Where did the idea come from that homeschooled kids are socially incapable misfits who can’t play with other children or properly interact in society? It’s a sad stereotype, and one that is blatantly false. Yet the stereotype lives. “But…. What about socialization?” a well-meaning neighbor asks, a look of concern and pity on her face. “Aren’t you worried that your child won’t know how to… fit in?”
Let’s take a look at this word: socialization. According to Dictionary.com, socialization is “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” Let’s examine this closely. Someone who is socialized is on a journey of self-discovery, learning about what is and is not acceptable behavior and what is expected out of them. Socialization is everything we teach our children from the moment they are born: how to share, when to say please and thank you, not to push and bite, how to wait in line patiently, etc. Socialization occurs every time we’re at the playground and we teach our children how to share space and play equipment with other kids, how to speak kindly with others, and how to be considerate even when others are not. Socialization occurs when we’re at the grocery store and teach our children not to run through the aisles, throw produce, push past people, or yell and shriek. Socialization occurs when we take our children to the library and teach them to sit quietly during story time, to treat books with care, and to be quiet and considerate. In other words, socialization occurs every second of every day.
Another common definition of socialization is “visiting and hanging out with friends.” I don’t know where the idea came from that socialization can only occur within the confines of a schoolroom. Yes, socialization does occur there, but it is limited. I want my children to laugh, talk, and make friends. Yet, this didn’t really happen in public school. In fact, Alex was in trouble nearly every day for talking! There’s not that much time apart from recess where kids can freely talk and visit. Even during lunch, Alex was frequently told to stop talking (she’s a big talker, I have to admit) and eat. It’s not like she had much time to visit. She did work with other kids on projects, but purely social time was rare.
Homeschooled children socialize every single day. They play with children at the playground. They have friends over and go to their houses as well. They play and talk with children at classes and museums. They have many friends at their homeschool groups and co-ops, where they not only get to work on projects with others but also have time to forge lasting friendships. They have friends in their neighborhoods and friends in their clubs. There’s no shortage of kids to interact with. Alex in particular has developed much closer relationships with children outside of public school than she ever did in school! A bonus is that, as parents, we get to know her friends and her friends’ families. I think this will be particularly helpful when Alex is a middle-schooler and a teen. I want to know a bit about her friends. I want to know what influences are affecting my daughter. I will never try to control her group of friends, but I do want to be more than on oblivious bystander. In this world of drugs, alcohol, and vice, wouldn’t you?
We have a large family, so my kids always have each other to hang out with too. We have lessons on acceptance, team-work, and consideration every single day. There aren’t too many “alone moments” in our house! My kids have awesome relationships with each other. When we started homeschooling in the early summer, I noticed that the kids really started getting along better. They learned to work together better and accept each other’s differences a whole lot more than they did before. Whereas they “tolerated” each other before, they’re now great friends. The kids also socialize every time we leave the house. They socialize with people in the real world daily, at the grocery store, the bank, the mall, the farmer’s market. They learn to politely interact with people of all ages. They learn how the world around them works and what their place in the world might be. Isn’t that what socialization is all about?
Back to that definition, a socialized person develops a personal identity. I think homeschooled children truly have an advantage here. When figuring out who they are, a homeschooled child is free to truly be themselves and follow their passions. They don’t have to dress in a particular way or try to impress the cool kids. Girls don’t have to choose between being pretty and being smart. My daughter is really into math and science now and I dread the day someone makes fun of her for this. I avoided those topics in school because I wanted to part of the in-crowd. I regret that now. Even though I was at the top of my class, I acted “dumb” and “blonde” to be cool. I do not want that for my girls! I don’t want them to be bullied or made fun of for their passions and beliefs. Sure, this could still happen, but it’s much less likely. Bullying is a huge problem in American schools. Turn on the news and it’s likely you’ll hear about a case of bullying that led to a suicide. Tragedies like this happen much too frequently. Even when it’s not that extreme, bullying does severe damage to a child’s growing sense of self. That is not the type of socialization I want for my kids.
I have met more than one homeschooled child who was introverted or who was socially inept. But do you know what? I’ve met more than one public-schooled child who fits those same descriptions. Some people are naturally introverted and/or awkward! That’s life. I do not see droves of children coming out of public schools with impeccable manners either, able to politely interact with people of all ages. Neither public schooling nor homeschooling are the definitive answer to creating well-socialized and respectable citizens. What it comes down to is this: parents. Good socialization depends on good parents (or guardians). Parents who are involved in their child’s life and development and teach them what it means to be a considerate, involved, and moral citizens will likely end up with a great kid regardless of their schooling choices. Parents who are uninvolved in their child’s life may not have such good results. Children who end up as criminals, drug addicts, gang members, or alcoholics were “socialized” too, you know. I don’t care if you homeschool, unschool, public school, or choose private schooling: Parental involvement is everything. What type of socialization is your child getting? What outside influences have affected him or her today? Do you know?
What are you doing in your life right now to socialize your child? How are you helping him or her develop their unique sense of self and become an educated, caring, and capable citizen of tomorrow?
One of the best books I’ve read on this topic is The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling by Rachel Gathercole. This book is packed with great examples and statistics and refutes all of the most common misconceptions regarding homeschooled children and socialization. Whether you have questions about socialization or have family members who do, this is an awesome read. You can find it at your local library like I did, or check it out at amazon.com ( http://www.amazon.com/Well-Adjusted-Child-Social-Benefits-Homeschooling/dp/1600651070/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b).