Written by Jessica.
One of the most interesting aspects of being a classroom teacher was getting to know and observe many different kinds of children. Their personalities, behaviors, and abilities were so diverse. I could often tell a lot about my students by the end of the first week of school. The dynamics of the class, their friendships, and the social hierarchy were always very clear.
Over the years, I was able to observe lots of children and how they interacted with one another. Today, as a home educating parent, I am aware of the criticisms that are sometimes made regarding home education, and I always view those criticisms from my perspective as a former classroom teacher. One of the top criticisms is that sticky issue of “socialization.”
“Homeschooled children are weird and socially awkward.”
If there is one thing that teaching taught me, it is that there are all kinds of children. There are shy and timid ones, brave and bold ones. There are outgoing and social ones, introverted and quiet ones. There are confident ones and self-conscious ones. There are funny and silly ones, quirky and different ones, caring and compassionate one, generous and empathic ones, selfish and unkind ones. There are leaders and followers, hurters and helpers, bullies and bridge-builders.
There are all kinds of children, just like there are all kinds of adults.
From my observations as a teacher, children arrive at school with personalities and abilities formed long before they set foot there. Nature and nurture are powerful forces.
In every one of my classes, every year, there were children who could be called “weird,” “awkward,” or “different,” – among many other things. And that is true of any class, in any school. It is also true among adults.
School setting does not have power to completely shape who a child is or the adult that he/she will become. Life is too complex for that, and there are too many other factors at play. To make a sweeping generalization that homeschooling creates certain personality traits is ignorant at best and ignores the fact that both traditional schools, and adult society, are filled with people who could be ascribed the very same labels.
Homeschooled children are, in fact, often better adjusted and better able to interact with others because they spend time with more diverse ages and abilities than their schooled counterparts. They spend more time in real life settings than in institutions. And most importantly, they are able to learn and grow more freely as their authentic selves, without constant feedback from classmates negatively affecting their self-esteems and their perceptions of who they are.
“School is where children socialize and get to be with their peers.”
In the past, school was a place where children were educated. It’s a modern day construct that children attend school to “socialize.” In the past, socializing and socialization happened primarily in the context of real life, where children spent the majority of their days interacting and learning from their immediate and extended family members, their neighbors, and the local community. There was less time spent in school because children participated in the family farm or in the family business. Socializing and socialization took place naturally and organically living life and interacting with the people most invested and most important in the lives of children – their parents, siblings, extended family, and family friends.
Schools are not natural representations of a community. There are no other places where people are lumped together exclusively by age and demographics, other than orphanages or nursing homes. Living in the same geographical area and being born in the same year are not qualifiers for friendships or relationships in any other settings outside of schools. There’s nothing natural about spending as many as six hours a day, largely confined to one room, with one other adult and twenty or so children who meet certain criteria, and there are very few settings so contrived. I’m not saying that community can’t happen in schools. Obviously it does - children form friendships with their classmates, socialize, and are socialized at school. But the school setting should not be viewed as the be-all and end-all.
Homeschooling allows children to interact with and learn from people of a variety of ages during the school day – their parents, siblings, grandparents or other extended family members, children from a range of ages in any homeschool co-op or activities that they take part in, and the parents of other homeschooled children. It allows children more freedom in their days to learn in more diverse settings – at home, outdoors, in their family’s home-based businesses, on field trips, and in classes for homeschooled students. Homeschoolers enjoy the freedom of a more natural learning environment and one that better mirrors real life.
“School is where children make friends.”
Schools can be very happy and positive places for children. Some fit in easily, are well liked by their peers, are treated kindly and respectfully, and have many friendships. For them, schools are healthy places.
Schools can also be sad and scary places for children. Some do not fit in easily and are not well liked, often for inexplicable reasons. Others are bullied, ignored, left out, or teased regularly. Some do not have any true friends. From my personal observations, children such as these rarely get a chance to move from their low status because the social hierarchy tends to be early established and very rigid. As a result, schools can be lonely, unhealthy, dangerous, and esteem-damaging for these children.
Going to school does not automatically guarantee that a child will have friends or get to socialize in a positive and healthy manner. Likewise, being homeschooled does not mean that a child will never have friends or will never have opportunities to socialize. Homeschooling parents have to work much harder to find peer groups for their children, but they certainly can be found. They also have greater flexibility to move in and out of peer groups to find meaningful and healthy friendships, because they are not bound to a school that they send their children to.
“Homeschoolers will not be prepared to function in the real world.”
Homeschooled kids are educated in a real life setting rather than an artificial one, and that makes a huge difference. Home education is far more efficient than learning in a school. Consequently, homeschoolers generally have more time to pursue both hobbies and practical skills that are relevant to real life.
Many homeschooled children get to take field trips and travel more, interact with a more diverse group of people, try out college classes early, pursue their hobbies and extracurricular subjects in greater depth, take part in their parents’ home-based businesses, pursue their own entrepreneurial ideas as teenagers, and learn practical home and life skills that are rarely taught in schools today. Consequently, they actually have more time and more opportunities to be meaningfully prepared for adulthood.
The argument that homeschooled children won’t be “prepared for the real world” or “able to function in society” is always a puzzler anyway. Society is filled to the brim with people who are not functioning – people who abuse alcohol and drugs, who have addictions, who cannot hold down a job, who hurt and abuse others, and who commit crimes. All anyone has to do is watch the news or take off the rose-colored glasses to see this. By any reasonable definition, these are people who are having difficulty in the “real world” and who aren’t “functioning.” Perhaps this so-called concern needs to be redirected to other groups of people who need it more.
“Homeschooled children are missing out by not being in school.”
What homeschooled kids actually experience are interactions and experiences that they would otherwise be missing out on if they were confined to school. There is absolutely nothing that schools do that cannot be recreated better, more efficiently, and more meaningfully in a home education setting.
Times have changed. Home education is a huge movement, and it draws in people from all different backgrounds, economic groups, religions, races, and philosophies. There are homeschooling families everywhere. The multimillion dollar homeschool curricula/supply industry reflects the size of today’s home education world. The choices in curricula and supplies are mind-boggling. And local businesses and community organizations also reflect that by the programs that they offer.
Homeschoolers can find classes and programs especially for them at libraries, museums, dance schools, gyms, nature centers, and more. There are co-ops of every description. In some locations, there are even field trips, sports associations, service projects, dances, and graduation ceremonies just for homeschoolers. To what extent homeschooling families can avail themselves of those opportunities depends a lot upon the ages of their children, their children’s needs, their location, and the logistics of getting to those things. But there are opportunities out there, and there’s no reason for homeschooled children to miss out on anything over the course of their childhoods.
A final word...Even with all the variations in methodology, home education is more a life-style and a philosophy than a simple matter of school setting. It’s a choice to education children in a different, outside-the-box manner, and any time people challenge the status quo in education there are going to be those who will voice criticisms. The issue of socialization is just one of many misunderstood issues, so continue bravely on your homeschooling journeys, hold onto your convictions, and trust what you know to be true – homeschooling is worth it!
I recently opened a shop on Teachers Pay Teachers with printable learning games, worksheets, and other resources for home educators! The shop started off as Homeschool Designed but has since been changed to Growing Lifelong Learners. Please stop by and take a look – there are many freebies and the inventory is growing weekly! (Pssst…I’m throwing a sale that starts today!). ~ Jessica