Thursday, May 16, 2013
Homeschooling myths: socialization
Homeschooling is a growing movement, but even if the highest numbers I've seen are accurate, with 2 million homeschooled kids in the U.S. this year, that still means most kids go to regular school. That puts us in the position of being a bit... different. We stray from the norm a little, and take our own path. We're cool with that, but it does raise questions, the most common of which is, what about socialization?
The reality of homeschooling is that most of us aren't at home all day, every day. We're out on field trips, at co-ops, attending scouts and sports practices and games. We're members of playgroups and social groups and meetup groups. We tend to spend an inordinate amount of time concerned about our kids' social lives - setting up get-togethers, connecting with other families, finding clubs, classes and activities for our kids so they have opportunities not only to pursue their interests, but develop friendships as well.
Are there weird homeschooled kids? Sure. There are weird kids everywhere, in every school setting. C'mon, you remember from your school days, right? That quiet kid who always sat in the back of class, with his hair hanging in his eyes? The one who never looked anyone in the eye, or the one who said weird things at awkward times and just didn't seem to understand how to talk to other humans? Remember that kid? He was in school. Yes there are weird homeschooled kids, but it is highly likely they would be weird no matter where they went to school. Homeschooling doesn't mean kids will be weird and unsocialized. It might mean they have the chance to be themselves and thrive without the pressure to be something they aren't; to fit in with kids who pick on them. What does make homeschooled kids weird is that they have fewer people around them telling them who they should be.
(And that weird kid from your school? He probably works as a computer programmer making serious bank. Just sayin'.)
Homeschooled kids get to hang out with kids of various ages, as well as other adults - not just kids their own age. They aren't split into grade levels and put into a room with other kids who have a birthday in the same time window as theirs. They tend to have friends who are older and younger, as well as their own age. They have opportunities to interact with adults in various settings, and not just settings in which the adult is solely an authority figure.
Research backs us up as well. Studies have shown that homeschooled kids have fewer behavior problems, have well developed self concept (at least on par with that of comparable private school students), and are more involved in their communities as adults. More homeschool grads vote and volunteer in their communities than publicly or privately educated students. This article, while clearly written from a very pro-homeschooling perspective, does do a nice job of summarizing the available research on how homeschooled kids do socially. The bottom line there? Homeschooled kids do just fine.
I admit, the socialization question was one of my big hangups when I started thinking about homeschooling. It is easy to picture a group of kids clinging to their mom's apron, terrified of the world and those scary public school kids. What ever will they do when they get older? How will they know how to interact with other people? I can tell you, in our case and in the case of quite literally all the other homeschooling families I know, our kids get out in the world and hang out with other humans all the time. Are they a little different from other kids? Yeah, they probably are. My kids are weird in the sense that they have no idea there is some set of criteria to "fit in" to, and the longer I can keep that their reality, the better as far as I'm concerned. Now, I'm not knocking my public school friends in any way. (I feel like I need that disclaimer any time I talk or write from a pro-homeschooling perspective.) I'm not putting down anyone else's choices. I'm simply making the case that this idea that homeschooled kids are bound to be weird and unsocialized is definitely a myth. :)
Homeschooling does mean that my kids' world is different from that of the kids in the school up the street. There are certainly things they aren't accustomed to, and if I were to enroll them in school tomorrow, there would certainly be some adjusting. But when you think about what socialization really means - learning how to interact and get along with others in an appropriate way - homeschooling offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. It might not occur in the same way as kids in a classroom, but it happens just the same.
And if my kids turn out to be super weird, I'll just blame Daddy's genetics and obsession with Lego building, rather than homeschooling :).