“How do homeschooled kids learn to socialize?”
This has to be question number one that homeschooling parents have to fend off. It is also one of the most common questions would-be homeschoolers ask while trying to decide whether they should homeschool.
It is, I am sad to say, a big reason a lot of parents who might otherwise homeschool their children, don’t. A few years ago I heard a podcaster tell her story of homeschooling her children for a year, only to put them all back in school because her son was very social and expressed that he missed his friends.
With all due respect, she was doing it wrong. But before I get into how to do socialization right, I want to bust some myths about school providing a good socialization experience for children.
Myth #1: Kids best learn to socialize with other kids
Fact: Kids are cruel.
Back when we had first purchased five acres in the middle of nowhere, I started to wonder how on earth I would ever find other kids for our son to socialize with. I posed the question on a homesteading forum, and one woman challenged me with her own question: are other kids the best kind of people for our own children to be socializing with? She went on to gently point out the fact that many children are not very nice. Even the children who are not intentionally cruel pick up bad habits from others, habits like excluding other children from their click, using vulgar language, cheating, or fighting for to have their own way in games.
When I thought about my own elementary school experiences, I realized she was right. I was bullied, picked on, and excluded by other children. My only safe-haven at school was the classroom (and even that ceased to be safe by the eighth grade). The playground, cafeteria, gym, and – worst of all – school bus were a different story.
I didn’t learn to socialize in school because I learned early on that many other children were cruel.
Myth #2: The school situation allows for many opportunities to socialize.
Fact: The school schedule provides very limited time every day for children to socialize.
I taught in a school for thirteen years. Trust me. It is not the ideal place for socialization. At lunch, the kids have so little time to eat by the time they get through the cafeteria line that they have to focus on eating. They don’t have much time to talk to their friends.
The recess afterwards – if there are any schools any more that allow time for recess – only lasts about fifteen minutes. Even Kindergarteners aren’t allowed to have snack time anymore, and even when it still existed, again, that was time to eat, not talk.
How about working in small groups or centers? Thanks to school curriculum focusing on standardized tests nowadays, the rare non-Kindergarten classroom that has centers is mostly academically-focused and does not allow for much authentic interaction between students. Neither does small group work, which is about discussing whatever topic or solving whatever problem the teacher has assigned. Again, little authentic interaction happens in these situations.
Myth #3: “I enjoyed my friends at school, so my child(ren) will, too.”
Fact: Many children of extroverted parents are introverted.
Admit it: if you were a social butterfly at school, you were probably constantly getting in trouble for it. Is that what you want for your child?
And children often have very different personalities than their parents. Just because you’re a life-of-the-party extrovert does not mean that your child should be.
And, back to the social butterfly getting into trouble thing, the typical classroom is not friendly toward children who are naturally inclined to converse and chat. Children are expected to be quiet and listen to the teacher, or be quiet and work. Talking is by and large discouraged.
How homeschooled children socialize
There are a variety of ways that homeschooled children learn to socialize, and practice their social skills.
*1. They socialize with their siblings.
Many homeschooled children are a part of families that have three or more children. While they are sometimes close in age, they may also be anywhere from two to seven years apart in age, even more. There is nothing warped about learning to socialize with other people by practicing with family members.
*2. They socialize with their parents.
Most parents want their children to embrace the same values and morals that they do, if not the exact same beliefs. What better way to pass those principles onto your children than by spending most of the day in contact with them?
*3. They socialize with other homeschoolers.
This is where I think that podcaster fell short. If you live in any decent-sized city – say, with a population of at least 100K (even less if you’re in an area where homeschooling is a popular choice among parents) – there will be at least one group designed to get homeschoolers together on a regular basis. Even if the group only meets once a week at a park, you can connect with other homeschooling parents and arrange to meet on additional days.
*4. They socialize in the community.
Homeschooled children do not spend all day, every day, sitting around at home. When Mom has to go the dentist, they go with her. They go to the grocery store. The nearby shopping strip with a UPS store and hairstylist place. They go to the library, probably with some frequency.
And who do they find at all these places? Other people, probably adults, of all ages, ethnicities, sizes, and beliefs. They learn to accept differences among people. They learn how to talk politely to strangers and acquaintances. They learn how to make small talk.
And as they learn, they become more confident in their communication skills. As that happens, they open up even more to others – both children and adults – about what they’re learning, about their opinion on a certain issue, and so on.
*5. They socialize with schooled children.
If you live in a town or city, you likely also have a few other families in your subdivision or on your street. If you have a socially-inclined child who is homeschooled, there is no law against them getting together with their neighbors after school hours. This, plus two or three gatherings a week with other homeschoolers – or field trips where they have ample opportunity to talk to adults – will allow for more socializing than the average school-going child ever has.
Summing it all up
Children who go to school do not have more opportunity to socialize than homeschooled children. In fact, much of that “socialization” includes bullying, exclusion from cliques, and learning disrespectful behaviors and language. They don’t learn how interact with people of their own ages.
Homeschooled children, on the other hand, have many more opportunities to authentically engage with people of all ages and from all walks of life than do schooled children. If they don’t, it’s only because their parents aren’t trying.