Socialization Without School


If you’ve been thinking about homeschooling, you’ve no doubt been asked by concerned friends and family: “But how will she make friends?” “He won’t learn any social skills!” The issue of socialization is the most often asked question presented to homeschooling parents.

Maybe you’ve even had these concerns yourself. There seems to be a preconceived notion that homeschoolers are isolated and therefore lack social skills – which they would learn if only they were in school. While homeschoolers have begun to re-define the concept of education, they must also work to clarify the idea of “socialization.”

What is socialization?
What exactly do we mean when we talk about children learning social skills? For me it means that my child has the verbal skills to communicate — and the self-confidence to use those skills in a variety of different situations with a wide range of people. It means he can cooperate with other people, including those of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs. She can resolve problems and work out misunderstandings with others. My child will also understand appropriate behavior for different social settings. You might have other criteria, but it’s worth stopping to think about your own definition of the term.

What is the school’s role?
When public education began in this country over a century ago, one-room schoolhouses were the norm, where children of different ages and skill levels all worked together. Today children are segregated by age group, giving them little experience working with either older or younger children. The main focus of our original schools was academic. Children learned social skills from their families, their church and their community.

Socialization today occurs through a complicated mixture of family, school, community, television and other media. Because they spend such a large part of their time with peers, these age-mates and all the cultural forces that influence them become overwhelmingly important to children. Parents are fighting an uphill battle to keep a strong connection with their children. They must work to counteract the fashion, music, movie and television world that surrounds and threatens to engulf their children. Parents may be forced to question the value of the social knowledge their children are learning.

I want my child to learn both social skills and academic skills, but I’m not sure they are best learned in the same place at the same time. Teachers are constantly telling children to “sit still” and “stop talking;” it can be a challenge for them to get students to concentrate on their academic work with the endless distraction of 30 other children in the room who are determined to “socialize.” Are we working on academics or social skills? And when recess or lunch does roll around and it is truly time for “socializing,” children are worried about bullies, cliques and peer pressure. Children learn from being exposed to a variety of social situations and having appropriate skills modeled for them. One could argue that we are simply “throwing our children to the wolves” rather than modeling anything appropriate for them in today’s school settings.

Can you have socialization without school?
Homeschooled students have the time and the opportunities to interact with a variety of people, not just peers. A 1996 study found that 98 percent of homeschooled students are involved in two or more outside activities each week. These kids are involved in everything from team sports, Scouting and 4-H, to music, drama, dance and martial arts, to church groups and community service. High school age students also have the opportunity for part-time jobs. The ever increasing number of charter schools offering home study programs gives families even more options for field trips, park days and small group activities.

An unexpected bonus for me was that my children grew closer and more tolerant of each other because they spent more time together than traditionally schooled siblings. Parents who homeschool have the opportunity to strengthen family bonds rather than watch them dissolve, especially during the teen years.

While homeschooled kids may not be exposed to the quantity of potential friends, they have an environment free of gossip, cliques, shifting alliances and cruelty, in which to nurture and develop close relationships.
Contrary to popular belief, the research concludes that:
• Home-educated children have significantly lower problem-behavior scores than their conventionally educated peers. (Shyers, 1992).
• Home-educated students have higher self-concepts than age mates in public school (Shyers, 1992, and Taylor, 1986).
• The social and emotional adjustment of home-educated students is comparable to private-schooled age mates. But home-educated students are less peer dependent. (Delahooke, 1986).
• Home-educated students are just as involved in out-of-school and extra-curricular activities that predict leadership in adulthood as are those in private schools. (Montgomery, 1989).

Is one better than the other?
So, are we doing our children a disservice by not allowing them to learn to cope with the social chaos of school? Or are we forcing our children into an unnatural social environment that is now out of our control? There is no perfect answer. More important than the answer is the question — what social skills do we want our children to acquire and how can they best do that? As parents we assume they are learning what they will need as adults … but are they?

Shelly Bokman is a freelance writer in California.