Thursday, May 15, 2014

Homeschooling and Socialization

Our kids spend a lot of time just playing in small groups: as a sibling pair, with a friend or two, and even alone. The benefit of this is that they have a lot of focused time to develop social skills and to grow true to their own moral convictions. Because they live and grow in the community as a whole instead of in large age-based groupings, there is a lot more adult input, which helps them navigate their changing world with a little more understanding.

Socialization, as defined by Dr. John Baldwin, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, is "the process by which children and adults learn from others" (online document for his soc142 class). Well... it seems obvious to me from our experience that the socialization my kids gain from living life in the world is more to our liking than an imposed pre-ordained sort of socialization provided by schools. And as unschoolers, we're not alone.

In his report on an unschooling survey he conducted, Dr Peter Gray states that
"...their children were happier, less stressed, more self-confident, more agreeable, or more socially outgoing than they would be if they were in school or being schooled at home. Many in this category referred to the social advantages; their children interacted regularly with people of all ages in the community, not just with kids their own age as they would if they were in school."*
*Read the full report on Psychology Today:

So that all sounds just lovely, doesn't it?

Ask any homeschooling family about the most common question they get from non-homeschoolers, and they will likely answer "What about socialization?"

[Yes we're still unschooling, but I write 'homeschoolers' here because the socialization issue comes up first for homeschoolers as a general group.] As unschoolers we more often are asked "How do they learn anything? How will they compete? How will they enter back into society?". (Though I would argue that unschoolers are already more in society than schooled kids are, so there is no entering needed...) The socialization question only comes up after these are satisfied, and I think it's interesting to look at the progression of fears and how easy it is to ride the fear-train from one question to the next... and end up at a projection of a lonely life as a social outcast.

Whoah. Social outcast? Yeah. That's us. We're the only unschooling family in our community with a 12-year-old boy who's interested in physics. By some twist of fate it happens that he's pretty much alone in his niche of our community. Our daughter doesn't have that issue. She's invited to all kinds of lovely events. But our son has been an outcast since he first split from the mainstream and didn't go to kindergarten. There was never a group of similarly-aged kids for him to adhere to. We keep trying, but we always feel like intruders on somebody else's social scene. This is the potential downside of home/unschooling, but it isn't actually a problem of circumstances, so much as
it's my problem.
 (Hm... have I said this before...?)

I am so upset to see the other kids his age going off on great adventures without him; so sad for him; so lonely for him. Yes, I am. Not he. He's not sad and lonely. I am sad and lonely for him. Does that sound insane? Well, I can't find any research to support this, but I feel confident that this is normal. We want the best for our children, and our greatest parental fears come from our greatest childhood fears. Those are the things we're afraid will happen again. As parents, we have to confront those fears.

The greatest unresolved issue I have, personally, is a feeling of being unwanted. I felt unwanted throughout my schooling journey, in every group I've been a part of - even in my own close relationships and family, and still, to this day, struggle with these feelings. My greatest fear, therefore, is that my children will feel the same way.

This is something I have to resolve within myself, and on the long road to that resolution, I have to keep reminding myself that this is my journey; not my children's. I am sad that my children are not invited on cool field trips. But they don't care nearly as much as I do. And in fact, I may be passing on my greatest fear simply in not dealing with it within myself. It's actually quite possible that I got it from my own mother, and she from hers. Time to put an end to it!

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of homeschooling parents chose this route to protect their children from things they feared, but unschooling ourselves - with compassion and honest acknowledgement of our own fears - is at least part of the solution. The fact that home/unschooling creates so many situations for my fear to manifest also means it creates so many opportunities for me to confront my fear. And in confronting it, I teach my children to do the same.

Maybe being outcasts from a system we don't thrive in isn't such a bad thing!
Maybe having to confront that word is actually quite a good thing.

Please comment! What are your fears? How do they contribute to your parenting choices?

1 comment:

  1. this is such a meaty topic... I totally agree that home/unschooling provides us with so many opportunities to bump up against our fears. Knowing how to choose something else is the challenge! I feared failing in math through my school years, among other things, and ironically, started teaching math in exactly the same way that made me so fearful in the first place. I just didn't know any other way!

    It takes time, and being gentle with ourselves, and looking for ways that our kids will meet their needs for learning or socializing in ways that might not look like what we are familiar with.


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