If you are a homeschooler, what is the one question you get most often from people who are concerned about your choice to homeschool?
If you said, or thought, the word "socialization" then give yourself 10 points for being up to date on current issues. I have a lot of opinions, facts, statistics, arguments, pet peeves, and very funny stories about this subject, but today I want to try and address some real concerns about the ominous word, "socialization." I want to point out that while many homeschoolers prefer the kind of socialization they can provide their children through homeschooling the decision to homeschool is often made for other reasons. You can't just ask a homeschooler, "Yes, but what about socialization?" and expect a simple answer. For starters, what are you actually asking? "What about socialization?" can mean lots of things to different people, like:
Won't your kids be weird?
How are your children going to get street smart?
Don't you want your children to have friends?
Aren't you being over protective and sheltering them from real life?
Won't they miss out on all the fun activities that school has to offer?
Don't you think you have a responsibility to let your children be out in the world to help and to influence other children for good?
So, before you ask a homeschooler that all too common question, pause a minute and think about what it is you really want to know. It will make it so much easier for the person you are asking to give you the answer you need to hear.
Should you worry about socialization for your children if you choose to homeschool? It depends on how you plan to homeschool. If you plan to keep your children at home every day and all day long, and they have only you as a teacher for EVERYTHING, and there aren't any kids in your neighborhood, and you don't go to a church that has lots of children, and you never have visitors, then yes, you should worry a lot about your children not getting the socialization they need.
Some homeschoolers do homeschool this way. Most homeschoolers, however, have their kids in classes like sports, art, dance, foreign language, music, nature clubs, geography clubs, etc. where they have different adults teaching them and have to function in a large group of children on a consistent basis. Most homeschoolers have play dates. They take their kids to public parks where their children meet and play with public schooled kids (and where their children often have to deal with mean kids, bad words, and other public school recess situations). Many homeschoolers are religious and so they attend church where their children take active part in lessons and activities with other children.
What kind of socialization do you want your child to get? There are many different kinds of socialization available in this world and as parents we are often picking and choosing what kinds we will have our children learn. Some parents choose not to allow television or certain movies in the home, others choose to live in certain neighborhoods, or choose a particular religion to raise their children in, and still others choose to keep their children away from certain family members. These, and so many other choices we make for our children, are based on the kind of socialization we want our children to have. Is it any wonder then, that there are parents who choose to avoid the socialization they see being taught in their particular schools? I am lucky to live in an area where parents get to choose which public school to put their children in despite school boundaries and there are many parents who are willing to drive many miles in order to get their children to the school with the academic social structure they like best. Personally I think there is a lot to be said for having "street smarts" and I believe that public school is a great place to develop those skills, but it is most certainly not the only place. Public school is also a wonderful place to expose your children to different cultures and ethnic groups, but again, it is not the only place to get such exposure.
What can I do to ensure that my children get "socialization" if I choose to homeschool? Well, after deciding what kind of socialization you want your child to receive, you go out and get it. It is very important to me that my children be understanding and accepting of other ethnic groups, religions, and cultures. To do this I have had to copy the actions of Benjamin Franklin's parents. Franklin's father thought it was more important for his son to stay home and help run the family business than to go to school. But, to meet the demands of his wife and the needs of his son he made a conscious effort to have people into his home who could educate his son. If he met a seafaring man, a politician, a skilled craftsman or anyone who could teach his son more about the world he would invite them over for dinner so that his son could benefit from the stories of their life. Following suit we make an effort to invite in our homes people who can share experiences with us that we would not normally find in our particular social set up. We have had to go way out of our comfort zone to do this but I can promise you that my children are not the only ones who benefit from this. You can do things like this, and many other things, to ensure that your children get the socialization you feel is important for their growth.
Will my children seem, or be considered "weird" to other people if I homeschool them? If you stop grooming them and stop expecting them to use their manners then yes, they will probably seem weird to others. Seriously though, people might think your decision to homeschool is interesting, and a few will treat you as if you are weird but that is only if you tell everyone you meet that you are a homeschooler. You don't have to broadcast it to the world. I've even heard of homeschoolers who, when asked why their kids aren't in school, tell people that their kids go to a private school that runs on a different schedule (many homeschoolers even create names for their "private school"). On the whole, your family will only be as weird as you let them be. In the 8 years that I've been homeschooling I've only had 3 people guess that I am a homeschooler and that had to do with having a lot of kids with me during school hours and nothing else. Also in my 8 years I have only had 4 people treat me like a leper for being a homeschooler and they taught me not to "cast my pearls before swine" or not to broadcast our choice to everyone we meet. I also made sure to teach my children how to answer questions about their schooling in a way that prevents them from getting mean reactions (a skill I wish my mom had given me when I was homeschooled). For instance, I make sure they know what grade they are supposed to be in, I've taught them not to say that they don't go to school, to use the phrase "field trip" often, and to simply say, "I like it" to anyone who gives them grief.
Why is homeschooling good for socialization? Besides the fact that you get to customize it to your individual family you also have access to areas that you might not have time for or the ability to get if you didn't have the time freedoms of homeschooling (though I know many families who public school who go the extra mile to get these experiences for their children). These include but are not limited to:
-Allowing children to socialize and interact outside of age parameters. No one in homeschool is too embarrassed to be seen playing with a kid from a younger grade or talking with a teacher about an academic interest (and really, outside of school, when will your child ever be in such an age restricted set up again?).
-Spending adequate time immersing oneself in other cultures or languages to get a good understanding.
-Taking your children to work and volunteer at nursing homes, homeless shelters, and special education facilities so that children learn to love and serve all people as equals. Or, another beauty of homeschooling, simply taking your children with you while you serve people in your church or community.
-Giving your child a specialized education for a skill or ability that is not offered by the public schools.
-And, something that I think needs to be mentioned, you can also allow a child who is naturally "different" to learn and grow without having to focus so much energy on simply surviving in an intolerant environment.
Public school is fantastic because your children get a LOT of socialization without you having to do much but pack a lunch and kiss them goodbye. My daughter's very first friend in public school was a girl who had just come to America from Ethiopia and was struggling to learn English.
Homeschooling is harder because you have to work to get what you need, but it is so nice getting exactly what you want =)
Now I need my fellow homeschoolers to help me. I am very lucky to live in a big city where I have many many resources at my finger tips. So, I'm asking all you homeschoolers who live in the country or in less diverse cities to share with us your tips and tricks to getting your children the socialization you want them to have.
(Oh, and I have reposted my rant on homeschooling and the socialization question so if you really want to go there go here)