“Don’t worry about socialization. Wherever people congregate, there is going to be interaction and socialization. Where is it written that it needs to be in schools?” –Mary Kay Clark
One of the most misunderstood aspects of homeschooling is socialization. Even though fellow homeschoolers know that this is a non-issue, this is usually the first question or objection I get from people who are well meaning, yet misinformed about the socialization of a homeschooler. I think part of the expressed concern stems from a false sense of what homeschooling truly looks like. For our family, homeschooling does not involve sitting at the kitchen table, isolated from the world and engaged in lessons for six hours a day. It is quite the opposite. We are out exploring the world, engaging in natural learning, and interacting with friends, neighbors, and strangers, young and old, on a daily basis. In our world there are playgroups, playdates, homeschool park days, neighborhood gatherings, classes, and museums. There are trips to various shops and stores, the library, post office, and bank. We are immersed in our community, interacting and engaging in everyday life and learning the way of the world through experiences that four walls, twenty two peers and one adult can’t provide. In fact, it is often the case that our social calendar can be so full that I find myself needing to incorporate days in which we take a break from social obligations.
Socialization is “the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society.” Here’s what confuses me about the view that socialization must take place in schools. Children who are in schools spend six to seven hours in usually one room, away from the world around them. They are surrounded by the same group of children every day that are their own age and roughly their intellectual and maturity level. They have the opportunity to interact with a few adults, in which the relationship are almost always authoritative and nearly every single activity of their day is chosen and dictated to them. How is this relevant to how we live our lives past schooling age? As adults, we don’t often find ourselves in this scenario. True, some adults choose a desk job, but coworkers are not homogenous. In the real world aren’t we engaging with a vast range of ages, intellect and maturity? Don’t we make active choices in how we spend our day based on the jobs we hold, the people we spend our time with, and the activities we engage in during our free time? How then, is sitting in a desk for seven hours socially preparing our children for life?
As homeschoolers, my children have the opportunity to live in the real world all day. Everyday they are surrounded by a range of ages from little ones to adults. This diversity in their everyday community provides a rich environment to learn and grow as a member of society. Even in the mundane every day tasks of running errands, my children are learning about our community and social norms. From standing in line at the grocery store to paying the cashier at the coffee shop; they are becoming successful members of our society. One of the characteristics I admire in older homeschoolers I meet is that they are so comfortable in conversation and socializing with all ages, including adults, because they aren’t spending hours in an environment that fails mimic the world we live in each day.
It is also true that I want to avoid the socialization that takes place in schools. Unhealthy peer pressure, unwanted influences, bullying, cliques: all of these scenarios start early. Way early. I understand that these issues are the way of the world and they are not situations that only happen in schools but continue in our lives as adults. Though I wish it didn’t have to happen to anyone, only an emotionally mature adult can be equipped with the self confidence it takes to defeat these evils. Children are not born bullies. These are learned behaviors. When 5 and 6 year olds are bullying, it is because they are being bullied in some other situation. My reasons for wanting to remove my children from the socialization that takes place in school is not because I believe this will shelter them from ever experiencing these social unpleasantries. They will encounter it in their lives, but hopefully when they are emotionally prepared for it. Most 5 or 6 or even 10 year olds are not emotionally mature enough to have the confidence and self awareness it takes to stand up to this pressure. It is true that I am attempting to temporarily shelter my children for now. When they are little and unable to handle the big feelings that comes with the negative socialization that takes place in school, I don’t see it as a bad thing to protect them a little while longer. I want my children to just be children for now. Why force them to handle adult like scenarios before they’re emotionally capable of it? All it will do is cause rather confusing emotions later down the line. But as my children mature with confidence and at their own pace, maybe they will be able to handle those situations better. Sure, it will still be painful, but maybe not devastating or worse, transformative and turn them to the dark side.
Socialization is not something I worry about as homeschoolers. I am cognizant of its important role in my children’s lives and take the steps needed for them to become successful members of our society. I don’t believe that they will be at a disadvantage because they are not learning these skills in the classroom, but rather an advantage because they are not.