Friends or relatives who’ve heard of your homeschooling plans may have already asked, “But what about socialization?” If you’re thinking about homeschooling, you might have even wondered this yourself. This continues to be one of the most commonly asked questions of homeschooling parents, despite decades of academic research and anecdotal evidence showing that homeschooled children are generally significantly better “socialized” than their institutionally-schooled counterparts. Each family will answer the question differently, but here’s some food for thought as you form your own views on socialization.
First, what is meant by socialization? The next time you’re asked the “S” question, ask the person how they define socialization. You may be surprised by their answer. For some people, socialization means “not being different.” For others, it means “being able to get along with others.” Still others would say it means “learning to do that stuff we did in school – you know, waiting in lines, raising our hands – those types of things.” It will be hard to provide an answer to the socialization question until you know what’s really being asked.
Dictionary definitions of socialization vary somewhat by publisher, but generally speaking, “socialization” is defined as “the process of learning to interact appropriately with other members of society.” We’ll use that definition here as we look at the socialization of homeschooled children from three perspectives: academic research, anecdotal evidence, and common sense.
The socialization of homeschooled children has been studied many times, but summaries of the academic literature almost invariably refer to the 1992 studies of Thomas Smedley, MS, and Dr. Larry Shyers.
Mr. Smedley’s master’s thesis at Radford University in Virginia was titled “The Socialization of Homeschool Children.” He used the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales to assess the personal and social skills of matched groups of homeschooled and publicly schooled students. His results showed that homeschooled children had greater social skills and maturity than students attending public school. The differences were rather dramatic, with the homeschooled students ranking in the 84th percentile, while the public school students scored only in the 27th percentile. Smedley noted that public school students are socialized “horizontally” into conformity by their same-age peers, while homeschooled students are socialized “vertically” toward responsibility and adulthood by their parents.
Dr. Shyers’ study went a step further. For his doctoral dissertation, “Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students,” he compared the actual behaviors of two groups of seventy children from the ages of eight to ten. One group was homeschooled and the other group was drawn from public and private schools. This was a “blind” study, in which the children’s behaviors were evaluated by trained observers who did not know which of the students were homeschooled and which were not. The Child Observation Checklist Direct Observation Form was used to categorize each child’s conduct while playing in mixed groups of children from both sample groups. The homeschooled children were found to have significantly fewer problem behaviors than the children from public and private schools.
Additional studies regularly appear in academic literature. They support and supplement the work of Smedley and Shyers, painting an overwhelmingly positive picture of the socialization of homeschooled students. It’s very clear that homeschoolers learn to “interact appropriately with other members of society” while learning at home.
Veteran homeschooling parents have seen hundreds of homeschooled kids and have long since compiled their own anecdotal evidence of socialization. They note that homeschoolers generally “make the news” in positive ways; that homeschoolers tend to be polite, friendly people who get along well with others; and that homeschoolers seem to have a zest for life and learning that institutionally-schooled kids sometimes lack.
The myth of homeschoolers being “homebound” has been discredited. Homeschooling’s rapid growth has led to a wide variety of social events, particularly in metropolitan areas. Rather than looking for more “socializing” opportunities, many of today’s homeschooling families are now trying to determine the best way to limit their outside activities.
If you’re still wrestling with the socialization issue, one of the best things you can do is compile your own anecdotal evidence. Talk with homeschoolers. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to get to know them. See how they relate to each other and people outside their families. You’ll see homeschooling parents and children interacting with each other. In all likelihood, you’ll be amazed at how pleasant and “normal” they are.
Finally, test the socialization idea with plain old common sense. If the goal of socialization is to learn to interact appropriately with other members of society – people of all ages – wouldn’t you imagine that kids who are encouraged to interact with others across the lifespan, not limited to interaction with a grade full of same-age peers, would become socially adept?
Seasoned homeschoolers often laugh when a critic suggests that their children won’t be properly socialized because they’re “avoiding the real world.” Homeschooled children live in the real world! They have consistent contact with adults leading active lives and with children of all ages, while their schooled peers spend much of their day indoors with other children almost exactly their same age. From a common sense perspective, would you expect to find academic research and anecdotal evidence of socialization problems in homeschoolers, or in children who have been age-segregated and isolated from life’s broader social fabric?
If you decide to homeschool, it won’t take long for you to observe this issue first hand and develop your own answers to the age old question, “What about socialization?” This is a well-discussed issue; you can find many more perspectives regarding socialization online by searching “homeschooling and socialization.” For more information about research concerning homeschooling, you can also check out the National Home Education Research Institute.