As a mom who homeschooled four children to adulthood, I’m accustomed to naysayers who focus on socialization. Sadly, it’s been decades and the ridiculousness just keeps coming. This week in particular, I read more than one article on the subject, so I decided to make a listicle on some of the tools and techniques that help homeschoolers become citizens of the world.
Mixed ages In the larger world, people interact with others of varying ages, and that’s important. The more the age segregation practiced in school seeps into broader society, the more likely we are to see harmful ageism and age discrimination. Homeschooling offers kids the opportunity to interact and become comfortable with people of all ages. A perfect example of this was my son’s sixteenth birthday party. The guests ranged in age from toddlers to senior citizens. They included much younger homeschoolers, the peers he played in a rock band with, middle-aged parents he counted as friends, his young adult work colleagues, and his birding buddies.
Free play We all hear about the paltry amount of recess kids get in school, and the demise of after school free play and pick-up games in favor of structured activities. These are big losses. Plenty of research shows the importance of play for all kinds of development, including social, but isn’t it just common sense? My kids played regularly in small and large groups of children with no teacher supervising their play, which meant the kids had to learn to deal with each other. Play is also a way for kids to try out ideas, work through problems, and practice real life. My daughters’ tea parties, in which they pretended to be grown-up women, come to mind.
Intrinsic motivation When my eldest transitioned to high school from homeschooling, she quickly learned that group work in classrooms looked like this: the one or two kids who cared about their grade did all the work. Notice I didn’t say the one or two kids who wanted to learn about the subject. The very existence of grades decimates intrinsic motivation to learn the material. This experience was in contrast to groups she had been in with homeschoolers, where kids joined by choice and participated fully, working with each other to learn about a subject, put on a play, start an advocacy group, or whatever they chose. If they stopped wanting to participate, the remedy was simple–quit.
Messy support groups I’m being a little facetious here, but I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say there may be no such thing as a drama free homeschooling support group. The idea that all homeschoolers agree with each other is ludicrous, and really, why would they? We should never assume that just because a group of people make the same choice about one thing they share views about everything else. In fact, I think our experiences homeschooling have been pretty effective in helping me and my children learn how to coexist with people who have different values, beliefs, and lifestyles. Homeschooling families tend to be closely connected, so my kids learned firsthand that not all families were like ours when it came to everything from religion to politics to food to TV watching, schoolwork, and more. They listened to homeschooling parents engage in passionate discussions about birth, breastfeeding, education, and politics. They witnessed adults hashing out their differences about park day, field trips, and leadership structure. Observing adults interact in these ways provided valuable examples for how (and how not) to work and collaborate successfully with other people.
The community and beyond When you homeschool, the world is your playground. Whether you take that literally like the families who focus their homeschooling on travelling the globe (what better way, really, to understand differences), or just take advantage of the world around you, the opportunities for exploring new experiences, relationships, and ideas are numerous. We enjoyed museums, theaters, universities, libraries, historic sites, lakes and beaches, green spaces, sports leagues, and more. Always, there were opportunities to interact socially.
Time and the freedom to choose how to use it The time homeschooling kids have to learn, grow, and become offers many socialization opportunities. Once my kids were 12 or 13, they were riding public transportation independently to get to activities of their choice, which included volunteer jobs, classes, music and theatrical events, and social gatherings. Among their chosen pursuits were working at the science museum, interning with political candidates, performing in theatrical productions, volunteering at a major hospital, taking community college classes, and bird watching. In order to do these things, they had to learn to successfully work with people and fulfill their obligations, not just in one setting but in many. Theater etiquette, for example, is a particular kind of thing, birders have their own idiosyncratic conventions, and on and on. As homeschoolers, they had the time and space to engage in a wide variety of educational and social activities. They didn’t just have to learn how to interact and survive socially in one environment–school. Rather, their socialization experiences were broad and varied.