If only homeschoolers had a nickel for every time they heard the question, "... but what about socialization?" That infamous socialization question, for any seasoned homeschooler, is quite a humorous one!
although non-homeschoolers worry that homeschooling may turn children into social misfits, we know that the opposite is true and that POSITIVE socialization is one of the best reasons to homeschool your children. During Homeschool.com's 2005 Summer Teleconference I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Flynn Keith and we openly talked about the socialization issue. You can listen to the hour-long interview from your computer, by clicking on the play button below.
"Socialization is actually meant to prepare children for the real world, which means learning to interact and deal with people of all ages, races, and backgrounds," says Diane Flynn Keith. "In this case, homeschooling actually does a better job of this because homeschoolers spend more actual time out in society."
Research supports this. According to Home Schooling and the Question of Socialization by Richard G. Medlin, "Home-schooled children are taking part in the daily routines of their communities. They are certainly not isolated; in fact, they associate with--and feel close to--all sorts of people."
He continues, "Home schooling parents can take much of the credit for this. For, with their children's long-term social development in mind, they actively encourage their children to take advantage of social opportunities outside the family. Home-schooled children are acquiring the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they need. They have good self-esteem and are likely to display fewer behavior problems than do other children. They may be more socially mature and have better leadership skills than other children as well. And they appear to be functioning effectively as members of adult society."
This and other studies support the irony of the socialization issue in homeschooling that we have known for years, which is that traditional schools are actually more on a path of de-socialization. In traditional schools students learn to stay in a class to which they've been assigned and are grouped according to age and academic level, and generally with students from the same geographic area and socio-economic background.
So in a sense, as I like to say, many people are homeschooling because of socialization reasons.
During our discussion, Diane Flynn Keith agreed that traditional schools are not conducive to socialization and in fact, that students are actually punished if they try to socialize in the classroom.
She shared this ironic story, "I recall distinctly that my son spent a great deal of time in the classroom in the first grade, with his head down on his desk because he wanted to talk all the time to all his little friends around him and the teacher kept saying 'We're not here to socialize, young man.'"
The structure and reality of traditional schools are teaching students to be passive and compliant, which can follow the children throughout life. Children can learn to take abuse, to ignore miserable bosses or abusive spouses later on. In a traditional school someone else usurps authority.
This is where homeschooling comes in. Kids in homeschooling develop self-confidence and self-esteem; they learn to deal with difficult people when they are developmentally ready. When they are ready to go out into the world they know they have choices, a foundation developed in homeschooling.
Research conducted by Michael Brady entitled Social Development in Traditionally Schooled and Homseschooled Children, a Case for Increased Parental Monitoring and Decreased Peer Interaction endorses this idea. Brady states, "There seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that children socialized in a peer-dominant environment are at higher risk for developing social maladjustment issues than those that are socialized in a parent monitored environment."
In other words, socialization in homeschooling works better because children have more opportunities to be socialized through the modeling of good social behavior by caring adults rather than through peers, who do not know much more than they do. Parents give their kids the skills they need to interact with other people and also have the chance to protect their children.
So, the big question in homeschooling socialization is "Who do we want them learning life skills from? Caring adults, or peers who don't know any more than they do?"
"No," Flynn Keith jokes, "the REALLY big question is 'What about the prom?!'"
Prom and graduation are viewed as rites of passage, which are important parts of children's lives; however, they do not need to be activities organized by the state or a school. Many states and homeschool organizations have established proms and graduations for homeschoolers and a homeschooling family can create their own private way to celebrate rites of passage. Also, many homeschoolers get invited to public school proms at local public schools through friends.
Homeschoolers can participate in these activities because learning is faster in a homeschool setting, which means that students have more time to socialize. Contrary to popular belief, students are not at home chained to the kitchen table and crying over their worksheets every day, or peering out their work room windows with fear and disdain!
Quite the opposite! Homeschooling gives children more time to be out in the world, with people of different ages so they can figure out where their place in the world is, what they like/dislike, etc. With the extra time, homeschoolers also make an effort to create socialization opportunities for themselves, and to take advantage of those offered in their communities.
Organized spelling and geography bees, math leagues, and science clubs give homeschoolers a chance to compete academically; and swimming, soccer, baseball and other sports also allow them to interact with their peers in athletic competition.
Scouting, 4-H, and other activities are community-based and open to anyone and so provide homeschoolers with a variety of choices for socialization. Below are some other useful ideas for finding chances to socialize.
Opportunities to Socialize
Get connected with homeschooling support groups, both state and local organizations.
(Homeschool.com has a complete list of local homeschooling support groups at: http://www.homeschool.com/supportgroups)
Find pen pals or e-pals (email).
Participate in homeschool family get-togethers, where you can often find out about non-publicized cooperative classes and field trips.
Get involved in community resources and opportunities - sports, scouting, dance/theater, etc. Contact your local parks and recreation departments.
Check out your community college, which is a good source for older students and allows them to interact with a lot of different people of different ages.
Volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to socialize but be aware there may be age restrictions, but some organizations will allow a child to accompany a parent volunteer.
Look into Camps. Camp is a wonderful chance for socialization and most camps have multi-age groups and counselors who act as role models.
Think about summer school, which is an opportunity to experience a school setting.
The homeschool support groups mentioned above work as support for the entire homeschooling family, which is important because homeschooling parents also need socialization; they need to have support, advice, and a sounding board from time-to-time and it is especially helpful if it is another homeschooling parent. Homeschooling organizations make it a priority to provide support for the homeschooling family and to allow them to feel connected.
So, as we've always known, there is no "socialization issue" in homeschooling. If anything, homeschoolers make a concerted effort to seek out and engage in many social activities and in many ways have more opportunities for doing so than traditionally schooled children do.