You know that silly little question about whether homeschooled kids are well socialized? I laugh every time I hear it. I mean, how can they NOT be socialized? They are with us all the time going to events, the grocery store, the bank and anywhere else we go. They talk to people of all ages and backgrounds. I used to think this was enough.
Then, I started seeing that my kids were wanting to be around the same kids consistently. I can certainly understand why they feel like this is important. I have a few close friends that I really enjoy seeing regularly so why would they feel any differently?
I began looking into co ops. That was a very difficult task. We are a secular, unschooling family with 5 kids! I felt like we didn't fit in and nobody understood us.
My first experience with a co op group was a field trip to a museum. At that time I had 4 young children. When we arrived there were about 10 other families there. I was really excited to start meeting people and started introducing my family. I was not met with warmth. The other moms were looking at me like I had 12 heads. I looked around to attempt to figure out where the issue was. From where I stood, my kids weren't touching anything, they were being relatively quietly and they were walking around looking at all the exhibits with quite a bit of interest. They were eagerly asking questions to either me or the tour guide. That's when I realized the problem. Everyone else only had 1 or 2 kids, their kids were staying right by their side and they were all silent. If they stepped a foot away from their mom or if they spoke they got in trouble. This was most definitely not the group for us.
After that it was another couple of years before we tried a co op type group. Unfortunately, most of the co ops I found were religious or too far away and none of them were based on unschooling. Then, I found one! It wasn't unschooling but it was pretty relaxed and all the kids had a wonderful time the first time we met up with the group. A few days before we were to meet for the second time I received an email breaking the news that the group would no longer be meeting. Say what?!?!?!
We did plenty of field trips and the kids did things like karate, soccer and dance which were great but they were structured. They just needed a consistent group of friends to PLAY with every week. For the next couple of years I searched all the time for something that would work. We almost moved across the country for them to join a Sudbury school! Then, I found a similar school where we live so we gave that a shot. It was great for daily friends but after attending for several months we decided it just wasn't a good fit after all. Back to the drawing board.
If you build it, they will come. Why didn't I try this before? Maybe, everything that we had been through was just leading up to this. Perhaps we had to go through all of that to learn how to best start something of our own. I took a leap and started a Facebook group for field trips for unschoolers. After a few weeks I brought on a friend to help me. Within just a couple of months we had a huge group! I was pretty floored. Not all of them were unschoolers but I made it clear from the beginning that I expected everyone to respect the ways of unschoolers and, of course, we would respect others as well.
The group continued to grow and the talk of started a co op began. It was a pretty big undertaking. We had to find a location, come up with information about what it would mean to be a part of our co op and also figure out the structure, or really the lack thereof, of our co op.
After a summer full of planning and meeting we were finally ready to open the doors. I'm fortunate enough to have a home that is perfect for our co op to be in for now so that has really worked out nicely. We've had a few bumps in the beginning but I expected that to be the case. We've been meeting once a week for a couple of months now and I'm seeing this beautiful group of core families participating.
I didn't quite understand how important a co op would be until we started our own. We have unschooling families joining together to support our kids and also support each other. As unschoolers we have to really let go of how we may have viewed education in the past which can be challenging. So, being with a large group of people who understand the struggles as well as the importance has been incredibly significant.
I believe that getting out to events and field trips and fun classes is very important and wonderful for homeschoolers. Remember, though, that your kids may very well see different people at all of these happenings. So, having a co op once a week where they can play with the same kids and really form solid friendships is certainly something to consider. Look around for co ops in your area. Try some out. If you can't find a good fit then start one yourself because I promise you, if you are having a hard time finding somewhere to fit in then there are definitely others in your same shoes.
I'll leave you with a few pictures of our co op. I love each one of these families so much and I am incredibly grateful that we have all come together.