age groups, but even without empirical evidence, my common sense and my own experience tell me that age-mixing is a better choice. We all gain knowledge, perspective, compassion, and confidence from interacting with people from all stages of life.

When older children serve as mentors and role models for younger children, either intentionally (by acting as a teacher, director, or tutor, for example), or inadvertently (by playing in their presence a robust game of ultimate frisbee that involves cooperation and skill), the benefits are tremendous. Adults also reap rewards from developing relationships with kids.

It’s true that sometimes parameters need to be set for a group. Parents who want to start a math club might need to define the level of ability required to join. A writing group might necessitate a particular skill level to participate. In all these cases, homeschooling parents can consider ability rather than age as the most important criteria.

When my son was turning 16, the list of invitees for his birthday party included homeschooled and schooled kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens, homeschooling parents and other adults he counted as friends, and adult members of his birding group. The gathering reflected what I have seen to be true time and again — homeschoolers raised with plenty of mixed-age experiences become socially well-adjusted teens and adults who enjoy relationships with all kinds of people.

Interactions with people of all ages is something which homeschooling naturally offers, so get over the idea that classes, activities, and other programs need to be defined by age, and enjoy and reap the benefits of age mixing.

Peace + park day

What is it about park day?

The other night a homeschooling mom was telling me about her first time attending a local park day for young children. Several older kids came, and the play turned rough.

As the new kid on the block, she thought staying quiet was best. But as a mom, she decided to broach the subject. She told me that her questions were met with lectures and dismissal. She left feeling judged, and she hasn’t gone back.

As she related her experience, I nodded my head in recognition. Over more than two decades of homeschooling, I’ve seen way too many rifts over park days. Seriously? Fights over going to the playground?

It may sound ridiculous, but park day can be sacred. For many support groups, it serves as the glue that holds the community together. It’s the place where families go regularly to gather, play, socialize, and forge connections. It’s also where new homeschoolers go, often enthusiastically, but sometimes tentatively, as an entry point to the brave new world they’ve decided to inhabit.

I don’t mean to imply that park days create more problems than they’re worth. They don’t. Park days are a beautiful thing, and many of my fondest memories involve sunny days laughing around picnic tables, dipping toes in the brook, watching games of ultimate frisbee and kickball, and engaging in spirited discussion with other adults.

But like every situation where people gather in groups, agreement is not always a given. I wasn’t present at the above scenario, but maybe the parents whose kids were playing so rambunctiously felt they had to defend their choices, or their certainty about the value of their children’s play obscured their ability to hear another’s concerns. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that they didn’t intend to make anyone feel unheard or unsafe, but unfortunately, that is what happened. “All I wanted was to talk about it,” the mom who shared her story said.

Simple, and yet so, so difficult.

The story put me in mind of something I heard at a neighborhood event I recently attended. “Community,” someone said, “is where the person you least want to be there, is.”

We like to think about community through rose-colored glasses, as some idyllic, utopian existence where everyone gets along every minute of every day. The truth is, being in relationship with others is messy. When we venture into groups, it’s inevitable that we’ll encounter people we don’t agree with. Maybe we don’t like their views, or their parenting styles, or the clothes they wear, or the way they talk. When this happens, learning to peacefully coexist can be a challenge, especially in homeschooling support groups where there’s often no clear leader or defined decision-making process. Throw in the fact that homeschoolers, by nature, tend to be strong-willed folk with strong opinions, and it can make navigating a support group feel a bit like stepping into the wild west.

This makes it even more important to listen to each other as best we can, and be open to compromise and change. Sometimes, we’ll reach agreement. Other times, we’ll agree to disagree. Still other times, we’ll part ways. If we’re really lucky, we may see each other clearly, and the person that was the one we least wanted to be there, becomes one we couldn’t imagine living without.

Resources:

Why and How to Get Connected

I Sought, I Found, I Joined; Now What?

Getting the most out of your support group