What about socialization?
It’s a question homeschooling parents hear all the time. Those of us who are seasoned homeschoolers know it’s a non-issue.
In fact, the opportunities for mixed-age socialization is one of homeschooling’s great benefits. At homeschooling park days, kids of all ages interact and play with each other. My teens attend one where some kids engage in a game of ultimate frisbee, while others play capture the flag, and still others enjoy the playground or brook.
Generally, it’s teenagers who play ultimate frisbee, but an interested and motivated younger child would not be turned away. Sometimes, you can see younger children watching the game with rapt attention, clearly admiring the “big kids” and looking forward to joining their ranks. When a younger kid wants to be in the game, the older kids get to mentor them.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a tendency in homeschooling support groups to create events that are age-segregated. If these gatherings are a small part of a person’s life, and the person is engaging in the larger world full of many different kinds of people, they can be just one component of a full life. But sometimes I feel like the push toward creating age-segregated events in homeschooling groups is driven by our cultural obsession with age segregation.
There’s research on the benefits of mixed-age groups, but even without empirical evidence, my common sense and my own experience tell me that age-mixing is a better choice. We all gain knowledge, perspective, compassion, and confidence from interacting with people from all stages of life.
When older children serve as mentors and role models for younger children, either intentionally (by acting as a teacher, director, or tutor, for example), or inadvertently (by playing in their presence a robust game of ultimate frisbee that involves cooperation and skill), the benefits are tremendous. Adults also reap rewards from developing relationships with kids.
It’s true that sometimes parameters need to be set for a group. Parents who want to start a math club might need to define the level of ability required to join. A writing group might necessitate a particular skill level to participate. In all these cases, homeschooling parents can consider ability rather than age as the most important criteria.
When my son was turning 16, the list of invitees for his birthday party included homeschooled and schooled kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens, homeschooling parents and other adults he counted as friends, and adult members of his birding group. The gathering reflected what I have seen to be true time and again — homeschoolers raised with plenty of mixed-age experiences become socially well-adjusted teens and adults who enjoy relationships with all kinds of people.
Interactions with people of all ages is something which homeschooling naturally offers, so get over the idea that classes, activities, and other programs need to be defined by age, and enjoy and reap the benefits of age mixing.