Welcome to the first installment of “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler.” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question comes from just about everyone we’ve met who finds out that we not only homeschool, but were homeschooled ourselves:
What about socialization? What did you think about the social aspects of homeschooling back then, and have any of your opinions changed now that you’re a homeschooling mom?
Good question! Common question! Understandable concern! And although there has been plenty of research done on this topic — supporting the notion that homeschooled students actually receive better socialization opportunities than their school-grade separated peers (see this article from the HSLDA) — we’re not going to go there. Instead, here’s what we think about the question of socialization from our personal experiences…
NextGen Homeschool Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005
“Back in the 80s when we were being homeschooled, I am sure many people thought we were weird and very unsocialized. I never really thought about it. The year before we started homeschooling was my seventh grade year, which was my first year in junior high, and it was awful socially. For this reason, I love being homeschooled. I could do my schoolwork at my own pace, read as much as I wanted, and didn’t really have to deal with the social peer pressure I had been introduced to in junior high. I had as many friends as I needed: from the neighborhood, from church, and even from other homeschooled children in the area.
When I started college at 16, I enjoyed the social life there. Looking back, I think being younger than the other college students (because I’d graduated from homeschool earlier than a typical high schooler) hampered my social life a bit at first, but not the fact that I was homeschooled.
When I started homeschooling my girls, I didn’t really worry about that aspect. My girls had practically grown up in the donut shop we owned and were very adept at socializing with people of all ages. They have neighborhood friends, church friends, work friends and homeschooled friends — in fact, some of their church friends and work friends are homeschoolers too. One of the major reasons we started homeschooling our girls when we did was because we believed their school peers were becoming too big of a priority in their lives. I would rather my daughters spend less time socializing and more time learning.”
NextGen Homeschool Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010
“My family started homeschooling the year I entered the sixth grade: Kindergarten through fifth, I had attended public school. I usually had one close friend in each grade, who may or may not have continued with me onto the next grade (usually they moved or we did). My friends were never Christians, so my mom always encouraged me to be a testimony to them — which I usually struggled with, wanting to ensure I would be accepted. I remember hearing horrible things that I shouldn’t have heard — even as young as second grade — from kids my age who had no boundaries at home.
Outside of school, my mom always had us involved in youth groups, ballet and clubs such as Awana. So I think the transition from being in school, where I saw kids everyday, to being home and seeing my friends twice or so a week (and spending the school day with my seven siblings, six of which were younger) had no negative impact on me socially. Instead, it removed the worst of my influences and encouraged me to have closer relationships with my siblings and others at church and in other venues.
Not to say that those environments didn’t present their own challenges. However I believe it did give me a little breathing space to decide who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in life rather than just following the popular crowd — which I had an inner tendency to do. In fact, I remember being really excited that I did not have to go into junior high and deal with the escalating drama that had already started in grade school (who’s dating who, who likes who, etc.).
In the long run, I have learned it is not the quantity of friends you have, but the quality of people you spend time with and grow with that matters most — a concept I often remind myself of when I am choosing co-ops or play dates for my kids. I have attended high school football games several times with my husband, who is a high school teacher, and I never fail to think of how grateful I am that did not have to compete for the attention and acceptance the way that these kids do. Some of them, my husband says, are unwilling to break their high school ties to move on into higher education or new seasons of their lives, which seems like a real stumbling block to their futures.
There is a con: Homeschool socializing is more work for Mom — who not only has to run the same household that she did when kids were in school, but needs to manage additional scheduling, such as activities with other kids and some play time too. I say some play because constant peer socialization is not crucial to a child’s development, according to educators such as Charlotte Mason. Social time with children that you choose (when you can) will hopefully play a positive role in your child’s life and vice versa, whether having Christ in common or a hobby that leads to mutual encouragement educationally (such as Boy Scouts, soccer, etc.).
Speaking from personal experience, I’d add that simply being a Christian peer does not guarantee a great match-up in friendship (there are still pitfalls — we are human), but it’s a place to start. There will always be opportunities for your kids to be “lights” and leaders in our world down the road. They will still face obstacles about making right choices, but minimizing huge opposition to their faith while they are young allows time for spiritual and emotional growth.”
NextGen Homeschool Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010
“I love this question! In fact, my first persuasive speech in college Oral Com class back in 1990 was about why homeschooling provides a better environment for healthy socialization than traditional grade-separated schools. (And in case you’re wondering, I got an “A” on that speech — score one for the homeschooled nerd!)
But in all honestly, I was no homeschool cheerleader when my mom began homeschooling us in my junior year of high school. One reason: I was in fact an actual cheerleader at my high school — and very socially connected — when my mom decided I should join the homeschooling plan along with my seven younger siblings. I was also on the swim team, in student government, on the honor roll and in AP classes — with a gaggle of friends to stroll the mall with me. I mourned the demise of my high school identity for the entire summer leading up to my first year as a homeschooled student and soon-to-be outcast from my existing circle of friends.
However, I quickly learned that as God closes one door, He opens another. That summer, I became very close with friends from my church youth group. To this day, some of those girls are still my very best friends — friends that not only share my faith but have shared most of the ups and downs of my adult life with me. Do I miss anyone from that popular crowd in high school? Are you kidding me? Some are now my Facebook friends, and it’s fun being back in touch. But God had spiritual sisters picked out for me who would be there to lift me up in my darkest times — and they weren’t my high school friends.
I also served as a camp counselor that summer for elementary girls at two Christian summer camps. I soon realized that God had so many more meaningful relationships waiting in the wings for me that didn’t just fill my social calendar, but filled my heart and had eternal purpose. I can still remember letters I received from some of my first campers later that fall, thanking me for being “like family” while they were away from home and helping them grow closer to God. Had I been busy with cheer camp and trips to the beach with my friends in the popular crowd, I would not have been there for those girls.
When I faced the prospect of homeschooling my daughters, I imagined their main concern (read: complaint) would be that they would miss their friends from school. My two eldest, who were in school full time at that point, had lots of friends who looked up to them, and they were beloved by their teachers. For the most part, their friends were pretty great kids too — no real concerns there. But had I learned nothing from my own homeschooling experience?
Finally, God closed another door so that He could open a new one: We moved. It was the perfect opportunity to literally “break away” and start homeschooling. And in His mercy and grace, God had a little present waiting for us in our new neighborhood: A homeschooling family — with three girls almost identical in age to ours — living just around the corner. What a great God we serve!
Between all the diverse activities sponsored by our local homeschool group and other homeschool-friendly venues, opportunities to serve at our church, and spending time with the homeschooling family around the block, my girls have spread their social wings far beyond the walls of a traditional school. They don’t limit their social time to the BFFs, but play just as sweetly with the preschool-age siblings of their friends. They confidently present in front of a crowd of 30-plus observers whose ages range from three to we’re-not-gonna-go-there. And their hearts are full of concern and compassion for those in need in our community — something I rarely heard them discuss before.
Do I have any concerns about the socialization of my daughters? Absolutely not. If anyone needs to get out more, it’s me! (See my sister-in-law Elizabeth’s comments below). Research is on our side. And as the modern homeschooling movement has spilled over into a new generation, the evidence only grows stronger.
But in my heart, I know my life would not be the same if I had not been pulled out of my self-centered, peer-defined box and placed into the context of God’s hungry world the way He sees it. For that, I’m eternally grateful. And I’m positive that it’s an experience I want to provide for my girls.”
NextGen Homeschool Author Elizabeth Thomas
Was homeschooled from K-12
Began homeschooling in 2009
“My parents made the choice to homeschool me, along with my two older siblings, when I was just four years old. My perception of the experience was different than my siblings. I remember my friends going to kindergarten and telling me what I missed and getting picked on at church for not going to school. I thought I was missing out on everything —most of all, other kids my own age!
Other adults would ask me about my “social life,” and I began to wonder if I had one. I grew up going to church, my closest friends were Christians, and most of them went to Christian schools. However, I didn’t want to be different, I just wanted to be normal! Homeschooling seemed like an isolation from the world to me, and I began to rebel against my father, mother and God. After enduring an abusive relationship for several years, during which my first three daughters were born, I spent four years as a single mother, and slowly, the puzzle pieces began to fit.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6) This is my verse. I did hear my parents teach me, but the seeds they planted had landed on hard ground initially. But God did a work in me and softened my heart, and the seeds started to grow.
We cannot protect our kids from the bad choices they make. We can only preach the Gospel, teach them what is right — teach them in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it. It is hard work, but God gave me four daughters, and someday I will answer to Him for these precious gifts He gave me.
While I was growing up, I was mostly asked about my social life. I think social lives are like salt and spice: Just the right amount seasons perfectly, but too much, too little, or the wrong kind can be unhealthy. Some do ask if I am more or less concerned about my daughters’ social lives because I was homeschooled, but I don’t worry — my girls have social lives!
It’s me who has to work on maintaining one. I’m trying to develop close friendships in my church, but I still feel like I’m lacking in kindred spirits. I’d love to know what other homeschooling moms are doing about their own socialization challenges. Any ideas out there?”
What are your thoughts on the issue of socialization for homeschoolers? And for the homeschooling moms out there, how are you meeting your own “social” needs for fellowship on top of the home/work/homeschool responsibilities? We’d love to hear what’s going on inside your world!
We are also taking new questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!