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"What about socialization?" has got to be the number one question homeschool skeptics ask. It's a tricky one, because the term has evolved to have two meanings — both important, and both related to your child's social needs. How do you meet those?

Language is a living thing, and words change their meaning over time. Case in point: socialization. While it once referred strictly to the process of, roughly, becoming familiar with societal norms and adopting them (also known as acculturation), it now also means socializing. As much as homeschool parents like to point to the first meaning of the term when asked the tired question — What about socialization? — even dictionaries now give "the activity of mixing socially with others" as one definition of socialization. [1]

Here’s how that works out in sentences:

  • “Do introverted kids need as much socialization as extroverted kids?”
  • “We’re about to move to a new town where we don’t know anyone. What do we do about socialization?”
  • “My friend thinks homeschooling elementary school is fine, but says they need a different kind of socialization in high school.”

Even a research study used the term socialization in this manner:

“It seems that most homeschool parents are aware of the issue of socialization and are strongly committed to providing positive socialization opportunities for their children.” [2]

They might better have simply said “social opportunities”, but let’s go with it. The definition of the word socialization is now two-fold, and homeschool skeptics asking about socialization could be asking about one of two things, or about both. Though we’re dealing with wildly different topics here, both are important, and both do deserve to be looked at if we want to reap the many benefits of homeschooling.

Socialization, In the Sociological Sense, Is Inevitable

The process of socialization — of becoming aware of the norms of whatever society or sub-culture a person happens to be born into — starts at birth and may last a lifetime. You can be socialized into a new workplace or new culture in adulthood, for instance. The question isn’t whether a person is socialized, but what kind of socialization they get. Even those kids raised by dogs or other animals prove they’ve been socialized into their (rather unusual) social group when they show their teeth to display anger or scratch at doors to signal they want them opened. [3]

Agents of socialization, or factors that contribute to a person’s socialization, include parents, the extended family, peers, extracurricular clubs, religious institutions, mass media, the government, and yes, schools too. [4]

That check-out lady reminding your toddler to say thank you, the physics-professor aunt who shows your daughter that science is for women, too, the librarian telling your son to be silent, and the people at church who model crossing themselves as a way to express their religiosity are all engaged, often completely subconsciously, in the process of socializing your child.

Parents who’ve decided to homeschool are, usually, keenly aware of the kind of socialization brick and mortar schools provide, either because they’ve just taken their children out of one, or because they went to one themselves. They know what kind of socialization they don’t want for their kids — socialization “provided” by a 30-odd strong group of same-aged, pop-culture obsessed, cliquey peers who “teach” them that the kid with the most expensive sneakers is the coolest, for instance. That kind of thing is known as horizontal socialization [5], and might as well be translated into “the blind leading the blind”.

Homeschooled children who are exposed to a much wider variety of people and situations on a daily basis can be said, as many homeschool parents like to remind skeptics, to have a much bigger foot in the "real world" — people of all ages and walks of life included.

People who don’t homeschool and don’t like the concept much often have this idea in their head that homeschooled kids spend all day, every day, with mom at the kitchen table (probably learning about creationism and Jesus, and not about sub-atomic particles and gender equality). While this might happen in some families, you’re good if it doesn’t in yours. If your child is an active participant in society, your child may be exposed to different agents of socialization than their public school peers, but there’s still plenty of them — including other children. As one study found, “On average, homeschooled students are involved in 5.2 activities outside the home, with 98% or more engaged in two or more.” [2]

Yup, we don’t generally lock our kids in the basement. Instead, they attend swimming lessons, violin classes, Dungeons and Dragons sessions, Lego-building competitions, Chinese immersion classes, calligraphy workshops, scouting teams, and on. And in fact, research also found that homeschooled children are, on the whole, less competitive and more cooperative, more likely to socialize with children of both genders, and had a higher tendency to invite other children to play with them. [6

Meeting Your Homeschooled Child’s Social Needs

“Meaningful social relations and a sense of belonging to a community involving mutual respect, acceptance, affirmation, care and love" [7] are considered universal human needs, right alongside things like food, water, and shelter. Social interaction and belonging are an integral part of what makes us human — we didn’t evolve to have the fastest legs, the sharpest teeth, an impenetrable outer shell, or wings, and it’s our combination of brains and social cooperation that nonetheless led us to the top of the evolutionary food chain.

We all need friends — about three to five good ones we see regularly, research suggests [8] — and we all need to, eventually, break away from that initial inner circle that centers on parents in the process of individuation-separation. We all need to find our “autonomous selves” and "disengage from or transcend the internalized representations of caregivers formed in early childhood and establish a sense of self that is distinct and individuated, thereby reducing psychological dependence on parental introjects for approval, self-esteem, and standards of conduct." [9] A fulfilled social life doesn’t just make us happy — pretty essential — it’s also essential for academic achievement. [10]

So, how do homeschooled children find friends?

“We made sure to be active in the community,” Jane, a now retired homeschooling mother of two explained. “My kids took public speaking classes, one was involved in cheer leading, we went to homeschool park days, we attended church, and my kids helped run the family business from a young age.”

“My kids are drowning in friends they met in our local homeschool community,” Stella, whose kids are eight and 10 years old, shares. “If I let them, they’d have play dates every single afternoon, but I’ve had to cut down on that because we need to spend time on school, too.”

“My introverted child could handle one or two activities a week,” says Louise, whose older child is now enrolled in community college. “Anything more, and it was too much. My extrovert, on the other hand, craved constant social interaction and was involved in volunteer activities, choir, and horse-riding to the tune of more than 20 hours a week.”

Every child is unique, their stories show, and meeting our kids’ social needs requires listening to them to find out what they need, then adjusting accordingly. If you live in a small town where homeschooling is rare, it might take a good dose of proactivity to help your child feel socially fulfilled, while families with a pre-existing wide social network who are actively engaged in the community made not face any social struggles at all.

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