Mom tips: Finding friends (for you and the kids!)

Learning at home is a great alternative for many children and families. But it's also not the norm. So if you opt not to send your kids to a traditional, brick-and-mortar school, I can guarantee that you'll hear this question at least once:


"But what about socialization?"

Truth be told, you've probably wondered the same thing. I mean, most of us grew up in a classroom setting, so that's all we know. We know about classroom parties and school dances and recess on the playground? We wonder if our kids aren't "missing something" because we choose to educate them at home. We wonder if they'll ever be able to find friends. After all, weren't most of our childhood friends also our classmates?

Sure they were -- but that's not because school has any kind of monopoly on friend-matching. It's because that's where you spent most of your waking hours. Your kids, on the other hand, have virtually unlimited opportunities to meet and befriend all kind of people.

Want to help your kids find some friends? Try these 8 tips:

  1. Expand your definition of a "friend." Friends don't have to be the same age. Kids who learn at home are often friends with children who are much older or younger than they are, and many develop close friendships with adults as well. Gifted children, particularly, may gravitate towards older kids and adults.
  2. Consider joining a homeschool group. Some homeschool groups accept families who are enrolled in virtual academies; others don't. Look for a group with a broad definition of home education. Many host park days, game days, rummage sales and group meetings, and all can be a great place for your kids to meet other kids. No homeschool group nearby? Start your own. We did.
  3. Sign up for Scouts, 4H or other local youth groups. Get your kids involved with a local youth organization. They'll have a chance to mix and mingle with kids of similar ages from all kinds of educational backgrounds. Youth groups such as the scouts and 4H also provide various recreational activities (and plenty of learning as well).
  4. Make your home (& yard) kid-friendly. Do you have a sandbox? A play set? If so, your backyard may already be the local hangout. If not, consider adding some kid-friendly amenities. Bring out the sidewalk chalk (and lots of it) in spring. Host water balloon fights in the summer. Welcome neighborhood kids into your home and yard with enthusiasm. (Be sure to connect with their parents also). Be willing to put up with a bit of mess and noise for your kids' sake.
  5. Play sports. Most cities and towns have youth sports leagues. Look for non-school affiliated leagues, and sign your kids up to try a new sport. (Or let them pursue an existing passion.) Sports help kids connect in a non-threatening environment. When your kid feels comfortable, suggest that he or she invite a teammate home after practice.
  6. Frequent your local library. The biggest challenge of finding playmates for your children is finding other kids who are home during the day. So head to the library. Families who learn at home tend to use the library a lot -- and if you see another family with school age kids there during the daytime, odds are good that they learn at home also.
  7. Take advantage of in-person meet-ups. Many online schools offer occasional get-togethers for students and families.
  8. Online friends count, too. Does your child have a passion of some sort? Help him connect with like-minded friends all around the world via the Internet. (I know kids who have made some great connections with other kids playing Xbox 360 Live.) Certainly, exercise caution when connecting with other people online. Monitor your child's computer usage, don't allow him to share any personal information with someone he doesn't know and supervise and any chat sessions.

And what about you? Most of the tips that work for your kids can work for you, too. Just don't forget to neglect your personal interests. Love to read? Join a book club. Like history? Volunteer for your historical society. Expand your circle of interests and contacts, and I guarantee that you -- and your kids -- will find a few new friends.

Jennifer L.W. Fink is a freelance writer and mother of four boys. Her homeschooling journey began over seven years ago and has included just about every possible permutation of homeschooling: full-time homeschool, combination homeschool/public school, and full-time institutional school. She blogs about boys and education at Blogging 'Bout Boys.