Monday, October 29, 2012

Homeschooling and Socialization

So I guess this is a homeschool blog now.  Just kidding! But I do want to address this topic because so many people ask about it and are concerned that because children who are homeschooled do not spend large quantities of time in a group of their peers, they will somehow be unable to interact with others in a healthy way. While I'll allow that there are some homeschool families that are far too insular, I think that the idea that significant time and extra effort must be spent on socialization is a myth. Some time and effort, yes. But we don't need to bend over backwards to get it done in fear that our kids will be social pariahs.

To start, I'd like to state our goals for socialization. I want Zinashi to feel comfortable with a variety of people in a variety of situations, to be able to interact comfortably and respectfully with those who are her peers and those who are not. I'd like to give her the opportunity to cultivate friendships and to feel like she is not an outsider. The goal of park day in particular is to allow her to develop friendships with other children who are schooled in the same way she is. Like I said before, this gives her a place to belong, whereas before, in her group of friends in which everyone attends traditional school, she felt left out. Since we started going to park day, she has stopped asking if she will go to a "real school." We also talk about things she has in common with her friends who go to traditional school.

I think that for many people, the assumption is that the way it is done in the classroom is the best way to do things, that children learn best in a setting of their peers, for large blocks of time, five days a week. I look at education as preparing my children for the future, and I simply don't see a lot of life possibilities where this will be a common scenario. When in adulthood are we ever required to interact with a group of people that are only the same age we are, for multiple hours at a time, multiple days per week? In my own adult life, I have not experienced this. While I do think it is important for Zinashi to form friendships with kids of similar age, I also think it's important for her to be able to interact with people who are a variety of ages, including adults.

I also want to give Zinashi the opportunity to be at home more often, to play on her own sometimes. One of the big reasons we decided to homeschool Zinashi is that we felt that it would be overwhelming for her to be in a group of 20 to 30 kids daily for six hours. She loves her friends and plays well with them, but she is not a super social kid. The level of social interaction school would require is an uncomfortable thing for her, and that has everything to do with personality and nothing to do with not getting enough practice at being with others. She needs a balance of time with friends and time to explore her own little world, to use her imagination without interruption. We are better able to manage her level of social interaction this way, and if there are indications that it's getting to be too much, we can easily cut back. Similarly, if we feel she needs more, we can add something else.

When it comes to the usual criticisms of lack of socialization, I always feel like I'm on the defense because people assume that if I say we are doing park day and soccer and ballet, that's all there is, as if she gets only five hours per week to interact with others. But life is full of interactions that are natural and undocumented, and that is true whether your children go to school or not, and in some cases we have more opportunities to explore situations she'll encounter for the rest of her life.  We  go to church and have neighbors and go to a lot of the same places many times in a week. We wait in lines at the store. She needs to speak clearly and loudly enough for the person at the counter to hear her order. We must be mindful of others coming off the bus before we get on, and thank our driver as we exit. As far as I can tell so far, this is working for us. Zinashi can wait patiently in line, share things with others, ask for things with respect, and show compassion to those who are different or less fortunate than she is. We have a solid start.

No child is going to be perfect at learning everything. Just as I see certain strengths in Zinashi's academics, I also see certain strengths and weaknesses in her social interactions. So we reinforce the strengths and work on the weaknesses.  We practice, at home and when we are out.

Homeschooling, for us, is about providing quality education for our children in a way that best suits our children's needs and our needs as a family. We take neither our children's education nor our family needs lightly. This is about making things work for us and giving our children a good future in as many ways as we can possibly manage. For now, this is good for us. For now, yes, we are still figuring things out. But for now, this is good.


  1. I agree! I think we've been reading the same books. ;)
    I always laugh when people ask about socialization. My daughter is involved in classes and we get together with a homeschooling group. Plenty of what we do seems to be on the road. Car schooling? Besides, I remember sitting in a class of 30 kids, all the same age, being told to sit down, face the front, and stop talking. While we all go through that experience together, that's not really socialization. Meanwhile, my daughter is learning how to interact with many different kinds of people in different situations. And I'm there to help her through it.

    1. "And I'm there to help her through it." EXACTLY.

  2. I think it's awesome to get a good mix of social experiences like that! I was public schooled for a few years, then homeschooled with siblings, then went to public school for high school. I gained a lot from learning how to communicate well with adults and children of all ages. Elementary school seems to be the best / least socially damaging time to do it, too, at least from my experience and watching the other kids from my original homeschooling community grow up.

    I would strongly recommend putting your kids through the special hell that is middle school and high school. It's not fun for them (or for you when they start mouthing off and getting obsessed with whatever teens are obsessed with these days), and it's probably not even the best way to learn the material - but if Z or E end up going to college or working in an office, it's so important to understand how to navigate a social hierarchy. My sibs and I arrived in middle/high school addressing our teachers as peers (by their first names) and alienating everyone around us by not playing all the social games, and as much as it's a little soul-killing to learn all the silly and unfair social rules... I am so, so, SO grateful that I did. It's helped me enormously in my work to have both experiences - communicating as peers with all ages and types of people, but also being comfortable in a hierarchy, doing menial work for and showing proper respect to bosses I may or may not like, and being able to blend into an employee peer group when necessary.

    For a lot of my friends and acquaintances who were homeschooled until college, those social hierarchies seem like a foreign language that they always have to translate to as adults. Some are going to be better at it than others, but it seems like an extra handicap, at least in young adulthood. Just my two cents! :)

    1. I'm not sure what we'll do regarding middle and high school, and you make a valid point, but I'm still not sure it will be best to send my kids to school for upper grades. I was public schooled, and found there was a huge difference between elementary, when I was in a small school with only one class per grade, and 6th grade on, when there were five times as many students per grade. In the small school setting, the social hierarchy amongst students didn't really exist, and I never got comfortable with it in later grades. I went to a small university and found a similar environment to my elementary years, and it was a relief to me to escape the discomfort of my high school experience. In my work life, I had only one job that mirrored my high school experience, and I was diagnosed with two stress related illnesses at that time. I guess my position is that social hierarchies such as what existed in my high school are not healthy, and I would encourage my children to pursue something that's a better fit if they are uncomfortable.

      That said, I do make a point of teaching Zinashi to respect authority appropriately. We talk about how everyone has someone else who is in charge of them, and each of us has to listen to, respect, and follow instructions of the person in charge. We talk about this in terms of home life, social life, work life, and church life. If we end up homeschooling through the middle and high school grades, it will certainly give my children a different experience than is typical, but I'm still confident that if that is the choice we make (together with them, as I do believe they should have some say in their schooling as they become more aware of their own needs and preferences), there will be a place for them to fit in college as well as the workplace.

  3. There is so much time before you need to worry about middle or high school. Kids can change so much as you know, that it'd be hard to predict what environment each girl will thrive in years from now. Planning ahead is great, and so is being in the moment.

  4. I absolutely agree with your assessment that socialization of children is a main argument in favour of "real school" schooling. As a preface to my comment I should say that while I'm not really a home-schooler (I just don't think that either me or my daughter are cut out for it) I do greatly admire those who do homeschool.
    Pretty much all of my parenting experience has taken place outside the North American paradigm. And what I can tell, is that the insistance on socialisation through organised activities with peers of only the exact same age is kind of a anomaly. In Indonesia where I now live, for example, once kids are walking confidently, they're out of their mothers' huts and into the village with older sisters, or bigger cousins, who teach them about sharing and playing, and staying safe, and toilet training, and generally how to be a person within that society.
    I suspect that this is the natural order; older kids teaching younger kids without too much interference from authority figures, parantal or otherwise. I suspect that if given ample opportunity to play and negotiate the world together with her peers, she'll be just fine, that amazing girl or yours.


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