The Thorny Issue of Homeschool Socialization

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Thorns on a rose stemI groaned as I put the weighted blanket on the check out counter. The clerk and I discussed the appropriate weight for my 21-year-old son.

We slipped into a conversation about his place on the spectrum. I told her about his past work in a psych hospital and now as an EMT in an emergency room.

I mentioned I had homeschooled him from K-5 through graduation.

“I guess that can be a good thing except for socialization,” she asked more than said.

My inner set of hidden eyeballs rolled around in my head. “Really!” I thought, “I still have to answer that passive-aggressive challenge in 2019?”

If you haven’t received the challenge yet, you will. So let’s take a look at factors involved and gentle ways to turn away (or win over) skeptics.

The Rise of Homeschooling in the U. S.

In the earliest days, pioneers in the movement homeschooled for religious or moral reasons. Many did so in jeopardy of jail time for violating the law.

Their push for legislation to legalize homeschooling opened the door for others to follow.

A ‘2nd wave’ of homeschoolers emerged: those whose students had learning challenges going unmet. IEP’s were not fulfilled. Students were falling farther and father behind. Parents saw no hope within the system.

When I worked for an 1,100 member-family state-level homeschool  organization in 2015-2017, I witnessed the 3rd wave of new homeschoolers.

My phone would ring as many as five times a day because yet another desperate parent was seeking help. Stories of bullying would unfold, and the parent would ask about available homeschool options.

That trend was replicated all across the state within the ranks of other homeschool associations in South Carolina.

The Thorny Issue of Homeschool Socialization

When I began homeschooling in 1997, very few people I met really knew anyone who homeschooled. In 2019, almost everyone knows someone. If you mention the topic, you will often hear, “Oh, my (name the relative) homeschools!”

Why then, does the challenging question of how and if homeschoolers are socialized still pop up? It seems those who question the issue fall into one of a handful of groups:

  • those who really don’t know any homeschoolers
  • retired educators who don’t know much about homeschooling and have a negative bias
  • current educators who have seen disastrous results of homeschooling failures
  • folks with a bias who don’t believe education is possible unless a ‘certified’ teacher is involved.

In the situation I encountered while shopping, the clerk had no close friends or relatives who homeschooled. So, I used the opportunity to talk to her about what ‘socialization’ really means and how I addressed the need during our homeschooling years.

When the general public refers to socialization, they mean the ability to move around in the world with competence and social conformity. For ‘them’, it means learning to get along with peers and follow rules as well.

Socialization Defined

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines socialization of humans in two ways:

  1. the process beginning during childhood by which individuals acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of a society
  2. social interaction with others

The questions then become:

  • Whose values, habits, and attitudes do you want your child to adopt as they interact socially with others?
  • Does socialization only take place in a classroom inhabited by 25 +/- students of the same age?

As the store clerk and I continued our conversation, I pointed out how students on the spectrum struggle more than others with the very issue she raised. Therefore, it was even more expedient that I was mindful of their ability to mesh with society in appropriate and successful ways.

homeschool kids enjoying socialization

Socialization Options for Homeschoolers

Depending on your location, homeschoolers now enjoy the opportunity for a variety of activities and interactions that contribute to adequate socialization. The more experienced among us joke that we have to pick a day to stay home and do book work vs. being out and about socializing.

To be fair, urban areas may offer more options, but even in rural areas, homeschoolers band together to find friends and opportunities for both social and educational growth. My store clerk friend was astonished to learn all the things my sons had been involved in.

Let’s take a look at my older son’s life as a homeschooler:

  • library homeschool days
  • 4H classes
  • skating and PE days
  • park days
  • science camp and classes at a local science center
  • field trips to plays, apple orchards, and amusement parks, zoo, and art museums, etc.
  • teen game and movie nights
  • homeschool orchestra
  • yearbook committee photographer
  • academic co-op classes
  • mission trips to inner cities;  ski trips (w/ our church)

Here’s a snapshot of my younger son’s homeschool life:

homeschool kids socializing while playing tug of war

  • PE, park, and skating  days
  • library events for homeschoolers
  • science classes and camp at the local science center
  • field trips to plays, zoos, parks, apple orchards, art museums, etc.
  • homeschool tennis classes
  • homeschool art classes
  • fencing classes – was a  Jr Olympian and competed up and down the east coast
  • literature group w/ book discussions and related field trips
  • summer camps w/ our church

When looking at those lists, it’s not hard to believe we had to make time to stay home and do academic work!

By the time my new retail friend and I finished speaking, she was gasping in amazement.

“I just had no idea so many things were available for kids who learn at home! I’m glad I met you. I’ve learned so much!”

So, I’ve told you what you and I already know about how busy homeschoolers can be.

How do we answer the question in a meaningful and respectful way when we receive a rebuke or challenge about our homeschooling decision?

Read my take here: How Do I Answer Homeschool Socialization Questions?

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