Inevitably, in any conversation I have with non-homeschoolers, the question usually comes up: "So, do you have a group that you belong to?" Essentially, I think that many people ask this because they wonder if we just spend time alone all day. For many, the "S" word---socialization---is one of the reasons that determine whether they homeschool or not. Merriam-Webster defines socialization as this: “to make social; especially : to fit or train for a social environment,” more specifically, “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” Socialization, as I see it then, is a type of training, specifically for proper social behavior. The question is who is to do that job?
I often am asked, "How will your kids become socialized if they stay at home all day?" After defining the term and clarifying that we are on the same page, my response generally runs like this: Do I want other five year olds teaching my five year old what is appropriate social behavior? (To be honest, I don't think other parents are going to want my five year old training their kids either!) How about other teens training my teen on how to grow up through the adolescent years? I don't think so.
The assumption is that children need to be with their peers in order to learn how to respond properly in social settings. I'm not sure I agree with that idea. Yes, my children need to learn to get along with others, to share, to take turns, to follow directions, and so on. But remember that most children are still learning that themselves. They are not really in any position to guide another child their own age to think through how to live sacrificially, think kindly, or behave nobly. The training kids do is called peer pressure, getting kids to conform to the rest of the group.Unfortunately, I think that kids do learn things from others...just not what you want them to learn!
This is an issue that I’ve really had to think through. When I say that I homeschool, often the implication or assumption is that I am anti-social. That is not true. I do want my children to learn how to be upstanding, godly influences in their culture. However, they will need to learn how to do this not from a pack of peers but from loving adults who are (generally) able to help them to learn those skills needed to adapt to not just their peers but to people of different genders, ethnicities, or ages.
And so, part of your homeschooling adventure will include lessons in socialization as defined above. As with all other training, this is done little by little. Here are some thoughts on this process:
Remember that you as parents should be the main socializer of your children.
Teach them and train them in how to talk to adults, how to obey authorities, how to share with others, how to think of others first. Model with your words and actions how to say "please" and "thank you", "excuse me" and how to ask for help. Show them how to take turns, let others go first, or give others the best piece of cake or largest cookie.
If learning how to play with peers is important for you, start play dates with kids and moms when they are young.
Get to know some moms and their families as a family. That way, even if the kids are playing together, you can also enjoy your time together. They don't have to be limited to other homeschooling families or even Christian ones. In fact, most of my children's friends are not homeschooled, but we know the parents. For me, it is more important that we share the same parenting values than the same educational philosophy. Of course, use your best judgment, but we know some unchurched families that we feel very comfortable with. Later on, even if you need to drop them off at their homes, you know that they are in a wholesome environment that supports your goals for your children.
Don’t try to make up for their lack of socialization by putting them in every possible class you can get.
Sometimes we try to make up for their lack by signing up for ballet, art, karate, soccer, music lessons, Cub Scouts. Multiply this by two, three, four children, and you've got way too much going on. If your kids are spending more time in classes than with you, then you might as well have them in a traditional school. Not only that, you will be running yourself ragged playing chauffeur.
This is not to say that I don't recommend any classes. We need to be wise in what we do. Consider your child's unique bents and budding talents and limit yourself to one or at the most two classes (depending on how many children you have) per child. Instead of giving in to the compulsion of activity for activity's sake, use them to fulfill your purposes.
Sometimes we want our children to take a class so that they can learn something that we cannot teach them. That's great! We need to draw on the expertise of others. But if I were to do so, I would make sure that I either cut something out first or make sure that we have time to do so. Generally, I think that it's too much if other people see my kids more than I do!
Wisely evaluate other adults who will be teaching your children.
Not all adults are well-suited to teach your children. When my kids are younger, I often sit in with them in their classes (unless I know the instructor personally). I am not a believer in protecting them from everything, but if something does come up in class, I make a mental note of it, and we talk about it afterwards. And of course, if it is a class that completely contradicts or confuses your child, you as the parent can withdraw from the class and seek a refund, if possible.
Teach them to have a heart for people of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities, even at a young age. In actuality, I think that our school system, by segregating kids into age-specific groups, doesn't really do much to prepare our children for real life. In the real world, everyone you see is not just like you. They are not all the same age as you. Just hanging around with your peers does not give your children real-life experience. Life doesn’t work that way.
Instead, as homeschooling families, we have the opportunity to equip our children to care for the young, assist the elderly, get to know the handicapped. Meaningful activities, purposefully chosen can help our children go much farther in their socialization than sitting in a classroom all day. Look at your home, your neighborhood, and your church. How can these become opportunities to train your children in the social graces? If we are willing, the Lord will open our eyes to the many ways that we can teach our children how to share the love of Jesus with those around them.