Socialization? That’s MY job.

pexels-photo-688675.jpeg

I was a “socially awkward” public school kid. 

Some people are just not socially adept no matter how much they are exposed to social situations, and people who are not socially adept tend to be bullied, so homeschooling is attractive to this particular demographic for a number of reasons. It’s not unlikely one will typically find quite a few socially awkward kids in any given homeschool group.

Has someone told you that you “need” to send your child to public school or he will become socially awkward? It doesn’t work that way.

What I have found is that homeschooling is actually beneficial for kids who do have a tendency to feel socially awkward in a group, as it gives them the opportunity to get specific, individualized coaching from an adult in social situations. It means that kids can then practice those skills under close supervision in a generally supportive mixed-age group. That doesn’t happen in a classroom. There is no social skills coaching in a public school classroom and the teachers there usually don’t even have time to monitor the classroom closely enough to prevent bullying let alone coach kids on social skills.

The folks who advocate for putting kids in a public school setting to prevent social awkwardness from developing have a sort of “sink or swim” mentality that immersion in a “Lord of the Flies” scenario will helpfully prompt a child to (desperately?) develop good social skills as a form of survival. I think if we all think about that for a moment we already know it doesn’t work that way. 

I also suspect that the people who advocate for kids to go to a public school to learn social skills don’t quite give the idea much actual thought, because it’s also immediately obvious that it’s not exactly a great idea to expect kids to learn important social skills from other kids. Does anyone really know many kids who naturally use “please” and “thank you” and instinctively take turns? Probably not. I think it’s safe to say that most kids do need an adult to teach them to behave properly around other people. And then closely supervise them to make sure they behave properly.

Some kids are born with a better social sense than others and those kids may do fairly well no matter what sort of social environment they end up in. Other kids do not have that sense and need explicit coaching to manage social situations well. Classroom-based “socialization” puts those kids at a disadvantage.

How much social exposure to same-age peers do kids “need”? Well, I can tell you that it wasn’t until about a hundred years ago that we humans decided to insist that most of our young spend the majority of their day in a room with a group of same-age peers, and even then it was not a classroom of twenty or thirty or more kids, so it’s pretty safe to say that the normal way of “socializing” humans (at least for the last twenty thousand years or so) is in small groups of mixed ages, sort of like the way you adults tend to socialize now that you have gotten away from mandatory classroom-based education.

Our species seems to have managed the whole “socializing the young” thing pretty well outside of the classroom considering that classrooms, let alone classrooms divided by age, were not made mandatory for the majority of the population until the late nineteenth century.

I personally live in a rural area outside a very small town. There is no homeschool co-op in my area other than a religious one and we are not religious. We don’t have a homeschool group to get together with or go on field trips with. My kids have thrived on the usual rounds of typical “afterschool” type activities like gymnastics, dance, soccer, scouts, 4H, and that sort of thing. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to “do school” in a quiet environment,  one-on-one, and don’t feel the need to have our education time filled with ruckus and distraction. It’s quite enough to head to the popular playground around three pm when the public school lets out and let the kids run around for an hour or so, or head to the YMCA on Saturday for a swim and a soccer game, or go to a boy scout meeting during the week in the evening, or even (gasp!) just spend time hanging around family.

If my kid forgets to say “thank you” after you hand him something, or is grouchy to you, or won’t share, then that’s on me. It’s my job to teach my kids how to get along with other people. I’m not delegating this responsibility to the other kids on the playground.