Can children really be socialized properly at home? Don’t they need a bunch of other rowdy children the exact same age to effectively teach them truth, morals, and honor? And shouldn’t peer-socialization be started at the youngest possible age to make sure children can figure out the world without being tied to mommy’s apron strings? Or can this socialization process be done effectively at home? In fact, mightn’t homeschool socialization work better than school socialization? This is the conclusion many home educators have reached and this article lays out why that is the case.
What is Socialization?
Before diving in and looking at homeschooling socialization, it’s useful to define what socialization entails. The two top meanings given to socialization by Google are now:
- the activity of mixing socially with others and
- learning to behave in a way that’s acceptable to society.
So, the question immediately concerning us is if home schools effectively (1) encourage the activity of mixing socially with others and (2) teach children how to behave in a way that’s acceptable to their society.
Why Homeschool Socialization Can Teach Children Better Than Schools
Sadly, many parents are dissuaded from home educating as they believe children need other children to properly educate them on how to socially behave themselves in society.
But, from the many examples I’ve seen, home educated students are taught these things by their parents and, therefore, don’t need to be taught by anyone else.
Furthermore, it is easily argued that socialization (that is, how we should act in society) is best taught by parents as parents intentionally teach these things, incorporating truths and morals in their lessons (such as ‘do unto others as they would have you do unto them’).
In contrast, some public school students socialize other students by teaching them bad habits and exerting negative peer pressure.
Homeschool Socialization vs Public School Socialization
Scholars confirm public school students are detrimentally influenced, something easily perceived when they are compared with homeschoolers:
- Dr. Michael Mitchell found ‘being popular, aggressively competitive, materialistically driven and self-confident are traits promoted in conventional schools…these campus ideals are discouraged by Christian home educators in favor of building their children’s character and dismantling selfish ambitions. Integrity, responsibility, respect for others, trust in God, biblical soundness and an amiable disposition topped the ideal social qualities they desired their youth to embody.’
- Dr. Thomas Smedley found ‘homeschoolers have superior socialization skills… He conducted a study in which he administered the Vineyard Adaptive Behavior Scales test to identify mature and well-adapted behaviors in children. [Homeschooled children] ranked in the 84th percentile, compared to public school students, who were drastically lower in the 23rd.’
- Dr. Michael Slavinski reports, ‘The mass socialization conducted within schools has brought about a proliferation of delinquent behavior within this nation’s youth… student bodies are increasingly riddled with violence, drugs, promiscuity, emotional disorders, crime, contempt for authority, desperate behavior, illiteracy, and peer dependency – just to name a few.’
- Dr. Larry Shyers did the Direct Observation Form of the Child Behavior Checklist in a study designed ‘to identify 97 problematic behaviors in two groups of children. Traditionally schooled students exuded eight times as many antisocial traits [compared to] their homeschooled counterparts.’
While these studies are all done by pro-homeschooling researchers, there are no studies that contradict this research. I would think that, if public school socialization were the pinnacle of effective socialization, there should be a ream of research evidencing the fact.
It seems that government researchers started out on this track but results were so damning and embarrassing that authorities decided to end the situation: “After a few years of suffering public embarrassment from press reports of homeschoolers outperforming public school students, officials started giving homeschool students different tests so that a direct comparison was no longer possible.”
Public Now Recognizes Socialization in Homeschools is Not an Issue
The socialization argument is grossly overstated and has been proven to be such by researchers who have tested this question statistically and found homeschools do a better job of socializing children compared to schools.
As these results have reached the public, general feelings towards homeschooling have improved as people in society now realize homeschools can do a better, if not adequate, job of socializing and educating students.
Parents Acutely Aware of the Socialization Argument!
Perhaps the main benefit of the homeschooling socialization argument being bandied around so much has been the awareness about socialization it has raised. Parents who embark on the home education journey are usually acutely aware of the importance of socializing children and the problems that occur when it’s not done.
For this reason, many families bandy together in groups for social meetings several times a week. I haven’t yet met any parents who have utterly failed to socialize their children, making me suspect this phenomenon is rarer than publicly thought.
Homeschoolers Socialize With Wider Age Groups
Homeschoolers in social groups learn to socialize with children of all ages, not just children their own age. They often make good friends with other homeschooling parents and adopt them as mentors throughout their educational journey.
Unlike schoolchildren, home educated students aren’t confined to socialize with one age group for many hours. This is good as children learn to respect their elders more and discover how to look after and value children who are younger than they are.
Homeschoolers Follow Parents Beliefs More Than Peers
Instead of getting their personal identity from their peers in school, homeschoolers get their personal identity more from their parents and siblings. If Christian values are fostered in the home and parents are living gospel-centred lives, home educated students also find their identity in Christ.
If you look into the above linked Gen2 study, you find a strong correlation between parents’ and children’s religious and political beliefs if homeschooled. Yet, public school children don’t have this same correlation, showing they’re not getting their ideas from their parents as much as homeschoolers are.
This is understandable as public school students don’t spend all day with their parents as homeschoolers do.
Socialization a Result of the Media?
Children are a result of their influences. For homeschoolers, the main influences are usually parents – but if children watch a lot of television, television can become their main influence.
Homeschoolers or public school children who have heavy media inputs will have a character that is affected by this. The National Center for Biotechnology Information put it like this:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, as a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Pediatricians should assess their patients’ level of media exposure and intervene on media-related health risks. Pediatricians and other child health care providers can advocate for a safer media environment for children by encouraging media literacy, more thoughtful and proactive use of media by children and their parents, more responsible portrayal of violence by media producers, and more useful and effective media ratings. [Reference]
Those who watch a lot of television or play a lot of computer games can’t help but absorb some of the content they’re ingesting.
Socialization in Remote Areas
Some parents believe they can’t homeschool as they live in communities that are too remote to allow for socialization. But, while finding social groups in remote areas is difficult, great travel options and the internet are making socialization easier. Parents should also realize social opportunities come in many forms and we should encourage relationships with people of all ages.
This means parents can encourage socialization between their homeschooled children and farmworkers, corner store checkout operators, and the postman.
In my experience, homeschoolers are great at making friends with anyone who comes across their path as they’re not inhibited by what their friends at school might say about the new relationship. Homeschoolers are often children who are willing to talk to anyone, and sometimes prefer more mature conversations with older people as they have similar content to what their parents talk to them about. Consequently, home-educated students have fewer superficial conversations about popular media and more deep conversations about more weighty issues.
Deliberate Isolation by Homeschooling Parents
When parents deliberately isolate their home educated students, despite having good socialization opportunities, homeschooling can become a nightmare for the children.
Homeschooling is just a tool. It can be used well or irresponsibly. It is not used well when parents (1) deliberately neglect or (2) isolate their children because they fear all contact with unsanitary influences outside the home.
In the first instance, parents who neglect their children’s social needs will find homeschooling is a tool that allows them to abuse their children with more impunity than they might be able to if their children were at school.
In the second instance, parents will find their children resent them for isolating them and failing to find suitable socializing opportunities.
Also, if children aren’t raised learning to deal with the world, they find it difficult when they eventually need to enter it.
When I hear homeschoolers recounting their sad experiences (as seen on the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children website) I don’t doubt they’re stories are true. But, it gives me great pain as my social experience with home education was so amazing.
However, the instances of social isolation are few and seem to be the exception rather than the rule of the typical home educating family.
Research on Homeschooling and Socialization
Many homeschooling families join social groups in order to get their weekly social fix. Research shows most homeschoolers are regularly social in five different settings. These settings are usually church, Bible study, sports teams, or hobby clubs.
Researcher Brian Ray noticed constant socialization among homeschoolers in his study, saying, ‘Home educated children are doing well. They’re typically above average, on measures of social, emotional and psychological development.’
Another researcher, Greg Cizek, said, ‘If anything, research shows that because [homeschooling] parents are so sensitive to the charge, they expose [their children] to many activities.’
Glenda Jackson, a homeschooling researcher, discovered homeschoolers are generally well-adjusted and have high self-esteem. Homeschooling expert, Steven Kelley, also pointed to several studies that found the psychological self-concept of public school students was lower than homeschoolers.
These good results were thought to be due to homeschools have higher levels of support, involvement, independence, responsibility, and self-worth. They also have lower levels of stress and homeschoolers have more contact with parental love.
Kelley said this about homeschool socialization and self-concept:
[Homeschoolers] academic self-concept, at the 72nd percentile, was above the national [American] average and was positively related to achievement. They have above average self-esteem, in multiple studies. They are not isolated but active, contributing members of society, even in childhood. Ninety-eight percent are involved in weekly church meetings and other activities that require interfacing with various ages and settings.
Private school nine-year-olds were seen to be more influenced by or concerned with peers than a comparative home-educated group. It appears [homeschoolers] perceived their parents as primary author figures more often than private school children. Homeschoolers’ self-concept was just as strong as that of private school students and higher than public school students, all of whom in this study attended Baptist (Christian) churches. All three groups were above national norms.
An evaluation of the communication skills, socialization and daily living skills of demographically matched publicly schooled and home-educated students revealed ‘the home-educated children in this sample were significantly better socialized and more mature than those in public school. The immediate implication is that homeschool families are providing adequately for socialization needs.
The findings of this study indicate children kept home are more mature and better socialized than those who are sent to school.[Source]
Testimonies on Homeschooling and Socialization
When researching content for my book, Why on Earth Homeschool, I interviewed a number of students about their social experiences when homeschooled. One home-educated student, Emily-Jane, talked about the homeschool socialization her family had in the community:
We were really involved with the Armidale homeschooling group. Once a week we would go to an ice rink a homeschool family owned. We also went to the art gallery every fortnight. Here we would copy art pictures on the wall onto a sketchbook. Sometimes they’d have hands-on, interactive things and different projects set up for school groups, like sculpting. Some homeschoolers lived on farms, so we went blackberry picking and yabbying in their dam. Then we came to Canberra and joined another homeschool group with 12 families. When I was 12 years-old, my sister and I started ‘Mothers of Preschoolers’, where mothers could come together for a Bible talk while we minded their children.
Emily-Jane certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of socialization. Another homeschooler, Melissa, also loved her social experience:
My parents went to great lengths to socialise us. We had church every Sunday and my father started a youth group to encourage meetings with young Christians. We met weekly with a homeschooling group and six of us had regular classes in dance, music and languages. My parents were completely dedicated to our education, but frequently socialising ranked higher in our family’s priorities.
Although Melissa’s family valued homeschool socialization more than education, all her siblings did amazingly well and academically scored well into the 20th percentile.
Best friends, Ben and Jesse, also said they had a positive homeschooling socialization experience:
We grew up together in a homeschooling group with four or five large families. Each family did their own thing [academically] and then we socialised together through the week. We all knew each other through church.
From these interviews, I found home educated students were certainly doing no worse than their peers in public school. Many loved their social experiences and developed into well-rounded individuals able to interact effectively with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Why on Earth Homeschool: The Case for Christian Homeschooling.
Grab a copy of the book.
Most homeschooling parents are so aware that a lack of socialization has negative effects that they strive to socialize their children thoroughly. Research indicates home educated children are not lagging behind in social skills and are able to fit into society well once they finish their homeschool. If you’re thinking about homeschooling and you’re worried about socialization, don’t be. Just get your children into social groups, and they’ll be socialized!