"How will they learn to get on with other kids?"
"How can you stand being cooped up all day like that?"
"Aren’t you worried about their socialization?"
Those are the questions I’m asked the most by those unfamiliar with homeschooling. I can’t say that I fault them; before I began researching homeschooling as an educational possibility for our family over eight years ago, I wondered the same things. For all I knew, homeschooling required me to wear long denim skirts and to include snake charming as part of my curriculum. My knowledge of homeschooling was limited to popular stereotypes.
Also – where were the homeschoolers? They need to put cow bells on these people, I thought. If they don’t look like the freaks I imagined them to be how on earth would I be able to find one and shake them down for information?
Oddly enough, once I began discussing the subject, homeschoolers came out of the woodwork. The man working at Sbarro’s at the mall? Homeschooling dad. Some of the women at my church with whom I never really held a lengthy conversation? Homeschoolers. All of these people handed me URLs, extra worksheets, they fielded my calls and incessantly inquisitive emails. Before anything else I learned that the homeschooling came with a marvelous support system.
Through these people I learned about the various homeschooling groups in my area (most cities/counties have one, if not several) and joined a network comprised of close to a thousand families. My homeschool group, for instance, is a quasi co-op; we use a Salvation Army facility for gym, Spanish, and geography classes filled with other homeschooled kids. We also have a program featuring classes that a homeschooling family may struggle with: calculus, science (with lab), advanced literature, etc. Classes are taught by savvy parent volunteers, retired teachers, or parents who left the field to homeschool their own children. Our group also has sports teams, a chorus, a drama troupe, and a band. It’s usual fare for such groups, as are organized weekly (sometimes daily, depending on the size of the group) field trips and playgroups with other homeschoolers. All of this dovetails with the core lessons taught at home.
In the four years I’ve homeschooled, I’ve realized that my biggest problem isn’t making sure that my kids are getting socialized – it’s curbing it from becoming too much socialization. Our area libraries, our zoo, Science Center, Botanical Gardens, nature areas (to name a few), all offer regular programs or classes geared specifically towards homeschoolers. Area attractions routinely offer discounts to homeschoolers (the St. Louis Symphony, Dance St. Louis) and with so many other attractions following suit, it’s near impossible to pass up a field trip or outing.
I’ve always questioned the sanity of the person who created the unspoken rule that the best socialization is found solely amongst one’s peers – especially when those peers are first graders. I define truly successful socialization as the ability to get on with all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or sex. Neither of my boys bat an eye at speaking to an elderly woman, a kid their age, or someone of a different race or religion. Liam even once struck up a basic conversation in Spanish with a fellow shopper at our farmer’s market. I just crossed my fingers and hoped that he wasn’t saying anything vulgar as I had no clue what was coming out of his mouth. Most homeschooling groups are incredibly diverse as well: my group counts Hispanic, black, Bosnian, Russian, and white families as members. Some are Christians, some are not, some are Republicans, others Democrats. It’s a welcome change for me, someone who went to an average, all-white suburban school district. My socialization in school did not prepare me for the diverse world and were it not for the 15-plus years of ballet training with people of all backgrounds I would have experienced major culture shock when I hit college.
I don’t think you need to stick a kid in an institutionalized setting to teach the virtues of sharing or taking your turn; that humanity accomplished such eons before public schools were established is testament to that. (Public education rather than homeschooling is the real new kid on the block as it’s still relatively a new practice.) Plugging them into the vast world surrounding them sharpens their social skills more than you’d think.