Do you NEED tips to start a park day? How hard can it be? Still, there are tips that I wish I had known when I got started.
1. Specify if it matters to you.
Then you will build a community that meets your needs and one that you love going to each week.
2. Don't poll everyone on days and times.
You will never find a day or time that works for everyone but if you pick a day or time that doesn't work for YOU I can pretty much guarantee you won't like your own park day. So you decide what time of the day and day of the week and where you want your park day and you do that.
3. Location matters.
Does your park day have parking? Bathrooms? Shade for summer? Some protection in winter? Is it overrun with YMCA camps in the summer or school kids at 3:00pm because it's next to a school? Experiment. Some park days move every week. Some move to a new park each month. Some are the same park each week forever. Do what you like since you'll be running it.
3. Get a buddy to start or go it alone, but commit weeks.
It takes time for people to get to a park day they have never gone to before. Maybe their schedule is already full for a few weeks with a class that is ending. Maybe they are waiting to see what age ranges show up. Maybe they just need to get their head wrapped around it. So if you start a park day and no one shows up the first week, do it again. And again. And again. Unless there are extreme circumstances about location (like you don't live near any other homeschoolers) it WILL catch on.
Even better, get a buddy to start one with you. As long as you both commit to going every week you will still have a nice time while you wait for others to catch on and come out and meet you.
4. Tell people how to spot you at the park.
If people know in advance on your Facebook event, "You can find in the covered picnic area. I'll be the one sitting in a camp chair with a white wire rolling cart full of my stuff" then people will feel more comfortable coming out to see what's going on. So whether you have a distinctive blanket, a flag, or whatever it is, make sure they don't have to go up to random strangers and awkwardly ask, "Are you with the homeschooling group?" Make it easy on them. Sometimes they may show up at the park day a few times and never even say hi - their kid is going off in another direction and they are still checking it out to see if they like it and want to commit to introductions. Let them take their time.
6. Introductions. Introductions. Introductions.
When someone is new, introduce them around to the other parents AND find out how many kids they brought and their kids ages then then take the kids around to meet the other kids. For younger kids I will bring a new one over, "This is so-and-so, they are with our group now". Even if the kids don't play tougher a lot they will be able to spot each other, and know they are a part of somethign.
6. Help the tweens and teens.
Give tweens and teens something to do. New park days mean a lot of new tweens and teens meeting each other for the first time. I know it was awkward as a teen to just stand around and feel...awkward. Doing something together helps groups form.
Sometimes you can coordinate this in advance on a Facebook even. "If I bring my X-year old tween/teen does anyone else have one to bring?" Then then you can ask, "What are they into?" If you find they both play Magic the Gathering you can set them up to play that at the park day. Or maybe they are into art, or a book series, or some topic.
If you don't know what they are into or who is coming, have a stash of board games in the car just in case. A frisbee. Some art supplies. Even bring them a project to do. "Here, tweens/teens, address these Christmas cards." I'm not kidding. This helps. And of course, introductions, introductions, introductions.
And.... give your tween/teen time to decide if they want to know someone better or how fast to open up to people. Don't end a park day with, "Great! Now you've met let's exchange numbers!" This may be a hard habit to break because that's what we do when the kids are little, right?
7. Have a "names can be forgotten rule".
Some people are great with names. Some are not. There are all sorts of reasons for this and all of them are valid. But even then, a new group? And your kids? And all else going on in your life? I can't tell you how many times I see relief on the faces of people at a new park day (or when it's their first time to an exiting park day) when I say "We forget names around here a lot, don't even feel pressured to remember. If you can't remember, just ask. Believe me, we will be asking too!"
8. Let people wander in and out on their own schedule, but SOMEONE should be there on time-ish.
As long as you (who set up the park day) or your friend (because you can't be there on time) are there that week with the visual cue for people to find you or however you are doing that mentioned in the group event... let everyone wander in and out of park day on their own schedules. You will want at least one family to there on time-ish though, so any newbies aren't wandering around lost. Anytime someone apologizes for being late to park day remind them, "This is park day, it's all good." It's so nice to have a space where it's all fun and no pressure for your week and your life.
9. Talk to the younger kids about a "we play with everyone at park day" theme.
For younger kids I tell mine that we say 'yes' at park day when someone asks if they can play. Why? Because play dates are one thing and sometimes your play date friend will be at park day but this is not a play date....this is a group activity. If some new park day kid wants to join the sandbox the answer is yes, and hi and welcome to our group. By this point, though, I have probably already introduced them per my #6 on Introductions.
10. Get an extroverted friend to help if you need one.
If you are more introverted and the idea of introducing everyone is not your comfort zone, find an extroverted parent to help you. It can be pre-planned: will you come to park day and be the introducer? Or an as-needed thing at park day as your group grows: Welcome to the group! So-and-so will be happy to introduce you around!
As your group grows keep in mind these things:
Newcomers need help finding their footing in the group not just the first time, but as the weeks go on.
It's normal for people to find deep friendships at park day. Sometimes those people then want to gather some chairs and move under a different tree to talk amongst themselves. But if everyone does that, what happens to the newcomers? As long as you are aware of the newcomers you can help them integrate. Create a pod for newcomers. Introduce newcomers into other pods. Make an effort to include. And keep an eye out for the parents with toddlers. They may be alone on the playground with their wee one. Go out and talk to them, they might be the one needing some adult interaction the most.
Morning homeschool park days are not the norm.
If you have a napping toddler and a baby and you want a morning park day, make one. Those who have afternoon nap times will appreciate it. Usually, however, afternoon park days are the normal time because homeschoolers tend to curriculum in the morning and unschoolers tend to enjoy their mornings at home.
Park days with young kids grow into park days with tweens and teens.
I know of some park days that have been going on for over 10 years. Those kids are now teenagers who still go to park day to hang with out with their park day friends.
You can go a homeschool park day before your kids are "school age".
My daughter was 10 months old when I knew I was going to unschool. I started going to park days before she was school age because I wanted her to have friends that were also available during the weekday when she turned 5. Homeschool parents have all ages at park day because they bring all their kids. So yes, you can bring your under-5 to park day. Welcome!
P.S. It's 2020 as I write this. ALL of the homeschool groups are on Facebook. No other mentionable platform for events and networking. So even if you are not into Facebook, if you are homeschooling you'll either need to get a Facebook account or have a buddy keep you in the loop.