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One of the most common questions new homeschooling families are asked is, “What about socialization?”
Often uttered by well-meaning friends and family members, these three words are received with disdain by veteran homeschool parents who know just how well their homeschooled children are socialized.
But parents new to home education may worry that their child will become weird and unsocialized if they choose this homeschooling path. For families struggling with the topic of homeschooling and socialization, rest assured, the kids will be ok.
The Progression of Homeschooling in America
Prior to the 1850s, when compulsory education got its start in Massachusetts, children in the United States were educated at home, if at all. Before that, child labor was essential to the growth of the United States economy. Later, more skilled workers were needed which left many young children unattended during the day.
According to the Foundational Perspectives of Education, released by Oregon State University, “In the highly industrialized eastern portion of the United States, this rising unemployment led to large numbers of children with little or nothing to do other than roam the streets and, by implication, cause trouble. Lawmakers turned to the schools to take care of this problem and subsequently developed a curriculum that would promote the development of moral values and training for jobs.”
It wasn’t long before the majority of American children attended school for some portion of their childhood.
A Case for Home Education
However, in the 1970s progressive educator, John Holt, decried the oppressiveness of the public school system and advanced the notion of school reform. Holt urged parents to educate their children at home, and even called for parents to “unschool” their children. He wanted children to be themselves and to be excited about learning.
According to Holt, “We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
Due in part to Holt’s call for parents to free their children from a system he felt was oppressive, the homeschool movement exploded in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. But it wasn’t all just hippy, free-thinking parents. A large number of fundamentalist Christian families also began homeschooling during this time, largely for religious reasons and to avoid placing their children into schools they felt contradicted their values.
Today, parents of every faith, culture, and background homeschool their children. In just the last few years, homeschooling has increased by anywhere from 2-8% per year. This rate seems to have accelerated during the global pandemic when large numbers of children were forced to learn at home. Parents unhappy with distance learning or new regulations for in-person learning pulled their children out of traditional schools and began homeschooling for the first time.
Is There a Lack of Socialization in Homeschooling?
True socialization occurs out in the world, through encounters with people of different backgrounds. Socialization in a homeschooling setting looks vastly different than socialization in a public school. A homeschooled 9-year-old child may find themselves talking to the elderly woman at the grocery store in the morning and then switching gears thirty minutes later at the playground, interacting with a 2-year-old and a 14-year-old.
Plus, veteran homeschooling families often joke that they’re never at home. There are countless field trips, co-ops, museums, libraries, and educational activities to attend. Many say they actually have to schedule in time to sit down and get bookwork done. There’s always something going on in the homeschooling community. So, no, there certainly is no lack of socialization in homeschooling.
Socializing with a variety of people of varying ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds is the norm for a homeschooling family. Their counterparts in public school likely spend most days in a classroom with twenty other children their own age from the same neighborhood. There’s very little diversity or inclusion happening in that regard. Being out in the world as a homeschooled child means encountering the world as a homeschooled child. That is true socialization.
A number of homeschool socialization studies have been done to further illustrate this point. “Homeschool students are regularly engaged in social and educational activities outside their homes and with people other than their nuclear-family members. They are commonly involved in activities such as field trips, scouting, 4-H, political drives, church ministry, sports teams, and community volunteer work,” according to research performed by educator and homeschooling advocate Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute.
How to Socialize a Homeschooler
Let’s first do away with the notion that ‘socializing’ is a thing we must ‘do’ to our kids. Simply living in the world, experiencing life, and moving about in society is enough. We never hear people question the parents of a public schooled child on the topic of socialization. Why is that? Often, it’s assumed that being in a classroom full of students their own age is enough. But is that true socialization?
If you’re considering homeschooling your child and worry about socialization, consider what that word truly means. If you can provide an environment where learning can happen and you’re able to expose your child to a variety of people, viewpoints, and ideas, you’re on the right path. Even if you live in a remote area of the country, the internet brings people, ideas, and other cultures right to your home. You don’t need to travel the world, you just need the inclination and the ability to make an effort. That’s it.
So, Are Homeschoolers Weird and Unsocialized?
Thinking back to our own experiences in public school, it’s easy to remember the popular kids. Everyone knew their names, they had all the right clothes, and they went to all the right parties. It takes a bit of time, though, to recall the rest of the kids; the ones who were just a little bit different. There was always that subset of students who were just doing their own thing. They may have had interests that the rest of the students deemed weird.
As adults, when we look back on those students – or when we realize we were one of those students – we start to think differently about them. After a lifetime of experiences, we come to realize that those kids standing on the sidelines were probably the ones most true to themselves. It’s quite likely that the popular kids were just following the crowd, whereas the “weird” kids were authentic.
Henry David Thoreau eloquently stated, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
We’re All a Little Weird
Children who have been homeschooled their entire lives have likely not been exposed to some of the same cliques as their public school peers. Homeschooled children attend co-ops and field trips with like-minded children. These groups are often filled with children who are quite adept at being their true, authentic selves. They don’t know what it’s like to move through public school spaces where anything outside the ‘norm’ is challenged.
More accurately, however, is that some kids will always be “weird” and “unsocialized” no matter what kind of schooling they experience. Personality plays into the “weird” factor. A reserved and introverted child in public school is no different than a quiet homeschooled child. A public school child who expresses themselves through their unique clothing style is exhibiting a sense of individuality. A homeschooled child who has taken an interest in making their own clothes is doing the exact same thing.
When we begin to recognize that all children are individuals with varying needs, interests, and preferences, we realize that no, homeschoolers are not weird and unsocialized. Lack of socialization is not the problem. The problem is our perception of how a child should act, what they should be interested in, and how outgoing and personable they are – all things which, when it comes down to it, are truly unfair ways to access a child’s worth.