You continually hear that school is said to combat isolation, provide socialization, and connections.
It was always the third question my sister and I were asked—
“What about socialization?”
Or some other equally awkwardly worded question of whether or not we had friends.
And it got us wondering: do we have (real) lives?
Do any of us?
You don’t have to be homeschooled to be isolated. There are an unfortunate number of publicly-schooled shooters and an equally nauseating number of isolated, normally-schooled children who have taken their own lives.
In fact, a desire to remove your children from this isolating atmosphere is a frequently cited factor in parents’ choice to homeschool (source).
Given the innately paradoxical schooling structure, the state-mandated 6-8 hours of mandatory peer-to-peer contact sometimes seems a schools’ primary—if not only—benefit. After all, aren’t your friends some of your best memories of school? Aren’t homeschoolers missing out?
What do the statistics actually say? Is it scientifically advisable to abate your socialization concerns by dropping your children off on a veritable concrete island? Is it better than braving isolation?
All studies of homeschooling and socialization that I have found show no significant difference in homeschoolers versus traditionally-schooled peers.
Homeschoolers score equally or better than their traditionally-schooled peers in any test of social adjustment researchers have posited, including peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem (source).
They have been shown to be more comfortable socializing with adults and others outside of their immediate peer group (see above).
Homeschoolers are also more likely to be involved in their church and more likely to do community service (see above).
Thus, Homeschooling is not the cause of this dreaded isolation; it can merely aid and abet. For a twisted few, the option of such seclusion is like giving a credit card to a gambler. But for most of us, credit cards are just fine.
So how do you use this credit card? Here are the things my family (and a lot of homeschoolers) have done to socialize:
- Look for Established Communities and Offerings—Libraries, churches, city and town “Activity” and “Calendar” pages, scouts, museums, and conventions.
- I found a number of my friends at my church’s local youth group, which offers the added bonus of service.
- Libraries host book clubs that you can work into your curriculum; for the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my libraries hosted a book discussion and movie viewing. There are also writing groups, knitting groups, and coloring groups. All great places for meeting likeminded people.
- Many city and town “Activities” and “Calendar” pages have information other items of this list like service projects, extracurriculars, summer camps, and programs.
- Service—Why not help the community while helping yourself? Maybe you will become lifelong friends with someone you would have never otherwise met, or maybe you’ll just get a broader understanding of people or the world.
- Do Extracurriculars — Sports, art, writing, or acting. Anything about which you are already interested or towards where you wish to expand.
- Even if the sport is normally school-supported (like football), look for one of the homeschool teams emerging across the country.
- (These look great on a college application or résumé!)
- Hang out with Homeschoolers—
- Summer Camps and Programs—My sister met some of her best friends at a local nerd camp, both during and after homeschooling. Not only did she meet regular schoolers, she met people from diverse backgrounds from across the world, with 14 consecutive days of socialization.
- The Web—From online forums to craigslist meetups, the web is truly the communication revolution for our time. Stay safe, but don’t let potential danger put you off this phenomenal resource.
- Family—While sometimes a middle school curse, I am closer with my family than most anyone I know. Don’t take it for granted.
These should give you a sufficient amount of socialization.
But when we’re worrying about socialization, how-to is seldom the real question. The question is instead: if our lives are not filled with irrelevant history and math assignments and Silly Bandz, is what we’re doing even real? Is it but a deluded dream?
If we’re not living like everyone else, are we really living?
Perhaps that is the worry strangers have when they ask about our “school friends.” That even if we find a crowd, we will be alone.
(“What did you do today?” “…I continued to play in the yard.”)
At times like these, I seemed inexorably isolated, listening to a language I did not know. Watching from the shore while my friends caught waves.
When the people stopped us at the supermarket to ask us about socialization, this was the experience about which they worried. Despite being on the shore of this fad, being adrift. And this, too, is one of a prospective (or even current) homeschool parent’s greatest worries.
Any person can be alone in a crowd.
But, we weren’t really that different. Despite occasionally feeling adrift, my friends and I did find common ground. Enough to be friends outside of the classroom’s 6-8 mandatory interaction hours. We did have fun. And I was certainly less stressed than them.
And just because my outlook was different than theirs, doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. Didn’t mean that I couldn’t find meaningful relationships outside a traditional classroom. Doesn’t mean that my lack of regular school socialization was wrong.