If you’ve homeschooled at all, you have surely been asked, “What about socialization?”
What an utterly laughable question! But I do understand why it gets asked.
I mean, most of us attended school and enjoyed socializing with the other children so much that we were probably reprimanded for socializing. But really, what social skills did you learn from your fellow 3rd graders?
I remember learning what a virgin was after being told I would be one until I died (I was such a goody-goody) by a 3rd grade boy. I’d never heard the word before, so I asked a friend and got an earful of misinformation that I believed for the next ten years.
I remember not-quite-understanding raunchy jokes, but learning all kinds of inappropriate terms for body parts. I remember being devastated that my 5th grade teacher liked the naughty kids best and found overly-academic, suck-ups like me annoying.
In about 6th grade I learned that to be popular I had to be mean. You couldn’t belong to an exclusive group of girls if you weren’t exclusive.
We learned which clothing labels got you into the cool crowd and which were social suicide. I learned to lie to fit a certain mold and to act because I needed to hide my authentic (and very uncool) self. I also learned a lot of expletives, drug terms and how to get a five-finger discount.
Lying and cheating became second-nature to me despite being a good student and a good kid. I mainly let other kids use my homework, but I also participated in class-wide cheating in a couple of instances. I think I justified my participation because the whole class was in on it and I would be a social pariah for betraying them.
Without a doubt, we kids all picked up some positive social skills, too. We learned that picking your nose would get you ostracized like Johnny and that you should shower daily and wear deodorant or the other kids would call you horrible names behind your back like Natalie. All great things to know.
If you think I was a problem child or that I came from a troubled home, you are very, very wrong. I was raised in a deeply religious home with daily scripture study and vigilant church attendance.
I also loved school. I mean I really loved it. I missed school over summer breaks and holidays and I always looked forward to returning.
My schools always had fantastically interesting gifted-and-talented programs. Most years I was teachers pet. I also navigated social nuance pretty well and I always had lots of friends.
But given the opportunity to homeschool after having children of my own and considering all of the different aspects of homeschooling, socialization was the least of my concerns. I spent 12 years in the public school system and can assure you that it is not the answer to socialization unless you appreciate the ‘Lord of the Flies’ model.
Let’s talk about why.
What About Socialization?
First of all, what is socialization?
The dictionary defines it as the process of learning the expected behaviors, values and social skills of individuals within a society. If you spend any time on social media, you’ll realize that is not a very high bar to set because we live in a society that has embraced the acceptance of just about everything.
Worse, that definition leaves room to embrace the kind of socialization I encountered at school. Lying, cheating and meanness elevated my social status and were the values and expected behaviors of my peers at school.
If that’s the definition, I think we’re asking the wrong question.
Maybe a better question would be, “What am I socializing for? What are my goals?”
Are these socialization goals better met in a homeschool or traditional school setting?
Homeschool Socialization Encourages Authenticity
Children from elementary to high school spend about seven hours a day in school times 180 days each year. That’s about 1400 hours in school each year, not including extracurricular activities. And the school gets the best part of the kids’ waking hours — the hours during which the child is most alert and receptive to learning.
Behaviors expected at school are much different than within the family. Children have to learn to raise their hands, speak in turn, sit still, stand in lines and conform behaviorally. They also have to learn moral conformity to a school setting — things like playing fair, being “nice”, respecting teacher’s authority, and how right and wrong looks in an educational setting.
Classroom discipline is much easier with a homogeneous group. That’s why schools group kids by ability as well as age.
And those are just the behaviors expected by the school. The peer group has another whole set of expectations.
You have to look a certain way, talk a certain way, like a particular type of music, wear the right clothes, not be too nerdy (unless your goal is to fit in with the nerds, which yes!) and act a certain way. You can’t stand up for your values and you have to be cool with things you probably shouldn’t be.
Sure, there are different social groups with a public school: the jocks, the brains, the anime/mangas, the stoners, the goths, and the geeks. Even so, each of those cliques requires conformity.
Kids earn social capital by conforming to their peers expectations. Children who are rejected by their peers are harassed and bullied.
A homeschool setting is comprised primarily of a family, in which social expectations equate with the families own moral standards and values. I can only speak for my own family, but our homeschool is filled with hugs and laughter and acceptance.
We often wear jammies to school and the only expectation with regards to appearance is that everyone brush their hair and their teeth (we bathe before bed). None of us even know (my teenagers will vehemently disagree with me) what’s stylish — we certainly don’t care.
We embrace each other’s unique oddities as being special and we’re unabashedly authentic with one another.
Imagine trying to hide your true self from your family?
Furthermore, homeschooling exposes young people to a wider variety of age groups and encourages daily interaction with people across the spectrum of age, ethnicity and demographics, which contributes to social maturity. Those interactions are more natural and more like real life.
Many homeschoolers Worldschool, and travel widely to instill a deep appreciation of other cultures in such a way that their kiddos feel globally connected.
Thus, when children are socialized in a homeschool setting you see a wide variety of authentic personalities and abilities instead of the sea of conformity you find in most public schools.
Homeschool Socialization Cultivates Confidence
Masculinity is portrayed as physical prowess and aggression in traditional school settings. Physically aggressive males in PE class are applauded and rewarded. Males who are slightly built or don’t fit stereotypically appropriate male behavior are seen as less masculine and subjugated by other students and even teachers.
Girls are more likely to participate in covert acts of aggression like gossiping and excluding other girls from their peer group. Introverted kids who voluntarily and intentionally withdraw from the social hierarchy find themselves excluded from peer groups.
The interesting thing is that the perpetrators of the bullying are just as damaged by their actions as the victims are. Nobody escapes unscathed. The mean girls try to dominate in order to hide their own insecurities.
Another way children’s self-worth is negatively impacted by school socialization is through sorting by ability. I understand why schools sort kids by ability, but it’s as damaging to the accelerated groups as it is to the remedial groups.
I was always placed in the accelerated groups and I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I also thought everything should come easily to me and I was unprepared for hard work when it came my why.
It also exacerbated my compulsion to cheat — not that I can blame that on anybody. But when your self-esteem depends on always earn top marks at school and you can’t help but see how rampant cheating is, there is real pressure.
My mom on the other hand has lamented to me repeatedly that she was placed in the lowest reading group in her kindergarten class and she grew up thinking she was dumb and incapable of learning. Labels can hurt. Not only can they negatively impact academic performance all the way through adulthood, but they also spill over into peer relations and teacher relations.
This cycle of academic labeling and low teacher expectations can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of low intellectual achievement. In the same vein, bullying and rejection, which lead to further isolation and ever-decreasing confidence can force less socially astute children into a cycle of dwindling confidence and social ability.
Naturally introverted kiddos or those who struggle socially might be excluded or even bullied at school, whereas in a homeschool setting they would be safe, respected and supported. Nobody will laugh at them for preferring a good book to an inane conversation, for not understanding a dirty joke or even for drooling on a math assignment.
Those kids who struggle socially have a better chance of getting a great education without their confidence being destroyed by the artificial social heirarchy that dominates the hallways, classrooms and locker rooms of the local public school. They have a better chance of becoming confident adults for not having having been broken by damaging childhood experiences.
Homeschool Socialization Promotes Integrity
Gah! This is where I failed miserably and embarrassingly.
It has a lot to do with how most classes worked at my middle school and high school. I don’t blame the teachers at all, because I can’t imagine having to grade 180+ assignments (6 or 7 class periods, each with 25-30 students) every night.
The only way teachers could cope with the workload was to have students grade each others assignments. We’d all pass our papers to the student behind us, the teachers would call out the answers aloud, the students would call out the scores aloud to be recorded and then everyone would return assignments to their rightful owner.
Kids catch on pretty quick that if they scratch their neighbor’s back, they get their own scratched in return, and pretty soon the whole class is in on the shenanigans, neglecting to mark missed problems wrong. The student who speaks up — who betrays his fellow students — becomes a social pariah.
Compound that with a need (my self-esteem was dependent on my grades) to excel, subpar teaching, and no opportunity EVER to make corrections (how realistic or effective is it to expect kids to grasp a concept perfectly, without mistakes, and then immediately move on to new material? What terrible pedagogy!) and you have the perfect circumstances for rampant cheating.
Things are different in a homeschool. We embrace mistakes as the highest form of learning. We can do that because I only have eight (usually fewer) children in my classroom. The mistakes are where the learning happens and as such they are never penalized.
My kiddos complete daily math assignments. We check them together. I explain concepts where necessary, though I usually try to answer questions with questions rather than explanations.
When my children groan about having missed a substantial number of problems, I remind them (with a lot of hugs!) that the mistakes are where the learning happens and that today is a particularly great day for learning.
When a concept needs to be repeated, no problem. When we need to slow down or speed up or take a break altogether, no problem. I don’t give grades and I don’t even give tests, except as benchmarks, because I know that my children have mastered concepts before we move on.
There is no need for cheating.
That’s not to say it hasn’t happened in my house. I noticed my daughter would retreat to the bathroom often while working on math assignments, so I investigated. I found the answer key in the vanity drawer. She’d been sneaking into the bathroom to copy down the answers from the answer key.
We talked about why cheating was only hurting her and why it was necessary to back up to where she had begun cheating in order to make sure her math foundation was strong and secure. We backed her way up to where she’d begun cheating and she repeated all of the assignments. It took the purpose out of cheating.
It’s sad to admit, but I’ve gone through that exact same scenario with each of my children. The thing is, homeschooling removes the reward for cheating in that they really aren’t getting out of work. They have to redo any work they cheated on even if you don’t discover the cheating while it’s going on, because when they miss out on valuable concepts they need, they have to go back and learn the concept.
When homeschooling this way, kids see that there really are no rewards for cheating because they only hurt themselves. Homeschooling helps kids to understand that learning is the objective in a way that gets missed in a school setting.
Enough about cheating already. Let’s talk about some of my other shortcomings, lol!
I also sluffed classes that bored me to tears and then lied about my absences. Attendance factored into our “citizenship grades” and I lied my way out of the community service I was supposed to complete in order to redeem my “citizenship grades”. It’s not very hard to lie your way out of trouble when you are pleasant, respectful kid with straight A’s.
When my children absolutely cannot stand a class and have good reasons, I don’t force them to complete it. We find a more enjoyable provider or sometimes we put the subject away and try to return to it later. No sluffing or lying required.
Homeschoolers don’t have to jump through all of the hoops of core standards and credit requirements (other than those required for college admissions in the case that they plan to attend college) of schools. Not that standards or requirements are bad, but they just aren’t right for all kids.
School rules can be arbitrary and pointless or they can appear to unfairly target particular groups or they can seem to be enforced unfairly. Those are exactly the sort of rules I railed against and felt justified in ignoring.
You can be intentional and careful about rules in your homeschool, and you really need so few rules in a homeschool setting anyway. If your children chafe against the rules, you can discuss them together and make necessary changes. No lying required.
What do Statistics Say About Homeschool Socialization?
A recent survey of 385 parents or guardians from across all Australian states and territories, who were homeschooling a total of 676 children, found that nearly 50% of children participated in at least one club activity. Around 40% attended at least one regular external class and 40% also indicated they participated in a homeschool co-op.
The majority of research participants had regular play dates and an even larger majority actively participated in their community through the arts. Most survey participants articulated perceived value in their children being taught life skills by grandparents and extended family.
Community service and church attendance/activities were also areas which factored into in a majority of participants socialization. This study and others have concluded that homeschooled children are more confident and less peer dependent than their traditionally schooled peers. Research also suggests that homeschooled children often have higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults.
How Do Homeschoolers Socialize?
Socialization will be different for every homeschool family, depending on family and community demographics, so I’ll just generalize based on my families experience. We spend fewer than three hours per day on school, and most Fridays we skip school entirely in favor of taking educational field trips (a fantastic way to build a love of learning).
Since we spend so little time on formal schooling, we have more time to participate in interesting extracurricular activities like orchestra, speech & debate classes, private music lessons, sports, and gymnastics. We also travel frequently, so my children interact with and learn from people of all ages, ethnicities and demographics.
Six of my eight kids are introverts, like me. That doesn’t mean we’re socially awkward or that we lack social skills. It means that we don’t require much social interaction and we avoid it in excess because it’s exhausting.
Homeschooling is actually much healthier for us because we don’t have to pretend to enjoy small talk in order to fit into a social hierarchy that values extroversion. My kiddos who need more social interaction are able to easily meet their needs through additional extracurricular activities and classes.
Homeschooling is all about individualizing, so it’s simple to make sure each unique need is met.
We have lots of homeschool friends who spend time practically every day socializing within our huge, wonderful homeschool community. There are are plentiful opportunities (almost too many, really) for all types of needs.
Is Homeschool Socialization Really an Issue?
My opinion is obvious. However, now that you know what a horrible, cruel and dishonest child I was, despite having convinced all of the adults in my life to the contrary, my opinion might not matter.
So let’s return to where we started.
What are you homeschool socialization goals?
Do you want your children to serve in their communities? Do you want them to be able to work alongside and value equally people of all backgrounds and stations? Do you want them to really care about people and be able to have healthy, nourishing relationships?
Do you want them to lead out and stand up for their values? Do you want them to feel valuable and capable of contributing?
After defining your goals, ask yourself, based on your own school experience, where those social skills are most likely to be learned. And then ask yourself whether you really want your child to be “normal”.
Remember that timid, awkward and completely socially dysfunctional kids populate the halls of your local public school. Those traits don’t get automatically rooted out of kids just because they attend school.
My friend and across-the-street neighbor while growing up was the epitome of socially dysfunctional. He still is — and he’s freaking brilliant and wonderful.
He drools when his giant brain is working five million miles an hour on a difficult problem, but he can actually solve problems that most people couldn’t. I think we can all embrace a little drool in exchange for the benefits of his contribution to the world. Thank goodness nobody every socialized him!
The world would be a dull place indeed if we were all normal!
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We’d all love to hear your experiences with homeschool socialization in the comments below!