We Are Family: Creating a Homeschooling Community
For many, the notion of homeschooling evokes odd, misfit children who spend their days at the kitchen table with their peasant skirt-wearing mom, perhaps munching on homemade carob snacks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But homeschooling in the Puget Sound goes beyond the kitchen table. It offers a variety of opportunities for collaborative education and learning within a community.
The Washington Homeschool Organization, a statewide, nonprofit membership organization, lists more than 60 homeschool support groups in King County alone. While many groups are religious in nature, secular groups are also abundant.
The birth of a movement
Statistics issued in 2013 by the Department of Education show the number of homeschooled students nationwide has grown by almost 300,000 since 2007. Approximately 1,770,000 students were homeschooled in 2013, reflecting 3.4% of the nation's school-age population.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reports approximately 18,000 homeschooled students in Washington state for 2013–14.
But homeschooling families weren’t always as prevalent as they are today.
“Seventeen years ago I met a few homeschooling mothers through a breastfeeding support group in Seattle,” recalls Wallingford homeschooling mom Jennifer Kinard. “Those moms were part of a small group of secular homeschoolers in the area who met each week for projects and outings, and they invited us to join them. Once we got our bearings, we pitched in to lead activities and reach more families to grow the group.”
These were the humble beginnings of the Seattle Homeschool Group (SHG), a loosely-affiliated group of nearly 500 Puget Sound families who homeschool. Once you have this many families making this kind of choice, a critical mass occurs and community is easy to find and cultivate.
Erica Forrest, West Seattle homeschooling mom, came to Seattle from Portland a few years ago. Missing her thriving Portland homeschool co-op, she sought community immediately.
“We knew that community would be a fundamental pillar of our successful homeschooling,” she recalls.
Forrest connected with the Seattle Homeschool Group and found that others shared her desire to limit the driving from lesson to lesson that can be the bane of a homeschooling parent’s life. She knew from her Portland experience that there was the possibility of meeting more family needs by consolidating programs in one place. “Some of us got to brainstorming how to form such a community. The result is the Family Learning Program, a place for people to come together and be inspired by learning and community.”
The Family Learning Program, a partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation at the Southwest Teen Life Center in West Seattle, offers classes two days a week during the academic year, with courses that include art, music, math, science and writing. Additional homeschool enrichment classes, with both academic and arts options, are offered through Seattle Parks and Recreation at the Loyal Heights Community Center.
Something for everyone
Homeschooling need not be a luxury for those who can afford private classes. You can enroll your kids in public school programs for homeschoolers. Jennifer Riker, Ballard mom of a homeschooled 13-year-old, remarks, “My son has definitely found a strong sense of community at Cascade Parent Partnership [Seattle Public Schools' Alternative Learning Program for homeschoolers]. He enjoys seeing the same kids regularly and the small, nurturing environment. Community has been built there through many festive potlucks, spelling bees, science fairs, dances, performances, field trips, a Yahoo Group, clubs for a variety of interests and lots of time hanging out between classes.“
Homeschool groups also beget opportunities for those who are inspired to further cultivate community. Says Forrest, “Family Learning Program families bring their passions and interests to the program, but also use the connections they make to launch other creative endeavors.” The Family Learning Program has seen community-driven clubs like magic club, artist trading card club and knitting club. Science Olympiad and Destination Imagination teams have also sprung from friendships created through the program.
Community with a capital C
With so many homeschoolers in our area, it’s easy to find community with other homeschoolers. But homeschoolers may not think of community solely in terms of a school community with a group of kids all the same age. They may think about connecting their family with the community at large. After all, most parents want their kids to grow up and be able to interact as citizens of the world.
Along these lines, Tukwila homeschooling mom Heidi Watters, a landscape architect and environmental horticulturalist, has used her professional skills and contacts, as well as her connection to other homeschooling families, to create the Seattle Homeschool Group Stewardship Squad. “Stewardship Squad is a bi-monthly event at which kids and their elders, including some grandparents, act as stewards of their local environment. We learn a lot about many different ecosystems and environmental issues. We learn about everything from watersheds to loosening roots before you plant. We do it outside together having fun. We also meet a lot of people around the community. Other groups come with their own host of volunteers or other people from the public. So, it makes us feel part of a big network of our environment and a whole web of people who care about it.”
With about 15 kids and adults participating twice a month, the Stewardship Squad partners with other organizations and community groups. They get to know their local environment, the organizations that act as stewards for that environment, and a host of members of the community at large.
Seattle Homeschool Group hosts a couple of “park days” every week of the year. SHG members also host field trips and put on traditional events, like a summer picnic and a fall harvest party. On any given day, homeschoolers can choose from multiple homeschool activities to attend.
A good problem to have
“The hardest thing about homeschooling in Seattle is that there are so many wonderful things to choose from on a given day,” says Forrest.
This is a sentiment which many others share. The critical mass of homeschoolers in our area means that many organizations seek out the homeschooling demographic as clients. Homeschoolers find flexible and welcoming organizations that offer weekday daytime classes in the area of circus, art, science, drama, athletics and more. In many cases, one need only ask and an organization will be willing to work out a class on the day and time of your dreams.
In fact, these opportunities are so abundant that the challenge can lie in the abundance. You can’t possibly do it all.
Wherever one finds it, the community that is made in the trenches of homeschooling can be more than we expect.
Kinard reflects, “Our homeschooling community became much more than a means to education for us. It’s our family. We go camping together, celebrate holidays together, pop in and out of each other’s homes, rush to help in times of crisis. We fight and cry and make up. We lose and grieve and try to make meaning out of it all. We’ve negotiated and collaborated and achieved remarkable things together. Our children have experienced what it is to be connected, to reciprocate, to belong. I hope it’s an expectation they carry in their bones and realize for themselves when they’re grown.”
To reflect the growing interest in homeschooling nationwide, there exists a myriad of national and local resources to support homeschooling families in the U.S. Though less prevalent in other countries, homeschooling has piqued interest internationally, especially in the United Kingdom.
Wherever you live, a quick Google search can connect you to homeschooling community groups.
Here are some for the Puget Sound area: