Monday, March 10, 2008

Homeschooling and Socialization

If you are not a homeschooler, what is the one concern you hear most about homeschooling?

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)


Misty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Misty said...

Too many typing errors, I'm reposting.

Great post, Lizzy. I can see all of the time and effort that went into this post.

I agree with you.... kids are socialized in so many ways - - not just at home or just at school. My main objective with my own children is to see that they are growing into their own selves, not always in my presence. It's amazing to me to see the character and strength that has come from my children through this practice. So much of my children's growth has happened while at home, under my wing. I have been fortunate to have the best of both worlds.

We have a lot in common and share many of the same views.

Here's to great home based AND public education!

Shannon said...

Misty- loved the comment you left on my Hockey post. . . we definitely have that in common ( :

BTW, I was wondering since you like ice-cream, if you've ever tried the cake flavored? It's one of mine and my daughter's favorites!

Have a great day!

sariqd said...

You know, I had fully intended to homeschool my children but as my oldest grew older, I realized that she needed far more than what I was able to give her. It used to bother me but, I got over it. As for the whole socialization thing? My thought is... it's easier when you have multiple kids. There's only so much play & interaction that can take place between two kids: a 5 year old and a 1 year old.

Thanks for the post, I'm glad to see that you care so much about your kids to give them what they need (i.e. some in public school, some at home.)

An Ordinary Mom said...

It seems like nearly every day in life I am relearning the lesson you can't please everyone and nor will everyone always understand your point of view. I think if we are doing what is best for our children in our family, then others should well enough leave us alone :) !!

Excellent post!

Amy Y said...

Great information! I'll never ask the question again :)
Thanks for sharing all this... I feel like I was being pretty ignorant and silly before!

Edi said...

I went to public school all my life and have always been an introvert/shy type of person.

My dd is homeschooled and is a huge EXTROVERT!

Homeschooled kids that are shy and quiet and such - are not necessarily that way due to the schooling choice but that's just the way they are.

One family of homeschoolers at our church will not let my kids be friends w/their kids b/c they are so super scared of any outside influences. Sure it's their choice but it sure makes it awkward at first my kids would try talking to their kids - until the mom intervened and told them to stop!!! We were new to the church and believe me this was a HUGE issue for me. No one else in the church is that way - even the other homeschoolers. It's just sad for the kids.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

That is so sad, and just wrong. I've met families like that (though not so extreme) and I always feel so bad for the children.

Motherhood for Dummies said...

I know some people who did private schooling and it seems most of the kids have better learning habits and are more smart than the average kid, but I have seen a bit of them turn out a little odd.

But a great idea I saw some people do is that they got toegther with other families that home schooled and would do a bit of classes together and I thought that was a great idea.

Espesally since my husband and I feel that some school are really lacking. I can definently see the pros of home schooling

Happy face said...

You put a great deal of thought into your post. Thank you for it. It does seem like there are some strange homeschooled kids, but then I remember the kids I taught in high school that my heart ached for because they soooo didn't fit in. How much better off would they have been if they could have been learning in a different setting.

We have been fortunate to live in areas with a strong homeschooling presence and some businesses that have realized their market potential. My boys are involved in taekwondo and my daughter in gymnastics during the day besides a literature group (new) and church activities. There is also an astronomy class that we didn't take advantage of this year from a local college.

I am considering sponsoring a writing club next year for more scholastic associations, and I am also looking into TJEd for ideas.

Magirk said...

Excellent, again.

Honestly, compile all these posts and any other thoughts you have on the matter, and have it published.

Cocoa said...

Wonderfully written, Ice Cream! Brought out many points on socialization that I left in the post you deleted. I don't see the comment there anymore, though I see others that were left. Hmmm... wonder what happened?

Anyway, another point is when a homeschool child has social problems it's usually blamed on the fact that "It's because he's homeschooled. You know they're a little weird" but when you meet a child who is public schooled with social problems it's not blamed on the public school at all.

I've learned to ask people to clarify when they ask about socialization. That usually clears up a lot and quiet down any "mama bear" feelings that start to rise to the surface.

We live out in the boondocks so we rely heavily on church and church related activities (Young Women, Achievement Days) for socialization. There is also a homeschool group that gets together every Friday for swimming or bowling and every other Wednesday for a library/book club day. We also have field trips once a month.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

When I deleted that post temporarily it deleted the comments as well. I didn't think about that till after it happened and wished I had thought to copy it. Then I reposted it and others have commented but I still lost all those great comments by my homeschooling bloggers. (And I tried to make sure that I used your points in my more objective post so that they would still be noticed. Sorry about that.

Angela said...

This is a great reminder...I just went through this whole talk yesterday with someone who thinks I am crazy! I should have just run this off and given to him. I am new off of Sonja's blog...I think I will stick around

Crockpot Lady said...

wonderful, well-thought out post. I always thought I would homeschool. The public school around the corner is so far doing a good job (only in 1st grade) but I have reserved the right to pull whenever I feel the need.

Our governator is trying to do away with homeschooling. CA needs help from him.

just jamie said...

Wow, as a public school educator, I feel extremely informed after this post. You're doing a fantastic service to your little ones. Keep it up, and thanks for the great info.

Michal said...

thank you for posting this. i'm going to link it to my blog. i can't tell you how many times i hear this. you wrote it so well ( i enjoyed the "rant" as well!) and answered so many different issues.

Team Harris said...

I checked out my first books on homeschooling at the library yesterday. Even though my son is only 8 months old I figured I should gain as much knowledge as I can NOW, before our family grows and the time to homeschool actually arrives. I really appreciate your posts on the topic. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Sonja said...

I'm also so glad you wrote this post. You did such a great job addressing the issue of socialization. I still have a lot to learn about this. I agree with everything you wrote and will only add that, in my experience and with observations I've made, kids (especially homeschooled kids) take a huge cue from parents when it comes to socialization. They copy how we answer and talk on the phone. They watch as we are making new friends, how we talk about people, how we talk TO people, etc. This places a considerably amount of responsibility on the parents, as you mentioned. But it can be fun!

We don't live in a metropolis. But my husband and I are very interested in culture and world travel. As a result, our children love it too. Also, I think children are born with out prejudice. They are so curious and willing to accept. It just takes a little exposure while they are young to make things seem less foreign. Conversely, it doesn't take much to lay down the foundation for prejudice and narrow mindedness when they are young. Again, parents have a huge responsibility in this, whether they homeschool or not.

I think the most important message to parents is this: You have a choice. There may be a time when one or the other choice of education works best for you and your child. Don't be afraid to do what you feel in your heart is right. I firmly believe that if we are keeping our child's best interest in mind, the rest, including socialization, will follow.

I'm going to link this post on my blog too! :)

Sonja said...

Oh, I just read your rant. I guess I'm just echoing those thoughts! :)

BTW, I just read a statistic in the paper that says 1 out of 4 Americans spends time in jail. hmmm.....I wonder if they get good socialization there?

Charlotte said...

Wow! Very comprehensive and informative post! My kids go to public school and there are plenty of socialization issues there as well. Having a lot of friends/family who homeschool, my thought is this: If you are homeschooling primarily out of fear (fear of the world, fear of letting your kids go, fear of not being able to protect them etc.) then it is the wrong reason and your kids will suffer. But if you are homeschooling primarily out of love (love of being with your kids, love of sharing your knowledge with them, love of hard work (!) etc.) then your kids will pick up on it and be enriched by it in a way that no public school teacher could do. Keep up the great work!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

First I have to say that I loved having you as Cookie's sunday school teacher!

And you just nicely summed up my personal idea of the differences between unhealthy and healthy homeschooling. Thank you.

Mo Mommy said...

I thought of you today when my kids were tired and throwing fits and some old guy asked if they were homeschooled. "What does that have to do with anything?" I asked...He just shrugged and kept loading my groceries in the car. Weird.
No sir, my kid is in public school. He's 5 and has been in a car all day and he's tired and antsy. Yes, I'm just a crappy mom, thanks SO MUCH for helping me feel inadequate as a parent in a public setting!!!!!
not that I'm bitter.......

Jeanette said...
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EnchantedMusing said...

thank you for your post. socialization is always the first question i get when folks find out i homeschool. having only one child, yes - homeschooling requires more work of me to make sure she gets opportunities, but we live in a HUGE city - opportunities are EVERYWHERE. betwen 2 dance classes, coop classes, playdates, trips to Disneyland and fieldtrips galore - finding time to do the dishes is a MUCH bigger issue than socialization for my child! LOL

i look forward to reading more from you.