One of the persistent concerns society raises with homeschooling is socialization.
And this is wise, isn't it? It is easy as a homeschooling parent to feel offended when the issue arises. But surely we can take an honest moment and admit that, done poorly, homeschooling is an isolating experience for both parent and child, and the myriad of social lessons that children are expected to master before adulthood are left unattended.
Let's leave our egos at the door for a moment and take a closer look.
Before we work on the problem of the unsocialized child, perhaps we can pin down exactly what we mean by the term socialized?
Socialized individuals embody the written and unwritten rules necessary for interacting with their fellow man. They can "read the room" by observing and accurately interpreting the body language of those around them. They empathize with other perspectives while honoring their own. They present themselves assertively when necessary, and they can listen to the assertive stances of others without defensiveness. They share of their abundance without slipping into codependency. They care for and protect those who are weaker, and they honor and learn from those who are stronger. They do everything they say they will do, and they do not shirk from holding others accountable for the same. Simply put, the socialized individual exists peacefully within a community without shrinking.
High levels of concern for the well being of others combined with guardianship for one's own needs and aspirations; these are the two pillars of socialization.
Now. What steps must we take to meet this goal?
Opportunities for Growth: the mechanics of public school
Public schools must deal with high volumes of children in a comparatively small amount of space. These children must move about in a manner that takes into account the exceptional quantity and diversity of other individuals within the building.
Children in the public school environment learn to work quietly so as to not disturb their partners. They learn to walk with their hands by their sides so that they do not hurt each other or destroy their school on the way to recess. They learn to hold their questions until the appropriate time so that they may let the speaker finish the presentation. They even learn to coexist with uncomfortable (annoying, harsh, mean, rude, misguided, etc.) peers and authority figures. Each child in the system embodies the many ways we check ourselves for the proper functioning of the group.
Public school children are given more opportunities to learn the intricacies of interpersonal skills that arise within the work environment because they are placed inside that system at a young age. If you would like your homeschooled child to learn these same skills, consider enrolling them in a sport, scouts, volunteer group, or a community class such as a co-op, youth orchestra, FFA, or coding.
By participating in these more structured, authority directed activities, children pick up the ability to recognize the written and unwritten rules of group participation.
Opportunities for Growth: the mechanics of homeschool
Homeschooled children live in a free environment. They wake with the sun, work when and where they choose, and snack when hungry. Equally important to the conversation: homeschooled children spend nearly a third as much time as their public school peers each day "schooling". The remainder of the day is spent in play.
This homeschool recipe affords children two important benefits.
First, it allows children space to define who they are as individuals without excessive interference from peers and authority figures. It is difficult to honor one's own backbone if you are constantly bent in hierarchical rule following. It is difficult to avoid codependency if you have never been afforded freedom. Homeschooled children have far more practice than their public school peers when it comes to goal setting, and self-propelled, interest-based learning. In all areas of socialization where following one's own inner compass is concerned, homeschooled children have the "leg up."
IF socialization is the peaceful mingling of individuals, then it is requisite to strengthen the self awareness and intrinsic motivation of each individual in the community. Homeschooled children excel in this aim.
Opportunities for Growth: the mechanics of play
The accumulation of hours spent in play during middle childhood is the second advantage of the homeschool experience.
I would suggest that children who spend the day at home with their siblings are provided far more opportunities for real social interaction than their public school peers. It is true that the homeschooled child sees fewer children each day, but the quality of each interaction is much higher.
And this is just the daily base rate of exposure. Many homeschooled children have a network of friends large enough to rival the classroom. They may not see their friends every day, but when they do, again the quality of each interaction is higher.
Instead of coexisting while following the rules, homeschooled children and their friends (of all ages!) immerse themselves in play, the very activity that helps us master all the finer points of existing harmoniously with others.
Exactly how does play develop socialization?
Play only happens democratically. When a group of children attempt to play tag, they create rules amongst themselves, hold rule breakers accountable, and plead their case when they feel they are being treated unfairly. If a child has a fabulous idea, they first must sell it to the rest. If this child has been an uncooperative pain for the last hour, they are sure to find their peer appointed karma. A group of playing children is a microcosm of the entire community. There is no better social training.
The socialized individual exists freely and peacefully within a community. When children play they strengthen the skills necessary for participation in a free society.
Opportunities for Growth: the mechanics of the arts
There is one more respectful nod I must make to public schools, and that is to the myriad of music and drama teachers. The arts reach into the core of the human soul. They bring us face to face with that which is most beautiful about humanity. Through the arts, we embody harmony and all that is possible when human souls aim voluntarily and completely toward a common goal.
The child breaking out in a sweat, hanging onto a note with air they barely posses, so that the melodic line remains unbroken becomes fully aware of their singular contribution to the whole. The child playing the supportive harmony under this perfect solo works to barely exist because sometimes it really and truly isn't about you in life, but your perfect attendance is still demanded. The musician understands what the mother sustains; both the significance of the individual contribution and the insignificance of the individual in the face of the whole. It is this dichotomy that sits at the heart of social life.
This dichotomy is the sound of humanity.
So what can we say about the homeschool versus public school socialization debate?
The very mechanics of the public school system create opportunities for a child's social growth.
The very mechanics of the homeschool system create opportunities for a child's social growth.
If you are homeschooling, it does you little good to be offended when people are concerned on behalf of your child. (Shouldn't we rejoice when people want what is best for our children?) Instead of a bruised ego, bring an awareness of the things that each system does well to the conversation. Then you can find supplementation for the missed benefits of one while consciously enhancing the benefits of the other.
I hope our journey inspires your own,
Buckets & Berries