What about socialization?
I was writing a long discussion about why homeschoolers and their non-homeschooling acquaintances can't seem to have a non-snarky conversation about this topic, but it got to be too long, so I shelved it. Instead, let me share what the elder of my two homeschoolers has been doing over the past couple of weeks.
Son#1 is currently 12. On Sundays, he goes to youth group with our church, with a mixed group of junior and senior high youth. They spend part of the time just hanging out and part of the time dealing with the evening's topic. I say "mixed group" because most of the kids are young Methodists or kids of Methodists (if they have not yet chosen to join the church on their own); however others are atheist or kids of other faiths who just enjoy hanging out with the group. Sometimes they also just go bowling, play frisbee golf, or have pizza. He has also just completed his confirmation class series with a small subgroup of the kids.
One night of the week, he goes to fencing with a group of kids he has known for two years now. They are serious about fencing, but they also have a blast, as it should be when you are 12. Two afternoons a week, he goes to karate; he is soon to get his brown belt. Often, he will hang out with the kids in his karate class before or afterward to play for a while before heading home. He has known that crew for closing on four years now.
One afternoon a week he takes a gym class with a mixed group of kids ranging in age from 7 to 15, male and female. Oftentimes those kids will hang out afterwards and play in the gym or in the pool and goof off together. Sometimes there are park days together as well, or birthday parties. These guys have had gym together for going on three years; it's a tight knit group. This same group also takes a science class together every other week at a local museum.
In yet another homeschool group, the kids (a cluster of them happen to be 9-12 years old boys) get together at different houses on a regular basis and take field trips together. Sometimes, they get into trouble together. Mostly, they get along really well together. Sometimes, they get on each others' nerves a bit. We moms stay out of it for the most part and make them work it out amongst themselves. They get along pretty well together and do manage to talk and work out their differences and get along again.
He also runs his own Minecraft server, where he has had to learn the ins and outs of leadership-- when to give a friend a time-out, or even the boot-- and how to redirect somebody before they cross the line in the first place. Things were rough going at first, but his leadership skills in this area have grown tremendously. Again, we avoid interfering directly, allowing him to run his server, though we may consult later and talk him through the ups and downs of different leadership scenarios we have overheard developing (his group Skype conference calls while they play, so we can hear everything that is going on and who is playing from the other room).
On weekends, holidays, and occasional "surprise" days, he still gets to see his old school friends as well.
We also have had our random opportunities through homeschooling-- a Friday spent volunteering at the Food Bank, packing lunches for school kids who don't have enough food at home to make it through the weekend, providing a church service to the needy elderly who don't get visitors, a trip to the butcher shop to chat with the butcher, and watch him break down a chicken, carve a steak from side of beef and trim off the fat, going with Mom to the doctor's office and learning quite a bit from the different charts, equipment, and staff there, and sharing our schoolwork with everyone from the hairdresser to the auto mechanic.
Now, most of that would be what I would call "socializing" rather than "socialization," though there is definitely some element of the latter present in any social interaction. In the mixed age groups he is learning compassion toward the younger kids, and the fun balance between self confidence and deference to the older ones. On field trips he has to learn how to balance his wishes with the wishes of the group he is hanging out with, and in the church group attended by people from different backgrounds, he is learning some sensitivity towards different perspectives.
What is socialization? My kids know how to answer a telephone properly. They know how to stand in line because they get that it's polite, not because somebody bigger than they are screams at them if they don't. They know to take care of library books even better than their own and return them on time because somebody else might want to read them next. They know to show up for appointments on time because the doctor or hairdresser has a schedule, and so does the next person after us with an appointment as well; they aren't on time because somebody will give them a detention if they are late. They know this from going places with me and seeing what happens when people are late (or when we are late). They know the power of a sincere apology, and the difference between a real one and a muttered one, though of course, as humans, that will remain a work in progress. My kids are starting to learn that learning is important to them, and not just to their teacher <koff>. They are learning that if they act like jerks, it's hard to get a brother to cooperate (another work in progress).
In short, socializing is awesome. In our homeschool world, like most other homeschoolers we know, there is an abundance of social opportunity. Socialization is different from mere socializing. Socialization is not just the experimentation on your friends; it is behavior both modeled and explicitly taught by your parents and other adults around you, such as coaches and teachers and pastors. As homeschoolers, we have many more contact hours with our kids in which to provide that socialization-- how to behave properly in society. We also provide coaches and access to other appropriate adults who interact with the kids out in society, which is where socialization happens.
We do not "hand pick" all of our kids' friends. Our kids have friends from all social, religious, ethnic, educational, and economic backgrounds. They definitely see and try out some behaviors from their friends from time to time, and this influence will become increasingly important as they grow older. However, they try these things out on us first at this age, and we are available, almost 24/7, to let them know which of their new habits are okay and which ones are not going to fly. They are not spending half their waking hours, five days per week, away from us where we can't help them sort things out, during these critical, younger years.
For homeschoolers, this is socialization.
Thanks for reading!