I’ve been homeschooling my teen on and off for the past 12 years since she was just 4 years old. As a long-time homeschooling mom, I get lots of questions about how to start. I’ve also witnessed the flood of concerns from parents flocking to homeschooling groups on social media asking how much it costs. My answer to that is you don’t need a lot of money, but you do need connections to diverse networks and people to make homeschooling work for your family.
Have you ever wondered how some moms always know first where to find cool activities for their kids or have promo codes up their sleeve when it comes to school supplies or ticketed events? Chances are that those moms have built networks with individuals and information sources that are relevant to their parenting and homeschool goals. I call this social capital. Social capital can be measured through your networks and relationships. In a school, these resources are part of the package deal, but homeschooling parents need to amass advice around homeschool practices and information about opportunities or experiences for your children by connecting with family members, former classmates, religious institutions, work colleagues, and online friends. Most importantly, money can be tight and children can still thrive in homeschool if parents are involved in developing these connections. Low-income does not equal low social capital. This contradicts the current assumption that learning pods formed by affluent home-educating families are somehow superior to those of less-affluent parents or those with neurodiverse children (See here, and here, for starters.) There is evidence to the contrary.
Dr. Cheryl Fields-Smith, Ph.D., author of Exploring Single Black Mothers' Resistance Through Homeschooling, found that regardless of their socioeconomic status, many of the Black homeschooling mothers in her research study made connections within their community that influenced their children positively in significant ways. She wrote that these mothers were defying the odds, despite being single mothers who were living on incomes below or close to the poverty line. Homeschooling is an accessible option for families who don’t have hundreds to drop on a fancy educational kit, hiring a tutor, or downloading expensive apps. You don't need money to make homeschooling happen, but what you do need are the channels and resources for finding answers to your questions.
What are some of the concerns you might have when deciding to home-educate your child? For example, do you wonder what type of curriculum you’ll use when teaching your child math? Have you considered using a certain teaching philosophy like Montessori or Mason? If you answered yes and don’t have people or a network you can personally ask and discuss these things with, you’ll need to build one or you’ll have to rely on Google. Building a circle of people with access to accurate and current information as well as intel about various opportunities in your community is necessary to broaden your perspective and make the most equitable and best educational choices for your family.
To form a diverse network, think about what’s most comfortable for you as a parent. I actually abhor social situations, and, if I’m honest, I’m an introvert who prefers my own company. I’ve built my network by not only joining homeschool groups online but by starting and organizing other homeschooling parents online and off. I started a Facebook group for dual-enrolled homeschooled students and co-produce panels and virtual talks for homeschooling parents to learn from each other. I share information even if it’s not relevant to my own homeschooling journey. I engage with other parents who may not have the same dynamics present during their homeschooling journey, which is critical to think about when creating learning pods for your children.
Learning pods have become newsworthy, thanks to the pandemic, but these pods aren’t much different than the homeschool co-ops families have been forming for decades. Whether you decide to homeschool, start or join a learning pod, or are participating in a traditional school’s remote option, sharing resources is key. As a homeschooler, I share information freely within the social media groups and email listservs I manage or am a part of. In turn, I often meet people and discover opportunities in areas I never considered before. For example, I found out about an Outschool online history course for my daughter just last month through one of my social media homeschool groups, and last week I learned about discounts on teaching supplies for homeschooling families from a listserv for homeschooling parents. I cherish these types of resources and always make sure I reciprocate by sharing opportunities I come across as often as I can. Reciprocity strengthens networks.
I give and receive access to these resources from those who may not look like me, practice the same cultural practices, or have the same abilities, but our relationship is mutually beneficial. There have been so many diverse experiences our family has had because of these connections. My daughter has learned American Sign Language (ASL) from a pastor at a local spiritual center who decided to offer classes to homeschoolers upon request and enjoyed a homesteading class taught by a couple who homeschooled and opened up their suburban farm to the community. I could never have taught her ASL or homesteading myself. By engaging regularly with folks from diverse backgrounds, I’ve had opportunities to curate learning experiences for my daughter that help her step outside of her comfort zone, cater to her interests, and broaden her perspectives. This approach is recommended when creating learning pods with children. Consider how different cultural backgrounds can positively impact your child’s learning experience. Diversity lends dimension to both you and your child’s homeschooling journey.
Building your social capital is an act that is not only beneficial to homeschooling families but to all families. Even during the years my daughter attended public school, it was important for me to supplement her learning outside of the classroom. I learned early in my parenting journey the value of signing up regularly for new museum, festival, library, and other cultural listservs for age-relevant programming and making an effort to meet the folks in charge of creating and presenting programs. Now, I hear about events and opportunities before most do and am a valued resource within my social group when I share a little intel. In turn, others share opportunities and experiences with me, and it’s a part of the culture in homeschool social media groups — and should be in every parenting space regardless of how your children are schooled.
How you build your social capital resources is dependent on your willingness to push past your comfort zone and make connections that lead to access to resources that will enrich the learning journey for you and your child. Join various homeschool social media groups, add your email to the subscription list at libraries and recreation centers, and look into offerings at community and state colleges. Start there and work your way out. The good news is that once you continue to engage in behaviors that broaden your networks and increase your social capital, you will have developed a skill that will not only enliven your homeschooling journey but will diversify the rest of your world as well.