Laura is a freelance writer living in Florida. She has a master's degree in English.
The Dreaded Socialization Question
In a previous article, I talked about some basic truths of homeschooling. Many who choose other educational paths may not realize what a typical homeschooler does or even how they do it. I also touched on the fact that many homeschoolers hear the "socialization" question to the point of nausea.
While I have tried to clear up some of the basic misconceptions of homeschooling or even what is typical, the socialization question deserves a deeper look.
What Does Socialization Mean?
First of all, many people who ask this question don't seem to understand what the actual word really means.
In this case, socialization involves teaching another human how to act within their community and culture. They learn to interact with others, the customs and the mores.
So learning how to interact in the community and culture may develop some at school but the greater lessons are outside of that building. It's interacting at public events and at the grocery store and the bank. It's learning about negotiating your community and the world.
If you think about it, school is about 13 years of a person't life. If the average person lives to be 75, that's 62 years spent interacting in situations that are outside of that school and school culture. (Plus after hours from school and weekends)
Very rarely after those 13 years will you be placed into groups of 20-30 people your same age, asked to sit at a desk for several hours and fill in worksheets or bubble in answers and speak only when spoken to or allowed to.
In that context, which socialization skills are more important?
This is not even meant to negatively reflect a regular classroom experience. It only points out the obvious: true socialization happens when we interact with the environment around us, not in an artificially constructed one.
Do You Actually Mean Socializing?
What I find is that often, the questioner really means, "what about socializing." I think they picture homeschoolers as people who huddle up at home behind pulled blinds, poring over their books for hours a day and hiding from the world.
But the truth for the vast majority of homeschoolers is that this scenario is pretty far from the truth. Most homeschoolers spend at least several days a week outside of the home, interacting with not only other homeschoolers but with the world around them.
If a parent is at home with them, the kids often go with them on those daily errands like to the bank or to the store. The kids learn to interact with others. They learn how our culture works and that a household just doesn't mysteriously function. There are tasks that must be done for it to run effectively.
But more than that, they participate in activities with other homeschooling families. They have park days. They attend co-op classes and go on field trips. They also participate in extra curricular activities that the public school offers (where laws allow).
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Interestingly, I had a public school teacher anonymously comment on one of my other articles that it really bothered him/her that homeschoolers participated in public school extra curricular activities and that it seems like a double standard.
That was a new one for me. So many people seem to worry that homeschooling kids are not getting enough socialization or that they can't deal with public schooled peers their own age. But then when they do they are criticized for that as well. That's the only double standard I see.
The truth is that it doesn't have to be an "us vs. them" situation and that the community as a whole benefits when we are accepting and interact and support.
For Many, the "Home" Is Only a Starting Point.
For many homeschooling families that I know, "home" is a misnomer. While some may do lessons at home, just as many seek outside classes and activities on their quest to lead a fuller, more well-rounded existence and to be exposed to the world.
And this is socialization at its finest.
Because when you are out and about and you are talking to people and having experiences, you are learning. And you are learning in a rich setting and in a way that engages all your senses. And educational experts agree that learning this way, in a way that is relevant at the moment, offers deeper understanding.
As educator John Holt noted: "“We learn to do something by doing it."
What About Those That Never Go Out?
Inevitably there will be that person that has a story. They knew a person who knew a person who claimed they were homeschooling but really they just locked their kids in the house all day while they went to get their nails done.
Or they knew the family whose kids so rarely went out they didn't even know how to function.
Or the kids that were abused, neglected...and the list goes on. And further, these storytellers think that because of these cases, all homeschooling should be more regulated or even cease to be an option.
But there are many reasons this is a crazy over-reaction.
For one, each of these cases have something in common. They involved, at the very least, bad parenting and at the worst neglect. Anyone can call something what they want. But just because they say that it was homeschooling does not mean that it actually was.
It's so easy to pick on the few exceptions---the families that make the news cycles.
And why do they make the news cycles? It's because they stick out. Because what they are doing is extreme or even wrong. It's not the norm for anyone including homeschooling families.
And that's the point. I'm not talking about them. Those cases need to be dealt with, I agree. But not at the expense of every other homeschooling family. It's ridiculous to lump an entire group of any type into one category because of the actions of a few.
It's almost like saying that because some people hoard and neglect pets, that no one should have pets. When in reality we know that the majority of homes love and care for the pets.
It's the same with homeschoolers. Treat the anecdotes as just that. Then open your mind. Read, learn and talk to other homeschoolers and get to know how they live and what they do.
You won't be sorry.
Some Homeschool Kids Are Weird
So once all the other socialization questions have been answered, there is always the person that says that based on their experience, homeschooled kids are weird.
First of all, weird is relative. I was weird too and I went through 13 years of public school. I was a nerd and a bookworm and an introvert which didn't really mesh well with my more socially inclined peers.
But then I wonder what they mean by weird. For some they mean that the social interactions with homeschoolers can be different. And I've found that too, but not in a negative way. What I have found, consistently, and with every type of homeschooler, is that the homeschoolers don't really see age. A ten year old is just as likely to carry on a meaningful conversation with an adult as she might be with a 15 year old peer. Because many of them have never been grouped by age, they make friends and connections based on common interests, which is much more natural than the way the public school system does it.
The other question about "weird" homeschool kids may lead back to the reasons that some families find homeschooling to be the best option for their kids.
We can't turn on the news today without hearing about the problems of bullying. And who do bullies pick on? People that are different.
If they are nerdy or their hair sticks up or they are a guy that likes to dance or a girl that is rough and tumble, they are often picked on relentlessly. And any psychologist will tell you that the effects of that bullying can have life-long consequences. So some parents may realize that this environment is causing more harm than good for their child and choose to remove them from the situation.
Other parents homeschool because their child has different needs or different ways of communicating that they can't help. Some have sensory processing issues or have been identified as being on the spectrum for autism.
These kids often just don't learn or interact they way that their peers do. And it's nothing that they can help and it's nothing that the homeschooling environment has created.
What I have noticed is that among homeschooling peers, these social "oddballs" tend to fare better. I don't necessarily think that's because public school kids are mean and homeschool kids are nice. But very often there are parents there that can help diffuse situations, have deep conversations about differences and can encourage acceptance.
So maybe homeschool kids are odd. And maybe they are not. I guarantee though that you've interacted with a homeschooled kid at some point in your life and had no idea that they are or were homeschooled.
The end point is: weird is relative. They likely aren't weird because they homeschool. They likely are just more able to be who they are without fear of bullying and isolation. And that's okay.
Homeschooling is becoming more and more acceptable as one of many educational choices for our children. And because there are so many homeschooled students, there are plenty of opportunities for socialization and socializing.
The myth of the sequestered homeschool student is just that, a myth. While there are extreme cases and anecdotes, the majority of us are out and about, making friends and having experiences.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 L C David
Have you gotten the socialization question? Share your story!
Asher Dan Gueco on April 22, 2015:
This is Interesting! Since I am a home schooled myself!
Thanks for this blog.
twoseven from Madison, Wisconsin on January 26, 2015:
This is fantastic!! What a great take on a tired old question. But you do it in a way that is understandable and actually engages with the question, despite its foolishness.
I was homeschooled from second through sixth grade, and that is always the comment I get now as an adult when I tell someone I was homeschooled - "but you're so well socialized." I tell them many of the same things you put in this article. We were out in the world all the time at classes through parks & rec or homeschooling groups, or learning to do adult things with our parents and babysitters (who were my mom's college students). I learned so much from those years, and when I did go to school I was eager to learn, unlike so many of my peers who had unfortunately had much of the joy of learning sapped out of them from far too many standardized tests and sitting behind desks.
Thank you for this valuable article!
MacAllister Bishop from Bonne Terre, MO on January 26, 2015:
Great article! I have a woman I work with that insists my kids won't be socialized well because I homeschool. No matter what I say she's never convinced.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on January 26, 2015:
After reading this I was curious whether studies of the home-schooled bear out the conclusion that their socialization is not diminished relative to others. I only checked out a few, but saw none that claimed any verifiable evidence that home schooling negatively affect social skills. In fact, I saw a PBS (public broadcasting) report that cites a study conducted in 2000 "in which counselors watched videotapes of homeschooled and schooled children playing. The counselors, who did not know which children were from each category, noted that the homeschool students demonstrated fewer behavioral problems than their peers."
L C David (author) from Florida on January 26, 2015:
Thanks for stopping by bravewarrior. Hopefully those that regularly ask these kinds of questions will read this carefully. They may be surprised that it in no way has anything negative to say about public schooled children. It only points out that for all kids, socialization actually doesn't really happen at school.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 26, 2015:
This is a great article, LCD. I know several children who are or were home schooled. In fact, not far from my home is a supplies store for home schoolers, so it is becoming a preferred method of educating our children.
You make great points about socialization and how and when it occurs. Hopefully, this article will set the skeptics straight.