Homeschool Socialization: An Uncomfortable Truth
Everywhere I seem to look, people are saying that homeschool socialization is a total myth.
Homeschool moms roll their eyes and swap stories of ignorant friends, family members, and strangers who have asked the dreaded question, “What about socialization?”
We all collectively sigh and gather our strength, self control, and manners to answer such people.
Homeschool moms consider it to the worst of the worst questions.
What I Used to Think About Homeschool Socialization
I am a homeschool mom too and often found myself sighing when I was asked the socialization question.
I initially understood the socialization question to mean, “How will they learn to interact in society?”
I considered the question to be completely absurd.
Going to public school for K- 12 is not what taught me how to interact with the world. Actually being in the world, and watching my parents is largely what I would consider shaped me socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
School didn’t teach me how to be a good conversationalist – my mother actually taught me about the give and take of quality conversation.
School didn’t teach me how to have self control when dealing with difficult people – my mother taught me that by how she conducted herself. School is where I saw the opposite of that – fights breaking out and kids being sent to the principal’s office for poor behavior.
School certainly didn’t teach me good manners – my mother taught me how to sit, eat, and speak like a lady. School is where I learned a bunch of unladylike words I can’t say in from of my mom, and how to eat as fast I could before the lunch bell rang.
School had nothing to do with shaping my physical appearance – if anything my mother had to fight back against the plaid shirts and baggy jeans craze of the 90s to keep me from turning into a lumberjack.
Come to think of it, most of my socialization skills were taught despite going to public school – not because I went to school.
My oldest daughter attended public school kindergarten before we decided to start homeschooling. Interestingly, my husband and I also noticed a decline in her social skills as the kindergarten year progressed.
She started picking up words and attitude that we did not like. Manners we had worked to instill in her seemed to fly out the window.
I could go on and on, but you can see that the purpose of traditional school is about furthering academic education, not teaching social graces.
If it was focused on the social nature of children, then recess time wouldn’t be declining, teachers wouldn’t be snatching up notes and saying, “This is not social time children!”, and my daughter’s kindergarten class would not have been expected to eat their lunch in silence.
As I got more involved in homeschool communities,
I came to understand that the socialization question also included how much time kids spent with their peers.
I also thought this concern was absurd.
My kids spent more time with peers when we started homeschooling than when my oldest was in public school. That usually surprises people, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
- Public school takes a lot of time out of the day and precious little is spent at recess or lunch doing social things.
- I didn’t know any of the parents in my kid’s class, so setting up any after school playdates was a bit challenging.
- The demands of homework and early mornings for school meant we did not get involved in many extracurriculars (sports, scout meetings, church events, etc.) because they met on school nights and would interfere with sleep.
Now that we homeschool…
- We’re involved with a community of families. It is much easier to chat with moms and set up playdates/social events on a regular basis.
- School does not take nearly as much time, so my kids have more time to play and do things with their friends.
- “School nights” are no longer such a big deal, so we are involved in many programs that meet at night.
Homeschooling has increased my kids’ social interactions, so I had no concerns about it whatsoever, until…
What Changed My Mind About Homeschool Socialization
I read a lot of articles and threads in order to write quality posts for this blog.
I started coming across disturbing threads, anti homeschooling articles, blogs, and websites while doing this research.
The worst ones were written by adults who had been homeschooled.
It was difficult, but I forced myself to read their horror stories of homeschooling.
How they were made to do chores for their mom and rarely did any actual school (a term I have come to know as educational neglect).
They had very few or no friends to speak of. Felt completely isolated, lonely, socially anxious, and depressed.
Some did have friends and regular outside interaction but still felt different, socially awkward, and unsure of themselves.
They grew up to feel intense resentment towards their parents for setting them so far behind their peers in so many ways.
You can see why it is hard for a homeschool mom to read that kind of material.
I think it’s important though to hold my feet to the fire and learn from the mistakes of these parents.
The Huge Missed Homeschool Socialization Factor
The most interesting thread I have come across was on Quora. A man, who had been homeschooled from K-12, was answering the question “What are some reasons to not homeschool your children?”
The man responded to the question by explaining that he was a proponent of homeschooling in his teens and 20s, but as a man in his 30s, he now sees things differently.
Here is a small exert from his response:
“The reality is, you will socially stunt your child if you homeschool them. I don’t care how many field trips you take them on, how many playdates you arrange, etc., they will be socially behind their peers. Even if they seem well socialized, you have no idea what may be going on in their head.”
This stopped me dead in my tracks.
In all of my reading, writing, observing, and time spent with other homeschool moms, no one had ever said a word about what was going on inside the homeschooled child.
The responses were always that if everything looked okay on the outside – everything was good!
Not long after reading this thread, I reread this rather fascinating research article from Stetson University.
It is the banner every homeschool mom wants to fly above their house because it uses many research studies to show homeschoolers are socially equal or more advanced than their traditionally schooled peers.
The kicker in the article that I noticed for the first time was this:
“What homeschooled children think about their own social skills is less clear.”
Why What The Homeschooler Thinks Matters
How would it feel if we lived in an alternate universe and suddenly public school is what made you “socially awkward?”
What if whenever you told someone how you were educated, you felt like they were observing you more closely to see if the stereotype holds?
Every time you tripped over your words, had an uncomfortable social exchange or didn’t know what to wear, you might be inclined to blame it on how you were educated and socialized differently from everyone else.
How do you think that would affect your self confidence? Your inner voice?
Homeschoolers may have developed beautiful social skills that are superior to their peers…but that doesn’t mean anything if they don’t believe they possess those skills.
The homeschooled child does need their parents to put a strong emphasis on social time – not so they’ll be “cool” or fit in better – but in order to build their confidence in their own abilities.
Why Some Homeschoolers’ Social Skills are At Risk
I know this is unpopular, but I have to say it.
Every homeschool mom in America is screaming that socialization is a non-issue. A farce. A myth.
I fear that has the potential to create a dangerous attitude of complacency.
Complacency that could lead to the isolation of a child. And all the negative things listed above – depression, social anxiety, and loneliness – in the long term.
I believe that homeschool social skills have been found to be above average because the moms who were willing to submit themselves to these studies were probably already killing it in the socialization department.
They were far from slacking off with their social calendar. They earned those above average ratings – they did not happen by accident.
I am afraid too many new homeschool moms are going to assume these high ratings mean they CAN slack off with the social calendar and everything will be just fine.
So What Are We Supposed To Do?
Send our kids back to public school in droves?
Oversocialize them and sign up for every opportunity in town?
But I do think we need to take this all into account and take an inventory of our individual homeschools.
How much free time is spent with other children? Not a sports practice, or a dance lesson – true unstructured time for kids to be themselves.
How much effort do you, as the homeschool parent, work to make sure your child has this time?
Is social time with friends seen as a core subject? On par with reading, writing, and math?
In the same way that you do a backbend to make sure your kids have the best curriculum possible and that you study it regularly – do you do a backbend to make sure your kids have time and space to grow and nurture strong friendships?
Do your kids have best friends? If they had a birthday party, who would be first on the guest list?
If these questions or uncomfortable or convicting, do not despair!
Why Homeschool Socialization Can Be a Challenge
If this post is burning you right now, I want to say I absolutely get it.
There are many things that can make regular time with friends a huge challenge.
Here are a few of the hurdles we’ve had to work through:
- School is best done in the morning, but the baby naps in the afternoon. When do we get to see friends??
- People tend to drive into the garage and never come out again. How can you meet your neighbors and their kids to get connected?
- None of the moms at soccer talk to each other. They’re all on their phones.
- I’m so tired after a day of homeschooling. I don’t wanna go to a park/playdate.
- We move all the time and it’s so hard to get reconnected into a social circle.
- It’s so hot/cold/windy/etc. outside. I just wanna stay home! Everyone says the socialization thing is a crock anyway. Why put the extra effort forth?
The Search for Excellence in ALL Areas of Homeschooling
If you see yourself at all in the above areas (I’m sure we all do at times if we’re honest), I would encourage you to stop listening to the perpetual anthem of “Homeschool Socialization is a Myth!”
For some people, it might be a myth – because there are already fantastic systems and community support in place.
They are putting forth the effort to socialize their children in sports, playdates, co-ops, scouting, etc. – and making strong friendship bonds.
But, for others, it can become a license to isolate their children and slack in a crucial requirement for homeschooled kids.
I would challenge you to seek excellence in your children’s social life in the same way you seek excellence in their math or their writing.
When you took on the role of homeschool parent – you took on more than just the role of educator. You also took on the role of social coordinator.
That is not something you can outsource – like arts & crafts, P.E., or foreign language.
But I Don’t Know How to Do That!
If you are at a total loss right now, have no fear.
When I first started homeschooling, I had just moved to a new state and we knew exactly NOBODY.
At one point, my kids had no friends. I mean none.
We loosely knew people through sports, church, scouting, and co-op – but not a single true friend.
As I type this, I have so many kids running through my house that I fear I will never publish this post. I have had to buy a popcorn maker in order to feed all of them. And I love it!
My husband and I are delighted to be the house that is full of kids and so happy to see our kids with their friends.
How Did I Get From Zero to a Full House?
There was a learning curve to it, but I finally figured out a process for helping my kids make and keep strong friendships.
Not casual acquaintances they see once a week, but true friends who can’t wait to see each other!
I wrote out my strategy here – A Strategy to Help Homeschoolers Make Solid Friendships – and I strongly encourage you to give it a try!
Helping your homeschooler make friends might not be as nerve-wracking or difficult as you might imagine!
And it is definitely an investment in the long-term success of your homeschool and your children.
I have been homeschooling for 6 years, I have 4 kids and we have been very involved in our church and community but even with all of this I have begun noticing needs that aren’t being met for my kids. I started a local homeschool co-op last year that has helped immensely but your article is the completion of what I have been needing. I cannot thank you enough because I have never been comfortable with the “socialization is a myth” argument but haven’t also been comfortable with what I thought was the alternative-public school. I was left to figure out the middle ground on my own until reading your article. So very inspired and insightful. Thank-you!
I can’t express how grateful I am that I discovered your blog. This article is so thoughtful and thorough and helpful for a new homeschool mom like me. You beautifully researched and expressed my concerns around socialization. I love the idea that socializing needs to be a primary element of our home education, not a secondary one, and definitely not something to ever be complacent about! Thanks for you wonderful blog!
This is a great post with lots of excellent points! Can I say something about the perceived social awkwardness mentioned? I was not homeschooled, but I was raised by immigrants. My childhood was vastly different than all of my school peers. English is not my first language. I did not have cable TV, did not watch any of the same movies, and was not allowed to do any of the same activities – sleepovers, parties, etc. It’s not that I was isolated – friendships were not lacking, I was just being raised differently. Fast forward to college, when I became a Christian. I did not grow up a Christian, so again there were a lot of differences. I didn’t know the “lingo”, had never heard of, much less attended, VBS, did not know any of the CCM artists or their songs, etc. It was kind of like my childhood all over again. All this to say, that while I totally agree socializing should be treated as importantly as any other subject & that homeschooling is not an excuse to isolate children, homeschooling moms should not overly worry that their children will grow up to resent their social life or something like that. There are lots of things, not just homeschool, that will make for children to have a less than typical social experience, and most of us do turn out just fine! 😉
Gina, I could not agree more! I was actually raised as a military kid overseas. The fashion trends were different and I saw only a little bit of American TV. My parents weren’t into music, so I have huge blank there also. I still don’t get a lot of pop culture trivia, references, or jokes – but I don’t care at all. I just laugh it off and people tend to be very interested in how I was raised differently. Thanks for the great reminder, Gina!