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'What about socialisation?'

The number one question I get asked when someone discovers I am home educating my children is, ‘What about socialisation?’ Many are concerned that my kids will not get enough interaction with other kids, or that they will end up weird, unsocialised, and unable to cope in the ‘real world’. But is socialisation really a problem for home educated children? Are these valid concerns?

Why is socialisation the first concern that people have about homeschooling?

Firstly, many misunderstand the nature of homeschooling. Unfortunately the myth that homeschoolers are home all day and isolated from other children is pervasive. However, most homeschoolers are not home all day, every day. The reality is that there are plenty of social opportunities for homeschoolers such as sport, workshops, volunteering, clubs, church, youth group, and excursions; just to name a few. Sometimes the struggle is actually to make sure we are home enough to finish our schoolwork!

Secondly, as traditional school is the ‘norm’, many believe that traditional school is the best way to learn the social skills needed for life in the ‘adult world’. The unstated implication of the ‘socialisation’ question, is that homeschooled children are missing out on some vital part of their social development. The concern is that not spending every day with peers may have a detrimental effect to the social growth of your homeschooled children. However, we need to ask what skills do our children need to be successful in the ‘adult world’? I would suggest that it is the ability to make good moral decisions, healthy behaviour patterns, the motivation and ability to learn new skills, and the ability to relate comfortably with all ages, that will help them to succeed in the ‘adult world’. If the ‘socialisation’ question is being asked of homeschoolers, it should also be asked of the traditional school; are our kids learning the skills needed to succeed in the ‘adult world’?

I have no doubt that kids in traditional school are learning social skills, but is it true that traditional school is the best place to gain experience and adeptness for life in the adult world?

What does the research say?

In my experience, homeschooled kids are in general, very well socialised. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Whilst anecdotal evidence may satisfy some, it will not satisfy all the questions that your concerned friends and family may have. It is helpful to be armed with some evidence, even if it only gives you confidence in your decision to homeschool.

Research shows that, contrary to popular belief, homeschooled children are well adjusted and benefit from vertical socialisation; mixing with all ages; which prepares them well for the real world… even though they don’t go to school.

‘…home educated children experience vertical socialisation as opposed to the horizontal socialisation offered by traditional schools.’

(Ruth Honeybone - A South Australian case study examining the home-schooling experiences of eight primary school aged children and their families.)

A report published by Sonja Allen of the University of Adelaide and Glenda Jackson from Monash University, titled ‘What, Whys and Wherefores of Home Education in Australia considered the available research about homeschooling in Australia. It concluded that “There is no Australian research that supports the notion that home educated children are isolated from society or lacking in socialisation.” They also found that homeschooling prepares children for the kinds of socialisation they will experience in the ‘adult world’.

‘The evidence is that home educated children experience a qualitatively different social experience which is more in line with socialisation experienced in the adult world which all young people eventually are presumed to enter.’

(Erica Cleary - 'Homeschooling: the meaning that the homeschooled child assigns to this experience'

In 2013, Richard G. Medlin from Stetson University wrote an article for Peabody Journal of Education in which he evaluates various research about home education and socialisation. He found that in most studies he reviewed, the results were favourable for homeschooled children; they had higher quality relationships with peers and adults, and they displayed fewer behavioural problems.

'This research paints a very favorable picture of homeschooled children. Compared to children attending conventional schools, they apparently have higher quality relationships both with close friends and with parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, satisfied with their lives, and have a positive attitude about themselves and about being homeschooled. As adolescents, they show a strong sense of social responsibility. They experience less stress and emotional turmoil and exhibit fewer problem behaviors than their peers.'

(Richard G. Medlin - Homeschooling and the question of socialization revisted Peabody Journal of Education on June 19, 2013)

The results of these studies has certainly been borne out in my own experience. Since beginning home schooling, the social skills of my children have continued to develop. In fact, they have become more comfortable and confident with people of all ages. My children have maintained the friendships from school that they valued, and the new friendships they’ve fostered have been of a higher quality. Overall I have found my children have been generally happier since leaving the traditional school environment.

In the concluding remarks of his article, Dr Medlin responds to the very question we are considering …”What about Socilialization?” and his answer is pertinent…

What about Socialisation? …. To be answered properly, it must be recast into a more specific question that is consistent with an accurate definition of socialization, such as this: Are homeschooled children acquiring the “skills, behavior patterns, values, and motivations” they need to function competently as members of society (Maccoby, 2007, p. 13)? And the answer to that question, based on three decades of research on homeschooling, is clearly yes.”

(Richard G. Medlin - Homeschooling and the question of socialization revisted Peabody Journal of Education on June 19, 2013)

As the research indicates, home educated children, on the whole, do develop the skills needed to enter the ‘adult world’ and become valuable members of society. …Not weird and unsocialised at all.

So, is socialisation a concern for the home educated family?

If we define socialisation as Richard Meddlin suggests, then I do not think we need to be concerned. The evidence suggests that home education is not detrimental, but in fact may be more beneficial than traditional school.

What about 'social interaction; is that a concern? I really want to say ‘no, it’s not’, and up until recently I would definitely have told you that my kids are social enough and it’s not an issue. But of late, my teenagers have expressed a desire to have more interaction with others. So yes, providing adequate opportunity for our children to socialise with peers is something we need to be mindful of. However, it is a ‘problem’ easily fixed. There are plenty of ways to help your children engage with others, here are some ideas:

  • Join local homeschool groups. Facebook is a great way to find a community. There are plenty of dedicated local homeschool facebook groups that post up-coming events. There are also groups on Yahoo for homeschoolers. Check out my growing list of online communities here.

  • Join sporting groups or clubs. Find local sporting groups for your kids, or if they are not ‘sporty’ find a club such as a drama group, Scout group, art class, or book club.

  • Create your own event or get together. Be proactive. Don’t wait for other homeschoolers to create a social event. We are all busy and we all contribute to the community. Decide on something your children would like to do and invite others!

  • Youth groups and church. Not only is church of great spiritual benefit, but it is also a place where you can make life-long like-minded friends.

  • Volunteering. Seek out opportunities to volunteer in the community.

  • Start a homeschool co-op. Invite a couple of families to come to your place for the day to do their “school work” around the table and then play. This is a great way to get your kids together but also gives other homeschool mums a break. Maybe they’ll return the favour and you’ll get a break too.

Are there other ways that you have found to create social opportunities for your children? We would love to hear about them.

Reprinted with permission. Original article by Amy Herman on her blog site:

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