When people talk to me about homeschool, the question that almost everyone asks is, what about socialization? If you are reading this because you are thinking about homeschool, I’ll be honest with you – the socialization thing is a challenge. It’s a challenge in a good way, though. I’ll explain more what I mean by that in a bit. You can rest assured that there are plenty of ways that homeschool children can engage with the world and develop socially. Public school is not the only environment, and not even necessarily the best environment, in which children can develop social competence. Family, church, and life in general provide lots of opportunities for social development. As for homeschool-specific social venues, those have been abundant in the two states and three cities in which we have homeschooled. There have been play groups, hiking groups, field trip groups, classes, sports, co-ops, book clubs, and the list goes on. I have also started many a homeschool group myself, and I have always received a lot of participation from the homeschool community. The challenge for us has been trying to narrow down the possibilities rather than finding enough of them.
But the really difficult thing, at least for me, has been that as a homeschooling mom of five children, I’m juggling a lot of things. Finding social opportunities and experiences for five different kids takes a lot of time and work. It is a commitment. It can be done, absolutely, but it is really important to consider whether you are willing to put time and effort into it. A child’s social development has to be nurtured, just like his or her intellectual development. Now, if you have a lot of children in your neighborhood, or your children already have lots of friends from church or whatnot, you are probably going to have an easier time finding opportunities for your children to practice their social skills and develop relationships. If your kids are outgoing and have an easy time connecting with others and making friends, that also makes it easier. I have a couple of kids like that, and I don’t worry about them too much because they make friends with whomever they are with. I also have a couple of kids who are picky about who they like to spend time with. Really picky. They are harder when it comes to being social because we have to spend a lot of time meeting people before they really connect. I don’t want to discourage you by saying any of this – it IS doable. But I want to be realistic and communicate to you that it does require work.
Now, here is the great thing. As a homeschool parent, you have the chance to be really intentional about how your child learns to socialize with others. Because I get to observe a lot of my children’s interactions with other children, I can see their strengths and weaknesses, and I can do a lot of coaching and teaching tailored to their needs. I can guide my children through tricky situations and help them develop actual skills for problem solving, communication, and diffusing a situation when emotions are high. I teach them about being social. When left to their own devices, such as unsupervised on the playground, children learn socially through trial and error, and through feedback from their peers. Sometimes what they learn is good. Often, it is not. Now, I want to be clear. I’m not following my children around when they are spending time with friends. I’m not hovering over them, constantly listening in on their conversations (although I will check in now and again). But I am being observant and watchful, so I can understand what their needs are.
Another advantage that you have in homeschool is that you can teach your child how to interact with all kinds of different people, not just their peers. Spend time with people who are older, younger, and who have different belief systems and live different lifestyles than your family does. Your children will be better for it.
I get to guide my children’s social development according to the values that I want to instill. I want my children to learn deep compassion for others, so we spend time serving together and learning about the hardships that some people face. I want them to look to God for their sense of self-worth, not their peers, so I teach them about God’s love for them, and I teach them to answer to Him above any person.
It is true that you can do these things even if you do not homeschool, and I know many parents who do it wonderfully. I hope all parents are intentionally investing in their children’s social development. As a homeschool parent you have the advantage of time – more time with your children to teach them the social values that are important to you, more time to invest in your relationship with your child. To me, that makes the challenge of homeschool socialization into a wonderful asset, one that I am willing to work for.