I was talking recently with a friend who has just started semi-homeschooling during the pandemic. She's loving it, but she's wondering how to handle the social side of life for her kids. It's a common early question.
The thing is, the pandemic has screwed things up completely for everyone. The menu of options for interaction has been pared down substantially, and that's a fairly universal experience, felt by kids and adults alike across the world.
The social side of homeschooling will come back in time with a new shape, and I don't know yet what that will look like. But I can tell you what homeschool socializing looked like for us, pre-pandemic, here in San Francisco.
Our pre-pandemic social homeschool life
The highlight of each week was our big Friday afternoon get-together with other local homeschoolers at a playground in a remote stretch of Golden Gate Park. The turnout varied, but you could generally count on there being a dozen folks, often much more than that. It was a great group; tons of variety in about all the ways humans can be varied, but all connected by the thread that we'd stepped outside the normal, expected track of life. It was a friendly, welcoming group, as I've found all homeschool groups to be (knock wood).
Each Monday, we met up with a smaller group of homeschoolers at a local swimming pool for an hour in the middle of the day. It was heaven; the pool had plenty of kids to play with, but it was nowhere near crowded. The swimming hour had been arranged by one of the parents, it wasn't an official program or anything. After swimming, some of the families would head to a playground near a wooded area, and we would spend a few hours there.
Right before the pandemic started, there was a group of homeschool families that were exploring adding some sort of slightly structured Wednesday activity, perhaps at a museum.
Beyond those regular, predictable slots in our social calendar, there were more random options. There were other semi-organized groups meeting at parks on other days, and occasionally we'd join in with them. One parent organized a series of beach afternoons on Tuesdays, we made it to one and had a great time. Another parent had a regular chess gathering on Wednesday mornings for a while at the famous Mechanics' Institute downtown; we were only able to join that one once, and it felt really special. Invites to one-off gatherings were pretty common, to check out a park or attend an event.
I had some peripheral awareness of a bit more robust networking happening among the set of older, teen homeschoolers; they even had a prom! It was a bit off my radar, but I liked knowing it was possible.
Outside of the community of fellow homeschoolers, we also did a lot of bopping around town. Wanda got to chat and forge relationships with shopkeepers, baristas, librarians, tourists (LOTS of tourists), other families, ferry attendants... all sorts of people.
Homeschool-friendly group learning
There are also some group learning options for homeschoolers. Pre-pandemic, there was a new educational play space in the Mission District that was reaching out to homeschoolers; we'd done some get-togethers there, but they folded due to the Covid shutdown.
Spending one day a week at an outdoor nature school is pretty common (there are a ton of them, I like Symbiotic School a lot). Another popular option, once you find a well-matched set of kids and parents, is joining up with other families to share lessons, co-op style.
There are plenty of after-school programs that homeschoolers can participate in. In our neighborhood there's a cool, scrappy little science exploration non-profit for kids called Mission Science Workshop, and one afternoon a week they're open to anybody for a pay-what-you-can entry fee. It always attracted a broad array of ages, mainly kids who just got out of the neighboring schools for the day.
We didn't dive into the social scene right away
When we first started homeschooling, I didn't feel ready to meet up with other families right away. Honestly, we had been through the wringer over the previous year, and we needed some solid repair time as a family. Wanda and I both needed to find our sea legs with homeschooling. We ventured out to playgrounds and had playdates with people we already knew, but we didn't start going out to the local homeschool meetups until we'd been homeschooling for a few months, and it was a bit sporadic for us at first.
How we found fellow San Francisco homeschoolers
Here's the thing about finding your homeschooling community: it's an amorphous blob. There's no one staffing an information desk, there's no map, there's no guide. Sure, you may find a webpage that someone whipped up at some point that gave names and contact information for a bunch of local groups, but I guarantee you: it's out-of-date.
The cast of characters changes as people move into and out of town. Kids grow up in a blink, and their social and educational needs and desires change. The parents who organize things run out of steam, or a previously vibrant group fizzles out. It's okay! That's how life works, none of this will hold still. It'd be kinda weird if it was static, eh?
But your people are out there. You'll find them. Go ahead and try that contact info on that stale webpage you found, it can't hurt. Search Facebook for homeschooling groups in your area. Start a Facebook group for homeschooling in your area! Check Meetup.com. Be ready to install a variety of weird mailing list and group chat apps on your phone. If you can, be that organizer who makes fun things happen. (And while we're on the subject, HUGE THANK YOU to all of the local folks who are those organizers, and who have made us feel so welcome. I appreciate you so much. You're made of gold.)
I've never had a dog, but I've heard that when you get one, you suddenly get to know all of the other dogs in the neighborhood, from crossing paths when you're out on walks. I know the same thing happens with babies: you meet a whole lot of other baby-havers when you have one strapped to your chest. Turns out the city is full of homeschoolers, you just didn't know it. One of your best bets is simply going to playgrounds. They may not be as common as dogs or babies, but it was a pretty common occurrence to randomly meet homeschooling families at playgrounds.
So... what are homeschool kids like?
One of the first things that really struck me about the homeschooled kids I started to meet was how comfortable they tend to be. They're used to meeting new people, they're used to striking up conversations with truly diverse sets of folks, they're used to engaging in novel environments. They're a blast to be around. They're themselves, and they tend to be pretty comfortable with who they are.
Are some of them weird? Yep. Absolutely. I adore weird homeschool kids. For some of us, that's why we're homeschooling; homeschooling doesn't make you weird; homeschooling is your best option if you are weird. I don't want my weird kid compressed into some easily stackable cube shape. I don't want her growing up thinking she's broken or wrong because she struggles to conform to a world not designed with her in mind. I want her to love who she is, and through homeschooling I've found other people who love her for who she is. Liking yourself makes it a lot easier to connect with other people in a healthy way.
Now that the kids are starting to get vaccinated, the old group chats are starting to wake up. Wanda's had her first shot (HOORAY!), and will probably be vaccinated by around the middle of December. Then we're bumping up against the holidays, and it's hard to say what will happen with the case rates, so we're thinking we'll be diving back into the bigger San Francisco homeschool scene more in the new year.
Until then, we're continuing to do small outdoor playdates, and we're even meeting new homeschool families already. If you're new to homeschooling in San Francisco: welcome, and I can't wait to meet you.