Socialization: The Inevitable Question
By Karen Lange
At some point during the homeschool journey, most families are asked about socialization. If it doesn’t come from family, it comes from friends or others. Whether it’s well intended or not, it is still something we must consider.
During an interview last year, someone commented and asked me this:
“I learned my social skills from public school. If I homeschool, how can ensure my child develops the proper social skills they will need to function?”
Much of society says that traditional education is the only viable means for socialization. As you might guess, I disagree. The proper pursuit of a “normal” social experience is largely a myth. Children do not have to depend on public or private school in this respect; they can develop social skills at home and elsewhere. Parental example and influence, interaction with extended family and friends, and extracurricular activities provide opportunities for children to learn how to interact and conduct themselves in social settings.
Society also often overlooks the negative aspects of socialization – things that are detrimental to a child’s development. I believe that the traditional way of thinking throws children out there with too few coping tools. This is not to say we should shelter or coddle them, but rather employ a healthy balance of interaction, skill-building instruction, and opportunities to provide lifetime benefits for our children.
How do we do this? I think that a proactive attitude that fosters opportunities for children to spend time with peers and others is the most effective strategy. Real life isn’t spending time solely with one’s peer group; it’s interacting with all ages and walks of life. As parents, we can facilitate social opportunities and friendships and not over protect, but shield young children from damaging elements. Think of your children as young plants in a greenhouse given time to develop and grow with measured care and attention. We can model and share ways to interact with others, and teach children to be kind and polite, to share, and to do for others. Balance this with a liberal dose of common sense, teaching them not to talk to strangers and so on.
A healthy social strategy doesn’t mean completely avoiding every negative person or situation; doing so would be impossible. Negative influences are part of the real world, and we must equip our children to approach them with wisdom and savvy. Depending on age and ability we can discuss how to interact with and treat others, and model good social skills.
Naturally we want children to learn how to “hold their own” among their peers and others. This can be done organically in a relaxed manner as they mature through family activities, playgroups, homeschool and other groups, sports, music lessons, community or church events, etc.
Be proactive yet patient, and remember that social skills don’t develop overnight. Whether your child is shy, outgoing, or somewhere in between, it will take time. All the adult homeschoolers I know (my children included) are successful, socially adept citizens. So be encouraged by those who’ve graduated and are doing well.
Will it matter in ten years? I think it will, and worth adopting a balanced, practical mindset. While social skills are important, it’s not all about making friends and being accepted. It’s about sending kind, responsible, and productive children into adulthood. When the socialization question comes up, maybe the best thing to do is to smile and change the subject. Those who pose the question will see the good results soon enough.
Karen Lange homeschooled her three children for grades K-12. She is a homeschool consultant, the author of Homeschool Co-ops 101 and Write for Life, a freelance writer and editor, and online writing instructor for homeschooled teens. E-mail Karen at [email protected]