Note: This column was published on November 13, 2013 in the Barrow Journal.
I don’t remember going on “play dates” when I was a little kid. When we lived in Oklahoma, I ran across the street to play with a friend who lived there, and when we lived in Colorado, I had a friend down the street and other friends from school that I might visit on the weekends. But we didn’t call it a date, and I don’t think my mom scheduled these play times weeks in advance.
Now play dates dominate my calendar. Our homeschool revolves around them, and calling them dates is appropriate because some of them are planned a month in advance. Others are ongoing, bi-weekly play dates. They are exactly what they are called: it’s a date to play with friends.
I make them a priority for my homeschooled children, but they are also for me. I just can’t stay cooped up in my house with my kids all week. We don’t know many of the neighborhood kids who are different ages and on a traditional school schedule, so I have to drive my children to parks or other people’s houses, usually 20-30 minutes away.
While I would love to say that I get to have nice conversations with other moms during these play dates, they are usually a lot of work. Younger children don’t always like to see Mama preoccupied with someone else, so they can make more work for her. I’ve experienced entire 3 or 4-hour play dates when all I achieved was a five-minute conversation because either the other mom or I were dealing with one of our children.
Very small children don’t interact with each other very much, but fortunately, my four-year-old is beginning to get more independent, and he wants to run off with the bigger kids. My seven-year-old rarely needs me during a play date. So I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and in the past few months, I’ve finally experienced a few face-to-face conversations with another adult besides my husband!
When we first decided to homeschool, I was worried about finding friends for my children. Though there are many homeschool families looking for friends, and local homeschool e-mail lists coordinate play dates, classes, field trips and other social get-togethers, my eldest son is introverted, so joining a big group of kids he didn’t know was difficult for him. He also needed to be with kids his own age or younger, so potential friends with older siblings weren’t the right fit, at least when he was four and five-years-old.
I kept my eyes and ears open for other families with children the same age who were also new to homeschooling, and now, in our second year, our calendar is full. My son has bonded with these friends over long, regular play dates. Sometimes we get together in big groups, and since he has already met them one-on-one, joining group play is no longer a problem. This is in addition to all the classes and camps he participates in.
Critics of homeschooling say that homeschooled kids won’t be socialized properly, but now I’m in the thick of homeschooling and see plenty of opportunities for socializing with people of various beliefs and backgrounds. If a parent is willing to find friends for their children, they have the opportunity to socialize for long periods of time when real interaction and old-fashioned play can happen. My son’s friends are polite and inclusive, and he encounters new children in his classes, camps and whenever new homeschoolers come on the scene.
I’ve noticed that the new homeschooling moms have the same concerned look on their faces as I did just a year or two ago. I want to tell them that there’s nothing to fear. Get out there in the homeschooling community, and in a year or two, you’ll be wishing your calendar weren’t so full either.
What does your calendar look like these days?