So, this came up today. I was with some other homeschool moms at a park where the kids played and the moms hung out. It’s great when there are more than two moms because then when a kid needs a mom for more than a question–like some dedicated one-on-one help, snuggling, working through a challenge, or showing us something they made that requires some back and forth questioning and interest–the remaining mom has someone to chat with. Score. Okay, okay, okay….
By now, in late 2014, when I tell people that we homeschool, I almost never get asked if I’m worried about socialization–which is a nice thing. I’m kind of tired of that one. (If you are someone that still wants answers to that, please see my guest blog post on The Innovative Educator called “How socialization happens in homeschooling”).
So there is no issue that homeschooled kids absolutely get socialization and social skills despite being homeschooled. There are certainly a couple of social challenges for homeschoolers. They are different than the social challenges of schooled kids, but challenges none-the-less. Let me share…
First, a major issue we have seen lately is that homeschooled kids integrate with others with pretty much no regard for age. If you can keep up, you can play–whether you are 4 or 14. What differs is that schooled kids seem to subscribe to a hierarchy based on age. We dealt with this with my own kids recently when they (current ages 5 and 10) were playing with another kid whose age was between the two (but closer to my younger). This child would change attitude the second my oldest was around–clearly trying to gain BigGuy’s favor and sometimes that meant being mean to Girly.
When this inevitably came up with the other parents, one of the comments the other parent made was that kids always want to be with the older kids because they think the older kids are cooler.
See, that’s not really the case with homeschooled kids. There is no perceived hierarchy among the kids based on age… for all kinds of reasons. In school, there is an apparent level of achievement with the moving up in grade that naturally comes with age. It stands to reason that kids want to be with those who have achieved something they are working towards. There is also undoubtedly a level of admiration that goes with someone that’s gotten through what they are currently working on. But homeschooled kids are not rarely separated out by age level. Their age is not relevant to any of their achievements; and in fact, their academic (or other) achievements may not even be visible to many of their peers. BigGuy’s friends have no idea that he’s working on high school level biology. It just doesn’t come up. They’re not in class together. Homeschooled kids are regularly thrown into a group of diverse ages (which often includes older and younger siblings) for any number of activities.
So when homeschooled kids are confronted with schooled kids whose attitudes change because their age becomes known and suddenly relevant to the relationship–most of them have no idea what’s going on. My daughter doesn’t “get” that this other kid was mean to her as a means of trying to show “rejection of little kids” to BigGuy. It’s a set of social politics that just doesn’t relate to most homeschoolers (and frankly, it only relates to schooled kids while they’re in school).
The other social problems homeschoolers have is learning to respond to other people who either don’t understand or don’t like homeschoolers. As parents, how do you even prepare your kids for this? It’s kind of like being a family of a minority faith (and one that is sometimes so misunderstood that people could get rather nasty) and trying to prepare your kids for the broad range of ways people can come at them because of it. When BigGuy was 5, we REGULARLY got “Are you excited to go to Kindergarten?” and sometimes it got as nasty as “Don’t you WANT to go to school?” as if it was my 5yo’s choice. We don’t get a lot of that anymore.
But just a few months ago, an innocent walk to the corner to see a dog that was the same breed we have turned into this dog’s owner chastising me in front of my children because we homeschool. We noted that we had just moved into the neighborhood and the woman asked if the kids went to the local public school (as opposed to a private school). BigGuy piped up that they were homeschooled, and this woman launched into a tirade that even took ME by surprise. In front of my children, she told me that I was creating social misfits that would be bullied into adulthood because of my overinflated sense of self.
This woman who knew only that I had just moved into the neighborhood and had the same breed of dog as she did. Nothing else. Not that anything else MATTERED really; but still…
How do you prepare a child to deal with people who will respond to them with such hostility? Especially since it’s pretty rare. It’s not like you want to prepare them for that kind of thing and scare them; but it’s not like you want them unprepared for it to potentially happen.
Last, homeschoolers are people, too. People just like schoolers to some extent. To that end, the parents can be just as persnickety, judgmental and clique-y as schooled parents. And that means if your kid does something they don’t like or is in some way, shape or form undesirable to them–they can pretty well isolate you (depending on their sphere of influence). At minimum, it can mean they just won’t hang out with you any more and if you’re in a place where homeschoolers are a minority–that can cut your playdates down quite a bit. Of course, this is not the end of social opportunities by any stretch (again, I refer to “How socialization happens in homeschooling”) but it can be a bummer and it can hit homeschoolers just as hard as being ostracized from a group in school and suddenly having nobody to sit with at lunch. The major difference being that it’s not in a homeschooler’s face daily because they’re not forced to be around the people they’re being snubbed by (although sometimes they are through community or church affiliations). But it still sucks.
Frankly, I’ll take this over some of the crap that comes with school. But just to let you know, our unicorns don’t all fart out rainbows in homeschool-land. Updated to include a photo someone sent me on this point. 🙂