I cannot blame anybody for wondering about this "S word" in particular. Most of us who have always just assumed that the public option was the best solution have also always just assumed that the best social environment for our kids was to lock them in a room all day, segregated by age, regardless of academic achievement, athletic ability, or social maturity all day, at least for the first six (K-5th in many schools) years of their education, unable to talk directly to their classmates for most of that day-- in today's schools, even talking during lunch is now either forbidden or a practical impossibility due to the extraordinarily short time permitted to wolf down sustenance. We sent our children off to school assuming the same relaxed atmosphere we enjoyed as kids, including some social time in the classroom, at least two recess periods of some length, and a decent and noisy lunch lunchtime-- all things that have pretty much disappeared from today's schools. And today's recess periods, a paltry 30 minutes including time to line up silently, are often also segregated by grade/age, again regardless of maturity or athletic ability or interests or friendships. However, like most parents, we never questioned any of this-- everybody sends their kids off to
What I hear from many who do not like to hear that we are home educating, frankly, is fear and confusion, and with that I can definitely empathize. Fear of the unknown is a natural, normal human reaction. When we are fearful, we tend to attack, and socialization is the easiest thing, seemingly, to attack; nobody really feels the need of special expertise to discuss socialization-- most people went to school, and at some point, have had friends. What most people overlook, however, is that they associate friends with school, because since they went to school, it dominated their time.
Home education is wonderfully freeing. It means children are free to socialize with children across age boundaries. They are free to find kids with similar interests, across grade levels. They can take independent classes with kids from many different geographic areas during field trips. They interact more with adults, exercise more autonomy, and become more independent. If you pursue an alternate plan, you will make friends elsewhere, because people do exist elsewhere-- people of every walk of life, disposition, ability, interest, and background. These people are found everywhere, not just in schools.
Fast forward from the thought experiment to a snapshot of the past week's worth of my children's activities:
Tuesday night: went to see the Harlem Globetrotters with a group of friends. ages spanned from 7 to 12, five kids and three adults, kids from three separate schools, including our HS, a public charter, and a private school.
Wednesday morning: nature and poetry class at Longwood Gardens in the morning. Kids were broken into groups initially by approximate grade levels as assigned by parents by academic achievement. Demographics and geography from all over DE, PA, NJ, MD. Lunch and play together after in Longwood across age spans from 5-12.
Wednesday afternoon: Swimming lessons at the athletic club (HAC). Demographics and ages all over the map. Plenty of play time before/after with other kids.
Thursday noon: gym class at the HAC. mixed gym class for homeschoolers; 8 kids who meet regularly (same kids every week) ages 7-13 with an excellent coach. Group has time to play together spontaneously afterward.
Thursday evening: karate (son#1) and gymnastics (son#2) at the HAC with mixed age groups and a reliable cast of characters. Kids have friends there with whom to play after activity.
Friday morning: science class at Delaware museum of natural history, mixed age groups and demographics, same cast of characters every other week. highly interactive class.
Saturday afternoon: hike with Dad with the neighborhood kids. 5 kids from the neighborhood hiked through the local nature area.
Sunday morning: Sunday school at Skyline UMC. Mixed ages and demographics. Helped clean up the Sunday school room, lots of time to interact throughout the morning.
Throughout the week, we also had opportunities to eat out at lunchtime, using our assertive voices to order properly, our good manners when interacting with the adults around us, practicing patience and conversation while waiting, and making good choices. Also throughout the week there was ample opportunity to play with the kids in our neighborhood after they returned from school, since our kids have no "homework" once they have finished their work for the day (though they often choose to continue reading about topics that interest them)!
Somehow, I'm not seeing the social deprivation. In fact, I'm seeing far better social opportunity and social interaction than my kids ever got in school, including chances for repeat interaction with set groups of kids. I believe that interacting across age groups and a wider variety of social and geographic boundaries with both semi-structured AND unstructured time built in will result in greater empathy and more maturity in the long run than would result from being locked in a can all week with same-age peers. Naturally, the opportunities we choose will need to evolve over time as the kids grow, as well, and they will have increasing say in what they choose to do.
So . . . if you are one of those watching either us, or someone else you care about home educate and fear is gripping you, or you wish you dared home educate, but you just cannot, all because of . . . the dreaded "S word," I offer you this advice. Fear not. Have confidence. Home educating does not mean locking the children in the basement, or shielding them in any way from social interaction. In most cases, home education means boosting childrens' social experiences in a very rich, meaningful way. There are entire books about homeschooling that list dozens of primary references citing not only the social adjustment of homeschooled children, but interviews with college counselors and admissions officers who have tracked home educated individuals, noting how easily they have adjusted to college life, as many have already been exposed to practical life skills, mixed group social settings, and independent learning situations unfamiliar to the conventionally schooled students. Instead of just imagining your way through the situation, pick up some reliable reference material at your local library, and do yourself and those you care about a favor and educate yourself on the subject, and you may well be surprised that in addition to a fantastic education, the "S word" may well be one of the home educated student's greatest strengths!
--Thanks for reading!