When I first began homeschooling, all I could think of was academics. I spent lots of research time trying to find the best books and worrying that I couldn’t teach my children all they needed to know. As the years have filed by and I have gained confidence in my ability to teach them and educate them well, I have increasingly become concerned about their social well-being.
Homeschoolers can be way ahead academically, but it hardly makes up for poor social skills. Sometimes that is the “hallmark” of a homeschooler: a genius who is awkward and socially backwards. I don’t think it has to be this way. If mothers would put some of the effort that they put into worrying about the academic part and instead put it into creating a postiive social environment for their homeschooling children, everyone would be happier and better adjusted.
Many young mothers begin homeschooling and as they learn and get to know their children better and have fun together, life is pretty good and happy for years. Then their oldest child grows a bit restless, as he is reaching puberty, or a few years before, and homeschooling isn’t as fun. The child who could play with any kid in his church class suddenly feels left out and socially ill at ease. This is the moment that can make or break homeschool. If the mother continues with the status quo, the child can become increasingly uneasy and discontent. If the mother makes an effort to provide a rich social life, everyone benefits. Homeschool can happily continue, and social skills and friendships develop.
Just how much work is providing a social life for your homeschooled child? Lots. I think over the years, I have given increasingly more time to trying to create an oppportunity for my children to meet other homeschooled children with high standards so that friendships can develop.
I know older mothers that have been homeschooling for many years that put a great amount of effort into the social aspect of their children’s lives. One of our dearest homeschool friends actually drives hours to associate with us—a great blessing for us! But it also illustrates just how important it is to be with like-minded friends.
Children need friends. The best kind of friends are other children with high standards who are also being homeschooled, sharing the same kind of experiences. Looking for friends among those who attend public school can be searching for a needle in a haystack. There are plenty of good children that go to public school. The problem is that many have learned to “fit” and so they have the markings of “fitting”—the clothes, rock star idols, the cool words, the preoccupation with the social ongoings at the school, the fads, the worldly trappings. This can create an uncomfortable difference for a homeschooler. Another factor in looking for friends amongst the children in the public school system is the fact that they are in school all day long, and have an evening of homework ahead of them. Besides, many have afterschool sports, lessons and eventually part time jobs. They don’t have the social need—in fact, they probably need some time alone to think and daydream. Because the need is not there, they aren’t as eager or able to spend time.
I have found the most successful path is to search out other homeschoolers and try to build friendships with them. Right off, the children have so much more in common. Their lifestyles and standards are usually similar. They need and enjoy the companionship.
Where can you find other homeschoolers? It may seem that there are no other homeschoolers in your area, but there are! When I first moved to Utah, I made up flyers and posted them in local grocery stores, the library, and other prominent places. Basically, the flyer said, “Homeschooling? We want to meet you for friendship and activities. My children are such-and-such ages. Please call Diane.” Soon I was getting phone calls and was able to gather a group of LDS homeschooling families to meet at the park. From this group, we made many friends. Just recently, I was at a soccer game and another mother recognized me. Soon we were deep in conversation and discovered that she lives just a few blocks (actually across a big field) from me. For ten years, she has lived there, thinking there were no other homeschoolers in her neighborhood!
You will be surprised how many homeschoolers there are. Some families feel shy about homeschooling and keep a low profile. If you have a friendly librarian, ask her about other homeschoolers. My librarian tells me you can always spot them. They keep the library in business with their frequent trips and huge numbers of books check out. I suppose if you have a friendly school secretary, she could also tell you who has registered to do homeschool rather than attend public school.
What can a mother do to help her children fill the social need? I have had the most success in creating activities for others to attend. Most mothers are thankful to have somewhere to take their children to enjoy the company of other homeschoolers. They are usually very willing to drive them to your house. Sometimes, they offer to reciprocate and have the activity at their house too. One of the blessings of being the organizer is that you can pick and choose the best time that fits into your schedule. Your younger children also benefit from being there.
We have had an ongoing weekly class of some sort or another for many years. When Julianna was 10 years old, it was called “Art Class”. We had other girls her age come to our home every Thursday afternoon for two hours. I would help them do a fun project and, before and afterwards, they would play together. As an adult, Julianna still enjoys the friendships made in that “Art Class”!
Co-op school is another good way to meet the social need. All it takes is one other family with similar aged children. You can meet once a week or just once a month to “do school” together. Co-op school means you are teaching other children too, and since you are “in the spotlight”, you often make it extra fun. This takes effort but, of all the things we’ve done, my children have loved co-op school the best.
Field trips, picnics and other out-of-home outings are a good way to get to know another family on neutral territory. I usually just invite one family and most often, our children hit it off and make friends. This doesn’t take much effort, and becomes an anticipated event for my children.
Teenage parties at our house once a month, with food and games, has been a good way for my teenagers to get to become good friends with other homeschoolers. Teenagers are reluctant and uneasy at first, but most of them don’t have a lot of contact with other homeschoolers, so it is a treat to share their company. They have so much in common that friendships form easily.
All of these activities take energy and planning on mother’s part, and often it feels like just one more thing in an already packed schedule. I do feel it takes high priority, however, because it makes such a difference in the success of your homeschooling experience. Of all the mothers I talk to that have reluctantly put their children back in school, the single reason that they give is that their children yearned for friends and that homeschooling could not meet that need. You can prevent “homeschool dropout” by providing friendship opportunities.
Do yourself and your children a favor. Make your homeschool successful, not just academically, but socially also. It will be a great blessing to your children’s lives!
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