HOME SCHOOL CULTURE: Community in the Great Lakes Bay Region

When our family decided to home school, we tried to make purposeful decisions that would help create life experiences for our kids that revolved around community. We either joined existing or created multitudes of fun classes and events that took advantage of the experts that live and work in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Now, I realize that other families take advantage of all of these experiences as well, but guess what the most fun part of these classes and events? You get to go when all the other kids are in school!! We always try and meet other families wherever we go, but besides the other home schoolers, we usually have the place to ourselves.

SWIM & PE LESSONS? Dow Bay Area Family YMCA.

NATURE-BASED SCIENCE CLASSES? Chippewa Nature Center, Whiting Forest, Dow Gardens, and Bay City State Park.

STEM & AMAZING PLAY AREAS? Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum and Midland Center for the Arts.

A ZOO??? Saginaw Children’s Zoo!

MONTHLY BOWLING CLUB? Alert Lanes (Bay City).

Really fun ELECTIVES WITH COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS built in? Bangor Virtual School.

Amazing ACADEMIC CLASSES taught by experts in their field? CHEMinistry.

Autumn gorgeousness with delicious donuts and cider? Johnson’s Giant Pumpkin Farm, Tiny Apple Store, and Leaman’s Green Applebarn.

TEAM SPORTS opportunities? Don’t get me started! Yes, yes. Non-traditional school sports, and recreational or travel teams are always more expensive than traditional school opportunities, but they are open to everyone, and many go through age 18.

Other life-long PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES? Our wonderful region has beautiful tennis courts, climbing walls, golf courses, hiking trails, pools, etc., etc., etc.  

But what about only one FIELD TRIPS per year? Oh no, sweetheart. We’re going out to one or more of these places in the Great Lakes Bay Region weekly.

Actually, to be honest, we’re hardly ever home. Then how do you get all of your studies done? Well, homework can be done in very creative spaces, and because it doesn’t take 7 hours to do your studies. If it does, then you’re already in med school. Many times I have to stop myself from reminding my children that they have exponentially more free, unstructured time with their friends than I ever had when I was young. Their friends come from all over as well. At our last get-together, we had families from three different counties. My oldest reminds me often, politely of course, that she doesn’t need to hear again that we are part of a larger community, and that connections and close relationships can be built on more than proximity and age.

To purposely build a sense of community, we are members of multiple regional home school groups. As mentioned before, at our last-get together, there were kids from all over the place; 33 of them, actually. Since the space we use at a local church includes a cafe area and a small gym, the atmosphere was delightfully thunderous. So, quick story about our home school community. At one point in the gym area, I noticed 11 balls lined up at half court. So I thought, hmmm, this could be extremely interesting. Keep in mind that the 27 kids lined up on opposite walls were from ages 4-14. All of a sudden, as if ignited by an unheard command, all the kids explode and start running and throwing and dodging and diving. It was hilarious, and games like this happen every time we gather. The parents were all sitting and talking around a table in the cafe area purposely ignoring them and just letting them play and figure it out. No curriculum, no lesson plan, no standards and benchmarks, just child-led fun and play. And guess what? There were no tears, no name calling, no tattles, no whining, no injuries. I later asked my oldest about the games, and she told me all about how they had to problem solve and change the rules a few times because things weren’t working well, the littles needed more support, the hard football was too dangerous, etc. It was fascinating and rewarding to watch. One of those times when, as a home school mom, I say to myself, “Yep, we’re not that weird.”  

Amy is a mother and an educator.  She and her husband have been homeschooling their children for seven years.

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