Celebrating Friendship and Connection on Valentine’s Day

It’s almost Valentine’s Day.  What does that bring to mind for you?

Heart-shaped decorations? Roses? Chocolates?

For me it’s broader than decorations and date night.

It’s about hearts full of love and friendship.

Celebration and connection. 

Read moreCelebrating Friendship and Connection on Valentine’s Day

Unschooling, Loneliness, and Friends: Q & A

Here is a recent question from a mom.

Q: We’re doing a blend of traditional schooling and unschooling activities because my daughter(12) started to really miss having friends at school. I’m wondering how you handled (or would have handled) that situation?

Unschooling and loneliness. What to do about friends?
We all have days when we don’t get to hang with our peeps.

In life we often have to figure out where and when we can find  and  gather with our friends.

How do you deal with unschooling, loneliness and how to find friends?

My Answer

Dear M,

Guess what, Dale had many times that he felt lonely and wanted to adjust our unschooling to improve his social life.  I would say that finding enough kids who were willing and available for social activities was one of our biggest pain points, especially because as unschoolers there is more time available.

Looking back, even when Dale  was attending school, he always wanted more social and friend time.

Some of the things Dale did while unschooling looked like “traditional” types of learning, but they were learning or social experiences that he wanted to pursue. So, first, kudos to you for being willing to be flexible to meet your daughters needs and giving her choices!

That said, it is great to remember that there are often more options for increasing socialization and time with friends than returning to school. Depending on your location, circumstances, what your daughter needs and wants, it is worth stepping back to look at all possibilities as you decide what to do.

For us, blending with our local school didn’t work. We hoped it would work, especially when Dale was feeling lonely and thought he would enjoy band and art classes. The administrator at the time had very negative and punitive attitudes toward homeschoolers.

His view was:

#1 if you want to homeschool there is something wrong with you

#2 you have to do everything the same way we do it in the classroom, you can’t do anything different.

So we said, no thank you. The rigid high school schedule would also have interfered with all the other kinds of real world learning situations we had set up. We decided blending with our local school required more compromises than we were willing to make.

We had many friends in the neighboring school district who were willing to make compromises to blend their learning with a school based homeschooling option, but they sometimes lost much of the flexibility and freedom to choose what and how they wanted to learn.  Each family had its own reasons for making the choices they did.  For example, some of the children were athletes and the best way to meet the child’s needs for athletics was to use the school program. They decided that any scheduling or curriculum constraints were worth it.  As these friends became more restricted by their school schedules, and more inclined to hang out with friends from school who were on the same schedule, our unschooling loneliness became a bigger problem.

What we did while unschooling about loneliness and friends:

First- get all the issues on the table

We talked about loneliness, friendship, how it changes over time, how sometimes you keep in touch in other ways, and brainstormed options for meeting those needs.

We identified needs, priorities, and where we’d be willing to compromise.  Dale wanted to find more social and social learning opportunities, but he was not willing to give up self-directed learning.

This is also the time to be realistic and lay out any limitations you have in terms of time and money.

Looked for, created and put more effort into trying new social groups.

We found other unschoolers/homeschoolers wanting to be in cooperative learning groups. We were fortunate to be in an area where there were other parents and kids who were also interested in these ideas.

At one point I offered a drama group at my home, led an algebra class for kids who were interested, and led a math games group. One parent led a biology lab on semester, another parent led some advanced math classes using text books. These were much more traditional, but Dale was there because he wanted to learn and socialize. We tried to arrange extra time for him to hang-out with kids before or after the class times.

We got together weekly with two other unschool moms and their kids to learn about literature. One of the mom’s had a literature background and she planned out our learning based on the kid’s input and her expertise. We met and discussed the reading, political history of the time period and had  snacks or a meal that went with the reading. We were blending learning and social time, and the regularity really helped.

We also invited folks to our home for informal monthly potlucks and games nights. I made a real effort to not say I was too tired and drive the 30 mile roundtrip if Dale was invited to an evening gathering. We organized or helped organize any holiday events to celebrate friendship and promote community.

Dale started selling his cards and photos and a flower delivery business which gave him social interaction even though it wasn’t friend time.

We joined a regional homeschooling field trip email list.  We enjoyed being with people and hoped this might lead to friendships, though it really didn’t.

Considered other types of programs

We looked into student exchange programs and went with one that focused on matching the families so the children would become siblings. We had a 14 year old French boy live with us for 6 months, and Dale lived with their family for four months. ( Dale also really wanted to become fluent in French and experience living internationally.)

We looked at community programs that Dale was interested in to add more social time even if it wasn’t with kids exactly his age:

We were extremely fortunate that we had access to these excellent and inexpensive programs. We tried two different 4h groups and found one that was a better fit for us. It was a fabulous group that made each meeting a social event and had leaders that truly empowered the kids. I am still so grateful, particularly for the leaders who loved the teens. They were flexible about unschooling and welcomed my French exchange son with open arms rather than using the rules to keep him out.

We investigated conferences or programs of interest he could attend where he might meet other kids with similar interests. We also reached out to kids he had met at the unschooling conference. This resulted in one friend that he emailed with and got together with on rare occasions in Bay Area, and would re meet at the conference.

The beauty of unschooling is you get to decide what is right for your child and family based on all of your options and you can reevaluate as needed.  If you let your child be part of the process then they are learning great life skills for the future. How many times as adults do we have to move, or switch careers, or go through lonely times? Figuring out that there are lots of different ways to attempt to find and get together with friends that don’t involve having an institution that defines your schedule is an empowering life skill and confidence builder.

Hope these things that we did give you some more ideas. Good luck and keep me posted!

XO Lisa

Dear Readers,

What do you think. Have you had this issue? How did you handle it?  Do you have suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments.  Thanks,  Lisa


Further reading:

Tip 7 for Raising a Thiel Fellow: Connect

How Do You Create Community: Tips from Tweeps