Community: The Good, the Bad and the Hopeful

I was going to write about the importance of professional/personal development but then something happened that reminded me of a more important topic – community. Out of the blue, I got a tweet from an old friend about burgers. It set off a chain reaction of Twitter friends tweeting about needing to get together again. I don’t know what social media is like in your town, but in mine, it’s social both on and offline. Or at least it used to be.

Tweetups were a regular thing for us. We had weekly breakfast tweetups. Monthly birthday tweetups. Occasionally we had men’s and women’s tweetups. Somehow we all drifted apart. Life gets busy; timing doesn’t work and organisers lose heart. What hasn’t changed is our desire to meet face to face. Why? Because we grew this vibrant community of people from different backgrounds all connected through social media in some way. Most of the friends I have in town I met through Twitter.

I’ll be honest, I’m writing this in a state of brokenness. We had a rough couple weeks. I’m beyond frustrated with some of our circumstances and it derailed our homeschool and almost damaged our family. What has pulled me out of the funk was community. Reaching out to friends who deeply understand my struggles. What I want most for the homeschool community is a deeper connectedness. One in which we all put our differences aside and focus on building each other up, not matter what method we homeschool with.

Community is vital life.

The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, I’ll tell you that village is just as necessary as adults. Doing everything alone can become extremely overwhelming. If you take an honest look at life, we can see how we’re connected to people that we don’t even know. Unless you grow all your own fruits and vegetables and raise your own animals for meat, you rely on farmers, ranchers, store owners and their employees.

When I was going through a really dark time a group of women I know through social media got together and dropped off food to my home. They knew me well enough to know my dietary needs and ensured the meals followed my diet. The person who organised this remained a secret for months until someone finally cracked and told me. I was shocked because it was not someone I knew all that well. But without her, I don’t think I would have made it through that dark time.

This experience would not have happened if I had not taken the initiative to reach out to the Twitter community and make connections. Back then Twitter was all about connecting and chatting. It was a world of conversations that anyone could jump in on. Twitter may have evolved, but the platform itself is still capable if we as humans chose to use it that way.

The Good

B and I live in a blessedly connected homeschool community. We have the Victoria Home Learners Network. A simple Yahoo Group. We can contact all members with one email. Members have organised weekly park days and seasonal dances. To meet other families I have hosted science workshops and organised other events. Along the way, we have made a few friends.

There may be a cultural difference here. Homeschooling in British Columbia, from my experience, is well received. I have had very little criticism for my choice to homeschool B. I spent two days with public school teachers at a professional development conference where I was the only homeschool parent. While they couldn’t help me with some of the specific challenges of changing the approach to fit homeschool, they were supportive of my choice to try.

I also have my virtual homeschool community of Facebook groups, blog subscriptions and those I follow on Twitter. From those communities, I have learned a lot about Homeschooling and I am extremely grateful. But I also have learned a very sad truth – homeschool families can be judgmental.

The Bad

With all the choices we have in how to educate our children, there are some that are over zealous about their way being the “right” way. This is plain wrong. In my opinion, the BEST thing about homeschooling is the freedom to forge our own path of learning. Each and every child is different. I am different. What works for your family may work for mine but it may not. Telling me I have to do something or my child won’t succeed isn’t true. So why do we spread these lies? Why are we allowing such divisiveness to occur?

I have been brought to tears by some homeschool veterans. Not because their advice was necessarily wrong. It was how they delivered it. I’ve been told I do too much; expect too much. But when I scale back I end up with a bored child on my hands. B being bored in public school is why we homeschool.

The Hopeful

I realize I am a newbie at homeschooling. But I’m not a newbie at parenting. I’m also not a newbie at building community. I have worked hard to help bolster the various communities I have been apart of. I am hopeful we can build a strong, global, homeschool community.

One thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of blog posts on how to handle criticism about the choice to homeschool. But we don’t talk much about how to deal with differences of opinion within the homeschooling community. So here are my thoughts:

Don’t judge a kid by their age – the child may be struggling or the child may be advanced. Age is a poor determination of what a child could be capable of.

Listen to the question carefully

Some of my tears have been shed because the person giving advice was not actually addressing my issue.

Phrase your advice as an “I” statement

if your response has “you should” in it, it needs to be rephrased into what you have tried.¬†When I worked as a support group facilitator we had a rule against “should” statements. Rather than saying, “You should do this…” we encouraged people to say, “This worked for me…” I try to do the same within the homeschool community. Because in the end, I don’t know your child. You don’t know mine. How could I possibly give advice for a situation I don’t fully understand?

When possible, list the pros and cons of the curriculum you recommend.

For example, we love IXL for math but it probably won’t work for a parent who isn’t strong in math or a child really struggling with math. IXL is basically an online worksheet with few instructions. Khan Academy has more instruction but B doesn’t like it (I’m not sure why I like it).

Don’t push your method as the “right” way.

So many people write about how each child is different within their own family. There is no “one size fits all” in education. What works for you may not work for my family and vice versa. Explaining how it work and why is more productive. Again, pro’s and con’s are helpful to someone trying to figure out which method will work for their family

Be brutally honest about the downs as much as the ups.

Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart. Yet most of the time blogs talk about the good and don’t mention the tough stuff. I have learned homeschooling is as much a lifestyle as it is a form of education. It’s an enormous adjustment. When I know someone is going through or has been through what I am facing I’m more inclined to learn more about what they have experienced and glean whatever knowledge I can from them.

I don’t have all the answers. But I do know how to listen. I’m pretty good at finding solutions. They might not all work for you but I’m willing to stand beside you and help you figure it out. If you’re struggling, email me aj@vihippiechick.ca or leave a comment below. I promise to respond.

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