When I first started on our home education journey the question heard most often was “What about Socialization?” Maybe that was what I worried about most, so that’s the criticism that impacted me the most initially. But that question is still around. Usually you have to dig around to get to the heart of the issue.
When they ask, “What about socialization, are they thinking…
— their child won’t have access to other children and will be lonely?
— their child will be socially awkward when someone talks to them, avoiding eye contact, unaware of how to present themselves
— or maybe they’re worried that your child will be unaware of how to deal with bully situations or how to navigate scenarios like mean kids on a playground.
There are probably more than these, but since I try to keep these posdcasts short, let’s stick with exploring these three.
I’m Sue Patterson and this is the Unschooling Mom2Mom podcast. It’s a different take on podcasts - just a short 5-10 minute Peptalk from me, on one of the topics I’ve heard plaguing Unschoolers over the past 25 years. My kids are all grown now and I want you to know that unschooling really works. Time and time again, this unconventional approach to learning helps kids know who they are, how they learn, and allows the bond between the parents and the children to strengthen. I could go on and on - I just want everyone to experience the benefits of unschooling. So I have courses, guides, membership programs —all designed to help you figure out how you can embrace these ideas too. Reach out if you need help.
But today, the “S” Word - what about Socialization.
Let’s look at that first concern...
Lack of access to other kids.
This... is not realistic. Kids seek each other out - at playgrounds, in dance classes, online. And since unschooled kids are encouraged to dive into their interests, they actually find other children with similar interests. Their friendships come from shared experiences and not desk proximity or sharing the same first letter of their last name. Talk about an arbitrary way to make friends! No wonder you could be close to someone in third grade and then when 4th rolled around, they were nowhere to be found. Desks shifted, lunch periods changed, and that 3rd grade Buddy was soon forgotten. It’s because it was superficial. Friendships for unschooled kids CAN be circumstance-driven like that, but it’s more likely to be a better friendship because they like the same things, they share the same interests.
But there are plenty of kids to be found. Unschooled kids hang out online or in real life with others at all hours of the day and night - when we’re not in a pandemic at all hours of the day. And they have friends who go to school too - maybe joining them in some shared activity during that small window that school kids are available. So the lonely kid scenario isn’t a real issue.
Developing Social Skills
is the next worry people voice. This Awkward Homeschool Kid character has been around for a while - perpetuated in books and TV shows. But here’s the truth about it. Kids pick up their social skills from the people they’re around - so in our unschooling family cases, they’re likely to reflect YOUR social skills.
- What are you modeling for them?
- How do you interact with them?
- How do you interact with other people when they’re nearby?
- Are you friendly? Considerate? Patient with other people?
- Do you make eye contact with others, strive to include people in conversations, listen more than you talk?
We all have things to work on, right? But you don’t learn these skills in a classroom. As a matter of fact, I remember quite clearly being told,
“You’re not here to socialize, Susie!”
Personality has a lot to do with this too. And a huge benefit for unschooling, or even homeschooling families, is that we don’t have to subject our kids to the over-valuing of being an extrovert and the shame that is tossed toward those who are naturally introverted. This is probably worth an entire podcast of its own - because the world needs both introverts and extroverts! One isn’t BETTER than the other. When kids aren’t shoved off to school, they can unfold at the pace and in the places that fit them best.
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Lastly, we have the point about “toughening kids up so they can face the harsh realities of life.” And often this starts on the playground with bullies, right? Or that’s the scenario people point out. They think of home educated kids as little Hot House Plants that wilt under the first sign of pressure or some adverse condition.
Well, there’s actually lots to unpack on this one, if this is your concern.
And my experience is that when parents worry about this particular issue, bullying was happening way before school recess. A lot has been written lately about bullying actually happening in kids’ own homes and that sometimes PARENTS are the first bullies kids have to deal with. And if this was your own experience growing up, you’ll have even more to unpack to break the cycle - and no wonder you’re worried about kids growing up being weak or soft.
What CAN happen in unschooled kids homes, though, is more communication.
Parents can take the opportunity to discuss scenarios that happened and how to problem solve for next time. Because any time you have people getting together - at park days or online or anywhere really - kids will get the opportunity to be bullied, or learn how to stand up to mean kids, or even how to not be a bully themselves! And it’s not a straight path. Learning to navigate these scenarios takes time - lots of trial and error. But our kids get to learn to do this with a helpful adult nearby who (hopefully) has some good suggestions or can brainstorm with them. And they don’t have to endure the dread of facing their classroom bullies every day for hours on end and no relief in sight. Actually, that’s a good recipe for developing some MALADAPTIVE coping strategies. So yes, I’m glad THAT kind of socialization can be avoided!
2020 and the Pandemic gave us the chance to look at socialization from a different perspective.
NO ONE was getting to socialize they way they used to. And families learned to cope in new ways. And if this was your first year to unschool, know that this isn’t how it normally is! While everyone’s introverted kids (and moms!) have found the silver lining, the extroverted among us are pining for more interactions! Pandemic Homeschooling looks nothing like the way unschooling families tap into communities and wind their way through the world. So don’t make the assumption that it always looks like this - it doesn’t!
These three answers to that question “What about Socialization,” are really the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
I really want to applaud you for taking apart some of these thoughts and doing the internal work to get to the heart of what it will take to be the kind of parent you really want to be. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Reach out if you need help finding any unschooling resources or have ideas for me to talk about in future podcasts. Please consider liking, subscribing and leaving comments - it will help people find out more about unschooling.
Have fun with the kids, and we’ll chat again next week!
An Unschooling Guide about Socialization? YES!
Let's dive in deeper with this full color 25-page guide addressing a variety of topics that weave in and out of this question. Including:
- Examining this concept of socialization
- How to help your child develop social skills
- What about community?
- Social benefits of Unschooling
- Making Friends
- And so much more!