Entire books have been written on what it means to be socialized, and how homeschooled children are socialized just fine. I have not read any of those books. Here are some of my own thoughts I have about what socialization means.
First, I think that school attendance is not necessary to teach a child to be socialized.
The second part of what people assume means by ‘going to school’ is the act of riding the school bus. The school bus is a tough environment in which some children learn or witness other, usually negative, behaviors. Not every child who goes to public school takes the bus; I know many families who drive their child to and from public school. Additionally, children who attend private schools are spared the school bus experience. I have heard some people say that to not have a child ride the school bus is robbing them of a social experience, but most people don’t ever worry about the lost learning that the private schooled kids will experience (they just worry about the homeschoolers). What can happen on the school bus is disrespectful talk (profanity and other negative words), teasing, bullying-verbal, bullying-physical, taunting, verbal sexual harassment and exclusion. Also sexual abuse-touching and groping can occur, and did occur, on the middle school bus that I took to school, in a small middle-class, 99% Caucasian suburb. (These are not urban issues or things that happen in poverty stricken places.) Perhaps a less harmful thing that can happen on school busses is cheating (copying another student’s homework). Observing others cheating helps make students accept it as typical or normal and may influence their immediate or future desire to cheat. Two years ago in my very small town a student brought a Playboy magazine onto the bus. The students are given assigned seating by grade level, with the Kindergarten children up front near the driver. The magazine was passed up through the grades and was only discovered while the first graders were looking at it.
My children learn things each and every time they are with other children. The playground is a socialization-rich environment.
I find that any time two children are together outside of an adult’s earshot, you never know what will go on (this is not just at the playground but anywhere). Last week my son was told something sexual that made him uncomfortable, from an always-homeschooled boy who has a very religious family. He told me about this because he said it made him feel uncomfortable, although he didn’t know why. I explained that the thing that was said was treating breasts in a disrespectful way by using slang language and that the reference to a person touching them was what he knew to be touching private parts of a body, which I previously explained as part of trying to teach about appropriate touching and inappropriate touching.
Both of my children also recounted a story about how two boys were trying to convince the rest that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. The conversation ended up more like a debate with the two non-believers trying to convince the rest. My children said they gave counter-arguments and they both walked away still believing in Santa Claus. I don’t know how many of the children lost their innocence regarding Santa Claus that day. My point is that homeschooled children are not completely sheltered, they are around other children and even when they are with other homeschooled children they are exposed to things that perhaps we, as parents, wish they had not experienced, seen, heard, or learned.
Other aspects to socialization are realizing that people have different rules and standards than each other. Our family may prohibit use of certain words such as bathroom language and profanity while other children use this freely in conversation. Other families allow the use of slang terms for private body parts. I notice these children seem to get a giddy excitement about saying them over and over. In our home we use the correct terms and there are no jokes about those body parts in our household. But when they are with other children, this language is used frequently. They have heard this talk when children are alone, when children are with their own parents—and the parents allow it to go on, and they have also heard other adults use this language and treat it as normal and acceptable. So our children have learned that our family has certain standards of appropriateness and other families have other standards. They have to learn to control themselves and act in the way that my husband and I feel is right. There just came a point where I had to explain that different families have different rules but our family has rules and standards which their father and I feel is the best for our own family. I don’t like the terminology some families use and allow. My point here is that my children both learn these slang terms and also learn that different families have different rules and standards.
Children are very observant. They see how other children treat each other, both verbally and physically. They see children doing things to each other that they know is unacceptable according to our family. They have seen bullying (in all its forms) and they don’t like it. I am trying to get them to a point where they are not bystanders to the bullying, but to where they choose to stand up and defend the victim or to challenge the bully as doing something wrong and to try and stop it. Perhaps if bullies were to receive negative feedback from their own peers, it would help end the cycle.
Side note: I once heard a taped lecture by Barbara Coloroso called “Bullies, Victims and Bystanders” in which she explains that every person falls into one of these three categories and that we choose to be a bystander if we want to, and she urges each of us to not accept the bystander (or witness) role and to become active in stopping bullying. She has a book with the same title. Some day I will read it. The lecture really was geared toward children who attend school and a good amount of the lecture was about how parents can work with school teachers and school administrators to try and make the school staff not allow bullying. Apparently some parents who know their children are being bullied have a hard time getting the school staff to respond to it, the teachers and/or administrators won’t act on it and it goes on and on. (I know this was true when I was in school, but I had assumed that with all the negative press about it in recent years that maybe it wasn’t even happening at schools—I was apparently wrong.)
Children who play with others, especially in small groupings, at the playground, go through a host of group dynamic-relationships. Some want to be leader. Conflicts arise if more than one wants to lead the group. Followers are sometimes happy to follow. I have noticed that at about age 4 or 5 children would rather play in groups with other children at the playground than to spend time in the sand box, on the slides, or on the swings. They invent games, sit, hidden in low places on the wooden playground structure, or spend time walking and talking and sometimes just follow each other up and down and all around the huge wooden structure that the nearby playground has.
Children negotiate with each other and try to persuade each other, such as to change from one game to the other. Some children seem to be born-salespeople, able to talk a group into nearly anything. Some realize the power of saying no and what happens when they dissent. Most seem to not want to break from the pack, but some seem to delight in the challenge, and then try to get the others over to ‘their side’.
Bickering and disagreements arise between friends. Children struggle to communicate verbally, trying to figure out how to best verbalize what they are feeling. Some desperately feel the need to communicate their thoughts and feelings, while others seem all too happy to bite the bullet, suppressing their individual thought or emotions in order to ‘save face’. Some children don’t mind crying in front of others while others would never allow a group of children to see them displaying their emotions (what they consider to be a sign of weakness).
With boys, some seem to want to play rough and aggressively. Others have no interest in this, but will follow the crowd and go along with or join in with the play that the leader wants. Sometimes when things get a little wild with one child, the next moment many or all are suddenly wild. It is interesting and a bit odd to witness the quick shift from in control and calm to suddenly being out of control. The scary part of this is that when the ‘wild’ mode is on, logic and common sense go out the window. This is when the sword-battles get too aggressive and people are hurt or when they start jumping from high places or running so quickly that they accidentally smash into someone, injuring both the other person and themselves.
Some children are affected when they see another child with hurt feelings. Other children seem to care less. Some give thought to how their actions impact onto others, while others do what they want without ever thinking about the other people. Some will witness a child who is being excluded, while others won’t even realize that other children are excluding that child. Some will want to include the excluded child and will reach out to encourage that child, while others would never dream of acting independently like that (and going against the crowd). Some seem to enjoy the “us versus them” idea and like to be a part of that team and don’t want anyone else on their own team. Some are competitive and begin saying “our team is better than yours”.
Some children divide by gender lines. There have been many happy games played at our playground where the teams divide by girl vs. boy. I think sometimes this is done for ease of play. Not every child knows every other child at our homeschool park day. It is easy to know that if it is a girl they are on the girl team and if it is a boy, they are on the boy team. It also seems that some children (of both genders) like to divide off by gender. Sometimes girls will say with disgust “he is a boy” or vice-versa. I used to think this was something that only school children did. Often homeschoolers are not seen ignoring and treating the members of the opposite gender with negativity. With many children once they are exposed to this, they learn it and use it. A few years ago the two main people who were pushing the boy vs. girl were two boys who did go to school but were now homeschooled. Another boy I know who has never been to school has two older sisters and for whatever reason, he is in the camp of “eew she is a girl”. My children have also experienced this when they are around their friends and relatives who DO go to school.
So can you see yet, that homeschooled children are not sheltered?
About their relationships with each other, I don’t know why all of this surprises me, perhaps because I (used to) think that children did not experience complex emotions and complex relationships with other children. I thought that only adults acted and felt in these ways. I was wrong. I have a feeling that personality traits seen in babyhood and early childhood stay with the children throughout their life. Perfect example: I found a report from my father’s Kindergarten teacher last weekend. He enrolled in Kindergarten at age 4 and turned 5 while in Kindergarten. For his personality the teachers said he was critical and liked serving his own self-interests. He is nearing age 60 now and this description is very accurate! This is scary!
I have noticed that at the playground, the strongest ties that my children have with others are with the children that they have seen on a regular or semi-regular basis over the last two years. The common bond of having known each other for a period of time is beneficial. When we arrive at the playground for our homeschoolers park day, I see the joy on the faces of my children and on the faces of the other children, when they see that their old friends are there. The children who don’t seem to feel so comfortable are those that are new to the others. One thing I have been trying to teach both of my children this fall is to reach out to these new friends and to help make them feel more comfortable. It has been interesting to see how the different personalities of my two sons has yielded two different reactions to my prodding’s. My shy son (the follower) won’t reach out to the newcomers at all and instead, just plays with the other children (whoever is there). My extroverted son (the leader) has reached out to children many times. Whether the other children choose to take up his offers to play is another thing entirely. When the children rebuff my extroverted son’s attempts, he backs off. I bet if his personality trait included persistency and more of a drive to achieve a goal, he would not back off and instead would persevere. I am sure also that other children would then take the child’s refusal to join the group as acceptable but instead of leaving to go back to the group, they may choose to play one-on-one with the other child.
Some children also seem to like to play alone. Some children at the park day bring toys that keep them solitary and separated from the others, such as wearing audio headset units and listening to music by themselves, or they draw or read a book. Others bring chess set and play a game of chess in a quiet spot with one other child.
Another thing which perhaps I don’t need to mention is that homeschooled children are out in the world and with other people often. My own children mix with other homeschooled children, mostly because they are the ones who are available to play with. Even as busy as homeschoolers are, they have more flexibility in their schedule than schooled children. It is very hard to find time in a schooled child’s day to play, such as to play with neighbors after school. Finding time for a playdate if that includes driving time to get to the other child is basically out of the question. By the time the schooled children do their homework, do their extra-curricular activities, and relax at home with family, there is no time left in the day for seeing other children to ‘just play’. My children also see schooled children in the neighborhood, through community sports and through Cub Scouts. We also live near relatives and see cousins from both sides of the family (all of who go to school). They see adult relatives and grandparents and great-grandparents frequently. All of these people (including the adult relatives) have introduced ‘negative’ (in my opinion) socialization to my children. So both positive and negative socialization is learned by my children by both homeschooled children and schooled children, and by adults and relatives!
HOMESCHOOLED CHILDREN ARE NOT SHELTERED.
The one thing that homeschooling children have going for them is that the negative socialization can be more tightly controlled or limited by the parent, if the parent wants to. Examples are that private playdates with certain children can be avoided. Playdates with other children who exhibit positive social skills can be encouraged. Exposure to negative socialization from relatives can be limited or even avoided, if one wants to go that far. The fact that homeschooled children spend more time with their own parents allows the parents to be the ones who are their MAIN influence.
What I hope for and what seems to be happening is that when a negative social experience happens we talk about it and my children learn what I think is right and they have a standard set for them, a higher bar is set as to what is acceptable and right for our family. I can’t control everyone in the world and have them act the way I want them to act when they are around my children. But they are given an opportunity, in our home and within our family, to be exposed to mostly all positive experiences. This allows them to handle negative experiences more easily when they do occur, and to recognize that something happened that was not right or good, and to be able to identify it as such. They can and do learn that their own actions are controlled by themselves—they choose their behavior. I know from experience that repeated and prolonged exposure to negative behavior or peer pressure (such that happens when a child is spending seven or more hours in the day exposed to non-parents and also exposed mostly to same-aged peers), can influence a child to the point of changing their personality for the worse or leading to behaviors and activities that are negative such as engaging in bullying, rude behavior, and by middle school, smoking cigarettes, alcohol and using illegal drugs.
I think that if my children reach age 18 with a good self-esteem, an ability to communicate well with others, and with a standard of good social behaviors in place, that is something to be proud of.
I don’t know how my children will turn out, the only thing I can do is plug away each day, teaching them morals and values and helping them sort out their experiences. We go day by day and that builds to weeks, months, then to years. I am trying the hardest that I can, and that is all that I can do! Active parenting is not easy. I keep telling myself that hopefully all this effort is worthwhile. I do know that the time I am spending with them is precious and I am enjoying have a close, connected relationship with my children. If these two things are accomplished in our homeschooling journey then perhaps that is ‘good enough’ and makes homeschooling worthwhile.