Homeschoooling With a Support Group

Mom and I were invited by The Homeschooler magazine to write about the homeschooling support group our family participated in while I was growing up. The piece was published in their Winter 2013 issue.

The article was a conversation between my mom and I, sharing our memories of the group. We’re a little long winded (you might have noticed) so the published piece was a slimmed-down edit. But we thought it would be fun to share the full conversation here:

Lindsey: So, let’s give a brief overview of the conception of the homescooling group we participated in while I was growing up.

Cathy: Ok, Rainbow Kids was a support group created by homeschooling families in 1987. We were centered in North Orange County, California, but some of us drove in from three or four other counties. We planned field trips, park days, and a few holiday parties. Basically, when forming the group and deciding what to do as a group, we talked about what wasn’t easy to do at home…One thing we decided to have was some “playground game” theme days. We played kickball and four square, and we would turn ropes for kids to jump. Do you remember those days?

L: I remember doing those things. I didn’t realize those were all intentional, pre-arranged activities. But I remember preparing other things at home for “theme days.” I liked a lot of the more structured things we did, like International Days and the Math Circus.

C: Yes, we slowly evolved the idea of having theme days rather than just park days. One woman loved arranging Historical Timeline Days, where kids could dress up as figures from history; another parent loved having book talks. We had Civil War Day, Combustion Day, Heritage Fairs, and more.

I don’t know if you knew that some parents organized a lot of activities and special days, and some “just showed up”? I remember some adults were concerned about the inequality of that… But I always felt that all families are different, with different circumstances and stresses and strains. And if a parent wanted to put time and effort into organizing a day, great! If a parent didn’t want to, that was fine, too.

L: No matter what, there were always some families who weren’t interested in the theme, and they had their own agenda for the gathering… So the fact that some people just showed up and some organized stuff always felt organic to me. Some kids were going to come and do their own thing anyway – people seemed to contribute in alignment to their own interests.

C: Whenever our family organized a day, we reaped more benefits than anybody, because you and your sisters would help plan, gather materials, and test activities. It was really fun for the family.

L: I’m wondering, from your vantage point, Mom, how much of the early themes came from child-driven requests or interests, and how much came from parent-driven interest in collaboration.

C: Oh, good point! That was the biggest benefit for the parents who organized stuff—we organized activities our kids wanted to do! But in the early years, I think it was mostly parent ideas and interests. For example, we parents came up with the idea of having a huge sheet cake with 500 candles for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery”—and we almost burnt the cake up when only half the candles were lit! Good times.

Rainbow Kids at Hunington Park, 1988

Rainbow Kids at Hunington Park, 1989

L: The bulk of my memories of the group gatherings revolved around the free-play and social dynamics.

C: Of course. The bulk of our time at RK was always free play. We would sometimes have a one-hour field trip or a 3-hour theme day, but then another four, six, eight hours of free play! Many a time, we’d go out to dinner, barbecue at the park, or have a cookout at the beach.

L: Yeah. And that group of friends was very formative for me. For all of us, I think. It was really a community and extended family. And there was an aspect of “family” in the sense that you worked out how to relate with people who you might not have gone out of your way to befriend, but we were “in it together.”

C: Yes, I think we very much tried to support each other. We were a minority in a schooled society. But we were a surprisingly diverse group. School-at-home families, unschoolers, what would now be called relaxed/eclectic. And there was diversity along religious lines. We were a secular group, so we ended up attracting all the people who didn’t fit into other groups of homeschoolers—which were at the time mostly evangelical/Protestant, complete with belief statements members had to sign. We were Catholics and Jews, Quakers and Buddhists, atheists and Pagans, people who followed Baha’i and the Mormon church (LDS) and Christian Science…but it was understood that we were not going to try to convert one another.

L: Right. So, what would you say were the primary ties that brought people together? Was it the openness? Or the kids?

C: Well, we all, parents and kids, needed support and community. We ended up being good friends with people we didn’t necessarily have all that much in common with.

L: One challenge in finding community within homeschooling used to be that there were really strong cultural (or counter-cultural) and spiritual paradigms underpinning people’s choices to opt out of school. But homeschooling has become more mainstream today.

I think it will be interesting to see how parents who were homeschooled themselves will interface with the first-generation homeschooling parents in support groups. Those of us who were homeschooled ourselves will find participating in a co-op or support group very…normal. I think we’ll be a little more confident. We’ll have less to prove. We might be less opinionated because we won’t be actively defining a new trajectory…

C: Yes, that will be interesting. I suspect that many parents won’t need as much support…I mean, they’ll have Facebook groups, right? And most kids, perhaps, will know other homeschoolers without having to drive into another county!

L: Maybe, the numbers are a lot higher than ever before, but the demographics will be interesting to continue to watch as they evolve.