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But Homeschooling Doesn’t Build Social Skills! Debunking a Popular Myth:

photo-1436303892196-e039f81a04aaBut Homeschooling Doesn’t Build Social Skills!  Debunking a Popular Myth:

Why are you considering homeschooling?  Is it because you live in a rural area and transportation is a hardship?  Is it because your local schools are underperforming?  Is it because you don’t believe that your child will gain access to a public education that reflects your family’s values?  Is it because you travel often and want to expose your child to the wide, wide world?

Chances are, you’re not thinking of homeschooling so that you can mold your child into an awkward, antisocial animal who can’t make friends.  I don’t know of a single homeschooler who was really going for that outcome.  Homeschoolers and homeschooled children alike have been piping up to say that they disagree with the common perception that homeschooling doesn’t build social skills.

Are Kids Really Learning Social Skills in Traditional Schools?

Bridget Bentz Sizer recently interviewed Kate Fridkis, who was unschooled until college. The interview points out that homeschooled children may be no more or less likely to develop positive or negative social skills. For example, homeschooled children may have more social interactions with a wide range of people, while children in traditional schools may have more social interactions with peers.  Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the skills that children in traditional schools develop to navigate their peer group are “positive” social skills; these children also learn to bully, to gossip, and to criticize.  When they themselves are bullied, gossiped about, or criticized, these children may retreat and become less able to participate fully in the social world of the traditional school.

Homeschooling may help build confidence and poise.

Homeschooling programs often include an element of self-direction that is missing from many traditional school curricula.  When you’re trying to run a class of 30 eight-year-olds, it’s pretty difficult to allow them to each design their own topic of study.  Many homeschooling parents, on the other hand, encourage their children to study what interests them.  Children must learn to speak up and advocate for their interests, and to communicate about those interests to others.  This is a stark contrast to the approach that is often taken in traditional schools, where children are punished for not following a directive course of study.

In her blog, City Kids Homeschooling, Kerry McDonald describes the give-and-take that characterizes a self-directed learning plan:

“At first glance, self-directed learning may seem like a free-for-all where the child is fully in charge and the parents do nothing. In fact, while the child is leading the way, the parents are carefully observing, noticing a child\’s interests emerge, recognizing the world around them and getting their children out into it, providing resources and opportunities for their children to learn on their own.”

“Social skills” such as patience and discipline are taught in traditional schools by requiring students to adhere to a curriculum that is given to them rather than created by them.  The homeschooling setting does not necessarily prevent children from learning patience and discipline; it only asks them to learn patience and discipline as they apply those traits to subjects of their own choosing.

“Social” is Bigger than “Playground.”

What sometimes goes unsaid in debates about the “socialization” of homeschooled children is the degree to which “social skills” might be said to refer to the “tools of the playground.”  That is, learning to share, learning to stick up for yourself, learning to take turns, learning to wait in line.  Or—in high school terms—learning to ask someone to the dance, learning to gracefully decline an invitation, learning to move across social groups.

These are important skills.  But the playground is not the only place to learn them.  Children can wait in line at the grocery store or the bank. They can learn to share with children at the park or at birthday parties.  They can attend community activities such as craft fairs and picnics, and they can learn to have social interactions and negotiations with a wide variety of people.  They can participate in service and they can donate their time to those in need.  They can speak in public and they can advocate.  They can work on teams and they can collaborate to solve problems. All children can do these things—but they often get more chances to do these things when they aren’t at a traditional school.

The bottom line might be that homeschooled children may, in some cases, have access to a larger “playground” than traditionally-schooled children.

“I’m Pretty Normal.” 

For her part, Kate Fridkis has a hard time identifying what awkward or ridiculous social tendencies she may have developed as a result of being homeschooled.

“I was talking to Peter Gray, over at Psychology Today, about being unschooled,” she writes.  He was asking me some questions, and I was trying to answer. For a while, when people asked me about my education, I would try to point out the ways in which I am special. In case they thought that I might be a dud. […] But the more I think about it, the really interesting thing about me is how little there is to brag about. How normal I am. How much my skills, at the end of the day, are skills that people have whether or not they spent their childhood in the woods or at a desk.”

Opportunities to Develop Social Skills.

Codabear is a great resource for developing social skills in preschoolers.  Singing along and participating in group movement activities helps young children to feel a part of the group.  Here are some additional skillbuilding activities to offer your child—whether you decide to homeschool or not!

  • Ask your family members or neighbors if you can help them with chores
  • Write thank-you cards
  • Volunteer with a team that builds homes, trails, or other community assets
  • Mentor a child younger than you
  • Attend a neighborhood association meeting and socialize with attendees
  • Attend a festival and say hello to fellow attendees
  • Design a community service project
  • Participate in a sports league