Monday, January 19, 2009

What about Socialization???

The #1 misconception about home schooling is that it fails in the area of socialization. The real world offers diverse possibilities for socializing children besides just sending them to school. Am I claiming all home schoolers to be well-socialized? No. Just as I'm sure you wouldn't claim all public schoolers are well socialized either. Sadly enough, often the media quotes school officials as "experts" with genuine concern about the social inadequacies of home schooling. The problem is that they're unable to speak accurately about home school because they have little if any actual knowledge or experience in it.

Most misconceptions about home schooling, including socialization, are based on a false assumption that home schooling is, for the most part, school at home, minus the peers. In actuality, home schooling is highly individualized, and varies from family to family, but the majority of home schoolers don't use a school-like approach. Education and socialization are not separate from one another, since the whole world is a class room and children engage in many real-life activities. The typical home school day is shorter then a public school day, due to its efficiency, leaving ample time for other (social) activities. Children have plenty of time to spend with family, friends, other home schoolers, public schoolers, and the community. So let's discuss the social opportunities and benefits home schooling offers, allowing you to form a more realistic understanding of this highly misunderstood subject.

What exactly is good socialization??

Socialization is a bit of an abstract concept, with different meanings to different people. How do we determine what good socialization is, and after that, how do we instill it in our children? The simplest definition of socialization is social learning. Children can easily learn social skills in a family context, along with the many other things you're teaching them. 

You don't have to "make" your child social... he is already born that way! We naturally desire human relationships from birth. This doesn't mean that every person is outgoing though. Any parent with multiple children will share that each child is different. Some are more extraverted and outgoing, while others are more introverted, taking their time to warm up to people and thinking about what they wish to say before saying it. It's not your job to force each child into an extrovert mold. Instead, just provide them with the time and opportunities to form meaningful relationships with other people.

Good socialization is like good nutrition. Yes, you need enough of it to satisfy you, but choosing quality over quantity is key to being healthy. We'll look at some of the ways home schoolers find it easier to experience quality, meaningful relationships. In the same way you don't have to feed children a junk food diet while teaching nutritious eating habits, children don't require negative socialization experience (easily found in institutionalized schools) in order to learn positive socialization. Let's take a look at some of the differences between institutional and home school socialization... 

Is Institutional School Socialization Ideal?

In our culture, the natural tendency is to look to the school system as the "normal" standard for schooling and socialization. We judge home schoolers by comparing them to public schoolers. Yet children have been educated and socialized by means of some form of home schooling since creation. Compulsory schooling only recently came into the picture, about 200 years ago. 

Institutional Schools are an artificial learning environment and breeding ground for negative socialization. What's so artificial about school? For starters, children spend thirteen years in a removed setting with people their own age. They spend their day in a room full of people their own intelligence level, their own economic status, and largely their own race. They learn the unwritten laws that rich don't play with poor, older don't play with younger, boys don't play with girls, etc. Furthermore, in order to survive, children learn the art of teasing who ever is "lower on the chain" then they are. This unsocial behavior is not desirable or natural, but abundantly comes about in the school setting. 

With all the bullying, violence, and victimization present in schools, it doesn't make sense to elevate them as the authoritative "standard" of ideal socialization. Although we all deal with difficult personalities in our adult life, when was the last time you were actually bullied? Chances are, not since you were in school. Home schoolers aren't handicapped as a result of their parents shielding them from this negative socialization.

Schools may be the standard for producing school based socialization, but there is something so much better you can teach your children instead: family based and community based socialization. Instead of training your children for school life, you can train them for real life in the real world.

Is there a happy medium?

Have you ever noticed that typically in the school system, social success is at odds with academic success? As a child progresses in one area, it's often times at the expense of the other? Why can't he fully thrive in both? In the school system, if a child is "too" smart he may be labeled a nerd, if he's not smart enough, he's considered dumb, or a loser. In this sense, school-socialization encourages mediocrity. Through the avenue of home schooling, however, children can excel both academically and socially... at the same time. 

The irony of considering "school" as the pinnacle of socialization is that generally speaking, children (naturally social beings) don't want to be there! You can send children to public school for a long day of busywork, then bring them home with yet more homework to complete. They get over-worked and burned out, and can't wait for the summer! Summertime means lazy days for many children, who then are so bored they're ready to go back to school! What a cycle!

Home schooling can be that happy medium you're searching for. You can provide more than adequate structure and academics to keep your child challenged and thriving, while still giving them the wonderful joys and freedom of childhood. Instead of creating a vicious cycle, your family can enjoy an abundant life through home schooling.

Some students excel in the school system, but home schoolers excel as a whole. "Home schoolers' success does not in any way negate the success of the many excellent school-going students who pursue and achieve a successful education in school. The reason home schoolers achieve very highly across the board rather than just a small percentage of them doing so, as occurs in schools (this is known as a "bell curve"), is that home schooling embodies and is defined by these very factors that are known to create quality education."(1:222) 

Social Aspects of Home School vs. Institutional School

Friendships & Social Interaction

During the typical school day, students get in trouble for socializing instead of working. Other than 15 minutes of recess, they're told to be quiet. Students may pass notes or talk in class (risking getting in trouble) or talk for a minute or two between classes (risking running late). After school, homework also takes away from socializing time.

All children are in about the same social situation outside of public school hours, except that home-schoolers are less likely to have homework yet to work on. Home schoolers experience non-stressed socializing. They can enjoy long, unrushed conversations and have plenty of quality time to spend cultivating friendships. With the ever-increasing number of home schoolers, there are now even plenty of peers available during school hours for the home schooler to socialize with as well. 

In addition to forming friendships with peers, home schooled children learn to interact and enjoy people of all ages. Research indicates that relationships with adults (rather than peers) is the most important aspect of social teaching. As adults, we model the positive character traits we wish to teach to our children. Who would you rather have molding your five-year-old's behavior? Your loving family or thirty other five-year-olds? Who better to guide your 16-year-old... yourself and your spouse, or thirty other sixteen-year-olds?

Home schoolers also enjoy a variety of natural social settings, whereas public schoolers are limited to same removed setting every day. Home schoolers may spend some days in a large or small group, with one or two friends, out in the community, or with family. This is the main difference between school based socialization and family and community based socialization. The former provides a uniform group similar peers, and the latter provides diversity. If your idea of good socialization is to produce an adult able to make his way through life in the real world, interaction with a diverse group of people is pertinent. Most children who have been both public or private schooled and home schooled also comment that they have closer, more meaningful friendships while home schooling. 

Family Unity 

Home schooling provides families with plenty of quality time together, which strengthens the family unit and benefits children socially. Instead of only spending time together at the end of a long, tired, busy day, home schoolers benefit from enjoying the "good" hours of the day together.

Children with a typical schooling-lifestyle have their own separate life from the family, meaning "family time" becomes a chore and requires time away from the child's preferred friends and individual life. Home schoolers often do both simultaneously. Of course, they still spend time away from their parents too. Some parents find it easier to grant increasing freedom to their children because of their strong relationship. Parents don't have to convince their kids to spend quality time together because it is a natural part of their day. In this sense, family unity actually enables children to spend time with their friends.

Parents are more easily able to impart their values on their children through home schooling as well. Since every aspect of life becomes a learning experience, children learn what is most important to you, and why.

Children need meaningful relationships. If you are unavailable (spending a significant portion of your day apart), and your child's school teacher is unavailable (busy teaching 20-30 other children), is it really such a shock that years later your child will be totally peer dependent and unable to identify with his family? Children begin to value their peers' opinions more then adults', because that's who they have a stronger relationship with... this is a natural outcome of public schooling. 

Handling Adversity

One commonly expressed concern is that home schoolers won't learn to deal with bullies. Ironically enough, parents of school children generally hope that their children don't encounter bullies... so it's a bit of a paradox.

Schools provide a perfect environment for bullying and victimization. School experts now recognize that bullying doesn't produce positive socialization, so it's not the "necessary evil" some once considered it to be. In fact, it's grown into a serious danger, with an ever increasing amount of violence. Victims suffer physically, academically and socially, often missing school in an effort to avoid it. 

Do children really learn how to handle bullies? Most who encounter them simply try to tolerate it, and those who can't are sometimes distressed to the point of hurting themselves or others. "Home schooling and socialization allows parents to shield their children from negative encounters until they have developed the self-confidence and maturity to handle them."Source  Sometimes bullying may still occur in home schooling communities, though it's likely to be to a lesser degree. 

In any case, life is full of it's own circumstances of adversity. Whether parents are nearby or not, home schoolers may easily seek their guidance, learning to positively cope with the difficulty when it comes their way. Home schooled children also learn a great deal by watching how their parents deal with various situations. Since home schoolers are in a misunderstood minority, they receive practical lessons in coping with and standing up to false assumptions and rude comments of others. They and their parents proudly defend the lifestyle they believe in, reinforcing the child's ability to deal with life challenges. Parents model skills for children to learn from, for their own current or future use. Home schoolers are also much less likely to bully others. Why? Possibly the increased parental guidance and attention. Bullies tend to come from overly-permissive homes where parents are inconsistent or less involved. In reading interviews of parents and children who have been both home schooled and public schooled, I notice that they all seem to reach the conclusion that home schooling attracts a "nicer" crowd overall. They comment that their home school friends are kinder, and don't seem to pressure or judge like their public schooled friends. What about being "cool?" Usually, trendsetters are the ones considered "cool." Home schoolers are setting their own trend, which means they'll be less likely to blindly follow the crowds as adults.

Missing Out 

Home schoolers enjoy the opportunity of just "being kids." Though our society tends to view school as part of childhood itself, it actually takes away some of the joyful aspects of childhood. Children must wake up early, sit still, be quiet, and complete considerable amounts of work at a young age. Creativity is minimized; uniformity is pursued. Through the avenue of home schooling, it's another story. Many children love that they don't have to wake up early! Their school day is a time of exploration, discovery, creativity, and fun. They have plenty of time for individual interests and playing with their friends. One home schooling father commented: "The things that home schoolers miss out on (for example football games, passing notes in class, riding the bus) are so insignificant compared to the things that school kids miss out on-- time with their parents, the chance to love learning, fresh air and sunshine, a free childhood."(1:124)

Socializing with Adults

Children benefit greatly from meaningful interaction and relationships with adults. Teachers walk a fine line, and are limited in developing significant, one-on-one relationships with their students. They must maintain standardized behavior, and unfortunately adhere to school policies which don't always have the student's best interest at heart. Many people notice that home school children seem to communicate better with adults then public-schoolers. Perhaps this is from time spent in the community with diverse groups of people. Children benefit from an increased vocabulary (and reading level), and the possibility to gain wisdom and social-know-how through this adult interaction.


Both parents and teenagers agree that home schooling provides an atmosphere of less peer pressure, enabling the teen to develop a strong sense of self. The teens are more confident and independent. Many teens who switch from institutional schooling to home schooling feel that they now have the freedom to think! They also aren't labeled and put into groups. Fewer teens home school then younger-aged children. Some choose to stay with home schooling, while others enter high-school for more time with similar-aged peers. When today's teens were in Kindergarten, home schooling wasn't nearly as widely practiced as it is now. With the rate of home schooling growth, by the time today's Kindergartners reach their teenage years, there will likely be an abundance teenage home schoolers. From the interviews I've read of home schoolers and their parents, teens who do decide to try high-school, and those home schooled until college seem to have an overall positive, smooth transition into the public school arena. One of my best friends in high-school was a girl who was home schooled up until 8th grade, and she didn't have any problems settling in and making friends either.

Ready for the Real World

Will home schooled children be able to function in society? They already are! While their peers are at school, these children are observing and interacting with other children and adults in the working world. They are as involved in "extracurriculars" as private school students and more so than public school students. Many even own their own business or help in a family business... what better preparation for the job market is there than that?" Academically speaking, it is often observed that once you graduate, you never again use most of what you learned in school. The same is observed socially: that once you are grown up, it doesn't matter whether you were popular in school, the captain of the football team, the nerd, the kid with the cool shoes, or the geek with the hand-me-downs. In the real world, it is often the computer nerds of yesterday who are the successful entrepreneurs of today. The head cheerleader may turn out to be a beauty queen, a rocket scientist, or a junkie. The unnoticed child may become an entrepreneur, a teacher, a criminal, or anything else. It is probably the child's family life, mostly that determines this. School socialization, ultimately, is really mostly just training for a school environment. Family and community-based socialization, on the other hand, is preparation for family and community living (in other words, for real life)."(1:178)

Parents' Social Life

Generally, in order for parents of private/public schoolers to socialize with their friends, they are taking away from their already limited time with their children. Parents and children run in their own circles, and each do so in exclusion of the other. Home schooling families, on the other hand, are often able to do both at once, since they are largely in the same circle to begin with. When parents want to go out alone or with other adults, they can do so without cutting family time short since they already enjoy quality and quantity time together. Some home school groups have a Mom's Group (or may start one if you suggest it) who gets together for a girl's night. They may also "trade off" kids for periods of time or babysitting, have play dates, or teach through co-ops. Both children and parents can enjoy fulfilling social lives.


The main work cited in this article was The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, by Rachel Gathercole. Most of the thoughts on this page were stimulated by reading this book, and I very highly recommend it.

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