Socializing the Homeschooler

Homeschooling in New York City may seem like a rarity but it has become quite the movement. Even I, a native New Yorker, originally thought of homeschooling as something done in more rural areas. Instead, many New York families have chosen to pull their children from public school and use the vast wonders of the city as their classroom. There are museums, science labs, historical sites, various cultures and cuisines. So much, that years worth of curriculum could be covered without traveling beyond a few subway stops.

“Great. But what about socialization?”

That question is the first in everyone’s mind when I mention homeschooling my teen. It’s a logical concern and, before we started the process, we wondered about it ourselves.

Recently, I was speaking with some new friends about homeschooling when the issue came up. I answered, saying how there truly isn’t much socialization in school during school time. The comment was met with amusement and I found myself confused. Then I realized that, of course, there is interaction in school, but is it really socialization?

Socialization according to Answers.com is “(psychology) The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.

Hmm. “Learning to get along… though imitation as well as group pressure.” Not sure I like that definition.

Let’s try another… from the FreeDictionary.com: (Psychology) Psychol the modification from infancy of an individual’s behaviour to conform with the demands of social life

“conform”. Well. I’m not sure how I feel about that either.

One more… from Meriam-Webster.com: the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status.

Ah. Now that works for me. “Acquiring… through accumulated knowledge of society through education and training.”

No “imitation”, no “group pressure” and no “conforming”.

For many homeschoolers the difference between the first two definitions of socialization and the final one is monumental and is, indeed, the difference between socialization through public school versus socialization through homeschooling.

Most often, children in school interact with children their own age. Occasionally, there is interaction between grades but it is usually limited. They pick up on each other’s habits – both good and bad – fashion trends and attitudes. Homeschooled children regularly interact with children of all ages as well as with adults. During spontaneous and/or organized activities, the older kids in the group will look out for the younger kids, engage them and play with them. Not all the time, of course. Just enough to give the young ones a sense of comfort and security and the older ones a sense of responsibility, belonging… and independence. The kids often hold conversations with adults as well – parents of other homeschoolers, or, as in the case of my daughter, customers in our family photography business.

The socialization aspect of a homeschooler in this new millennium is a wondrous thing. Here in the city, there are thousands of homeschoolers and many belong to local homeschool groups. Curriculum is recommended and shared. Activities are organized and varied. Interaction with others is part of life and learning.

Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some children might find it restrictive and suffocating, while others might find it exhilarating and liberating.

For my family, the words “exhilarating” and “liberating” hardly begin to describe the wonder that the process of homeschooling has brought to our lives.

I’m curious. What are some of your first thoughts when you hear a family is homeshooling? Or… if you’re a homeschooler, what are some of the reactions/responses you’ve received from people when you discuss homeschooling?

20 Responses to Socializing the Homeschooler

  • When I first learned about homeschooling I thought it sounded brave and wonderful, but assumed I could never do it. My first foray into the world of homeschooling was when my second son was a kindergartener and since kindergarten is still optional (legally at least) I felt safe enough to “experiment”. After several years of homeschooling I can now admit that I find the “socialization” of homeschooling to be superior to that of public school. I don’t wish to make anyone uncomfortable or put anyone down; its just my experience. Yes, there are days that are quiet when my son and I wish we could have more social experiences, but I like who I see when I look at my son. He is kind and thoughtful. He doesn’t put other kids down because of their clothes or lack of “gym class” abilities. When his public schooled friend told him that kids his age (10) were “going out and going steady” he thought it was silly. “Why would you only be able to talk to one girl when there are so many to be friends with? Kids our age don’t need that!” ITs a big commitment and a challenging road for a parent, but I believe my son is who he is largely because of that choice.

    • Janice, what beautiful sentiments. I agree that this is a personal experience and simply not right for everyone. When it does ‘work’, though, it’s amazing.

      Isn’t it funny – and a little frightening – how young children are now when they start going out/dating? I had to be 16 and, even then, I was under very close watch.

      I absolutely love your son’s response to the idea of going steady at his age. A wise young man, indeed.

  • I loved this post. My children, 12 and 17, go to public school and have the peer pressure thing going on and the “clicks” and the “who doesn’t like who” and all the usual stuff I met with as a young person. They aren’t going to be home schooled but I wonder what they would be like if they had? I’d thought about it at one time but the only reason I didn’t was because I thought the socialization part would be missing and didn’t know how I’d fill it. After reading your blog, I see that perhaps I shouldn’t have been so concerned. My son, the 17-year-old, doesn’t interact with adults very well. He becomes shy and introverted, though polite and kind. I wonder how he would be if he weren’t surrounded 1000% of the time by his peers…..

    • Patricia, when I’d first looked into homeschooling, my daughter hadn’t yet started pre-K. There were very few local homeschool groups we could join, so there would have been limited social interaction for her. However, by the time she was in sixth grade – which is when we started homeschooling – the number of local homeschoolers and homeschool groups had multiplied more times than I could count. She might not have thrived had I started earlier.

      All that to say, we make choices based on the information we have at a given moment and I fully understand your reason for choosing against this.

      About your son seeming shy and introverted with adults… most of us had a proper public school education and were awkward with adults, too. Yet, we’ve all (most… lol) grown and matured into social creatures able to interact with a variety of people. Don’t worry. You say he’s kind and polite. That’s half the battle. The rest will come with time. 🙂

  • When it works, it’s wonderful. Nothing but positive results. Sadly, I’ve seen a couple where the parents used it as a way to influence their kids to adopt their belief of how life should be. Horrible adults now, with no direction, and still clinging to mommy’s apron strings. With all the negative aspects of public schooling and the physical danger, not to mention emotional trauma the kids are subjected to, especially with the internet playing such a large part, I think homeschooling would have a more positive outcome. My brother lives in New York City,too, and they are looking into this very thing. Unfortunately, the education system in our country has been sorely neglected. I’m glad my children are grown, but I worry for my grandchildren, now. Thanks for the eye-opener. Great blog.

    • That’s an excellent point, Joelene. When parents use homeschooling as a way to shutter their children from the outside world, it can be damaging for the children who, when they grow up, will have to engage with that outside – and now foreign – world. Fortunately, homeschooling has become much more mainstream and the majority of homeschooling families are not looking to shelter their children, but hoping to enrich their lives with real-life, day to day experiences they simply cannot have through public or private education. There will always be those who take advantage no matter the situation, but, generally speaking, tho oddities are, fortunately, few.

      I’ll have to do a post of some of the experiences and activities we’ve had during the past few years we’ve homeschooled. I think people would be amazed at the varied and busy schedules of these kids. My daughter’s social life is way more active than mine! lol

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective of homeschooling. As a public school teacher for my day-job, I believe that parents are their children’s first teachers. If they choose to homeschool, that’s their perogative.

    Children can be mean to each other, whether in school or out, and it’s the adults in charge who can make the difference. My daughter graduated from public school, and overall it was a good experience. She put in a lot of effort and it paid off academically. Sometimes there would be cliques and peer pressure, but she had a strong foundation and connection with us at home so she was able to handle it. I’m of the belief, “What is right isn’t always popular, and what is popular isn’t always right.”

    In my opinion, she is better able to deal with all types of personalities as a result of her public school experiences. (That’s not to say she wouldn’t have these skills if we had homeschooled her. Who knows?)

    My son, on the other hand, has special needs. We’ve had a few moments where–despite the school district’s best intentions–we’ve thought our only option in the future may be to educate him at home. It may happen yet. So far, we’ve been able to advocate for his educational needs and generally he’s had incredible teachers and good socialization with peers.

    Interesting topic. Thanks for the great post! 🙂

    • Too true, Jolyse. Parental involvement often determines the outcome for the child. In a homeschooling environment, the children experience the range of personalities and attitudes of people and do have the opportunity to respond to and absorb what they’ve learned. But parents are mostly there, able to explain, guide or even sit back and observe, letting their children grow and learn on their own. The misunderstanding, however, is that homeschoolers do none of this, that they are isolated and unable to interact with others in a healthy way because they’re starved for socialization. Meanwhile, the majority of these kids are comfortable conversing with all ages and types of people.

  • Debbie, I didn’t have the patience to homeschool. And when I first heard about it, it was from a strict religious family who lived around the corner from us – they were “protecting” their children from the “horrors” of the public grade school. Seriously?

    That was years ago of course. And no, I don’t remember what religion they were. I’ve learned a lot about homeschooling since then. If I could do it over, would I? I don’t know. I’d have to be a lot more disciplined in MY life to ever impose that kind of disciplined learning on someone else, I’m afraid.

    Great topic!

    • Ah, yes. When I met with my local homeschool group for the first time, I had no idea what to expect and feared what you described. The group I joined is secular, though, so while issues of religion do come up, the main reason for homeschooling is lifestyle – maybe they travel or parents work weekends and can’t spend time with their kids if they’re in school – or learning method. It gives the kids the opportunity to learn at their own pace and in their own style, while hopefully drawing on their natural curiosity.

      My daughter was in public school until the start of sixth grade and has friends from school, from the neighborhood and from our homeschool group. Unfortunately, people like those you described have become the stereotypical homeschooler.

      Homeschooling is definitely not for everyone. I’m so happy we did this and have stuck with it. It was difficult finding our footing at first but we’d made a commitment and found a way to make it work. Not everyone can. We just got lucky. 🙂

  • Let me preface what I’m about to say with the words I have no children.

    I liked how you talked about the definition of socialization, Debbie, and questioned it.

    I went to public school. The school was just big enough for a lot of stuff to happen out of the teachers’ sight. It was, however, also small enough that it was a big mix–the rich kids, the poor kids, the in-between kids. So there was a lot of variety.

    My lessons socialization in public were things that I’ll only use if I go to prison. Because we go to school each day for a set number of hours, I’m going to compare my school experiences to experiences I had in the workplace.

    In the twenty years since I finished school, I have never been shaken down for money in my workplace. I’ve never had items stolen from my purse or my desk. I’ve never been cornered and groped. I’ve never felt *scared*, afraid of bodily harm.

    I said all that to say what matters is the quality of socialization, not the quantity. Homeschooling is big enough that there are plenty of socialization opportunities. I’d say you’re doing a good job.

    • Catie! At first I laughed aloud at the statement that your socialization lessons from public school were things you’d only use if you went to prison. Too funny! But then, the reality of the statement hit me and I felt very sad – for you and for all the kids who feel that way.

      Children shouldn’t be brought somewhere they feel afraid or intimidated. They shouldn’t have to defend themselves in school or stash their lunch money in some secret place. They should be protected and safe and able to learn and explore without the unnecessary burden of bullying and ‘normal’ kids being kids. And I couldn’t agree more – it’s the quality of the socialization that matters, not the quantity.

  • What am I, a homeschooling parent, doing for *socialization*?

    I tell them, “I keep them far away from schools…that’s what I do for socialization!”

    And I flip to the offensive, “What are YOU doing for *family*? What are YOU doing to introduce your child the real world? How are YOU going to possibly teach your child about the reality of *work*?” Etc.

  • Interesting. I never thought to reverse the question. I suppose, with homeschooling not being the ‘norm’ I tend to be more defensive about it than offensive.

    As a homeschooler, my daughter has the opportunity to be part of the ‘real world’. She has her studies AND her volunteer work, where she not only socializes, but also learns to share information, problem solve and handle conflicts. These real-life events have already prepared her for adulthood in ways, I feel, organized education could not.

    I would never push my way of teaching my child on others but wish more people had the opportunity to experience this for themselves.

    Thanks so much for coming by and commenting.

  • Thanks, Debora! Great topic. I get *so* fatigued answering the “socialization” question.

    • Twinkle! How cool to find you here!

      I’m not yet fatigued by the question for some reason. I do smile every time I hear it because it’s only a matter of seconds before it comes up. But, honestly, I do appreciate some of the pleasantly surprised responses I receive. On occasion. 😉 All I know is not only has my daughter met some wonderful people during this homeschool process, but I have as well. 🙂

      Thanks so much for coming by!

  • I know several families who homeschool and have done a terrific job with it. My own kids are at public school in a wonderful district. But I think your take on socialization is quite true. In particular, by junior high, the kids have very little time to socialize anyway; those who do primarily get that from extra-curricular activities. In elementary, there were more opportunities for training children to interact well, but as you said it is mostly with same-aged peers. My children have had more of the socialization you describe with church and outside activities.

    • Outside activites. Once my daughter reached middle school, we were unable to find time for outside activites. It was so sad to see this active and very social 12 year old stuck at the table doing hours of homework. Much of it was nothing more than busy work – like using crayons to color a printout of King Tut. In sixth grade? Seriously?

      Once we pulled her from school, we found we were able to complete her daily studies, participate in homes school group events, and enjoy family time with so much time left over, we worried we had done something wrong. 🙂 Now it feels like everything we do can be defined as socializing.

  • Thanks for linking to me on your blog roll! I actually have a post called, “But What About Socialization?!?!” it’s the question that I kept getting that made me start my blog (The Learning Experiment – http://scikid3.blogspot.com

    Love your blog and thanks for the traffic! Do you have a Homeschool Specific Blog I can link to? I’m StephSchiff on Twitter!

    • How cool! Thanks for coming by. I read a couple of your posts and loved them so I had to link to your blog. 🙂 I’m afraid I don’t have a homeschool specific blog. Just this one but you can still link to it if you’d like. I wouldn’t mind. lol

      I’ll find and follow you on twitter… but not like a stalker. 😉

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