By Kirsty James
Our family always joked about “those poor home-schooled kids with no friends”, as we drove from one playdate to another, but slowly as the kids got older our social circle decreased. We made new friends, but we had to try harder and travel further. My eldest is 18 now. He has a few friends who were educated at home, but he met most of his social group through Scouting. Slowly the kids we knew when he was growing up moved away, went to school, got jobs, developed different interests, or just dropped off the radar.
This was not what I wanted for my three younger children. It’s great for them to have friends from the neighbourhood, or from their different activities, but I feel it’s also important for them to spend time with other home-schoolers. Until recently they had a great social circle, but then I noticed the same thing happening again. At one stage, it was an almost weekly occurrence for them to hear of another friend who was going to school – often because “they wanted more friends”. When we go to events like the Not Back to School Party, or Kryal Castle Camp there’s no shortage of teens, but many of those kids live too far away for us to see them regularly, and the ones who live close by are busy. Like my own teens, they have TAFE, work, sport, music, and myriad different classes.
I realised that I was going to have to be more pro-active about finding opportunities for my kids to meet others on a regular basis, so I started to organise ad hoc outings to museums or performances that caught our fancy. This extended our social circle, but didn’t provide the regular contact that allows friendships to flourish. The idea of starting a group had been at the back of my mind for years, but fear of the unknown and discomfort with the idea of being ‘exclusive’ held me back.
The HEN committee has a lot to answer for! One of them convinced me to write this article, and another gave me the final shove I needed to start the group by pointing out that if I was ever going to do something, now was the time. I went home and wrote an email outlining what I was looking for in a group, and asking if others would be interested in joining me, hit send, and went to bed. I lay awake fretting about whether it would have been better to approach people in person, or just leave group-starting to someone else. To my relief, more than half of those I emailed said they were in, and THAT co-op was formed.
The kids chose the name “Tyabb Homeschool Activities Teens”, but the parents chose the format. We meet every fortnight, and have three classes each time. We chose to focus on STEAM activities which are hands on, collaborative, messy, or expensive/hard to do at home. Our idea is to give the kids a taster of many different activities, rather than to focus on one area for a term/year. For some activities, we divide the kids roughly by age, for others they all work together, or in small teams. There were some established friendships when we started last term, but it’s been fantastic to see how inclusive and supportive the group was from the first day. These are the activities we have organised for the first semester of 2017:
On the “off’ weeks, those who want to meet up for educational or social visits. For Semester One these include; tree surfing, a street art tour, canoeing, a visit to Parliament, a maths estimation excursion and paintball. Where numbers are limited, activities are for co-op members only, others are open to friends, or to the whole home ed community.
This week was our first session for Term 2, so we are still finding our feet. I continue to struggle with the fact that we are a ‘closed’ group, but we can’t accommodate more kids, and have chosen to include only those aged 10 or over to ensure that the focus remains on high-school aged kids. Running so many different classes requires a lot of planning, and it’s hard to offer all the classes we want to whilst remaining within budget. One key decision, was to create a forum for planning and discussion. This also ensures that everyone is included in the decision-making process.
Most importantly, the co-op has provided an opportunity for some great young people to extend their friendship group, learn skills and share experiences, and for their parents to see them flourish. The success of our group has also made me more confident about organising activities like the upcoming Toastmaster sessions.
It’s wonderful to look at the HEN website, and see how many classes and excursions are available for home educated children, compared to thirteen years ago when we moved to Australia. It can be daunting to step up and organise an activity or group, but I’m so glad I did.