Socialization is probably the most hot button word in the homeschooling world. Just mention the word and homeschoolers immediately become defensive. First you’ll hear the argument that socialization and socializing are different. That is true. It’s also true that most people who bring up socialization really mean socializing but we know what they mean and we don’t win any points by splitting hairs over definitions. Then you’ll hear homeschoolers categorically deny that either of these is an issue. Type in “socialization and homeschoolers” on Google and you’ll get a bunch of articles and blogs and reports that all spout statistics showing that neither socialization or socializing or anything of the sort is, has ever been, or ever will be an issue for homeschooled kids.
Socialization and socializing are issues for homeschoolers.
Sort of by definition, homeschoolers don’t “learn the norms, values, behavior, and social skills” that most people expect for kids of their age. This can be good. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that John can walk around the room while doing spelling and choose to do his math lying on the floor and fidget and squirm and move around all he wants. That’s not at all the accepted “norm” in a 2nd grade class even though it’s very much the “norm” for a 2nd grade boy. Most homeschooled kids can’t stand in a line and don’t know how to sit quietly in circle time.
Beyond circle time and line formation, homeschoolers miss out on other experiences that are cultural norms. School assemblies. Bullies. Show and Tell. The Prom. Missing these things aren’t necessarily bad, but it does lead to a cultural illiteracy of sorts. Many homeschoolers respond with a blank stare when asked what grade they are in. Being “unsocialized” in this sense isn’t bad and it’s not a reason not to homeschool but it’s not a non-issue. I find that similar to being counter-cultural in our decisions about television and technology homeschooling means I have to translate pop culture references to my kids.
The lack of socialization also means that many homeschooled kids are geeky/nerdy/quirky. I realize I’m probably breaking some unwritten homeschooling oath by saying that and I realize that I’ll probably offend a lot of people. But by geeky I mean more like in the book “Bringing Up Geeks” than a total social outcast. “Geeky” being kids who aren’t afraid to show that they like math, that might have unusual interests for their age, who reject much of pop culture’s view of what it means to be “cool”. I think homeschoolers often reject the idea that their kids are unsocialized but at the same time embrace the idea that they’d rather have a teenager who is slightly geeky than one who is cool by much of today’s standards.
Socializing is also an issue for homeschoolers. I’m happy that John spends 90% of his time with the family and only about 10% away. I’m happy that he and his brother are best friends and that he has lots of time to play with Ruth. I’m happy that while he has close friends, his family is still his primary social group rather than his peers. I”m happy that he is used to playing with a wide range of ages and not just kids that are in his grade. However, even though in my mind all those things are benefits to homeschooling, it is also important to realize that most kids, John included, do need a certain amount of peer interaction. In other words, they need a social life.
Once I had a fellow mother ask me at a Cub Scout event (in a very snotty tone) when John “would have time to play with other boys” when she found out I was a homeschooler. I looked down the trail at him and a pack of boys who were playing and laughing and kind of smiled as I said “Well, there’s always Scouts.” That mom’s attitude is why many homeschoolers get tired of the whole socialization/socializing question. It seems more than a bit ridiculous as we cart out kids around to soccer and baseball and basketball and piano and Scouts and Sunday School and nature center classes and swimming and co-op and field trips to wonder when they will get to interact with other kids.
However, I say it is an issue for two reasons. One is that it is does have to be intentional. I can’t just rely on the fact that he’ll see kids 8 hours a day in school. I have to schedule and plan and look for other opportunities. The opportunities are plentiful, but I still have to be intentional about finding them.
The other is that even with the formal activities, kids need a certain amount of free interaction with other kids. I can do a lot of things with my kids but I don’t really want to be their best friends. I don’t get the humor of a 7 yr old boy and I get bored with Nerf guns and Legos pretty quickly. The lucky few live in a neighborhood with tons of kids where this happens naturally. For the rest of us, this becomes something else about which we have to be intentional. As I write this, I had 5 boys at my house yesterday having a giant Nerf battle, telling stupid jokes, eating brownies and discussing the fine points of the latest game on Lego.com. It can happen as a homeschooler, but it doesn’t just happen, it has to be planned.
You might say, why even bring this up at all. I guess it’s because as a relatively new homeschooler I’ve felt like it was something no one told me. I felt like everyone was so defensive about the topic that no one was willing to say, “You know what? It’s not a deal-breaker. It’s not a major issue. But it is something you’ll have to deal with. Here’s what we’ve done….” So that’s what I’ve tried to do here, just a bit.
How about you? If you’re a homeschooler, what do you do to make sure your kids are socialized and have a good social life? Do you worry about it or think of it as a non-issue?