Homeschooling has recently experienced a surprising surge. There are now 3.5 million children each year being homeschooled, which means there are now more children enrolled in at-home programs than in charter schools. If you're one of the parents weighing the pros and cons of homeschooling, there's one important factor you should keep in mind.
One of the most common complaints detractors have of homeschooling programs is the lack of socialization. It's easy to see why this could be a problem; after all, how will students learn how to socialize in the world if they're isolated?
Many parents who homeschool do an amazing job of giving students quality exposure to the world. There are museum trips, volunteer efforts, opportunities to work with local businesses, and playdates with other homeschooled kids. All of these things are very much needed in creating a well-rounded child, but this former teacher is here to tell you they are not socialization.
When educators refer to socialization, they're not just talking about the fun chitchat heard on playgrounds and braiding each other's hair on the bus. That stuff is great, but educational socialization is much more challenging than that.
Socialization requires that children consistently work with people they're not used to working with. It's about discussing things with people who have a different opinion and challenging preconceived notions. It's about having to do a group project with people who don't necessarily work the same way as you do, to collaborate on ideas and grow as a thinker.
This is something that needs to happen day in and day out, with consistent peers, and is not too different than what we expect of adults in a work setting. People show up, work near and with others who are different from and challenge them, collaborate, and go home. This is something that homeschool programs, unless they mimic a traditional school setting, cannot do.
Having taught in public schools where I encountered students who had been homeschooled in the past, I can say that many of these students needed to make serious strides when learning how to adapt. Educationally, most of them were at or above their designated grades as far as proficiency, but when it came to socialization, there was a lot of work to do.
Socialization and collaboration create self-awareness in one's own ideas, and this skill is important for children to develop early on. It can help them identify strengths and weaknesses in themselves and in others. It's about more than friendships. It's about working with people who you're neutral with at best and barely tolerate at worst. It's about learning how to truly work with others.
Certainly there could be ways around this, and homeschooling has a lot of advantages for some parents, but in my experience, this collaborative group work is valuable and encourages our students to be the kind of workers, leaders, and citizens of the world we need.