I have been a member of a local homeschool group since my daughter started kindergarten. Homeschool groups come in all shapes, sizes and textures. I strongly recommend you join one because of the social opportunities for you (the Mom) and your kids such as field trips. They are a great community to share new ideas. Homeschool groups also give you a safe place to laugh with other Moms who have been through it. They can be with you while you cry in your broccoli soup at the local soup-n-sandwich shop when things get hard. Just make sure you try on a few groups to see if you get the right fit. There is nothing worse than a too tight bra or an uptight homeschool group.
My homeschool group is awesome. We have great people and activities. Field trips usually involve a wide range of kids. This adds to the homeschool experience and is similar to the real world in which you interact with all ages.
Some of the challenges to consider with a wide age group include how to keep the youngest and oldest engaged. Most kids under four have a tough time. They do well on short trips in the morning that are interactive. Elementary kids are excited to do and try just about anything. Their limits are attention spans and wiggles. Middle school kids want to fit in with peers and some of them are willing to try new things if they think they will be successful. They do well with activities which connect to them personally.
Most of our teenagers do not go with us. Parents of teenagers tell me that in high school the kids are so busy with academics, sports, music, etc., they do not have time. Most moms sigh and say to me, “Enjoy this time, because it will soon be gone.” That is depressing. I imagine for teenagers the field trips would be on a different scale and specifically aligned with educational goals. However, it is not impossible. It comes back to your goals for your homeschool. If travel and experiences are important parts of your homeschool, you will fit in field trips and travel.
What types of activities can you do? Well, for starters, you can’t please everyone. This is why our group works hard to provide a wide range of field trips for different ages and stages. We redesigned our field trips to ensure that different types of field trips are done: history, government, art, and industrial. These are loosely interpreted. For example, one year we visited the governor’s mansion and met the first lady of our state for "government". Another year we toured the state supreme court and met two justices of the court. Incidentally, one of the justice’s wife homeschooled their children and another justice was a homeschool graduate.
For history, we went to a local state park and had a private ranger tour. This activity was awesome because it was easy for all ages to participate. We had a hay ride so no one had to walk too far. We had an engaging ranger who knew the area and made connections with students while hiking. We had a picnic for social interaction for kids and Moms. We did geocaching with prizes for family teams. Our ranger was so impressed by our well-behaved kids that she surprised us and volunteered to show animals she used for class demonstrations.
Sometimes kids don’t behave. This is when having great moms who give other great moms time to parent their kids is handy. Usually, a few minutes with mom straightens most kids out. Sometimes moms think their kid’s behavior is not that bad or big of a deal. I will tell you, if other moms are glancing at you and muttering, it is not okay that your child is acting the way he is at that moment. It is tough when it is your child misbehaving (been there, done that) and it is tough when you are waiting on another Mom to straighten out the behavior of her child (been there, done that).
Overall, I have enjoyed doing trips as a group. I get to go places that may not let a single family go. If the group is big enough, we get discount tickets. My kids get to socialize with other homeschoolers with similar religious beliefs. I get to have conversations with adults (yay!).
If you are thinking of doing field trips with a group, I have a few suggestions. First, have a written policy stating the expectations of Moms and children. Your group needs to decide which rules they are willing to follow and enforce. Our group has a policy that a parent must be with their children throughout the field trips. Occasionally, if a parent needs to go nurse a baby, she will leave her kids with a trusted parent in the group. Once, we had a family emergency and another parent who knew the kids well took the responsibility of watching the children. This is extremely rare because we have a policy you cannot drop off children. Why? Liability and behavior. If anything bad happens, our group is not going to be legally responsible for the child. Second, if the child misbehaves and has to be corrected, who does it? What do you do if the child continues to misbehave? Some parents do not want you to discipline their child under any circumstances. Parents need to parent. Field trips are not babysitting services.
Our group has a policy about attire. We want children and parents to dress modestly. We rarely have an issue with this because our group requires its members to sign a Christian Statement of Faith to even join. Thus, we have a common spiritual background and moral/clothing issues are minor.
We added a new policy this year. We require no children of any age have access to cell phones or other electronic devices during field trips. We observed several students not participating and staying glued to their electronic devices. One of the most important part of field trips is the social interaction. You can’t do that if you are glued to electronics. Furthermore, we are aware of how easily children, even homeschool children, are exposed to pornography, sexually explicit messages, and sexual predators. The number one way sexual predators reach into homes is through electronic devices owned by the family. The second most common way they enter the home is through devices of friends and relatives. It is easier and safer to not allow them so we don’t have to “check” devices.
I strongly encourage all homeschoolers to join a homeschool support group. Field trips are just one of the many benefits of being loosely connected. The minor loss of freedom for a field trip policy is far outweighed by the benefits of seeing and experiencing your local community with likeminded people. Spending time with them and making memories enhances your life and hopefully expands your circle of friends.
I have a question,
Are you part of a homeschool group?
Do you do field trips with a group?
What have been good group field trips?