my boys playing with their cousins during a trip to Chicago
Note: This column was printed the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, September 19, 2012.
The biggest criticism against homeschooling is what many people feel is its “lack of socialization.” Critics believe children ought to spend their whole day in a classroom of peers, and they give no thought to the opportunities homeschooled children have to meet many people of various ages. Perhaps they are afraid homeschooling parents won’t take advantage of these opportunities. This, of course, is possible, though most homeschooling families I’ve met make “socialization” a priority.
Some homeschoolers don’t give socialization much thought because they don’t need to. They have plenty of friends, or they may belong to a homeschooling co-op or a large church. They might have a big family too. More seasoned homeschoolers who are past the stage I’m in – that of meeting and creating a community for their youngsters – feel this is not a topic worth discussing anymore.
I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought, though, mostly because my eldest son’s personality didn’t make meeting other kids easy at first. And he’s a lot like me –introverted – so perhaps it’s because of my personality too.
When my son was younger, he was reserved and cautious, and he didn’t jump into playtime with large groups of kids. Going to park days or joining a homeschool group never worked for us. The other kids would play together, and my son – the little biologist – would explore the wood chips or other natural environment.
While I, too, think socializing with people of various ages is a plus for children, I had to find friends that played well with my child. Finally, in this past year, I’ve met some families with kids who love my kids – How did I do this? I kept my eyes focused on local homeschooling e-mail lists, and I responded to those infrequent requests from other homeschoolers looking for friends. I also let it be known online that we’re looking for friends, and I’ve had some people contact me. It’s not easy finding people within driving distance, but now we have regular playdates, and I couldn’t be happier.
My second priority was thinking outside the box and considering different ways my children could be socialized. I’m still doing this, but these are some ideas I’ve pursued.
- Community Classes – My son blossomed after a year attending the knee-high naturalist class and homeschool science classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. He seems to enjoy following the lead of the teacher without the pressure of having to “play” with all the other children. Now he’s more at ease with large groups of kids, and he even enjoyed attending some summer mini-camps there by himself.
- Lost but not forgotten friends – After these last grueling few years of rearing infants and toddlers, I’m coming up for breath and remembering all the friends I had before my marriage. Many of them are older than me and without children of their own. I called one couple and took my boys to visit them. My son fell right in step with the wife, who is a gardener. Now we’re committing ourselves to monthly visits, and my friend has been teaching my boy about gardening and plants!
- Family – I don’t think anyone should discount family when it comes to socializing children. Indeed, these are relationships that will last the longest. I’m grateful that our family is large and diverse, and my boys will be exposed to different cultures and belief systems within it. Unfortunately, I also feel disconnected from some of my family. Busy lives and distance can do that to you. But I’m hoping that somehow we’ll stay connected through Skype and e-mail and occasional visits.
For homeschoolers who need other ideas on how to build a community or who live in remote areas, I would suggest the following:
- Be sure to join local, state, and even national homeschooling e-mail lists (do a search for Yahoo groups in your area). In the subject line of your introduction e-mail, put your county or town and state and ask if anyone knows of other homeschoolers or groups in your area.
- Check Facebook for groups in your area.
- Contact your local library and see if there’s a homeschool group using the facilities. If not, try asking the librarians to help you get the word out that you’re homeschooling, and you’d like to start a group of your own.
- Is there a community center in your area? Nature center? Art center? Check to see if they offer any classes for children, and if they don’t, see if you can help them start one.
- If it’s hard to find homeschoolers in your area, become friends with school children. You’ll have to work around their school schedule, but it’s better than not having any friends at all. (I know this can be hard though – kids who go to school and especially kids who have both parents working just don’t need the same kind of community. Their weekends may be family time. Still, it’s worth a try.)
- If religion plays a part in your homeschool, check local churches for homeschooling groups. Even if religion doesn’t play a part of your homeschool, ask if you would be welcomed into their group. (And see my previous column about homeschooling and religion.)
Whether children are homeschooled or not, parents must think about building a community of support for their children as they grow up. Parents can’t do it all, and every child eventually turns to other people for role models. Parents need to make sure that they trust the people whom their children turn to. Homeschooling parents have the opportunity to be more involved in cultivating their child’s social outlets.
My lists certainly aren’t exhaustive. What would you suggest to new homeschoolers seeking to build a community? Thank you!