It doesn’t matter if it’s a relative who loves you, or a stranger in the grocery store: if you tell them that your child is homeschooled, they will be concerned about your child’s socialization.
“But how do they learn how to make friends or have conversations?” they may ask.
It’s one of the most frequently asked questions posed to those in the homeschooling community. Because homeschoolers don’t spend all day, everyday with their peers, people tend to be concerned that they won’t know how to make friends with other children.
But an even bigger concern lurks behind this one.
If homeschoolers aren’t comfortable interacting with others who are the same age as them, how will they be comfortable interacting with other people in general?
How will they manage in adulthood?
Today, I want to explore these questions and take a look at some of the rumors, and realities, about homeschoolers and socialization.
The Rumor: Homeschoolers are non-social and weird.
This is the concern, and often the stereotype, placed upon homeschoolers: that they are weird (the bad kind of weird) because they don’t know how to socialize.
Though it’s still a minority form of education, homeschooling used to be much more of a rarity than it is today. Therefore, there’s old and perpetuated myth that homeschoolers are oddities who are isolated from the world. Some people think they are locked in the basement like unwilling cult members– protected from the good and bad that the real world has to offer.
People who are concerned about homeschoolers being anti-social might also worry that they don’t have the opportunities to learn how to make friends, or even that they don’t have the opportunities to defend themselves against bullies (while I personally disagree, some would argue that this is a valuable childhood experience).
It’s true that public school students spend several hours, five days a week, surrounded by other students the same age is them.
It’s also true that homeschoolers don’t share this experience… so what does that mean about homeschoolers’ ability to socialize?
The Reality: Homeschoolers socialize more broadly.
There is some truth to the idea that homeschoolers socialize differently than their public school peers. However, it doesn’t mean they they aren’t social, or don’t have good (even great) social skills. The reality is that homeschoolers socialize more broadly. They spent a lot of time with adults, as well as with children of a variety of ages (not just those in their own age group).
Sometimes this means that homeschoolers don’t necessarily conform to doing everything socially in the same way as their same-aged, public school peers. However, it also means that they often have the advantage of being able to socialize more broadly.
Homeschoolers are comfortable with adults.
Homeschoolers typically spend time a lot of one-on-one time with adults (parents and relatives, extracurricular teachers, mentors) who care about their educational, social and emotional development.
As I’ve talked about previously in this article, an overwhelming reason that parents choose to homeschool is so that they can guide their childrens’ moral, emotional and social development.
Therefore, it’s not unusual that things like practicing good manners and demonstrating social responsibility are often a part of a homeschool education. Even people who aren’t fans of homeschooling will frequently admit that homeschoolers have excellent manners and seem more mature than other children their age.
While it’s true that this potentially makes homeschoolers stand out as being “different” than their public school peers, it’s often a good kind of different.
Another obvious outcome of homeschoolers having more personal, one-on-one time with adults is that they generally tend to be comfortable with adults, seeing them as real people more than “alien creatures.” As a former homeschooler, I remember always feeling very comfortable talking to adults, and this seems to be a pretty shared experience among all of the homeschoolers that I’ve known.
While this may make homeschoolers different from their public school peers, it is a far cry from the “unsocialized” stereotype.
Picture this: a young man in his early 20s (who comes from a homeschooled background) goes into his first big job interview. He’s extremely polite and respectful, yet totally comfortable in the presence of the 45 year old who is interviewing him. Is that young man going to stand out for these things?
Yes, he is. He’s going to stand out in a really, really good way.
Most homeschoolers are also okay with hanging out with kids who are older (and even younger) than they are.
Though they don’t spend every day in a large classroom of other children, homeschoolers tend to be active and have opportunities to make friends through numerous resources like the internet, co-ops, church, sports, involvement in the arts (etc.)
However, a main difference in socialization among homeschoolers (versus their public school peers), is that age isn’t as important.
Homeschooled students are used to making friends outside of the classroom with other children who may be a different age than them. Many homeschoolers are also friends with their siblings!
Again, the idea that homeschoolers enjoying hanging out with other children who are younger than they are, especially with their siblings, puts them in minority and could be perceived as “weird” (in a bad way).
However, I’d once again argue that – just because it’s less common – doesn’t mean the minority is a bad place to be. After all, what is so bad about children enjoying the company of their brothers or sisters?
And how does being able to relate to people who are a different age than you make you less “socialized?” As adults, we socialize with people who are different from us all the time: it’s a very normal – even desirable – part of life.
The Rumor: Sameness = Socialization
Underlying the belief of the previous point is a much taken-for-granted assumption that conformity is the same thing as socialization.
Admittedly, there are some situations in which there is a strong link between the two.
For example: this is true in a fifth grade classroom where every ten year old feels like they must own a pair of Converse high-tops. The fifth grader who does not own the high tops will feel likely feel more left out and less confident. In situations (like public school) where sameness is critical, those who don’t look, sound, or think the same way as the majority often feel shunned. This does affect confidence, social acceptance and (ultimately) the ability to socialize.
The “rumor,” about homeschoolers is that, because they often stand out (or don’t conform) in some way to the majority of their same-aged peers, they are “weird” (in a bad way). People think that this means they don’t know how to social or won’t be successful.
The Reality: Conformity Doesn’t Equate to Successful Socialization
In reality, the example about the fifth grader in the high-tops does not have as much to do with socialization (directly) as it does with peer pressure.
In public school, peer pressure is a very important part of fitting in and making friends. And it is true that this is not a big part of life for homeschoolers. Maybe this is why someone might think that homeschoolers don’t know how to make friends, if they aren’t consistently dressed in the latest styles or up on the latest lingo.
Please note that I’m not saying that all homeschoolers are out of the loop in terms of social trends. Especially in today’s world, it’s easy for anyone to keep up with social trends if that is important to him or her. For some homeschoolers, these things are important. For others, they aren’t.
The difference is this: homeschoolers feel less pressured to conform. Conformity doesn’t affect their self-image or self-expression, hinder their confidence, or affect their ability to communicate and interact with others. If they choose to be trend-savvy, it’s because they want to be.
The Vital Role of Sense of Self and Concern for Others
In the face of a lack of peer pressure, many homeschoolers find a freedom to discover who they are and to pursue their passions and interests on a deeper level.
For instance, a student with a strong interest in art can take professional online art courses from Sparketh as part of their homeschool curriculum.
A student with an interest in theatre can attend rehearsals that run long into the night, without fear of it messing with their schoolwork.
As adults, this may come through as a strong sense of identity and healthy amount of self-esteem. This idea, often expressed anecdotally by homeschoolers, has been supported by this research study which indicated that homeschooled girls had higher self-esteem and sense of self than their public schooled peers.
Homeschoolers also grow up learning about respect, empathy and mature relationships from their parents, who are often actively modeling morals and values.
As I stated earlier, one of the top reasons parents choose to homeschool is actually so they can play an active role in emotional and moral development. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say that this kind of learning is part of many homeschool situations.
Perhaps this is why research supports that homeschoolers demonstrate a higher-than-average intentional altruism: a selfless concern for others. Another research study indicates that homeschoolers tend to have higher quality friendships, as well as greater-than-average moral reasoning.
In a masters’ thesis on the topic of homeschooling and socialization, researcher Thomas Smedly put his findings this way:
In the public school system, children are socialized horizontally, and temporarily, into conformity with their immediate peers. Home educators seek to socialize their children vertically, toward responsibility, service, and adulthood, with an eye on eternity.
Thomas C. Smedley, M.S., “Socialization of Home Schooled Children: A Communication Approach,” thesis submitted and approved for Master of Science in Corporate and Professional Communication, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, May 1992. (Unpublished.)
Ultimately, it seems to me that a strong sense of self, of morality, and of concern for others, each a play vital role in relationships and social skills. To this end, many homeschoolers express (and the research supports) that homeschooling provides a solid ground for meaningful relationships and social interactions.
The Rumor: Homeschoolers Don’t Have Many Opportunities to Make Friends
This last “rumor,” is the most straightforward: that homeschoolers don’t have opportunities to meet new people or make new friends.
The logic behind this makes a lot of sense. Public school children make the majority of their friends in their classroom. Homeschooled children obviously don’t spend as much/the same kind of time with their peers. This reality feeds the rumor that homeschoolers have trouble making friends, if only because they have fewer opportunities to do so.
The Reality: Homeschoolers Have to Be Intentional
Honestly, homeschooled kids aren’t going to run into as many potential friends on a daily basis as children in public school.
That’s totally true.
For this reason, homeschooled families (and homeschoolers) have to actively seek out friendships in order to make them.
And frequently, they do just that.
Homeschoolers are (more often than not) involved in co-ops, special interest activities, church, etc. These are the places where friendships are made. Often, the friendships forged have something to do with morals/values/special interests in common. Perhaps is part of the reason that the above-mentioned research indicated that homeschoolers have higher-quality friendships.
Every homeschooled family is different, so it’s possible that some homeschooled families do tend to isolate (as the stereotype would claim.)
All I can say is that every homeschooled family I’ve ever known (and there are a lot of them) found it important to make sure they were involved in interests and responsibilities outside of the home. For many homeschooled parents, homeschooling is all about engaging their children in the world around them and preparing them for adulthood. None of that typically involves isolation.
Lastly, I’d like to point out this: no matter how many people surround you, the art of friendship is developed through being intentional, not via mere exposure. Everyone who has ever made a friend knows that the first step of friendship is about making a personal connection, and homeschoolers seem to be uniquely equipped to do that.
(Plus, we have a particular satisfaction to gain from overcoming that “unsocialized” stereotype.)