Fourth in our series on homeschooling.
- First: Homeschooling: What Is It, Pros & Cons, and Methods
- Second: How Do I Homeschool in Massachusetts?
- Third: Homeschooling: Choosing Curricula
- FIfth: Homeschooling Tips from an Experienced MA Homeschooler
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Even before COVID-19, there has always been one burning question in people’s minds about homeschooling: How will my child be socialized? There’s a common misconception that homeschoolers spend a lot of time at home. In reality, most homeschoolers find that they’re so busy with meet ups and field trips that they’re rarely at home! Of course, with COVID-19 and social distancing, it’s more challenging to do as many activities, but there are still a lot of great opportunities to think about if homeschooling is in your future.
Socialization for homeschoolers can be easy and is more naturally occurring than in a typical school setting. Socialization isn’t just about being with people of the same age; socialization helps people learn how to interact with others and how to conduct themselves in society. Homeschoolers have opportunities to connect with a wide variety of families of different backgrounds, experiences, interests, and ages. Unlike school, where students are with similarly-aged peers, homeschooled children often spend time with kids who are of different ages and adults of different generations in more real-world situations. Older kids can act as mentors to younger ones and can use that expert role to help build their own confidence and teaching skills. Siblings are also welcomed at homeschooling events, and kids can enjoy each other’s company regardless of age. The parents, who have been teaching their children since birth and know their children’s needs, are available if problems arise and can coach their children on how to handle difficult situations. Homeschoolers also see and learn from more real-world examples of how people of all ages behave on a daily basis.
The argument that all kids need to be in school to be social doesn’t always hold up because the school model doesn’t work for every child. As parents, some of us remember being the quiet or introverted kid, being picked on, or never really fitting in. Being in school isn’t always a happy and social experience for all kids.
For more sources about homeschool socialization, check out these articles and blog posts:
- “The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Socialization”
- “Socialization: Tackling Homeschooling’s ‘S’ Word”
- “Dear Naysayers, Your Socialization Argument Doesn’t Hold Water Anymore (and it Never Did)"
While homeschooling may or may not be right for every family’s needs, the fears about socialization are often quickly allayed with a little research and finding social opportunities through classes and activities, connecting with local groups, and possibly finding co-ops or other places to join with other homeschoolers.
Classes and Activities
We live in such a family-oriented area with a variety of classes for kids including dance, gymnastics, art, music, sports, and martial arts. Homeschoolers often participate in afterschool activities, and many places offer special daytime programs for homeschoolers too. If you don’t find something offered, see if a place will offer a class if you have a few people interested!
Local libraries are a great resource for meet ups and activities. Some offer craft programs, STEM events, and even book groups for kids. Some of these programs are aimed specifically for homeschoolers during daytime hours, and many libraries are offering virtual programs until people can return in person.
With COVID-19 being a concern this Fall, many families are exploring more outdoor activities. Check each organization’s website before visiting to see if events are still being offered or if there are additional safety measures required of attendees. In addition to your favorite places for summer camps (see the Macaroni Kid Camp Guide) and school year classes (Macaroni Kid Education & Activities Guide is coming soon), here are a few more places known for interesting outdoor homeschool programs:
- Mass Audubon Programs for Homeschooling
- Old Sturbridge Village Homeschool Programs - Sturbridge, MA
- New England Aquarium Homeschool Program Offerings - Boston, MA
- Historic New England Homeschool Programs - various locations
- Hands on Nature Homeschool Program - Berlin, MA
Connect with Local Groups
How do you find your homeschooling network? There are different ways to connect with others but one of the easiest and most affordable is looking for local Facebook homeschooling groups. Search for your town or area towns to find a group near you. Some smaller groups may have specific requirements to join or may not be very active. We have not listed local groups here since the status of many groups is continually changing -- new groups are being launched as families decide to homeschool and some groups are closing to new members. Simply search "homeschool" and the name of your town on Facebook and click into the Groups filter.
Local homeschool groups are a great way to meet local homeschool friends for field trips, play dates, and other fun activities. Members of local groups often share class ideas or other resources they’ve found in the area. Parents get to connect with each other and form friendships as well, and it’s nice to brainstorm about how homeschooling is going. A local homeschooling network can be really valuable!
Smaller local groups are also great for learning about how local school districts work with homeschoolers. Remember that MA homeschool requirements are determined by case law and are statewide. Even if your town says it requires more information, that isn’t necessarily true. Connecting with others in your area can help you answer questions or work together on any issues that arise.
The larger Massachusetts Homeschool Connection Facebook group is a great resource for learning about homeschooling in the state. You can learn about conferences and events, ask questions, form groups, and find others in your area. This group is very active, which makes it helpful for finding out about issues or ideas related to homeschooling.
Homeschool co-ops have been around for as long as homeschooling has and are an amazing way to connect with other homeschooling families as a community. Models vary but there is often some form of a regular schedule with the same families attending. Co-ops can be an informal gathering of a few families or held in a church meeting room or other rented space.
Co-ops might feel a bit like a school but homeschool co-ops are often more casual because the co-op is run by the participants. Families contribute to the community by volunteering to run the organization, leading classes or activities, and helping with daily activities. There are opportunities for kids to explore different topics led by other parents and from each other. Parents make friendships too!
Co-ops are different from a drop-off class because there’s a different level of family involvement. You’re all invested in the community as members and get to plan together and make decisions that benefit the whole organization. Co-ops also provide a wonderful opportunity for volunteerism for the entire family.
Co-ops offer learning opportunities as well as social experiences. In some co-ops, there is unstructured time for kids to hang out, play games, and be kids! They might be able to have lunch or dinner together too. Co-ops often offer special events, such as game nights, open mic nights, and other fun activities.
Some local co-ops include:
- Voyagers Homeschool Co-op - Voyagers is a secular, inclusive homeschool co-op that has operated in the Acton-Chelmsford area over the last 20 years. Voyagers offers weekly co-ops for children (pre-K-teen) and parents to make new friends and join fellow homeschoolers to collaboratively create fun and interesting programs. In the spring of 2020, Voyagers switched to an online program to observe social distancing but maintained its strong sense of community, rich study groups, and social outlets for kids and parents. The plan for Fall 2020 is to continue to meet virtually for study groups and hangouts.
- LACI Homeschoolers’ Association - LACI offers child-directed study groups for ages 6-14 in Shrewsbury MA. Programming grows out of the children’s interests, so all kids have the chance to direct their learning. For Fall 2020, LACI will be meeting online on Tuesdays between 10 AM and 3 PM.
- Classical Conversations is a classical Christian community with different groups around Massachusetts including Billerica and Westford. Each group offers programs for different age groups.
- Support Groups and Co-Ops from MHLA
Some homeschoolers find community through different learning centers that are not traditional public or private schools. Learning centers may offer part-time or full-time classes, follow a particular educational approach, or provide a self-directed educational experience throughout the school year. Costs of some learning centers can be similar to private schools, but the experience is very different.
Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. (AHEM) has a recent article discussing learning centers and some things to consider in their “Hybrid Homeschooling" post.
Some area learning centers include:
- Macomber Center - A self-directed education community for children of all ages in Framingham MA.
- Good Pickin’ Farm - An experiential learning center for all ages in Westford MA that offers learning opportunities in a farm setting.
- Merrohawke - A Waldorf-inspired, nonprofit nature school that is run completely outdoors for children ages 3.5-12.
- The T.E.C. Schools - The T.E.C. Schools in Worcester MA uses a Montessori approach for K-8 students. The T.E.C. method incorporates Thinking, Exploring, and Creating.
- Sudbury Valley School - A self-directed program in Framingham MA.
- Bay State Learning Center (BSLC) - A nonprofit, flexible learning environment for middle and high school students in Dedham MA.
- Symbiosis Learning Center - A holistic alternative program for middle and high school students located in Auburndale MA.
With many families scrambling to research their educational options this Fall, a new topic has started to arise -- pods. Some families are looking for ways to combine remote learning from the schools with hiring a teacher or babysitter so children can socialize together and so some parents may be able to return to work. This idea is similar to a micro school or the one-room schoolhouses of the past. If children are doing a hybrid or completely remote program provided by the school, they are still enrolled in public school and are not homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers traditionally meet in small groups or at established co-ops to find their communities and to make friends. Parents are involved in sharing the responsibilities and planning activities. The pod idea is new in relation to homeschooling because, while homeschoolers typically group together around interests or geographical location, the parents remain present for the gatherings.
This new pod idea is being discussed widely in homeschool groups but there are a lot of unknowns. Questions arise especially if parents are not present during the meetings because the pod may be subject to child care licensing requirements in Massachusetts. Safety concerns are being raised related to insurance, COVID-19 precautions, injuries, and fire drills. Hiring a teacher brings up questions related to employment law. It will be helpful to follow homeschool organizations like AHEM and MHLA for guidance as more information comes out regarding the idea of drop-off pods.
Another resource for information about pods is the Homeschool Pods of Greater Boston Facebook group. Homeschool Pods of Greater Boston helps small groups of families form pods to facilitate community and peer connections for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic using a careful, safety-first approach. While acknowledging the importance of social connections for children's development and growth, Homeschool Pods of Greater Boston also aims to help slow or stop the spread of COVID-19. The group strongly recommends that all pods create stringent guidelines based around three risk tolerance levels for every pod member to follow. It is also the driving mission of the group to provide equal access to educational resources, and invite voices from all communities to engage in conversations about how to help mitigate the inequities that exist in homeschool pods. Visit the Facebook group to read their comprehensive Model for Homeschool Pod Guidelines document, meet other interested pod families, and learn how you can form or join your own homeschool pod in the greater Boston area.
If you’re planning to incorporate any of these community approaches, such as co-ops, learning centers, or pods, you would still need to submit an education plan to your school district to homeschool for the year.
When people choose to homeschool, they usually do so because they feel it is in the best interest of their children. This year, COVID-19 issues are causing more families to consider their educational options. Even though 2020 is an uncertain year with safety measures and restricted openings, it’s still possible to make connections with other homeschoolers by finding others who are following a similar path.
For upcoming online presentations related to homeschooling, please check out the following:
- Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. (AHEM) presentations
- Massachusetts Home Learners Association (MHLA) presentations
For more information on homeschooling, see our full Article Series:
- "Homeschooling: What Is It, Pros & Cons, and Methods" -- why homeschool, drawbacks, benefits, and different approaches
- “How do I Homeschool in Massachusetts?” -- the Massachusetts laws affecting homeschoolers and the responsibilities of homeschooling families
- "Homeschooling: Choosing Curricula" -- sourcing materials
- "Socializing and Connecting While Homeschooling" -- Local homeschooling co-ops, classes, and groups
- Coming Soon: Homeschooling Tips from an Experienced Homeschooler
Emily Classon is a homeschooling mom in Tyngsboro. She and her daughter have homeschooled for the last five years. She has a Masters in Information and Library Studies degree and worked in public libraries for over 20 years. Emily also teaches Zentangle®, a meditative art form.
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