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As a homeschooling mom, one topic that I’m asked about again and again, usually along with a little dose of side eye, is the topic of socialization. It’s a neat little code word non-homeschooling people use when they want to say, “aren’t you afraid your homeschooled kid is going to be weird?”
When fellow parents who are considering homeschooling ask about socialization, they’re concerned about the weirdness factor, too, but they’re also concerned about another aspect of socialization. They’re afraid that if their kids don’t travel to a building full of other children every day, their children will be lonely.
So today I want to unpack both sides of the socialization coin: whether or not homeschooling makes kids lonely, and whether or not homeschooling makes kids weird.
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Part 1: Does homeschooling make kids weird?
The Desire for Normalcy
I never desired ‘normalcy’ so much as when I had babies. I wanted to know that their heights and weights were average and that they were hitting developmental milestones at a statistically appropriate time. Normal with babies is good—it means there’s less of a chance statistically that something’s wrong with them.
As they grow older, though, ‘average’ and ‘normal’ starts to seem a little less desirable. I want to help set my kids up for success and happiness in life. There’s absolutely nothing normal about the Elon Musks, Tom Bradys, or Kehinde Wileys of the world.
Often, the ‘average’ people we encounter that are living the lives we expect–with a good, steady job, 2.2 kids, and a house with a white picket fence–don’t seem particularly happy. It seems that following the blueprint of what everyone does won’t necessarily set us up for extreme success or extreme happiness.
The Conventional U.S. Classroom
Most of us in the United States were raised in the conventional public or private school classroom setting. Because it’s the normal way to go, it’s automatically considered the ideal way for children to be ‘socialized’ (or to learn how to behave in a socially acceptable way), but is it?
When you think about it, much of the public school system in America is about assimilation. You’re put in a room with 20-30 other kids whose birthday falls within the same 12 months as yours. Because, in most cases, the kids who go to school with you live nearby, they’re also frequently of a similar ethnicity and socioeconomic level. After you’ve been in school for any length of time, you are further pigeon-holed to interact mostly with kids who are on the same academic track as you.
While surrounded with these copies of yourself, you’re taught to sit quietly, raise your hand to speak, and listen for the bell. When you distinguish yourself, you’re doing it within a very narrow string of parameters. If you step out of line, you risk discipline from teachers or bullying from other students.
This prepares kids very well for the next year of school or for a job filing TPS reports, but does it really set our kids up for success in life? Do I prepare my kids for taking on an ever-changing world by teaching them to be exactly like everyone else—to wait their turn—to speak when spoken to?
The Homeschool Classroom
Obviously, there’s no such things as a typical homeschool classroom, and just as there are wonderful and terrible public and private schools, there are wonderful and terrible homeschool situations.
In general, though, homeschoolers have more opportunity than their conventionally-schooled counterparts to mix with people of other ages and abilities. They have more opportunities for self-directed learning. Increased time at home often leads homeschooled kids to be closer with their parents and less dependent on their peers. Finally, the simple act of being educated in a way that is unconventional sets kids up for a lifetime of questioning social norms and thinking for themselves. But does this mean that homeschooled kids will be weird and unsocialized?
Outcomes for homeschooled kids
In 2017, Brian D. Ray wrote a sort of summary of much of the research that has been done comparing homeschooled kids to their conventionally-schooled peers. A glance over the table summarizing the ‘relative success of the homeschooled into college and adulthood’ brought a smile to my face. In various studies, homeschooled children have been found to exhibit the following characteristics as adults relative to their conventionally-schooled peers:
- More positions of leadership
- More civic involvement
- Less anxiety when transitioning to college
- Less depression at college, a more positive overall college experience, and a higher GPA
- Homeschoolers were also found to be more agreeable, conscientious, and open than conventionally schooled kids, and both groups of children were found to be equally extraverted and equally neurotic.
So if these studies are to be believed, homeschooled kids are weird–in tons of positive ways that serve them well as adults. If the goal of socialization is truly to teach kids to behave in socially acceptable ways, then it appears that homeschooled kids are being appropriately socialized.
Part 2: Does homeschooling make kids lonely?
As I said earlier, most parents choosing to educate their children at home accept that their kids might be a bit different from their conventionally-schooled peers. Their worry comes from the idea that their kids will miss out on some of the typical experiences of childhood–that they will lack opportunities to do certain activities, that they’ll miss out on rites of passage like school dances, and that they’ll have fewer opportunities to meet friends. Fortunately, with a little research, finding a tribe for your homeschooling family isn’t as hard as it seems at first.
If you’re just getting started with homeschooling, know that there are countless opportunities for your children to interact with other human beings. If you’re planning to homeschool, I’d recommend searching for Facebook groups in your area to get in the loop of what’s happening locally. Just type your metropolitan area or county into the search bar along with the word “homeschoolers/homeschooling/home learning/home educating/etc.—whatever they call homeschooling in your neck of the woods. You’ll likely find several active groups in your area that will instantly connect you to what’s going on. In this way, you can see what’s already available or work to post and organize your own activities.
Where to find activities (and friends) for your homeschooler
Co-ops: these are parent-run organizations for homeschoolers where families come together for classes, activities, and field trips. Often, parents are asked to teach classes, watch children in the nursery, or help with administrative tasks as part of their family’s membership in the group.
Classes taught just for homeschoolers: in addition to co-ops, which typically offer a slate of activities, there are often lots of individual classes available just for homeschoolers on all subjects. In my area, in addition to the traditional courses you’d expect, there are chick hatching classes, ice skating lessons, group ukulele classes, etc.
These classes are sometimes offered by individuals (heck, I even taught a homeschool music class this year), but they are also offered by organizations. Don’t be afraid to call places you love to ask if they have programs for homeschoolers, and to encourage them to start something if they don’t.
Places to call that might offer homeschool classes: Museums, Aquariums, Nature Centers, the YMCA, Community Colleges, Kids’ Gyms, Dance Studios, Zoos, Public Libraries, your local Parks and Rec Department, Scouting Organizations, Community Theatres
Classes offered for all kids: if you’re wanting your child to mix with some conventionally-schooled kids, and you don’t mind fighting the traffic in the evenings and on the weekends, many of the same organizations that offer homeschool classes during the week will offer classes for all kids in the evening, on the weekend, and in the summer.
Classes taught for college students: many local colleges will offer classes and even dual-enrollment programs for homeschooled children. It’s a wonderful opportunity for older students to inexpensively get some college classes under their belts and get a taste of what college might be like academically.
Activities just for homeschoolers: in our area, there is a homeschool orchestra, homeschool debate team, homeschool diving club, and even a homeschool prom and graduation. Many of the same activities available to kids in public or private schools might already be on offer, or they might be waiting for you to help start them!
Activities for conventionally-schooled kids: In many states, homeschoolers are permitted to participate in the clubs, sports teams, theatre programs, and music ensembles that exist at the local public schools. This is not the case where I live, but it might be a wonderful opportunity for your child to ‘socialize’ with conventionally-schooled kids that share your child’s interests.
Activities for all kids: There are, of course, all the individual studios that offer things like martial arts, music lessons, or ballet. Your local parks and rec department likely has sports teams and other activities your kids could participate in. Your local community theatre might offer an opportunity for the whole family to make friends together!
Classes and Activities Offered Online: Even if you live in a homeschooling desert, the existence of the Internet means that in this day and age, no man is an island. If you can’t easily find people in your immediate area to socialize with in person, there are nearly infinite opportunities for classes and activities online.
Things your homeschooler might love to do with others:
For the athlete:
- Sports teams (soccer, basketball, hockey, football, baseball, etc.)
- Swimming lessons/competitions and diving teams
- Ninja warrior gym
- Horseback riding
- Ice skating
- Cross country
- Martial arts
For the artist or performer:
- Music ensembles (choirs, show/pop choirs, orchestras, marching bands, chamber ensembles)
- Dance lessons (ballet, tap, jazz, modern, musical theatre, Bollywood, Irish, social, square, etc.)
- Theatre groups (homeschool and community)
- Art classes and shows (pottery, drawing, painting, sculpture, glass blowing
- Book and poetry clubs
- Debate and public speaking clubs
For the gamer:
- Chess clubs
- Lego clubs
- Minecraft clubs and classes (both in person and online)
- Board game and video game meetups at game stores
- Group video games online
For the kid who loves the outdoors:
- Forest schools
- Classes at nature centers
- Scouting Groups (including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Navigators USA
- Hiking Clubs
- Survival classes and training
- Summer sleep away camps
For the kid who loves academic competition:
- Math olympiads
- Spelling bees
- Science fairs
- Geography bees
For the kid who just wants to play:
- Head to the local park at a busy time and introduce yourself
- Take field trips to fun places in your area
- Hang outside in the afternoons/weekends when traditionally-schooled neighbors are home and make friends
A final word for any weird, unsocialized homeschooling moms
I hope that I’ve alleviated your fears that although your kids might be weird (in a good way), they’ll be properly ‘socialized’ as they grow into adulthood, and they won’t need to be lonely.
I’ve mentioned several times that you might have to put yourself out there—whether it’s teaching a co-op class, calling and asking your local library to set something up for homeschoolers, or just stopping a mom at the park to give her your number and ask if your kids can get together again. As an introverted mom myself, I know how tough this is. I’ve found that the more I flex this muscle, though, the easier it gets. It seems that homeschooling has helped to socialize our whole weird family.