Q: I’ve been thinking of homeschooling my son, but I am really nervous he won’t have any friends. How can I make sure he still gets enough socialization?
A: As a seasoned homeschooling mother of four children, the number one question people ask of me is always centered around socialization. What do your children do for friends? Do they have a social life? Will they grow up to be raving lunatic ax-murderers or worse, weird?
People imagine little homeschooled Chaim or Devora staring glumly out of the window while all the normal children are driven/walk/take the bus every morning to school. The homeschooled children have to stay at home and listen to their parent drone on about math or Rashi, while the normal children enjoy the company of 20-something other children all day. They never make friends and will always be out of step with greater society.
What is socialization? A common definition of socialization is the process by which humans begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as a functioning member of their society. What do children need to learn to perform as a functioning member of society? They need to learn to communicate, deal fairly and kindly with others, assert their needs to others, and work with people in a way that helps everyone in the group. All of these skills are learned while in a homeschool environment. Perhaps they are learned even better in a homeschool environment!
Think about it–if you are interested in car repair, how would you best go about learning more on the topic? Would you go sit in a room with a bunch of people born within nine months of you to learn more? That is rather unnatural! Most activities in life are performed with people of a variety of ages. People also learn best from a role model or teacher in small groups. A homeschool teacher-student ratio is always low, even in the largest of families, especially since older siblings can mentor younger ones.
Homeschooled children learn to shop, ask questions of strangers, participate in gemilus chassadim (acts of kindness), work with their siblings and friends, and participate in the larger adult world through actual real life interactions. They don’t have to play-act shopping in a store, like they would in school, because Mommy/Ima can give them the shopping list and the money, and let them loose in the store to shop (once she has taught them how to behave in the store) under her guidance, and eventually all by themselves. They learn how to ask someone to get the box of cereal that is too high for them to reach, and how to talk kindly to the cashier, in addition to the skills of figuring out change from the bill. My children have formed mature relationships with many adults in their lives because they interact in adult-style conversation with them. They have been guided by me since they were little, so that they would be “socialized”.
But then the question forms, “But what about friends? Do your children have friends their own age?” This question is often asked while my children are whizzing around the park with the other hordes of children, not while they are sitting forlorn on a park bench. So, yes, my children have friends. But they have friends who are younger than them, and friends who are older than them. I encourage relationships with people of all ages, because sometimes, the friendship is one of mentoring a younger child, and sometimes my child is the one learning from an older friend. And sometimes, it is just time for fun with someone you like! This, once again, is true socialization.
Some of my children are more extroverted than their siblings. It seems easy to think that that an extrovert needs to go to school so she will have LOTS of people with which to interact. But I feel that kind of child also needs guidance in how to use her skills in a way that will assist her in her growth. So cultivating opportunities to befriend people with whom she may not have normally interacted is important for this child. My introverted children needed time and maturity for them to decide they were ready for more of a peer network. They still don’t need or want tons of friends, but the ones they do have are now vitally important, and I celebrate those hard-earned relationships.
It is possible that some homeschooled children are weird. But if you look to your children’s classes, or hearken back to your own days in school, you will certainly remember that there were always some kids who were odd, didn’t have friends, and stood out. Homeschooling didn’t create them! Children, especially in groups, can be cruel, and those misfit children suffer needlessly. However, homeschooling can give those children a chance to intentionally learn crucial skills, under the guidance of a loving parent/mentor, over time, and through numerous not-as-threatening interactions. Homeschooling is not always the solution, but it can give these children an opportunity to blossom on their schedule.
Socialization begins with the family. Parents teach their children how to smile, how to wave bye-bye, how to say please and thank you. Why shouldn’t we continue to be the main guides of how to interact successfully in the world? With homeschooling, life is one of the subjects in the school day!