Secular Homeschooling Lonely Business in Central Maine

Secular Homeschooling Lonely Business in Central Maine

The Appalachian Mtn Range, viewed from North Star Orchard, Madison, ME.

Homeschooling is becoming more mainstream, but secular homeschooling, particularly secular homeschooling without religion, remains a lonely endeavor in central Maine. We live in an area the locals refer to as the Foothills Region, which seems to be a no-man’s land for organizations and groups.

On the coast we have the Homeschoolers of Maine, a Christian-based homeschool affiliation meant to include all of Maine’s homeschoolers. I’ve been advised by a secular unschooler in Camden who went to their annual convention, that she was disappointed to discover the event to be very much faith-based, so I’ve refrained from attending.

We have a number of area homeschool groups, including a group of unschoolers, according to Yahoo’s Groups, however, I haven’t found any of these to be organized groups who meet physically for events or meetings, though it’s possible I simply missed the memo.

So I find myself very much alone in my secular homeschooling pursuits. This solidarity is made more pronounced by a number of restrictions I find placed upon my inclination to adventure.

Firstly there’s the fact that due to budgetary limitations, we are currently a one-car family. My husband, being the one who works outside the home, naturally has priority over the vehicle, though there is some lee-way here since he works within walking distance from home–and there is access to my in-laws’ spare vehicle on occasion.

Because of the issue of the budget, the same limitations affecting our car-situation, also affect monetary allowances for frivolities. Basically, our budget leaves very little for extra expenditures for gas, or entrance fees at discovery centers and museums. So currently, field trips that are not free are out of our reach.

Then there’s the nature of my kids. My older son, Winter, struggles to cope with his sensory input. He’s come a long way since he was very young, but when he was three or four traveling even short distances was, at times, hellish. The world outside the car was just too much for him. He would just melt, and blow up; if I “went the wrong way” or stopped at a red-light, he would kick the back of my seat, pull my hair, scream, and cry all the rest of the way home–regardless of how much farther it was!

Sometimes busy social-settings can be over-whelming for Winter. This is always a factor I take into consideration when I’m planning field trips. I try to plan to visit a museum or fair on off days, when it’s less crowded. But even then, sometimes he can only tolerate the stimulation of so many exhibits for forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half. And that’s something else to keep in mind. If I have to travel two hours to reach our destination, for only and hour’s worth of interaction, or possibly less if he’s having a bad day, I might not be inclined to make the attempt.

My younger son, Summer, has detested riding since he was one-week old. Most babies sleep blissfully when they’re in the car, and Summer did too–for the first week. It was like someone had flipped a switch, and anytime he was restrained in that car seat he would just immediately begin to fuss, then his fussing would give way to crying, then screaming…. All this with my audio-sensitive child in the car (it was torture for Winter, who couldn’t help but loose control, and hell for me!). Summer still loathes being restrained by seat-belts. He’s such an energetic child that even in his sleep he seems to fidget, and traveling any distance is something we still struggle with. At this point, I can comfortably take the kids anywhere within an hour’s travel from home.

The northernmost mountains of the Appalachian Range, viewed from atop Bald Mtn, Rangely, ME.

Locally I’m aware of at least two groups of homeschoolers, one in Madison, and another in Skowhegan.  I’m sure these people are generally fine people, but both groups meet in church basements.  As a very science-oriented family who believe in and teach evolution (we don’t even observe Christmas anymore), meeting in a church sends a confusing mixed-message to my very young and impressionable boys.  When they learn about the various religions of the world, I would like it to be from an unbiased perspective, and if they decide to affiliate themselves with a church, then that is their decision.

Personally I’ve only met one other secular homeschooler in my area; she’s a lovely lady, very Earthy and kind.  If there are any secular homeschoolers  reading in and around Somerset County, Maine, I invite you to leave a reply, give a shout-out and make yourself known.  Then I’d at least know I’m not alone.


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  3. hornblower

    Have you considered doing something just for yourself, by yourself? Once a week? Maybe in the evening?

    While I live in a large city with ostensibly a huge variety of homeschooling families, the reality is that it's hard to find kids whom my kids meshed with & parents whom I meshed with. Inevitably, the parents & kids were not in the same family LOL.

    When kids are young it seems easier to just throw them in a group & they usually find a way to have fun. But as they get older and have more say in who their friends are, I've just found it easier to meet our friendship needs separately & some of my nicest friends have nothing to do with homeschooling at all.

    best wishes ~

    p.s. I look forward to checking out your science resources!

  4. Melissa

    Is looking for work elsewhere/moving an option for you? Maine looks gorgeous, but there are humming, thriving communities of secular homeschoolers out there (like the one in Seattle), or in Massachusetts, I'm sure.

    Good luck!

  5. hockeymom

    You are definitely not alone in your isolation or frustration! We are Americans currently living in a tiny community in New Brunswick and I can totally relate to your post. Although my son doesn't share your children's sensory issues, we do have to deal with having no homeschool support group and nothing nearby to *do* (that is, we have no worthwhile science museums, educational farms, living history museums, etc). We've lived here for over 2 years and are desperate to get back home to the States. Since we moved here from a city full of opportunities, my son knows exactly what he's missing out on and it's been really awful. We drive down to Maine as often as we can (usually coastal Maine or Portland, but even Bangor in a pinch) for everything from natural foods (oh how I miss local produce and good food!) to BOOKSTORES!, to museums to camping (the kind in tents amidst natural beauty, thank you, not trailers in a parking lot like they do here).

    We do have one homeschool group nearby but their web site mentions a statement of faith and thus in my opinion they are naturally exclusive. Although we know almost no one in our community, I'd rather forge our own path than deal with someone else's drama about whether they can accept "heathens" such as ourselves. 🙂 I guess maybe it makes us stronger, but it's also just really lonely.

    Sorry to go on so long; I just wanted you to know there are more of us out here.

  6. Topsy

    I have this idea that Maine would be "covered" with secular homeschoolers, and yet even on our site group, we have only two members from ME. Weird. I'm so sorry for the isolation, and hope that you will soon have a lot more comaraderie!!

  7. Sam(antha) Burns

    Thanks for sharing, Edna! It absolutely is sad that it can be so difficult to find a good friend who will accept us no matter our beliefs. Even amongst family, I find I withhold my most personal self because who I am is so extremely different from most folks. I was raised with religion, my Daddy's family is very large, and very Christian–and in some ways I appreciate the Bible and the religion as a guide for so many people; but it has never sat well with me. I remember even as a child I would wonder about the passionate belief in God and Jesus Christ that so many others seem to have compared to my secret curiosity and disbelief. As I grew up I had to cast off the weights and pressures society and my family's expectations had placed upon me; the only way for me to be truly happy in this life is to be me.

  8. Sam(antha) Burns

    You're absolutely right, Melissa–in that doing without a support group makes us stronger and can give us clarity and conviction in our methods and beliefs. And I liked what you said about getting to know your local area. I have been learning to branch out, looking at other sources for our educational trips and for companionship, and I'm happy to report that thanks to the new Facebook groups I've recently made a new friend who shares many of my secular views, she has two girls Winter's age, and lives locally. I hope to meet other secular families in my area, be they homeschooling or not.

    So while it can be lonely going against the mainstream, we should take heart, have faith in ourselves, and be confident that in time the rest will fall into place.
    Thanks for posting, Melissa!

  9. mamaneedham

    I'm so glad you're drawing attention to yourself! 🙂 There are more secular homeschoolers out there, but you're so right that much of homeschooling is linked to religion in one way or another. It can be so isolating! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Melissa

    I'm nowhere near you either – in fact I'm on another continent – but I just wanted to say that I feel your pain!! It's the same for us here, even in a major capital city. Personally, I think kids can do fine without zillions of field trips. Getting to really know your own backyard/area/town/city can be just as absorbing and educational.

    Something I found useful was to treat my fellow (religious) homeschoolers just as workmates and to look for friends and connections outside the homeschool community. Easier said than done though, especially for the kids.

    Another thing I found helpful, though it sounds trite, was that having to do without a close community with other homeschoolers made me stronger in my own approaches and self-belief.

    As my children get older, they branch out into the 'real' world more and more and the lack of h/s support becomes less critical for me. I still would like to have a bunch of secular h/s friends for us though!

    I hope you find the companionship in your area and h/s community you need.

  11. Edna

    Hello from AZ! I am a secular homeschooler as well, though I do belong to a Christian-based homeschool group. It's a pretty nice group and has good values and is inclusive to all. I've only encountered one issue with a member, and she was new and did not sign up for the group this year. I think they demonstrate good values, and I like having that for my kids. I do find it difficult to find curriculum that is not faith based, and thus, we pretty much make our own way. Plus, I have kids who are on the autism spectrum and ADHD and are right brain learners. So we'd do that anyway, I guess. I don't share my full beliefs with the group. I have mentioned that I didn't begin homeschooling from a faith perspective. I have faith, but I believe in evolution. I am not sure I buy into religion and the Bible. I do believe it has a some good points. I take the good and leave the rest. Anyway, I can empathize with you on that feeling alone stuff. It's hard to find anyone I can truly be forthcoming with and still maintain a friendship. Kinda sad, don't ya think?

  12. Magic and Mayhem

    Sorry you're feeling so isolated! I'm nowhere near you (I'm in rural Minnesota) but had to write and send a hug and say that I can somewhat relate. We're lucky in that we can travel to neat people and groups and we do so often, but it would still be nice if there were more families around us to get together with.

    Have you looked into meet-up in your area? You might want to see if there are any groups through there for families who are a good fit in ways besides homeschooling (free-thinking groups, for instance, or ones for families with kids with sensory issues or even ones who love nature or some sort of hobby you all share). You could always start one (it's free!) and then see if anybody wanders in. 🙂 Or perhaps put up a sign at the library, starting a HS playgroup??? I've found that even one neat family to connect with can make all the difference.

    In any case, sorry you're feeling lonely. (((hugs)))

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