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Socialization for Homeschoolers . . . Again

Although homeschooling has become far more mainstream than it was when we first began in the 1980’s, the question of socialization occasionally still pops up.

A recent article, “Get Out Much?” by Rachel Barlow, on the Nashoba Publishing website details one home-school parent’s response to a fellow airplane passenger who commented, “Socialization is so important. I would never homeschool.” Barlow thoughtfully compared actual social time in public schools with the social time she and her family share with others, and noted that once people hear that they participate in “town sports and school band,” they seem to feel that these things solve the socialization issue.

I have to admit that I have always approached the question of socialization from another direction. I firmly believe that being institutionalized in age-segregated groups is the antithesis of normal socialization. I believe that institutionalization and socialization limited to others of the same age inhibits mental, moral, and spiritual growth.

Learning from wise sources

Learning happens all the time. Students learn from their environment; from the things they hear, see, do, and read; from the people with whom they associate. They have even been known to learn a bit from their school experiences;-)!

Not all learning is academic — well-educated children learn how to treat others, how to react in difficult or painful circumstances, how to entertain themselves, how to manage the intricacies of day-to-day living, to mention just a few things. Most of these things are learned by observation and example.

Frankly, I want my children to learn how to live from people who are wise. I want each of my sons to know how to enjoy solitude; how to learn anything they need to know; how to be kind to others; how to enjoy the best of art, music, and literature, how to enjoy a balance of physical, mental, and spiritual activities, and so much more. In short, I want them to know how to “live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.”

I scarcely think that they would learn these things from their agemates, who are in equally desperate need of wise guidance for life. There is almost no chance that they could learn to use time wisely, independently, and enjoyably if they are institutionalized and hurried from one meaningless activity to another at the sound of a bell. There is little likelihood that they would learn to love the good, the true, and the beautiful, when they are surrounded, inundated, and overwhelmed with mediocrity, relativism, and ugliness.

Living a normal life

From my perspective, home education allows children to live a normal life. I remember my own deep frustration in institutional schools as I grew up. I knew that my life and time were being wasted. I skipped as much school as I could, but when forced to go, took several books to school each day, finished the simplistic classwork early, and read as much as possible (oddly enough, I will still voted “most likely to succeed!”). Once home, I was free to be outside, and to play, read, write, do needlework, and work in the various small business ventures I started. As soon as I left the school, I had a life as a real person, rather than existence as one small part of a mob.

I’m deeply grateful that we were able to give our boys a relaxed, normal life. They have been able to develop independent interests, they have friends, and they are nice people whose company I greatly enjoy. They enjoy music, books, sports, and other interests, but are not consumed by any of them; they have traveled widely; and they have experienced far more than would be possible if they’d had to endure endless hours of institutionalization.

What is socialization, anyway?

The definition of “socialize” found in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is to “Make social; make fit to live in society; spec. in sociology, transmit to (an individual) the cultural values and behavior standards of the social group of which he or she is a member.”
The world is large and diverse, and social groups are many. Whether by purpose, or by default, parents choose whether their child is socialized to the values and behaviors of those who love the good, the true, and the beautiful, or to the current manifestation of pop culture. It’s a choice worth careful consideration.

Rachel Barlow’s fellow passenger had it half right when he said — “Socialization is so important.” But I differ with him on the last bit — I wouldn’t leave it to an institution.

One who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20

For further reading:

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley (One of my favorite introductions to a family-based, Charlotte Mason style of education from the daughter of Francis Schaeffer.)

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (A short, shocking overview of what students really learn in institutional schooling. A must-read.)

The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewelyn (An interesting, secular look at unschooling– very thought-provoking.)

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden (I just got this book– it’s a compendium of useful information on all sorts of subjects of interest to boys –knots, soccer rules, dog tricks, making a periscope, tanning a skin, famous battles, timers and tripwires, and a lot more. This could lead to true, independent learning! It’s very nicely done, with plentiful illustrations to tempt the reluctant reader. Expect to see it dogeared!)

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17 Responses

  1. Hi Janice,
    Your thoughts on socialization are so good. I think I’ll just send people to your article when they ask me about it. 🙂

    I love that our children can relate to people of all ages. They are equally comfortable with a grandmother or a 2 year old. They don’t seek out only those who are their age to relate to.

    They truely are well-rounded and “socialized”.

    Finding Joy in the Journey,

    Phyllis
    http://www.Phyllis-Sather.com

  2. Jacque Dixon says:

    When faced with the ‘socialization’ concern (which we hardly are anymore, due to the fact that our children *are* well-socialized), I think there are 2 great thoughts here that sum it up:
    #1) “Frankly, I want my children to learn how to live from people who are wise.” and
    #2)”I scarcely think there is a chance that they would learn these things from their agemates, who are in equally desperate need of wise guidance for life.”

    Oh, and, this one, I love:
    “From my perspective, home education allows children to live a normal life.”
    Great article.
    -Blessings

  3. Crimson Wife says:

    If you have not already read the book “Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers” by Drs. Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld, I highly recommend it! It is not about homeschooling per se, but it talks about the dangers of a “peer orientation” and how schools foster that.

  4. Christy says:

    After spending 4 days with our three boys, I was dumbstruck when dh’s uncle asked about their socialization skills. He had complimented them on their willingness to help adults, how well they got along with each other, how the oldest could converse about grown-up subjects and their obedience; to turn around and ask about their socialization skills…It made me wonder, “what else is the man looking for?” I give up, I refuse to answer the question anymore.

  5. Janine says:

    >Frankly, I want my children to learn how to live from people who are wise.

    That it a good way to explain homeschooling to someone worried about socialization. Enjoyed your post.

  6. Dana says:

    Nice thoughts. You would think with all the talk of how to teach your children how to deal with peer pressure, it would be easier to see that the socialization which occurs in public schools is not all good.

  7. Tamera says:

    Janice,

    AMEN!

    I so agree with your point.

    I must admit, I haven’t had anyone directly confront me yet about my decision to homeschool. Most people we have told have been either neutral, or supportive.

    I hope that when that day comes, I will be able to answer calmly and quietly (A soft answer turneth away wrath…Prov 15:1a KJV).

    I also desire to be “wise as [a serpent], and harmless as [a dove]” (Matt 10:16 KJV).

    Articles like this help me to be able to answer when the time comes.

    Paul reminds us in 2 Tim 2:15 to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV)

    I don’t believe that pertains only to spiritual things, do you?
    .

  8. Tamera–

    Sometimes I think we’re past the era when people reacted negatively to hearing that we home school, but then some brave soul will venture the socialization question. And that’s when our opportunity arrives!

    You’re right that we need to be prepared, in order to give that soft answer, because it’s true that “the sweetness of lips increases learning.” (Proverbs 16:21– one of my favorite ‘homeschooling’ verses.)

    Our children are our best testimonial, and their witness can be powerful. A couple of mine actually carry my business cards in their wallets, and hand them out to people who seem interested in homeschooling;-). The generations of homeschoolers who have grown up and are functioning perfectly-fine-thank-you will be the ultimate answer to the socialization question.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I just have a couple of comments and a question. I DO worry about socialization for one of my children. My boys went to ps until 1st and 3rd grade and then I took them out. I had a toddler at the time as well. My younger boy is VERY social and really missed having friends. We spent the first several years homeschooling at hospitals and in doctor’s offices because of various family crisis/illnesses. He even said, “Why do you call this homeschooling when we are never at home!! I could be at school instead of this hospital room!!!” He is now in 5th grade, his brother in 7th and sister in K. He has such an imagination but my older son does not and would much rather be programming computers or doing some other brainiac thing. His sister is so much younger. He gets SO upset that there is no one to play Vikings, or cowboys and Indians or whatever. A couple of weeks ago I had to watch some younger boys and he was great organizing their play and having a blast doing those boy things my older one won’t and never really has done. I agree with learning from the wise and he is just fine socially. He can get along with everyone. He plays basketball in the spring and we are involved in church activities but there are only 2 boys that come to church activities sporadically and to be honest, they aren’t good influences and then there are 30 girls. We have one boy who is his good friend and my oldest’s but he is moving in a couple of weeks. We have no one for him to play with or invite over for birthdays…. I’m not worried about him being a social misfit, but rather about letting him be a boy and having someone to play boy games with him…. Have I done him a disservice???
    Elizabeth

  10. Karen Davis says:

    >

    I just couldn’t agree more with both of these sentiments. Homeschooling IS real life – so much more so than institutional school. The moment that I learned that homeschooling existed 19 years ago, it immediately resonated with me due to my own school experiences. I have been so thankful that I found out about it in time to homeschool all my children. It has been such a huge blessing in our lives.

  11. Dear Elizabeth,

    To answer your last question first, I don’t think you’ve done him a disservice in homeschooling, because the positives probably still outweigh the negatives. It would probably be difficult for him to be cooped up all day, and the influences can be particularly strong with happy, social children.

    My heart goes out to your dear son– it’s so hard to be the active, imaginative one, with no one to play with. We were fortunate that the boys had compatible interests with at least one other sibling for at least a couple of years each. In the years that they didn’t, we tried to find others who would enjoy some of the same things. We were only occasionally successful.

    Looking back (and I’d welcome other moms’ thoughts on this), there have been only a few friends in my life who shared a lot of my interests, and I think my boys would say the same thing. Although we aren’t necessarily a representative sampling, I’ve heard similar things from others. I think that the reality of life is that truly compatible friends are hard to find.

    I tried to encourage my boys to make the most of the friends they had, and to always be ready to befriend new people in our fellowship. They’ve had older and younger friends, and I think that being willing to move outside their age group has really helped them find others who enjoy the things they are interested in.

    If your son enjoyed the interaction with younger boys (who probably enjoyed it a great deal as well), perhaps he would enjoy organizing some sort of regular activity for a younger group. Informal re-enactments (aka playing Viking, C&I, etc.), fort construction– if you have space and raw materials (anything from dead trees, to dirt, to very tall weeds that can be tunneled through), whatever happy things he enjoys could probably be shared with younger guys who would appreciate his energy and enthusiasm. It would be nice if there were a co-op in your area where he might meet friends.

    It’s a difficult thing, Elizabeth, and I hope he’s able to find more friends. For the long term, though, homeschooling is a good choice for many other reasons. I don’t think it will be long before his interests change a bit (with my guys, it was usually about 11), and this present difficulty will be largely past.

    Blessings,
    Janice

  12. krista says:

    The socialization issue is a lie most of us have bought into as homeschoolers and PS parents. When a friend felt sad that our children (4 and 7) would not be able to “see each other anymore” when we decided to homeschool, I asked her when they would “play” at school anyway. She was struck by the fact that during school hours our children didn’t even see each other during lunch for simple kid conversation! The lie is believing socialization has anything to do with education or where we educate.
    Elizabeth, it sounds as if your son is perfectly socialized in that when around other chidren and people of any age he is more than appropriateas most homeschooled children are. How did this happen? The basic unit of society is the family. It seems he aches for “play” not socialization. The difference being that he is already sociable, by definition liking companionship; characterized by pleasent social relations, gracious, cordial, affable and genial. Asking to play with someone is merely your son asking for recreation and because he is well socialized he wants to share it with a companion. Do not be decieved into thinking that public school will positively or even at all provide this opportunity for recreational play. I would have to say the answer is simple; invite some friends over. You’re doing a great job; not a disservice.

  13. krista says:

    Also – the problem would then be “what friends?” Seek them out. Pray for your son to have a good companion. Teach him what to look for in friends and both of you go on “a hunt” for a friend. I lost friends when I had three children in four years because life changed and I prayed for new friends, a life long friend, a family for us to bond with and trust. This is also a great opportinity to bond with your son and play with him in the mean time- build those forts higher for him, set up toys and situations to tie in with a lesson, pretend. It will go along way for both of you. How bittersweet it will be when you are replaced sooner than you think with your sons “bestfriend”?! Ask him who he wants to play with. You are such a good mom to be sensitive to his needs and actively seek a solution!

  14. krista says:

    sorry – one more thing – Dad can be his bestfriend right now too!

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