How to make friends as a home ed mum

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I had people say to me ‘oh it must not make a difference this lockdown to your child if they were home educated anyway’.  The truth couldn’t be further from the truth! We have all been affected in one way or another and children have, and still are, bearing the brunt of it.  

The hashtag #lockdownlearning was introduced within the community as an attempt to draw a distinction between what many parents were experiencing during their forced isolation with their families and the real life experiences of children who were electively home educated pre covid. To battle against the misconceptions around of what it means to educate your child outside of the mainstream school system and to give some reassurance to parents who were struggling throughout the pandemic.

The term ‘home schooling’ is being embraced by news outlets, on social media and even by companies trying to sell their (often unnecessary) services to vulnerable families since schools closed but what is ‘home schooling’?  It is seemingly used as a term to describe any child who is learning at home and seems harmless at first glance.  However, it portrays a dangerous picture of how, what and when children should learn and essentially glorifies the reproduction of the school environment (minus the other children) at home.  It paints a picture of lockdown learning being the norm. It declares that anyone who dares to take a different approach is risking their child’s futures, ensuring that they are ‘behind’ compared to their peers and that exam results in subjects that they may or may not enjoy, be interested in or use to further their personal development should be prized above any other knowledge, experience, passion, emotional resilience or physical well being they may gain through doing alternative activities.

Before lockdown if you cared to look, the term you would find most commonly used in the UK was home education.  We, as home educators, embraced and encouraged our children’s natural curiosity and far from locking them in a house in front of a computer with only parents or siblings for company we encouraged them to socialise with like minded children and adults in safe, enjoyable environments.  We facilitated their learning through listening to their interests, empathising with their worries, good old conversation and directing them towards productive ways to channel their talents.  Home educated children are the ones you see counting the change at checkouts, asking for help when they are stuck and trying out new things safe in the knowledge that any mistakes are learning opportunities.  A child will never learn to read in a room without books and we know that so we equip them to the best of our ability with the tools they need to learn the skills they need to live a happy life.  

The definition of ‘Schooling’ – education received at school.

The definition of ‘education’ – Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion and directed research.

Words matter.  

In a world still controlled by a fear of disease it is becoming harder (but not impossible) to encourage  our children to follow their natural path towards achievement as restrictions and expectations are imposed and altered on an almost daily basis.  What is becoming clear is that the age old saying of ‘but how will your child socialise without going to school’ has all but become a moot point.  Any emphasis on socialisation as a key focus of the school system is a façade that has quickly slipped.  The masks have been pulled across faces, classes and year groups separated and conversation and freedom to integrate amongst like minded peers rather than those forced associations (often only allocated on the basis of alphabetical lists of names) quashed.

Home education is becoming more popular with many families realising their legal rights and choosing not to send their children back to school.  This change in direction for many families could go a long way towards dispelling the myths around home ed and each person could become an amazing, valued and loved addition to the home ed community in the UK.  However, making such a big decision undoubtedly comes fraught with worry and as with so many big life changes its not always the easiest path to walk down.  What helps is having the support and understanding of others who are either experiencing it like you for the first time or other people who by now are experienced and can help you to avoid making the same mistakes they did.

Being honest, in the beginning I found being a home ed mum incredibly lonely I worried for my son as he was having to have ‘only’ my company all day (turns out that’s actually pretty cool for a child sometimes so please do give yourselves a break if this is where you’re at).  I didn’t know how to make friends for myself or for him and had no idea how to discover the opportunities that were out there for us both.  I spent about two months finding the whole experience very difficult, I was finally getting to know (and enjoy) my son again and I was thankful for that but I missed the chats at the school gates, I had no idea how to ‘productively’ fill his time and I felt lost in a sea of information none of which seemed to answer the questions I had.  I then spent a month finding it difficult but not horrendous, I started going to clubs wherever possible introducing myself to as many home ed families as possible and stopped listening to the voice in my head reiterating the imagined invisible expectations silently echoed by society.  I had connected with a few people but I still hadn’t found my tribe.

Then it clicked, the like minded people I keep talking about gravitated towards us and us towards them, as we started to find which activities suited us as individuals and as a family we discovered others that felt the same way.  We found common ground over which to bond and opposing views leading to interesting conversation.  After a year of this we now have our tribe (one that I am thankful to be adding to with open arms everyday).  We have regular meet-ups and clubs to provide structure and we have the freedom to go to visit places and people outside of that too. I have found that my own thirst for knowledge and confidence in my abilities as a mother, teacher, facilitator and student is returning and while everyday is not always a holiday, not every decision turns out to be a good one and (especially during lockdown) tensions can rise I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have put together this list of suggestions in the hope that my advice can help someone else to find their tribe.  If you have any comments, suggestions, advice, experiences etc please leave a comment.

Reach out

Take a moment to utilise the search feature on facebook and search home education [city/ county name] add yourself to any groups you find (remember to answer the questions if they ask any to join other wise you will never get accepted) and introduce yourself.

A message like ‘ Hey guys I’m new to home ed and just wanted to get to know other families in the area if anyone fancied a meet-up or could point me towards clubs etc they think might be good for making new friends?  My son is 6, loves being outdoors, obsessed with mine craft (even though he’s never really played it) and is free most days other then Wednesdays.  We live in Hebden Bridge but happy to travel provided its not miles and miles away as I don’t drive. Thanks! Xxx’

The key is to be positive but honest, if you’re worried about anything, you don’t drive and can’t get very far, you’re skint and prefer to do something free like a park meet up or anything else then put it out there.  There are bound to be people in the same or a similar situation who are also looking for friends and things to do with their kids.  If you have any specific goals or activities that you would like to know about then ask! The community is there to support you and to help you.

If you scroll through the groups and see that someone lives near you or shares interests etc then send them a message (just make sure you comment on their post to let them know so they don’t lose you in their ‘requested’ folder).  You have nothing to lose and it may take time but it will pay off.

Try a bit of everything

When we first started home ed we didn’t know what to expect, it can be nerve racking doing new things with new people in new places but if you want you child to be confident then you have to lead by example.  My advice? Go everywhere, do everything, trust your gut and push yourself.  You never know what your child may develop a passion for or just where his very best friend may be hiding.  Each group will be different and it may take some time to find where you fit amongst the sea of faces but don’t worry.  Remember people are not trees.  We don’t have to be stuck in one place.

I think it’s important to add that if you’re struggling ask for help.  If you don’t drive can you car share? (obviously this is more difficult in the covid world).  Would a group allow you to do a trial session?  Is there any way that the club could lower their normal fees for a term, offer sibling discount or a payment plan?  Could someone meet you at the station to walk together so you don’t get lost? Is there anyone who wants to go to a nearby park beforehand so you and your child know someone in advance? You have nothing to lose by asking but everything to gain.

Create something

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and you can’t find the sort of club that interests you or there aren’t any meet-ups in your local area then you can always create one!  That’s what I did and it dramatically changed my life and that of my whole family.

Recognising a gap in the market for learning hands-on vocational skills as a group – the type of skills that we taught as parent and child at home – led to the creation of the Home Ed Institute.  In less than a year the organisation has grown from an aspiration to provide a safe environment in which my child could make friends and learn about things he is interested in; to a successful company offering a range of courses from construction to conservation (and lots in between) to kids aged 6 to 16.  The Home Ed Institute now employs four people and will have expanded across 3 locations by 2021.  It is the reason I have been able to get to know families from all over West Yorkshire, make friends with families I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and hopefully play a role in changing the education system for the better.

When I realised that we would have to travel to enjoy group meet-ups and the expense and time involved I decided to create my own for families in the local area.  I now run a free facebook group and organise free indoor (pre-covid) and outdoor (educational) meet-ups for families in and around the area.  This has been a life line when I’m doubting myself or looking for some inspiration and it also lead to us meeting our best friends.

So, the conclusion?  Home educating can be an amazing opportunity for you and your child and it doesn’t have to be lonely.  Put yourself out there and you will find your tribe, it may not happen immediately but it will happen.  And remember, you’re not a tree! If something isn’t working then change it!  Be kind to yourself and take it one day at a time, this is a very strange time to live in but you don’t have to go it alone xxx

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