The Truth About Homeschooling: Part 1

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.

The truth?

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?

18 thoughts on “The Truth About Homeschooling: Part 1

  1. Great post, Alice! Where I stand on this issue depends on when you ask me. The older my children grow, the more I realize that we’re all just people (not to be too simplistic), so when we’re together we are interacting appropriately. However, my girls do attend a weekly music class, Upward basketball (which just ended), church classes multiple times a week, and an all day homeschool group meeting 3 times per week that we attend for primarily social reasons. My problem is knowing when it’s appropriate to allow them a little more freedom in terms of going to visit friends alone, etc.

    I don’t think any of our children are deprived of social interactions!

  2. I agree with everything you write in this post! My son is protected from what I see as some of the negative aspects of socializing and socialization by being homeschooled, but it does take more effort to make sure he gets the positive stuff, especially unstructured play time with other kids. You are right that homeschooling parents are more defensive than honest about this fact sometimes. On the other hand, it seems that many school kids have such densely structured days that their parents must have to schedule their kids’ social time too!

    • Thanks for reading (and commenting!). You’re right about the structured days of all kids these days. Hence the birth of the “playdate”, which is a term I hate but find myself using.

  3. Great post, Alice. A lot of the “socialization” in public schools isn’t helpful or positive. I had a number of friends in CA that home schooled, not for religious reasons, but because they didn’t want their kids exposed to socialization experiences like smoking, drinking, drugs, etc., in the public schools. Public schools also cater to the lowest common denominator, and they wanted more for their children.

    I’m sometimes intrigued when public schoolers bring up this topic. Usually my first question back to them is to as them to distinguish between “socialization” and “indoctrination”. The Hegelian model, upon which our public school system is based thanks to Horace Mann, was created in an authoritarian Prussia to ensure that the interests of the state were preserved from generation to generation by a compliant population. You still see almost that exact phrase (minus the “complaint population” part) used by the courts in Germany against home schoolers. That approach serves the needs of the state, not families. When I think about the public education system here in the U.S., I’m still amazed its authoritarian model continues to survive in the world’s greatest republic. The two should be absolutely antithetical.

    I strongly believe that the home schooling movement is a key step in reclaiming our children’s faith, minds and values from the interests of the state. Rendering unto Caesar doesn’t include our children’s minds.

    Bob

  4. We homeschool moms have often affectionately joked that our kids don’t know how to line up, but it’s so true. I don’t think it has any serious ramifications, and my own kids seem to make fairly smooth transitions to the “real world” of the work place.

    In some ways homeschooling may provide younger children with the kind of freedom that normally isn’t found until college. The positive side of that is that they may not be as overwhelmed by the freedoms of college life.

    In addition, many homeschoolers have better study time management skills in college than their public schooled peers, and this is a real educational advantage, in my opinion. While not directly related to the socialization issue, perhaps it reflects on the fact that homeschoolers know how to make a distinction between academic time and social time.

  5. Thanks very much for this. I breathed a sigh of relief as I read it, honestly, because I often hear the “it’s not a problem” answer from other local homeschoolers, and it just doesn’t ring true. I much prefer your approach of, “it is a problem, but not one without a solution” and “perhaps not the problem everyone thinks it is.” Very clear-headed and helpful; thank you.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jessica. I’m glad to know that it was helpful to someone. It was helpful to me to write. 🙂

  6. After our first year homeschooling, I started doing things like drilling my daughter on her grade level at the beginning of the year and using her age and grade level casually in our days. (I’ll never forget one day asking a home schooled boy how old he was and listening in astonishment as he tried to remember!) After watching her at religious Ed classes, I also made a point to work on things like sitting attentively, raising her hand – and perhaps more importantly, worked on when to put her hand down! I hadn’t really thought of these things as socialization issues, but they are, aren’t they.

    A good post, thanks.

  7. The topic of socializing is a question I have had to answer many times. It makes me laugh, because we are a family that does a lot of things. My children range in age from 1yr-16yrs old. They are the most friendly, outgoing and socially adept kids I have ever met. What do my kids have that makes them that way? They have an opportunity to “socialize” with just about every age group you can think of. They are not constrained to the strange notion that they should only relate to someone based on age groups. After all, where in the real world are people separated into groups based on age? What they are truly missing is the “socialization” taking place in the schools today…as in Karl Marxx socialization. The notion that capitalism is bad and legal plunder is necessary is just the beginning. The idea of Humanism is also being rampantly spread (that all truth is realative and morality is subject to interpretation).
    Thanks for writing this…its a good approach. I just don’t think it is as difficult as people make it out to be. Just go places and do things with your family and others!

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  9. Great post. And I am not intentional enough…

    My ideal is “passion-centric social life.” Finding what they love (horseback riding, for instance) and then finding the ways to get involved in that whole culture and set of relationships. But I can’t say as I’ve achieved this yet.

  10. Finally!! Thank you so much! Your post answered the biggest to-homeschool-or-not? question I’ve been trying to get an answer for ever since I started thinking about homeschooling. And you’re right, it *is* so hard to get a straight answer to the question, from either side of the debate. Thank you so much for putting the time into thinking (and writing) all this out; I really appreciate it!

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