Homeschooling Social Issues: The Truth
Hello! Today I’m going to address another question that I and most other home educating families get asked a lot (later check out my post on the 10 most frequently asked questions I about homeschooling). This post is about the #1 most frequently asked question about home educating and most people seem to think it is one of the disadvantages of homeschooling.
It’s understandable as most people have little idea of what home educating looks like, or of the vast spectrum of possibilities open to homeschoolers- in fact here are 6 more surprising facts about UK homeschooling. So here’s the question we get asked all the time:
“How do homeschooled kids socialise?”
I’ll break down my answer into a few parts because there are a few concerns that people have about this issue.
What IS Socialisation?
There are generally two ways in which the term ‘socialisation’ is used; the first is ‘mixing socially with others’ and the second is ‘learning to adapt to integrate into society’.
Let’s look at socialisation and what good socialisation is and is not, according to neuroscience. The idea that children need to be around lots of other children of the same age for most of their lives (like they are in schools) in a concept that is popular in contemporary Western culture.
This idea does not stem from scientific basis, nor does it account for the individual needs of children when applied in a one-size-fits-all system. I would suggest that poor socialisation is not one of the disadvantages of homeschooling but is far more of an issue within schools, where bullying and peer attachment is extremely common (check out my article on 14 ways to bullet-proof your kids against peer pressure).
Good socialisation for children is providing opportunities for them to form beneficial relationships and to explore and learn about social norms and etiquette according to their abilities, desire and capacity. This may be with lots of children of a similar age, like in school, or it may be in an alternative sphere such as home education.
I believe that my kids have an extremely high standard of social experiences as they mix with people of all ages and backgrounds instead of mainly children their own age and demographic as often happens in school. They also have ample space to practise conflict resolution with the support of adults- this sets them up well for being able to resolve conflict on their own when they are older because they are equipped with the knowledge from childhood.
4 Benefits Of Homeschool Socialisation
When considering homeschooling social issues, here are four ways in which home education can provide a social environment in which to meet individual children’s needs and therefore create a good learning environment:
1. Children who are introverts (or simply do not like spending lots of time with lots of other people of the same age) have more time and space to be by themselves or with fewer people, in an environment where they can learn and process optimally. Forcing children to be around other people when they are unhappy is not good socialisation, and there is no proof that it helps them ‘come out of themselves’- quite the opposite, children who feel overwhelmed are more likely to withdraw into themselves.
2. Children who are extroverts can spend more time with a wide range of different people at meet-ups, playdates and organised groups or classes. Their social time can be relatively uninterrupted, so there is good basis for authentic social interaction and skill development.
3. Children have good access to people of different ages to themselves; this provides a natural hierarchy and an environment in which the younger can learn from the older, and the older children take on leadership and caring roles.
4. The high adult to child ratio means that there can be a high response to bullying. This behaviour can be identified, discussed and resolved without other agendas interrupting the process.
Conflict is healthy and it can be a platform to experience healthy stress and learn social skills; however experiencing bullying without escape causes toxic stress which is damaging to the brain and can hinder and prevent learning. If you hear someone saying that “bullying is good for kids as it toughens them up”, ask them for scientific proof of that (there is none) and remind them that each year around 300 schoolchildren take their own lives due to school stresses including bullying- where is the benefit in bullying, exactly?
The Disadvantage of Homeschooling Socialisation
The only social downside to homeschooling is that parents have to make more effort, as there is not the ready-made group that a schoolchild would have in a class.
How Do Homeschooled Children Make Friends?
Practically speaking, there are many ways in which home educated children socialise. Group meet-ups, academic co-ops, playdates, sports teams, theatre and arts classes, Scout groups, mixing with extended family, attending church or other religious venues and meeting friends who go to school are all ways in which home schooled children socialise.
Lack of social opportunities is not one of the disadvantages of homeschooling; in fact it is quite the opposite, there are often too many choices and we can’t fit everything in!
Personally, as an extrovert, I would find it difficult to home educate if there were not abundant social opportunities for both myself and the kids.
Are Homeschooled Kids Weird?
I find this question weird in itself, but it is a concern for some people that homeschooled kids are weird. Are my kids weird? Yes, in a way they are.
They don’t care about the same things as many other children (I don’t think they could name 3 clothes brands for example), they are very free in their expression (our 7 year old has just dip-dyed her hair red) and their knowledge is wildly in variance with a typical schoolchild (they can reel off the food web from a Beaver and tell you about unjust political policies, but couldn’t currently tell you who the Tudors are).
I am so, so happy that they are exactly who they are, and don’t feel pressure to act in a certain way. They learn about and do things they are passionate about and this makes them completely and wonderfully unapologetically unique.
They haven’t absorbed prejudices that a typical child might have by their ages, because they are in a wider community of people who live differently and unconventionally and have quirks and idiosyncrasies and weirdness, and it is all accepted as a wonderful and fascinating part of being human.
I’m not sure there is anything more freeing or brilliant than living life unburdened by other people’s opinions and this is what I would hope for for every child. If your child has a passion or hobby or tendencies that make them stand out or ‘weird’, homeschooling might just be the perfect way for them to thrive and happily be who they are.
At the same time, my kids also very happily attend groups with schoolchildren (Beavers, Cubs, church, playdates etc) and are adaptable to different social situations; it’s not like they are incapable of mainstream conversation and their social skills are generally very good so they get on well wherever they are (just saying in case anyone was worried!)
Can Homeschooling Cause Social Anxiety?
In short, I have never known homeschooling to cause social anxiety and I would be surprised if this was the case. In my experience it has been quite the opposite- without the constraints of school, children have more time and space to work through anxieties and become more comfortable in social situations. I’ve met several children who were utterly miserable at school and who now thrive as home educated children.
Our Typical Homeschool Weekly Social Schedule
Our weekly social schedule when the kids were younger looked like this (check out our homeschooling Youtube channel for our current homeschool routines):
Monday: Meet-up with a few families at a local farm. The kids inevitably make friends with other kids visiting the farm as well as playing with their regular friends. Then swimming in the evening with a different set of friends.
Tuesday: Meet-up at a local National Trust (venue changes each week); Beavers for one of our kids in the evening. Around 6 families attend the National Trust meet-up and the kids spend the day playing in the woods and looking around historic grounds and buildings; the adults spend the time freezing their bits off, keeping a death-grip on their Thermos and doing headcounts of their offspring.
Wednesday: Often a park-based playdate or visit to a friend’s house.
Thursday: Meet-up at a local softplay (around 8-10 families)
Friday: Ballet class (6 kids in our eldest daughter’s class, 20 in middle daughter’s) followed by a park meet-up (oh, sheesh, millions of kids, they blur into one feral pack) followed by a playdate.
Saturday: Daddy-daughter date day (aka he buys them Kinder Eggs, takes them swimming and thinks he’s won at life, which he has, really.)
Sunday: Church in the morning (all three kids go to children’s groups of about 10 children) followed by visiting extended family and possibly a walk in the woods with friends.
Now our kids are older we have several academic classes in our schedule with 10 other children, as well as a day a week where they all go out with their Nana, on top of Beaver/Cub sleepovers and camps.
In that schedule I haven’t included any extra social activities for us parents but because we are very blessed to have a large local home educating community of awesome people, within that schedule there are several sites of mutual fulfilment (aka kids are happy, parents are happy, wins all round). Our local homeschool parents also get together regular for child-free evenings which is lovely.
If you are thinking about homeschooling for your family, I thoroughly recommend this book by John Holt. It is an excellent read about how children develop and learn, and you will probably be surprised at how different the ideal learning environment is from a typical school:
I’d love to help you by answering any questions or queries you may have about homeschooling or the pros and cons of homeschooling, so please feel free to ask away in the comments! For more homeschooling posts including home education uk law, unschooling and our preferred homeschool resources, see our UK homeschool blog posts.