Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homeschooling & Socialization: The Truth

It took us three years to make the decision to homeschool.  Our biggest concern was our children's social life.  Sure, we knew they could run more errands with me and interact with people in stores.  We realized they would have more opportunities to interact with family.  But would they have friends?  And were all of the other kids weird - you know, the children of prairie dress or romper wearing mothers, children who lacked hygiene and social skills?

The Truth:  Although we attended park dates and field trips prior to making the decision to homeschool and we found that the moms and kids did not wear rompers and prairie skirts and did have good hygiene and social skills, it still took a lot of effort to find our little niche in the homeschool world.  It's not as easy as just meeting the kids and parents in your district. It takes some legwork, joining yahoo groups, seeking out field trips and attending park days, to meet other homeschool families and attempt to find some with whom you and your children have things in common. In our first year of homeschooling, we joined a co-op and although we connected with a lot of people and met a lot of people, we did not find our niche there.  We traveled all over our state attending field trips, homeschool art shows, homeschool science fairs and homeschool geography fairs and we met a LOT of people, but we still didn't find our niche.  It took us over a year to find our niche, a group where we felt we belonged, where we felt comfortable; a group of people that we could call on a rainy day for a playdate or create a book club with or have sleepover.

In part, I believe, this was because my girls (mostly my oldest) had a lot of "school" in her and was looking for the same kind of relationships.  
Last year, Allie still got together with her school friends and they gossiped about other kids, girls dating, bases, clothes, what people wore, etc.  Homeschool friendships are not like that.

The Difference:  Last fall, we joined the homeschool soccer club in our area and met two other families.  The girls hit it off and I hit it off with the moms. The phone started ringing, the girls would spend an hour giggling on the house phone with their new friends.

  • Their friends made them laugh.  
  • There was no competition. 
  •  No gossip.  
  • No talking about who wore what or who was dating whom.  
  • The talk was silly chatter 
  • or about a book they read 
  • or a story they wrote 
  • or planning the boutique or bakery they will one day open together. 
  • The talk is about slumber parties they will have, the food and the decorations and the games.
  • Sometimes the talk is about youtube videos they make and share and watch while on the phone together.

We are very fortunate to have neighbors that homeschool.  They were going through a lot last year, as the parents were in the middle of separating and are now in the process of getting a divorce, but in the last year we have become very close: sharing meals, weekly sleepovers, daily emails.  Our girls consider the homeschool neighbors their sisters.  We are fortunate to have this and it's pretty rare...but if I could create the perfect childhood for my girls, it would include what they share with the homeschool neighbor girls.  They have deep, meaningful, emotional conversations.  (I know, because I admit, that I eavesdrop, just a bit.)  They talk about books they read and recommend books to each other.  They write and perform plays together and make stop motion videos together.  They enter competitions together and work hard together.  Just today, Allie forwarded me an email of a story that one of her homeschool friends wrote and shared with her.  My daughters at 10 and 12, have friendships the likes of which I did not have until late high school or college.  

The homeschool kids we know are not into fashion, they know what they like, but they really don't care what store it came from or if it's the latest trend.  Most of the homeschool kids we know have little technology and limited screen time.  There is very little, if any, material competition between homeschool kids.
Homeschool friendships are not based on superficial quantities, such as who has what or who is friends with whom, friendships are based on shared interests, enjoying each other's company and having fun together.

The Odd & The Awkward:   We have met some odd, socially awkward homeschool kids.  We have encountered kids with uncombed hair and poor hygiene.  On one of our early field trips, there was a kid who kept interrupting the tour guide to say inane things.  Those kids reminded us of kids the girls knew from school!  They remind me of kids I knew in school.  There are kids in school who are just as awkward as the awkward homeschool kids.  In all honesty, in our experience (and we have met hundreds of homeschool kids at this point) there are MORE homeschool kids who are not socially awkward and have good hygiene than there are socially awkward homeschoolers.  I would guess, though no statistics exist on this, that the ratio of socially awkward homeschoolers is on par with the ratio of socially awkward school children.  If there are 5 awkward kids for every 50 non-awkward kids in school, there are 5 awkward kids for every 50 non-awkward homeschool kids.

As I have stated, the friendships are different.  Unlike school friendships, homeschool friendships are not based on 'being one of the crowd'.  Homeschool kids are not concerned with what is cool or being part of the crowd.  To some, and even to us at first, that was an unknown, it was unfamiliar and my girls were unsure how to proceed.  It took them about a year to get past expecting that barometer of 'coolness' to determine their friendships.

One More Truth: One of the things that we have found and that I am still struggling with in terms of homeschool parents and homeschool children, is that some of our friends have this notion that their children are who their children are and they are not going to tell them how to behave.  I am familiar with the theory of letting kids be themselves and learn from their surroundings.  The way this theory works is that when this child acts inappropriately, they will learn from the reaction of people around them.  If they hurt my feelings and I get mad, they will learn from that.  If they do something strange and everyone looks at them like they are crazy, they will learn from that.  It's interesting.  Here are the two issues I have with it:  first of all, when the child acts inappropriately, other children laugh and then this child thinks they are hilarious and keeps acting up; secondly, it sometimes puts other parents in the awkward position of sort of parenting this child or just getting really irritated when you are trying to have a serious conversation and this child keeps interrupting (it also means that my girls don't get as much out of a field trip when this child is 'acting up'.) But, I do believe that if they were in school, there would inevitably be a class clown who would do the same thing.  To take a positive stance on this, homeschool kids who are exposed to this, even if their parents don't subscribe to this theory of parenting, learn how to handle different situations and different people from these kinds of situations.

In another recent situation, our girls got into an argument with a friend.  The friend's parent acknowledged that their child was at fault, but wouldn't tell their child that.  They didn't feel it was necessary to tell their child that they had acted inappropriately or make their child apologize.  The parent apologized for their child, but said they knew their child wouldn't apologize, "that's just how [my child] is" they said.  This gets tricky.  We wouldn't accept that from our girls.  We would tell our girls what they had done wrong and we would expect them to apologize.  We have told our girls repeatedly to treat others as you want to be treated and we have told our girls that friends care about friends' feelings.  What do you do when another parent doesn't tell their children the same thing?  I'm not sure.  We are still working on it.  But, I can tell you that we had similar issues in public school.  There were kids who hurt my kids' feelings and their parents really didn't think they were wrong.  There were kids whose parents didn't tell them to treat others as you will be treated.  No matter if a child is in school or homeschooled, they will encounter children from families who have values that are not consistent with the values of their family, therefore, no matter how or where a child is schooled, they will have experiences that will help them to learn how to navigate a diverse world.