Socialization is the second thing people always ask me about when we're talking about homeschooling (the first is algebra). It's a big concern for people. My feelings on it are, I suppose, pretty strong. I think that instead of just telling you that homeschoolers can and do socialize and the ways in which they do, I'm think I'm going to go over some of the underlying concern that prompts that question. I'm going to tell you what I actually hear when people ask about socialization, and if you have other concerns or think I'm wrong, just tell me!

1. "I'm afraid that my kids will be freaks and no one will like them."

2. "I'm afraid my kids will be so awkward they won't have friends."

3. "I'm afraid my kids will be so shy they won't be able to get jobs."

4. "My kids love their friends and I'm afraid they'll hate me for taking them away from that."

5. "My kid is a social butterfly and I'm afraid he'll suffocate at home."

Do those sound about right? I'm not making fun of them-- they're real concerns. Being socially crippled is lonely. Healthy parents usually don't want that for their child. You should think and work through those concerns and make your decision based not on fear, but on wisdom and understanding.

Here's the thing:

Public school does not equal socialization.

Did you read that? It's true. Think about your own school days. I'm guessing you can think of plenty of kids who seemed socially awkward despite being in public or private schools their entire lives. The idea that homeschooling, in and of itself, creates socially awkward kids is a myth.

Can over-sheltering and cutting kids off from relationships create awkward kids? Sure. But that's more of a family thing, not a school thing. I'm guessing that if you're reading this and concerned about socialization, you're not going to regularly turn down play-dates or opportunities for your kids to be around other kids. You're going to make sure they have chances to see friends. Church, for one, is a great place for that. So are homeschool groups.

Let's look at that again:

Public school does not equal socialization.

Public schools foster a bullying atmosphere in which kids are hyper-sensitive to each other's differences in an effort to weed out the "unlike" parts and fit in. Kids like things that are familiar-- they like things and other kids to be like them. Even mild social shunning has an impact on kids and teachers in public schools cannot and should not be expected to micro-manage children's interactions. You tell me that your five- and seven-year-old can't get along all afternoon and you don't know what to do? Then don't expect your kids' teacher to manage the social interactions of thirty different kids while also teaching them. It's not fair to the teacher.

Do eight-year-olds know better? Maybe not, after all. And this is why public schools do not equal socialization.

Socialization is learning to get along with both your peers and those outside of your peer group. Do you want your child to have productive and beneficial conversations or interactions with their friends and their grandparents? With you and their siblings' friends?

An analogy I mentioned to my mom the other day is that of cooking. You would not reasonably expect a young child to become a good cook by putting them in a kitchen with lots of only other young kids. They will not, in most circumstances, take the ingredients and tools at their disposal and start cooking well. They might manage to eat enough flour and plain fruit to stay alive, sure, but it's not going to be that great for them or really equip them with cooking skills.

How does a child learn to cook? By cooking with someone who already knows how.

Children learn to be healthily socialized in the same way, by learning alongside someone who knows how to socialize. That means watching you-- their parent-- interact with them, with siblings, with the other parent, with the cashier at the grocery store, with a friend, with a mentor. This means getting practice by interacting with their siblings, with you, with a gentleman at the nursing home, with your friends, with their own friends.

They will learn how to be gracious and kind in conversation by watching and hearing you. They will learn by getting that practice with your supervision. Am I advocating that your children never have time with friends away from you and your direct watching eye and listening ear? Of course not. They have to grow up. But this means that the transition period to handling those interactions with wisdom and grace on their own will include you nearby, to prompt and admonish and correct. And I, for one, do not think that this particular kind of wisdom and grace is present in most six-year-olds. If you think it's lacking in most adults nowadays, consider how many of them grew up being socialized in public school?

Is public school the devil? No, of course not. But socialization is often held up by potential homeschoolers or homeschooling opponents as the field most likely to suffer by "keeping kids at home." And every argument against keeping kids at home assumes that the public school offers the best socialization education available and that, at least in this particular field, homeschoolers will have to struggle to keep up.

Which brings us to another aspect of the concern about awkwardness. What if your child is willing to talk to others, capable of talking to others, but is perceived as weird by those around him?

I would argue that kids that have social grace and are still perceived as weird are often labeled such because they are passionate about something that isn't mainstream. They're the kids that love to talk about civil war history or juggling or weather reports or current events in the Middle East. But you know what? Those kids may suffer a bit for their "weirdness," but they are far more likely to find authentic friendship in shared interests than merely having lives populated by acquaintances, even if those friendships don't number as many, and also to be active in job fields or hobbies they are genuinely excited about.

There's a huge belief these days that most of America operates in that one "finds" oneself in college or immediately after. There is, indeed, a period of time for most kids in which they grow to learn things about themselves regardless of background around this point in their lives.

But after being a high school student, a college student, and a post-college graduate, and hundreds of conversations with countless people (not exactly a scientific study, but bear with me), I would say that most of this "finding yourself" business is a result of hundreds of thousands of high school graduates entering college every year with absolutely no idea what they like. There are some who make it through the system without this problem, but I'd guess it's a one to five ratio? And those "ones" were usually the weird kids.

The other kids spent at least the past four years, if not the past twelve, squelching interests or passions that didn't line up with the mainstream, in a system that purports to celebrate individuality. Sure, they might have joined clubs and activities they actually enjoyed, but most of them find out pretty quickly that excited and passionate talking about something only you and one or two other people are interested in gets you labeled as weird.

Why does homeschooling work a bit better in this regard? Because you, the parent, have the opportunity to make an effort to get your kids connected with kids that share interests, instead of just who they happen to be lumped in a classroom with based on district. Because most elementary school kids, removed from the scorn of other kids toward learning, are excited about learning. They will talk to other scorn-free kids and connect with them and by the time they hit high school, they are often confident enough in the validity of their own passions and a few cultivated friendships that either, as introverts, they are content to remain with their circle of friends or, as extroverts, their cheerful confidence draws other kids hungry for friendship to them.

This post is long and it's clearly something I'm passionate about. That might seem a little weird to you (haha, joke-- um, or maybe not). But even if you don't agree with my reasons-- even if you fiercely disagree with them-- take time to think about why you think the public school system provides better socialization. What exactly, do you think the classroom model accomplishes? What time do (or would) your children have that their socialization would be encouraged rather than punished for being disruptive? Lunch? Recess? Bus ride? Thinking about exactly what you expect the school to provide may help you more clearly see the ways that it is actually failing to meet those goals, or conversely, even some ways that you might actually want to emulate it.

But please, take time to get past what you've always been told the school does for kids and think about what it is actually doing, good or bad. Especially when it comes to socialization.

Speaking of socializing, do you want to come hang out with us and ask some questions? You're welcome to come to our Homeschool Q&A at Trinity Assembly of God, this Saturday (April 27th) from 10am-noon. Coffee, tea, and water will be provided, feel free to bring your kids and your own snack. If you're on Facebook, you can RSVP here and get a reminder from FB about the event. Otherwise, feel free to email me or just show up!

And, while you're at it, check out these ladies and what they have to say about socialization today:

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

Also, not pictured, Jessica @ Redeeming the Home