“Go to a Park Day! Make some new homeschool friends and ask your questions!” I see this advice over and over again on Facebook groups in response to someone’s first post or initial question or two about homeschooling.
Park Days have been the traditional gathering place of homeschool families. Children are free to play and run off their excess energy while moms befriend and support each other. The encouragement shared among themselves ranges from parenting advice to curriculum ideas to easy dinner recipes. Many a life-long friendship has been forged in these early days of homeschool community.
But now in 2018, I am seeing Park Days fade and fold. Some of this is due to the aging of those original Park Day families. They are graduating their last children and while some continue to attend Park Days to support the newer moms, others have become too busy in their new season of life.
However, I feel that much of the Park Day demise is due to the rapid proliferation of drop-off programs for homeschoolers. Due to the easy availability of funds through the home-based charter schools popular in California, families are participating in more courses and activities than ever before. After a jam-packed week of group classes and events, exhausted moms looking for a few quiet moments at home often decide to skip Park Day. And if a toddler needs a nap or an older student requires time for group class homework or projects, Park Day becomes the easiest activity on the schedule to eliminate.
Though these drop-off classes provide more than academic instruction because they also meet our children’s needs for socialization, do they fulfill a homeschool mom’s need for community? NO! At least – not usually. If you don’t already know these moms, you will not likely become fast friends in the few minutes you share in the hallway or parking lot while dropping your children off. And even if you do smile or hug or chat for a few minutes, it is not the same level of support as that provided by spending several hours together at the park on a weekly basis.
Frustrated or stymied homeschool moms can and should seek the assistance of their support group leader, overseeing teacher, or a homeschool consultant like me. But what about the mom who is just feeling isolated or a tad bit overwhelmed? She may be hesitant to bother her leader, but she is starting to second-guess herself on some of the curriculum decisions she has made or is wondering if she is doing enough. Where can she find supportive friends who also understand the world of homeschooling?
For many today, Facebook or other online platforms become the answer. You can connect with your phone, iPad, or laptop at your convenience, instead of having to load the whole family into the car for yet another event. But it’s a different type of community.
Facebook is definitely a conduit of information, but it is often unfiltered, inaccurate, or just not specific enough to your particular situation. For example, a recent post in a group of over 5000 homeschooling parents questioned a particular math curriculum and its slowness compared to many public school programs. It wasn’t until several posts into the thread that the full nature of her question became clear. Meanwhile in the 50 or 60 other comments posted, many people – some of whom had clearly not read the other responses – chimed in with their own recommendations of math curriculum (regardless of whether their favorites were applicable to her specific situation) or with their own understanding of public school math policies or procedures (irrespective of the fact that Southern California contains multiple school districts). While she was provided with much information (probably more than she really wanted), this lady was not necessarily supplied with the real answer to her question. And I seriously doubt that she received enough encouragement or support to give her the confidence to make the best decision relevant to her circumstances.
The Internet can and does open up networking opportunities. But virtual friendships are not always a satisfactory substitute for in-person interactions.
The challenge for today’s homeschool moms will be to create a new entity, the modern equivalent of the Park Day which so wonderfully served to to combat the isolation and confusion experienced by an earlier generation of home educators.