We’ve all heard the socialization question one way or the other: “But what about socialization?” / “How will your children interact with people different from them?” / “How will they share common cultural experiences with others?”
As homeschoolers, we can be tempted to laugh off the socialization question. We can cite extensive studies that have found homeschool alumni perform typically above average on measures of social, emotional and psychological development (including peer interaction, self-esteem and leadership skills). We can point to the well-documented effects of bullying and other negative “socializations” in public and private schools.
But it’s important to take such criticisms seriously, especially if it’s an area we could improve in. In particular, my heart goes out to a former homeschooler who struggled when she got to college:
The truth is, my first year of college was extremely painful. I had no idea how to interact with people who were different from me. I had no idea how to take criticism. I had no idea how to interact with those around me. I had no idea how to handle myself around large groups of people, or how to act in the ordinary social situations that come up at a large school. I had no idea how to handle someone not liking me. I had no idea how to function in a diverse society. I was incredibly awkward and felt extremely lost, and I cried more than you want to know.
You see, socialization is not about being able to carry on a sentence. Socialization isn’t about being able to make a friend. Socialization is about interacting with people who are different from you. It’s about learning how to deal with the bully or the “mean girl.” It’s about learning how to handle having people not like you. It’s about feeling put down by cliques, but learning to deal with it and surviving. It’s about growing a tough skin. It’s about handling playground politics. It’s about being friends with people who disagree with you.
My heart goes out to this woman because I had the opposite experience. In my first year of college and beyond, I appreciated interacting with people who were exact opposites to me in some way – beliefs, lifestyles, philosophies, etc. I could politely challenge their viewpoints while respecting them as my friends, and offer them the same opportunity.
I was able to do this, I believe, because I had interacted with people different from me while I was homeschooling.
How did this happen? I don’t think it was any accident. My parents went out of their way to let me experience things outside my comfort zone and think for myself (not just repeat what I had learned or heard from others).
Here are some ways they did that:
Evaluate the people who (and places that) take up most of your time.
Homeschooling gives you tremendous power to choose how, where and with whom you spend your time – just like life after school. It doesn’t tie you down to staying in a classroom from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or longer).
Take time to think about all the people and places you’re most familiar with, and plan ways to get outside your bubble (we all have one!).
My parents were always meeting with and befriending people from different races, socioeconomic classes, worldviews and countries. It paid off immensely in a broader social circle and better experience relating to others, making the socialization question a non-issue.
Volunteer / serve your community.
Volunteering was always part of our homeschool. When we were youngsters, my mom and grandmother took us to serve refreshments and lunch to seniors each Monday. I made friends with a 96-year-old, Evelyn, whom I still remember fondly today.
For your homeschool, volunteering might look different – reaching out to an immigrant family, for example, or helping a single mom with free childcare. Whatever you choose, you’re not only helping others, but also yourself – building community and experiencing life through another’s eyes.
Incorporate public speaking into your homeschool.
I may not always have appreciated it like I do now, but my mom made sure I had experience with public speaking! From theater and drama to debate and formal presentations, I went through it all. Her rule was that we didn’t have to stick with it if we didn’t enjoy it, but we had to try it at least once.
Furthermore, it’s a great way to come up with your own practiced answer to the socialization question before it’s even asked!
I was one of those kids who tried it and discovered that I enjoyed it. Even if your child isn’t one of those, the experience is still important enough that they should try it – at least once!
Plug your children into groups with common interests.
One of my best socialization experiences was finding groups that had shared interests with me. It could be rehearsing with an area university orchestra, sharing evidence with my homeschool debate club, or working on deadline at the community college newspaper with other nontraditional students.
I didn’t see it at the time, but these groups all exposed me to different people, at different ages and places, where we just shared one thing – a common interest. Isn’t that what life is about? It doesn’t matter whether it’s going to church, arriving at your workplace each day, or volunteering. These settings let you meet people you wouldn’t have known otherwise, without that common interest.
Make general knowledge a priority.
Another concern behind the socialization question can be a lack of “shared cultural experiences” or general knowledge. (Just to be fair, this is a non-issue for the many homeschoolers who regularly participate in pop culture and can discuss the latest fads and fashions with ease.)
As someone who was homeschooled and hopes to homeschool, I don’t believe we should stop our children from knowing pop culture, but accept it as part of the life and location where we live. We should read newspapers and blogs, watch documentaries, and engage in the news of the day. We should recognize the names of popular celebrities, public figures, and local government officials. To do anything less is to make us less able to converse with our neighbors and friends.
The key is to discuss these cultural experiences as a family, not in isolation. Maybe your children are listening to music you’ve never heard before – is that necessarily a bad thing? Why not listen to the same music and discuss it afterward?
The socialization question … revisited
Socialization – interacting with people different from you – can and should happen within any homeschool, not just in a public school. Of course, we may need to work a little harder at it and be more intentional than if we just placed our kids in a traditional classroom setting, where people are already different because they’re outside the family (but not necessarily different in age, socioeconomic class, or race).
However, I believe the choice is more than worth it – to give our children the best possible socialization with people of all ages, races, socioeconomic classes, and viewpoints! 🙂
Do you agree? Why or why not?
This post was priginally published in August 2015. It has been updated for timeliness and clarity.