I have a six-year-old boy who absolutely loves being around people. He wants to run and play and be goofy. He needs other kids. And kids love him. Actually, everyone loves him, which has lead my ex-husband, for a time, to question his own paternity. (Reasonable, really. What are the odds of two parents with Aspergers creating a child who is always the most popular kid in the room?)

Okay. So I absolutely have to find my son kids to play with. And I don’t know where to find them. I have tried hard, though, and here is what I have discovered:

1.     The classes and clubs that are high quality are after school. Of course. Because that’s when most kids are free. And those kids have friends in school, so they are hard to get to be my kids’ friends.

2.     The families who homeschool seem to do everything as a family. It is very expensive to separate the kids each day. It requires money for a nanny or two parents homeschooling simultaneously. So families make friends as families, rather than a six-year-old making friends with another six-year-old. This is really hard for me because I have no interest in making friends of my own.

3.     Should we make friends in our neighborhood or in activities? We go into the city three times a week to get stuff we can’t get where we live (like violin, speech therapy, soccer teams). This leaves us only two weekdays to play with the rural kids who live near us. Maybe I’m imagining things, but it feels limiting.

4.     Homeschool groups are cliques. The moms have been homeschooling for ten years. They don’t need a newbie interloper. They are set in their routine. No one is mean to me, for sure, but there’s a wide gap between mean and available.

5.     There is a time gap. We have a lot of time and we would fit well with some families that have kids in school, but kids in school are always crunched for time because everything is scheduled after school.

Do people have suggestions? Am I not seeing things clearly?

37 replies
  1. Jennifer Soodek
    Jennifer Soodek says:

    You might consider getting your son involved in a team sport, drama group, chorus or orchestra; basically an extra curricular activities in which the children come together on a regular basis. This way he will get to know a group of children with similar interests and goals. Friendships often grow as a result of these types of activities.

  2. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    I echo Jennifer’s comments. We are in the same boat a bit, in that we want to ensure our son has potential to make friends. He has autism and doesn’t seem to miss them now we are homeschooling (week 3) but it feels like we should give the option.

    I’m planning Sat morning drama groups as a starting point.

    I’m not certain he “needs” kids though which still feels odd to me as kids are always around kids. My husband is at home with him and he is maybe on the spectrum and he is more anxious about the mixing than me (as he doesn’t want it for himself. He’s more hyper-aware.)

    Love your blog. Helps me no end.

  3. Gwen Nicodemus
    Gwen Nicodemus says:

    Believe it or not, there are other homeschooling parents who want their kids to have the opportunity to make friends but have no desire to go to the work to make their own friends. Fortunately for me, I live in a city, so the likelihood of finding those people is easier. And, indeed, I have found a few people that are game for the kids being friends but don’t suck up my time.

    I’ve met most of these people at co-ops.

    Also, just because your entire family doesn’t want play dates doesn’t mean your extrovert son can’t “join” another family for play dates. The more kids the merrier for him, right? They don’t need to be the same age or gender. They just need similar energy levels.

    So, find a homeschooling mom (or any mom) with two or more kids and say “hey, could you watch extrovert boy for a few hours.” Offer to pay them for babysitting and then you don’t feel the need to reciprocate. :-) That said, it’s really easy to have other kids over to play with extrovert child. They entertain you child and leave you alone. I offer to babysit all the time for that reason. :-)

  4. Teri
    Teri says:

    Here’s the question: do you want to find places for him to play with kids, or do you want him to have consistent, reliable childhood friends?

    If it’s the friends, go the rural local kids route. Reliable, consistent etcetera, etcetera.

    If it’s just that he needs play with other kids, no matter who, go hang out at McDonalds playplace or Smallland at Ikea for a few hours. He’s extroverted and will make friends easily, and those places are filled with kids who go with their families, and not with pre-existing friends.

    Those places are a lot like hookup bars, for kids.

    • Kidsync
      Kidsync says:

      Yes. Restaurant playgrounds are gold, although you have to show up at the right times. The kids arrive in waves and it takes some time to find that pattern. We aim for lunch time or about 30 minutes prior to the end of the school day. Bring a book or a laptop and you’re good to go. Of course I’m assuming you can concentrate in a room filled with screaming kids. I’m thinking that most parents can. :-)

  5. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Not all homeschool groups are closed to new people. I know because I just joined ours this year (as it’s our first year homeschooling) and they have been fabulous. I’m really impressed with both how many people are involved as well as how open they are to share. The best thing they do in my mind, though, is coordinated activities so the kids can get to know each other.

    We’re in a girls’ book club, there are field trip outings, and we even do a homeschool gym class at the local YMCA.

    Don’t rule out the homeschool group in your area before you get to know them. You may be severely missing out.

    If it stinks, though, I’ve got nothing. It’s hard.

    We do find that things like dance class where there’s other kids as well are good for making friends.

    • Florence Gardner
      Florence Gardner says:

      I’m with Jamie on this. Partly it’s a matter of being clear about what you need to get out of a homeschool group. There is some subset of long-standing homeschool groups that is anchored by women friends. But as you are not looking for women friends, then it seems to me you don’t need them to be open to you, you just need their kids to want to play with your kid.

      Our group has weekly park days that allow all the kids to do lots of exhausting running around together while some parents chat and some parents play guitar and some parents bring books and read. And all of it is fine. It’s understood that not everyone wants to have a tea party just because their kids want to play together. We even joke about this in our group some. I’m someone for whom constant conversation is quickly exhausting. So I wander around the fringes and check on my son and don’t tend to stay in one place the whole time.

  6. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I always loved finding new friends for my kids and I’m not one for whole family play dates either.

    Just ask one of the moms if her kid can come play or if you can take her kid to a park with you and your son. Tell her that you will be working while the kids play so you won’t be able to visit with her.

    I think honesty is good.

    I would also see if your local church has a sunday school program. Even if you aren’t religious-your son can go and make friends that he will see each week. Just drop him off and sit in your car and work.

    I don’t think your son needs to play with friends as much as you think he does especially since he has siblings to play with.

    Above all, give it time. This is a huge change. You will find your way.

    jana

  7. Amy Lynn Andrews
    Amy Lynn Andrews says:

    “This is really hard for me because I have no interest in making friends of my own.”

    Oh my stars, you sound like me. It’s a bummer we don’t live closer to each other. Your son could come hang out with my middle boys (8yo and 5yo) and I would totally not want to be your friend either. ;)

    As for a place to find friends, I was going to say church too. (Or synagogue? I seem to remember you saying you are Jewish? Not sure about that…) Anyway, like Jana said, even if you don’t go yourself it might be a good possibility. Where we live, kids at church are from all over the city so they all go to different schools and therefore we don’t encounter the “already have tight friends they see at school 5 days a week” issue so much. Then again, we’re in a big city so maybe that’s not the case in your small town. Not sure…

    I’ve never been good at co-ops simply because I have enough trouble figuring out what to do with my own kids let alone figuring out how to contribute to the education of others’ kids (as is often required in co-ops I’ve encountered).

    Another thing I’ve done is to send out an email to a few people with kids similar in age: “My kids and I are going to be at such-and-such park on Friday at 10. Not sure how long we’ll be there, but if you want to show up to play, please do! (No need to RSVP.)” I intentionally keep it super casual and informal. I like it that way because then people can come and go as they please (including me!!). I’ve found that it’s an easy way of making connections. It gives me a chance to see which kids my own “click” with (for possible future play dates) and it gives me the opportunity to get to know other moms in a non-committal sort of way. If it goes well, we do it again, but if it doesn’t go well, it was only 2 hours of our day and we move on.

  8. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    In one of your early posts on homeschooling, Lisa Neilson, in a guest blog, said that one of the advantages of homeschooling is that it allows kids to “socialize with those who share your passions not just your zip code.” While I think kids probably need some amount of physical play component to their interactions, maybe your extra social son would also benefit from connecting with people online (city people, farm people, international people, etc.). I don’t know what kinds of forums there are for this, and I know safety is always a huge concern, but it might be something to look into if he is interested.

  9. Latha
    Latha says:

    Penelope

    One of the ways in which I deal with this is by hiring homeschooling teens to babysit/ provide occasional company to my fairly extroverted child. Also, you did not mention if there were regular meetings/activities in your area. We have a fairly active homeschooling community here. The group meets once a week to swim, once every two weeks to play chess and once a week in the winter for a drama club. I am fairly introverted and do not necessarily enjoy hanging out with them all the time. Instead, I ask one or two of the families we are closest to if they could bring my son. Usually, they are very willing. Also because I draw my babysitter of the year from the same group, usually their family or the babysitter (if they are driving age) to bring my son to the events.

    My son is also friends with a schooling kid around his age in my neighborhood who is more available during breaks than the school year. Which is okay.

    I also do the hook-up routine of taking him to the local parks/playgrounds/beaches etc. where he can do his extroverted thing. I have gone to a couple of unschooling conferences just for this reason – so he can play with kids all day in the pool!

    Finally, have you looked up the homeschooling groups in Madison? If your family is driving there thrice a week, perhaps that would be a great community to connect with. I am sure they have regular meetings etc.

    http://www.unschoolingconference.com/abouthome.htm
    http://unschoolers.com/wisconsin.html

    On the contrary to what you think, all hues of homeschoolers are fairly in the margin, so what divides us is pretty consequential than our common ground of choosing to home educate our children. Give it time. If your homeschooling group does not have any scheduled activities, suggest some. Work with the local 4H or UW Extension office to come up with interesting alternatives and invite your homeschooling community to partake in them. At the cost of repeating myself, if you are not planning to move, make an effort to connect with and appreciate your local homeschooling community. My guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised.

  10. Frank
    Frank says:

    Honestly, I believe he’s best served by returning to school. He is clearly a social young man, and he needs something you can’t provide in a homeschooling environment.
    You can still do enrichment activities after school, if you like.

    • mrs dani
      mrs dani says:

      And he of course will have plenty of time to socialize with children who are all within 5 months of his age, and are allowed to talk for 20 min or so at lunch (providing the teachers dont think they get too loud)and for a few min. in the hall (again providing the teachers dont think they get too loud) and if the school still has recess (more and more dont)

      And I remember my teacher constantly telling me, ” you are NOT here to socalize, you are here to learn such and such” Guess school has changed a lot.

      • Jana H
        Jana H says:

        Sometimes not even the 20 minutes at lunch! My friend was just complaining to me the other day that her daughter, who buys hot lunch, sometimes doesn’t even have time to eat her food. It takes too long to get through the lunch line…

        • Amy Lynn Andrews
          Amy Lynn Andrews says:

          My daughter spent 3rd grade in public school and they were not allowed to talk at lunch. I am not kidding. No talking in the cafeteria. Period. They had so many kids to shuffle through that everyone had to just be quiet and eat. (Of course, they could talk once they got outside for their only recess after lunch.) I’m not sure if that is common but I remember being blown away by the no talking at lunch rule.

      • mrs dani
        mrs dani says:

        many schools are being built without playgrounds. they are cutting out recess because they “can not spare the time from teaching”.

        In a school near me, there is no talking in the halls OR at lunch because they have decided that is when the kids come up with things to get in trouble for.

  11. mrs dani
    mrs dani says:

    You may just have to give it time and try a variety of activities. My kids met their bestest friends in the whole wide world at a dance studio! They had been in the area for over a year before they found us and while we had friends, we had no one we were close to. We no longer even go to dance and are still the best of friends.

    Try different things and get out there! Join a local group and find out about the outings! Go to the museums or zoos or whatever on homeschool day! You may not meet someone the first time, or second or even third, but you need to get out there!

  12. Kate
    Kate says:

    Socialization was a huge concern of mine when I pulled my ds10 out of school last April. Fortunately, our district superintendent, understanding the reasons why I made this choice – (the decision was only made after a grueling, documented struggle to get the education that had been promised) – suggested that we come in for a selected number of classes that included art, library time, and math olympiad club. At the same time, his best friend was found on the soccer field, and they see each other (after school) every week once at our house, once at his. Every once in a while I get the “I’m lonely” comment, but when I ask if he wants to go back to school full-time, the response is a resounding no!
    I don’t know how this home-school partnership will work in the long term (the back and forth is tiring,) but for the moment, it is working for us. We are involved in the community to a certain extent, my son has people time, and I have prep time that isn’t at 10pm.

  13. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    We live overseas and our kids are homeschooled. I, too, have a hugely extroverted oldest son (10 years old). What I’ve found is that even he doesn’t need tons of friends–just his two siblings and a few neighborhood kids he can spend time with often. As a result his friendships, while not many, are deeper and more consistent. I think it just takes one or two good friends to make the difference–even in an extrovert’s life.

  14. Homeschooled
    Homeschooled says:

    This doesn’t sound like you at all – too many excuses. Re-visit your list and think how maybe a few of those options could be “tweaked” to your particular situation. Example – Even if it means you are uncomfortable (hanging with women who, yes, seem stupid). If your child gets to play with another group of children, if it worth your discomfort. Of course, maybe the children could be dreadful too, but that is why this is only an example!

  15. Will King
    Will King says:

    You’re in the wrong place to socialize your kid without you, yourself having to socialize as well… Simply put, small communities like yours value social relationships between adults, and will generally have deep ties going back generations.
    You can’t simply insert your child into that dynamic without having to accept the rest that comes with it – Meaning you have to join their group.
    Worse yet, you’re having to insert yourself into a group whose membership has remained relatively homogenous and static for years. Not something easily undertaken, let alone by someone who has challenges already!
    My suggestion would be to introduce your kid to others through activities – these are groups that routinely change, and the sport/activity/volunteer work/whatever gives you automatic common ground. Volunteer work (if you have time for it) is a good way to do that as well – again, social groups with an automatic common ground.
    In the end, you will have to make friends – It seems to be part of the quid-pro-quo of play dates that the adults get a certain level of human interaction as well.

  16. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    I’m not homeschooling, but I am compensating for an inner city school system. My extrovert daughter was lonely in elementary school, and even in her good academic high school. We joined scouts (weekly for three years) but the best part was scout summer camp (day camp, and then sleep-over camp was her version of heaven). Relationships take time, but after three years of music lessons she’s close to her teacher, and sometimes other kids hang out and “jam” (not often, but I’m hopeful). Lastly, I have her in a twice a week martial arts class, which has students of all ages, but at least it’s a different social crowd than school. I tried religious activities (child services and outings, but she didn’t like them – I will try again when she’s older). Extended family is good – daughter has a favorite aunt that she’s spends a week with every summer. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but they Facebook/message each other a lot, and that one week a year is a highlight. Eventually the kids “meet up” on the internet, and there are a ton of video game groups (we like Wizard 101, for instance).

    Until they can drive, you’re going to be chauffer, a lot. Still, two weeks of intense socializing (camp or whatever), can last a whole season. My daughter is already looking forward to next summer (2012) camp.

    Love the blog. I agree this is a no brainer. Parents have to stick together too!

  17. Zelli
    Zelli says:

    There are lots of good ideas here. You have to figure out which ones you can try. Different ones will work at different times over the years.

    I keep wondering if you could organize an outing for your homeschool group or anyone in the community for that matter. Plan an outing at the park to observe wildlife or explore the water or whatever. Get someone else to lead it even. People can often step forward to help if you ask them specifically for what you need. You can be the force behind it without having to be sociable about it. Opportunities for friendships can grow out of that.

  18. d-day
    d-day says:

    I think this is a factor in why homeschooling is often very religion-oriented. The kids get the socialization through church — sunday school classes, family activities, etc.

    This is my issue with homeschooling my own soon-to-be kindergartener. We would both be just as content to do things alone all day, but I don’t think that’s good for her. My current plan for next fall is to enroll her in a charter school and quit my job to go freelance so that i can do enrichment activities with her after school.

  19. Karen
    Karen says:

    Find the closest arena and get the schedule for the minor hockey league games. These places are giant playgrounds for the siblings of the players. Tournament weekends are a particularly target rich environment. Best of all, the other adults will be too busy watching the games to pay you any attention so no socializing will be required of you. I grew up playing in a hockey arena during my brother’s games so I know this would work.

  20. Pamela Price
    Pamela Price says:

    Have you tried your local YMCA/YWCA? They often have a special kids rooms where young ‘uns can play while Mom works out/takes a class. This has been a great help to both us.

    We are really lucky in that we have a secular homeschool group in our community that meets at a local park. It’s been going on for years but it’s so large that I found friends right away for both of us. Maybe you could host a meet up/Tweet up or something–either in the city or the country? Or on the EDGE of the city so both groups can meet?

    That playgroup isn’t our lifeline, though–even though I thought it would be. One family in it definitely is. I call our united families my “homeschool pod.” Quality over quantity!

  21. Heather
    Heather says:

    Having entered into homeschool groups myself as the new person, I understand what you are referring to as cliques. I have to admit it took me 2 years to feel welcomed into my current homeschool group. But now that I feel a part of it, after having some discussion with other mothers, I have realized that the group was not as cohesive as it appeared in my eyes. I have realized that I need to look at group situations that I come upon with an open mind that they are not all best friends. Their kids don’t play together everyday, etc. They do not feel as welcoming to us newcomers because we feel outside the circle of knowing. We don’t know their connections beyond this moment. It does take time and repetition. Go to the weekly park day or game day every week. Your son will make friends. Bring a book if you don’t want to interact with the Moms. Just being there will allow him the opportunities he needs. It sounds like he will do just fine. Another thing I have found in homeschooling groups is that the best way to meet people & make friends for your kids is to host a gathering around your child’s interests. If it’s Pokemon, or Playmobil, building fires, or blowing things up, email the group with your theme & invite them over. It will enable more instant connections that you can determine if you wish to continue or not. It will also give you a sense of control of the situation. Eventually you will see that the problem with socialization is having too much of it!! You can do this. You’re headed in the right direction.

  22. ly
    ly says:

    Can the farmer help with this? He’s part of the community; he has friends and long-time acquaintences-some of whom may have children. Assuming he is more social/socially-skilled than you, perhaps he could make those connections for your son. Also maybe he could go to the homeschool group with you and act as a bridge to the other parents. I know it may typically be the Mom that sets the social interactions, but my husband is much more socially comfortable than I am so he sometimes acts as the icebreaker for me and the kids.

    I second the person that says repetition may help with acceptance within the group. In rural communities and families, sometimes you care about people because you see them a lot, not because you have a lot in common.

    You have been open that you find it difficult to connect with people and that you dislike making the effort. People will often reflect that back at you. However,people may not connect with you, but still connect with your child. They may be open to helping him have a social group because they have sympathy for his situation. You can always initiate that kind of connection by being honest “I’m not very social, but my child is and I’m trying to help him find some friends.”

    Also, if your son connects with another parent’s at the homeschool group, you may be able to develop that further. Parents will often respond well to positive comments about their children so they may think your son is a winner if you let them know he thinks their little Johnny is great.

  23. Nowgirl
    Nowgirl says:

    Try hiring. “Looking for homeschool family who wants to add an extra 6 yo to their mix for free play 3x/week.”

  24. Nowgirl
    Nowgirl says:

    You’re right – it’s a tough problem. We handled it by thinking years in advance, developing decades-old friendships and relocating to the same city before getting pregnant. It can be challenging even with strong, dense webs of friendship connecting everyone.

    You have a second problem, in that potential friend-parents may read your blog and be worried – for you and your kids, and about what their kid might see at your place. Legitimate worries – though I think a connection with your family would be really rewarding too. I’d warmly offer to host your son on his own, but wouldn’t feel good sending my daughter on her own. First I would need to hear about real movement in counseling and a commitment to no hitting or self harm by adults.

    I think you are a great mom and you will figure this out.

  25. ceceilia
    ceceilia says:

    A lot of private schools are open to homeschooling kids taking part in after school activities. When I was in middle and high school, I participated in musicals, pit orchestras, drama, math olympiad and science/community service groups at the local christian school.

    Also, what about starting a speech/debate group for home- or un-schoolers? Or joining forces with an existing group? It’s a great way to focus unit studies around topics that are traditionally associated with each form of communication. You can also host meets just about anywhere (a church? a barn?) and extend categories to include dramatic interpretation, comedy, poetry, oratory and original pieces, etc. The options are endless, and it’s easy to simplify topics, durations, etc. for younger kids.

    Impromptu rapping in 1-2min round robins is ridiculous fun training, and you’ll have a hard time getting religious folks to turn down an opportunity to write original oratories on creationism. Learning opportunity? Room for growth? Fun with parliamentary procedure at the dinner table? Oh yes.

  26. LauraLea
    LauraLea says:

    one idea is to host a class at your house. At your next home school meeting see if any one would be willing to share the cost (therefore more willing to show up). Sort of like the pottery class but something easier to bring to a home, like a water color class, etc.

  27. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    To be honest, this is kind of how the grown-up world is. People don’t have much leisurely time to simply hang out and it’s just the nature of humans to want to be around their own friends and family, most of the time.

    It used to get me down, too. Most homeschooling families want little to do with other families or people that they don’t know. Though, this isn’t a far cry from how things are when you grow up. Friends move away, work takes up much of your time and your family always needs you.
    Hundreds of years ago, people used to live miles away from any one else and look, the world is still standing.
    I really think school makes people sort of codependent in that it creates this false idea that you need to be laughing, playing and learning with friends all day to function, when that is not how your life plays out as an adult.
    That said, I think it’s great that kids have people that they can share a common bond and interest with to meet and enjoy each other’s company.
    Though as an introvert, myself, raising two extroverts, I’ve never found success with playgroups or homeschooling groups.
    What I think is best is if kids are apart of a club or sports team. There’s 4H, sports teams, scouts (to some extent) and even classes are ways your kids can meet new people by being apart of something together.
    I think those types of situations foster relationships more than just, “hey, we go to school at home, let’s hang out” groups. It;s more like “hey, let’s help each other learn this skill for our game, or solve this problem for our competition.” That’s how adult life works, anyways.

  28. Leslie Gray
    Leslie Gray says:

    I have been homeschooling for a very long time in Canada. Two older children, who decided to go back into the sytem in high school, but still homeschoolingwith our”tail” who is eight.
    Here, where I live, there is a mom who hosts a “Come visit our farm day” once a month. People pay five dollars to let their kids run around the farm and she ( could be your son) is available to answer questions about farm life. Most people bring a pic-nic.She also runs workshops and classes on her farm as well. It might take work to organize an artist, writer, naturalist ect, but then you would not have to visit much with the parent’s. However, it is my experience that they will want to get to know you before they let their kids come over by themselves. Good luck!

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