It came up again… That seemingly harmless statement from a sweet individual in a casual conversation …
“How old is your oldest now?” this person asked.
“He’s six, can you believe it!” I replied.
“Wow, so is he in kindergarten now?” The person queried.
“Yes.” I say with a big smile on my face.
“How nice for you, now you get more time with your other two.”
“Well not exactly, we’re home schooling.”
*pause* “Well good for you. But don’t you worry about his socialization?”
“AAAAAAggggRRRRRHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” (Okay, so that part was just in my head.)
What I really said was, “Not really, we go to church and visit with friends.”
The conversation went on a bit about how there are these great home school groups now, and really home school kids have all the same opportunities as other children who happen to attend public school, etc… blah, blah, blah.
I have to tell you, I’m am still so surprised that SOCIALIZATION seems to be concern #1 among most people. In a country which harps more about education and racing to the top, and having higher test scores. The majority of people are still more concerned to know if my child is in with his peers, as opposed to concern over his education.
Okay, so lets talk socialization.
Socialization as I understand it is where a person learns the norms, values and behaviors (ie. social skills) that are appropriate for their social position.
As an example; my son should know he is a child, thus it is normal and proper for him to address his elders with the title, Miss, Mrs. Mr. etc…
It is also typical of our culture to say hello when we meet someone and goodbye when we leave. In a group of people my child would also be expected to listen to whomever is speaking before responding and vice-versa.
We as society place a great deal of value in relationships. Relationships with family and peers especially. Both of which are extremely valuable. I’m not here to knock the importance of these things.
Usually after the “socialization” comment I hear the followup statement; “I’ve known lots of home schooled kids and they were all so sheltered.” Or, “I’ve never met a kid who was home schooled who wasn’t really shy or otherwise weird.”
I think ultimately the people who say “lots,” or “never met” really haven’t met as many home schooled kids as they think or actually know they have met.
I know this because they are always thrown by my my follow up statement; “Really? Did you know I was home schooled?”
And it is true I was, from 3rd grade all the way through high school. Of course I do wonder after I make this statement if maybe they always knew and I fell in the “weird” category, for I rarely am accused of being too shy…but I digress.
What I want to dispel is the myth that children who receive their education at home are somehow automatically social-rejects.
If socialization were truly a concern I think home schooling would be on the hot seat a lot more than it is. As of today more and more families are looking to home education for a variety of reasons. Some including the reason that the environment shaping their children’s socialization may be a less than positive experience within the traditional educational system.
I have long questioned the logic of taking a specific age group of peers and placing them in a room together. What do you think the outcome on a social level is?
Lets look at my nearly three year old son. When we have a friend over who has another child about his age, we cannot just let them play. There is a great deal of involvement from us parents to help facilitate the communication and encourage cooperation and sharing and otherwise not bopping one another with toys. If you put two or three more two year old’s in this group, you cannot expect for them to “get-along” without assistance. If left to their own devices chaos will inevitably ensue. That is just fact.
It is not that far off with a group of elementary or middle school aged children. Among their peers and at their particular developmental stage they are still learning how to negotiate the world around them and communicate with one another. And sadly we see the evidence of these social groupings as they divide into smaller peer groups and ridicule others who are different then themselves, without really knowing who they themselves are, let alone what proper social etiquette would be. I believe this mostly to be a protective mechanism. Smaller groups foster closer relationships and commonality. Good things, please don’t misunderstand, I don’t for a minute think all children who attend public school are bad or that they are in turn as un-socialized as home school students are portrayed. I just think there may be more to achieving good social skills, than grouping children in various class rooms in a school building.
Let me explain…
Remember the group of two year old children. They are not at a place developmentally where they can communicate effectively. They do not know the proper social cues as of yet, and if left alone together who would argue that at one point or another there would be an issue? Now, add to that group a child who is a few years older. In this case we’ll use my 6 year old son. Just by adding him to the group we have a completely different dynamic. Where chaos reigned before we have the added benefit of better language skills. He can talk to the two year old’s and understand (often better than the parents.) what they are trying to say. He can lead by example what he has learned about playing in a group and navigate them through many different modes of play. Things smooth out to the point that the parents can now over see the play without being constantly involved in it. He can also reach out with language for help when even his skills are not enough to navigate this social dynamic.
Now, which is the most “socialized group” The two year old’s who are in clobber mode because they cannot communicate or the the group of children of different ages?
You may argue that the segmented grades of school are important for educational purposes and I would argue the validity of that statement as well, but that will have to be for another post. I want to stick with the topic of socialization for now.
So, when we are talking socialization what makes the home school student stand out so much from their traditionally educated peers?
When I was growing up, what most people said was different about me was that I did not converse only with people of my own peer group. Quite often I was found hanging out with the adults. I had no fear of talking with them and often found that I could learn more from them about how to interact socially than with other girls my age (I know that is pretty weird.) The draw back to this is that I rarely had a group of peers my own age as friends. Oh sure, I had fun at my local youth group, and church. I had sleep overs with girls my age, we did each others hair and make-up *gasp* we even talked about boys. But, still I did not feel the limit that youths my age were the only people whom I could call friends.
Another difference that may make a child who is home schooled stand out from the crowed may well be displayed in their personal interest. The great benefit of home schooling is the ability to tailor your child’s education to what interests and inspires him most. By doing this you automatically kindle his desire to love learning. I suppose the drawback to this is he may not be hip to what other kids his age are into. I quite frankly have no idea what the hot new toy or show for most six-year-old’s is, and neither does Colton. This begs the question, are we missing out on something? My son plays with other children, attends church and weekly participates in an Awana’s club. I have yet to hear him shed disappointment about the interest of the other children. He will tell me what the other kids like, or ask a question here and there but he seems perfectly happy to let them like what they like, and still like what he likes.
Which brings me to the next difference that may make a home schooled child appear different. In my experience children who are home schooled tend to find themselves more comfortable in their own skin a bit sooner than their traditionally educated peers. When you shed the regular restrictions of a peer group who set the trend you are left with a child who is free to experiment within their own environment with less distraction. As I was growing up I was passionately in love with horses as were most of the girls my age. As we grew however my friends interest needed to become more divided to accommodate the pressures and social expectations that their school environment required. They needed not only think about the things they enjoyed but also how they looked, how they were to act, and who was acceptable or not as a friend. All this in addition to the growing list of educational, and athletic expectations. As you might expect their personal childhood interests began to wane.
My experience was quite different, though I could have tried traditional school sports. I still loved horses. This became my sport and because I had few other distractions I was able to devote a lot of time and effort to it. I also did not miss the political atmosphere my friends talked about. I felt comfortable in my own skin in terms of who I was and I knew what I enjoyed.
Now this is not to say that as a teen I did not experience a certain amount of anxiety when thrown in to a large group of my peers. But I have to wonder, am I, because of my home education less social for feeling this anxiety? I really don’t think so. As I have grown I have observed that most people; children, teens and adults alike experience anxiety in new situations. All deal with this discomfort quite differently. If anyone has had the experience of changing schools mid-year, or starting a new job might tell you it does have a learning curve and can be a difficult experience. But, they lived through it. And though a child who is home schooled may at times flounder in new surroundings, so may be the experience of any student no matter what their educational setting may be. I don’t think it is fair to single out children who struggle in a new environment and who happen to be home schooled just because of how they received their education.
This is what I wish. I wish that when people looked at my child and learned that he was home schooled, it wouldn’t be such a break from tradition (because there are plenty of us out here.) Instead they might think of the whole concept like they would look at a child who attended a different school. If someones kid goes to the school across town or even a private school, you typically want to know how it is over there; Are the teachers good? What is the curriculum like? Do they have a large class? And so on. Not if the kids are being properly socialized.
Ah, there is so much more I could say on this subject, but I’m just tired now. We’ve been social all day. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
If you would like more scientific evidence of the effect of home schooling on social development I recommend the following Articles: