Homeschool Socialization, Part II
How does a homeschooled kid ever get socialization? Homeschoolers are extremely tired of it, but it's a common question. I still don't understand why, exactly, but it's common. As I detailed in The magic socialization of public school, "public school socialization", especially for the younger kids, is really not all people think it is. But how does a homeschooler's social life compare?
I've touched on this topic lightly a few times, but I've avoided writing this kind of article for a long time, because, based on my on-line experiences, most of the time the people who are "concerned" about my kid's "socialization" are merely trying to prove their preconceived notion that homeschooling is bad. They have a number of misconceptions about homeschooling families, and are not interested in people's experiences which counter those misconceptions. So, I felt I was under no obligation to "prove" what is really none of anybody else's business, and wouldn't help anyway. I felt discussing it too much would give the impression that it was a valid objection. Based on my experience in comment sections of news articles, I thought saying "Nuh uh!" and listing out a bunch of social activities would come off as defensive, and only provide fuel for them to pick apart each item and verbosely explain why it "didn't count". They'd be wrong, of course, but I didn't want to start down that road and forever be on the defensive.
But recent comments made me understand that there might be those who are truly skeptical, or even honestly curious: how does a homeschooled kid have a social life? And, to those who are merely "concern trolls": if this ends up sounding "defensive", that's because "being defensive" is what people do when attacked. (I assume I'm just supposed to say "Oh crap! I forgot to socialize my daughter!" and rush her to the nearest school.)
A lot of people throw around the words "isolation" and "isolated" when talking about homeschooled children. I'm sure there are homeschooling parents out there who do do that, and those are probably who everyone thinks of when they think "homeschool": the "nutty" super-religious families who hide their kids from secular society, and use the Bible as their main textbook for all subjects. These people probably exist, and I think that would count as "isolating" the children.
But, it's bad when anyone isolates their kids from the outside world. Many parents pay thousands of dollars a year to put their kids into private schools (religious and not), sometimes for the very purpose of "protecting" them from the "evils of the world" (like evolution and gay people, or just icky poor people). Small-town public schools and some schools in the suburbs would be quite similar. "Isolating" is not solely a concern of homeschooling.
But are homeschool kids, in general, isolated? Do they get "socialization"?
Yes, they do socialize
Even though "homeschooling" has the word "home" in it, that doesn't mean we are always at home and our child is isolated from the world and other kids. Some weeks it seems like we're barely home at all, other days our house is filled with children. Our daughter plays with other kids nearly literally every day. A lot of that has to do with there being a family with 5 kids next door, several of whom practically live at our house, but in general we do a lot of "stuff" with other kids, and most other families I know have older children and do much, much more.
Who do homeschool kids interact with?
Other homeschool kids
We are in several large homeschool groups, and get together for various functions quite often: playdates, picnics, classes, field trips, etc. These groups are pretty diverse in most ways you care to name:
- Religious: Traditional Christians of several types, moderate Christians of several types, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, "Spirituals", "Nothings", and complete atheists (more than a few of these).
- Political: Conservatives, liberals, moderates, and plenty of libertarians and even some semi-anarchists.
- Wealth: Rich to quite poor.
- Sort of racially diverse: we're currently in a mostly caucasian area, and homeschooling is a reflection of our area, though Hispanics seem under-represented (probably for cultural reasons).
- Education: Some parents are double masters, some college-grads, some highschool and/or voc-ed.
- School style: unschool to classical and everything in between, montessori, waldorf, virtual public school, "school at home", and some super-religious-ed.
- Family size: 2 parents and 5 kids to 1 parent and 1 kid. A few Grandmas teaching grandkids. Some stay-at-home moms, some stay-at-home dads, and some where both parents work.
It's not a perfect reflection of a public school, but then again that's not a goal I'm after.
Further, I've noticed (and liked) certain things that seem much more common in our homeschool communities:
- Kids of all ages play together (well) all the time: Kids aren't divided by age, and there is much cross-age knowledge transfer (especially social-knowledge transfer).
- The parents mostly let their kids play without close supervision, and don't "rescue" them from typical kid-situations except under extreme circumstances.
- Bullies are rarer – not non-existent, but rare – and the bullying is not quite as severe as "regular" school.
- The pre-teens, tween, and teens in our groups are all quite well-adjusted and mature. Probably because they've been in the real-life mixed-age community instead of in a single-age classroom.
- The kids seem less caught up in whatever the latest extremely stupid pop-culture fad is. They're still kids, of course, but don't care as much about the latest tween BS (ie Bieber). In short, they don't care to conform to pop culture standards.
- The groups I'm in are extremely inclusive and classless (ha).
- Gender norms are more relaxed: boys and girls play more readily and with less "stereotypical" behaviors.
- The kids generally don't mock "difference" in other kids (eg: "tomboys" simply play with who (and how) they want to with few negative repercussions).
So, even just with other homeschooled kids, we're getting plenty of (actually good) social time. But there is another category of social time that "outsiders" always seem to forget about, and which will become more prominent as our daughter gets older:
Some people seem to believe that because homeschooled kids aren't in a public school, they never interact with any children, or only interact with other homeschooled children, but that's not remotely true for us, or for any of the homeschooling families I know.
Us, personally: We play with the neighborhood kids (well, when they're not sitting quietly in a desk for 7 hours). She was previously in daycare until I quit my job to stay home (FYI: she hated daycare). She was in ballet/acrobat classes. We go to the community center gym when we can. We go to parks. We go to playgrounds. We go to the pool. We go to swimming lessons. We go to the zoo. We have playdates. When she's older we'll look into 4H or possibly scouting. We'll probably start going to the local Unitarian church after we move next month (so we can all meet other like-minded peers).
Other families with older children are in churches, Boy/Girl/other Scouts, dance class, theater class, drama club, music lessons, gymnastics, 4H, soccer, baseball, choir practice, volunteering, and community service.
All these "extra-curricular" activities are mostly populated with public school kids, and the homeschooled kids seem to fit right in.
Based on the groups we're in, I can say homeschooled children are quite busy socially. I've set up some events with our main group (eg: a crafting class and a police station tour), and it's extremely difficult to find a time that works for even a small subset of the kids… "Oh, that's when we have Scouts." "We're volunteering at Harvesters that afternoon." "We can stop by after gymnastics, but have to leave early for dance." "We'll be at the library for a reading circle until it's time for drama club." These kids are out and doing things in the community: with kids, with infants, with toddlers, with adults, with family. With society.
In short: the "isolated" homeschool kids are anything but.
Finally, it needs to be understood that there must be room for experimentation in parenting and education. People seem to assume that because most kids are put through public school, that is the only way to do it: all other ways must be inferior. Obviously I don't believe that. Just because some might believe the best means of "socialization" is to cram 20 or 30 kids into a room for 7 hours a day, tell them to stop socializing, and then give them several hours of homework a night, doesn't mean I must believe that too. I believe the best means of "socialization" has something to do with letting kids freely interact with people of all ages: intervening when necessary, coaching when it might help, but mostly letting them talk, play, and you know… be social.
Homeschooled kids will certainly have a different experience, that's true, but different does not mean automatically worse (or automatically better, for that matter). Homeschooled kids are kids: My daughter is shy, some of the other kids are outgoing, and the homeschooled girls down the street can be outright mean. Really, most homeschooled kids I know are just… kids.
My daughter will hopefully grow up to be a well-adjusted, well-rounded, open-minded, well-read, and critical-thinking individual. Well, I can hope, anyway. And, if she's anything like her (public-schooled) parents, she'll be also be friendly, a little quiet, a little shy, and a lot socially awkward… and that's OK.
It's amazing, but when I did a simple Google search, I found many well-researched and well-explained articles answering the homeschool socialization question. And tons of blog entries and diaries detailing and explaining the social life of individual homeschool families. It's "amazing" because no one else ever seems to think to do that before worry-asking about it.
Here's a few articles, and a book, all from the first page of my Google search: