Do Virtual Friends Count?
Recently, we went to the beach with several other families. My daughter was so excited to see her friends, but I wasn’t sure if she would recognize them when they met because, although they play together regularly, but have never seen each other’s faces. You see, we were meeting up with families from an online homeschool community based around Minecraft. The kids play Minecraft together in a safe and moderated space and attend virtual classes as well. We were meeting virtual friends for the first time “IRL” (i.e. “In Real Life”). This community has meant a lot to us, especially in this past year.
Friends that Travel with you
When we moved across the country, Lynn had the hardest time. She had just completed 2nd grade and had to leave behind her neighborhood and church and homeschool friends and start over in a new place. We all had to find new friends and favorite parks to play. There was a lot of “new” after such a big move. But there was one group of friends that she got to take with her to our new home: the friends she played Minecraft with could travel with us. They were from all over the country already and met in a common, protected space on the web. During such a chaotic time, she was glad to have something consistent.
Chatting during class
I struggled after our move to settle into a school routine and give everyone what they needed. Writing was falling to the side for Lynn. I saw her talent but was clueless to know where to begin to teach her more. Again, our virtual friends came to the rescue. One of the Skrafty teachers was looking for a place to stay the night while on a multi-day trip, and just happened to be going past our city, so we volunteered our guest room. Over breakfast I learned more about the writing class she taught and Lynn was invited to attend a trial class. It was the answer we were looking for. And as a bonus, Lynn is experiencing live class discussions each week without me driving carpool! Lynn is social and misses the social part of school, but enjoys the flexibility of homeschool. These online classes give her a lot of the classroom experience, but with the ability for me to tailor her surrounding environment much better.
Moving friendships Off-Line
Remember those friends we met at the beach? After 4 days, the girls were inseparable and giggling like old friends. As us moms talked, we learned each of them were shy and quiet at home in other social groups but here together as gamers they came alive. We did an escape room and the girls insisted on being a girls only team, no boys allowed. 6 months later as one of the online teachers I see the friendships continue, when after class they switch programs and meet up in Minecraft to play. These virtual friendships have become more. One of the girls started writing Lynn as a pen pal. The joy of getting mail is timeless. A return letter is usually written the same day to return. Now they are virtual friends and old school pen pals at the same time!
So do virtual friends count?
Just like in-person friendships, these virtual friendships are built over shared interests and time spent together. In our digital age friendships can look different, but still fill the same place that friendships have throughout time. Skrafty, the homeschool Minecraft community we have found, has been an important part of this for our kids. Is something like this right for your family, too?