For most outsiders to the homeschool world, the first question they have about homeschooling deals with what many homeschoolers call “the S word.” Socialization, that is. It’s not ever been something that I’ve worried about seriously. However, now that we’ve been at this for a little while, I’ve started to get a little frustrated by some of the canned responses I see when people talk about that dreaded S word with nervous newcomers and curious outsiders. The most common response is that there are many opportunities for kids to be with other kids: 4H, scouting, sports, classes, co-ops, churches, recreation centers, and just on the playground or out and about.
That’s true, to a point. Especially if you live in an urban or suburban area, there’s plenty for kids to sign up for. I keep paring back our schedule, but at various points in the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen different classes or sports that brought my kids into contact with other kids. But is that really enough? Is just being around other kids, even on a regular basis enough?
For me, the answer is no. I think it’s the quality of the interactions that are the most important. Neither school nor an active slate of activities necessarily provides a level of quality peer interaction. At least at school you have a sustained group, which you might not even get in various activities. By quality I mean I mean developing a friendship and an investment in another person as someone that you care about in your life. Getting that isn’t necessarily as simple as just signing your kid up for stuff. Like everything when you’re homeschooling, it usually takes forethought and effort.
When we first began our kindergarten co-op last year, the other three families and I agreed that the highest goal we had was to create a sense of community among the kids and to develop their friendships and ability to be together as a group. We don’t sit around thinking about that and talking about how to do it. The nuts and bolts of what we’re learning about and what time we’re meeting and who paid for the tickets to a certain show and so forth get a lot more conversation. However, we all have an unspoken agreement to think about the group in these terms. What activities are we doing that allow them to work together? What are we doing that allows them to share? Are they getting enough time together to just be kids with each other? These are the sort of lenses through which we judge our time together. For us, it has been really organic because we all come from the same sort of assumptions that this sort of socialization – the kind that’s about community and friendships – is the most important thing.
The simple truth is that it takes thinking about free time, especially free play, as time well spent and not time wasted. Schools have forgotten this as they eliminate recess left and right, that they’re harming kids’ ability to learn to interact and work things out. Doing things together – sharing a meal, going for a hike, taking a trip, or spending a long lazy day at the park – is time that kids need to build real friendships. Obviously, some kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are lucky enough to have a neighborhood of friends and opportunities to hang out with them by just running down the street. But I’ve found that most homeschoolers don’t and even many schooled kids don’t have that these days. Our friends live all over the place so it takes me believing that it’s worth it to haul the kids across town “just” to play.
Seeing Mushroom and BalletBoy build those friendships and take such joy in their friends warms my heart. They get giddy about seeing them, even though they spend time with their friends often. They hug their friends. They really know them and know their likes and dislikes. So while it has taken some thinking and effort on our part, I think the dreaded S word is actually a benefit to homeschooling, especially because I trust they’ll have many of their friends for years to come.