The Last Word on Homeschooled Children and Their Social Skills

Why and how our worry about these children needs to end.

Posted Feb 20, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

I was driving our then-8-year-old son to a dental appointment on a school day when a man with three children in tow crossed the street as we waited at the stoplight: “Why aren’t they in school, Dad?”

I happened to recognize the man from our weekly farmer’s market outings and knew he and his wife were homeschooling their children. “Their parents are their teachers. They are being schooled at home with each other, so they don’t go to regular school.”

Our thoughtful son took that in as the light changed and a few blocks later asked, “Do they learn anything? Do they have any friends?” An age-old question, I thought to myself, but answered simply, “yes” and “yes.” I had grown up in a part of the country where more than a few parents didn’t trust the government with the education of their children, and their children were my friends before and after school. They knew the same stuff I knew, and sometimes more. I often thought of them as lucky.

Why is this even a question? We are habituated to educational venues that teach children in increasingly large numbers who are segregated with their age peers with the accompanying peer pressure and competitiveness, and we assume that this is the best way for them to acquire knowledge, develop academic skills, and become socialized. Consequently, these non-compliant homeschoolers, especially when their children succeed, raise our suspicions as to what their children have, or miss out on, as a result of their family’s decision to homeschool.

Children’s crucial ability to engage with and function effectively and productively in the world around them is what we generally mean by socialization. It is a skill that is taught from infancy on, long before schools open their doors to students. Schooling can play a role, but not the powerful or always positive one so often assumed. In her landmark studies of homeschooled children, Patricia Lines (2000) conducted research using mixed playgroups to evaluate the social skills of homeschooled children compared with those not homeschooled. She found the homeschooled to be well adjusted, demonstrating fewer behavioral problems than their schooled peers.

Here are some final thoughts about how homeschooling works with some ideas for the rest of us:

  • Consider how chunks of alone, quiet time let the brain do its sorting and filing of new information without the torrent of stimulation that characterizes many classrooms, where children are never alone.
  • Join local community groups like the free 4-H clubs where children can choose clubs comprised of other children with similar interests but not always similar cultures or social-economic status. This can support invaluable experience in strengthening empathy while exploring the essential adventure into diversity.
  • Stay conscious that your children are learning socialization skills from you as you talk to the check-out folks at the market, the neighbors who need to turn down their music, and your friends and family members.
  • Appreciate that most school systems, which most homeschoolers eventually join, support the use of community classes, professional tutors, or locally informal learning groups to supplement homeschooling experiences.
  • Consider the last word: Children are socialized by their parents, and homeschooling is just another place for children to exercise such skills.

References

Lines, Patricia, “Homeschooling Comes of Age”, Public Interest, 140 (2000), 74