Many families are concerned that homeschooled children may be at a disadvantage when it comes to socialization and opportunities to socialize. Homeschoolers do not have to be isolated, nor are homeschooled children at a disadvantage when it comes to interacting with others. Your community offers many opportunities for people of all ages to learn from one another, to share talents, and to work together on shared goals. Depending on where you live, you can find a wealth of opportunities for field trips, special museum days, and even homeschool programs at amusement parks. In urban and suburban areas, there are frequently more opportunities for homeschoolers to socialize than they can take advantage of!
Socialization vs. Socializing
We often get the question “how do homeschooled children get socialization?” It’s worth thinking about the difference between socialization and socializing—socialization is the process of learning your culture’s expectations and norms for behavior. Socializing is the fun part of getting together with other people.
Children begin their socialization within their families—it is their parents and caregivers who teach young children to share and to take turns, etc. As children grow, their peers do reinforce those expectations because it’s no fun to play with kids who don’t share or take turns. But those early lessons in how to behave come from caregivers, not other children.
As our children get older their basic lessons in how to behave still come from caregivers and mentors with reinforcement from others. Homeschoolers are at an advantage in learning socialization skills because they frequently have a higher adult-to-child ratio in their day-to-day lives than most school children; homeschoolers also have many more chances to interact with people of different ages than children who spend their days in age-segregated classrooms.
Working, playing, and learning with people of all ages gives children a chance to learn from those with more experience and knowledge, and also gives them a chance to reinforce their own learning by teaching and being a role model for younger children.
Now that we have the dreaded socialization question out of the way, we can talk about resources for socializing in your community.
Finding Resources in Your Community
Finding other homeschoolers can be an important part of making homeschooling enjoyable for the whole family. As we’ve mentioned before, homeschooling is more than just an educational choice—it’s a lifestyle choice; finding other homeschoolers means finding other people who have made that same sort of decision in their own lives. Homeschoolers also have the opportunity to get together during regular school hours for activities and and outings, and many homeschool groups delight in creating fun and educational opportunities for their children. You’ll want to find the homeschoolers and homeschool groups in your community so you can take advantage of those opportunities.
Your state homeschool organization may have listings of homeschool groups in your state; that can be an excellent place to start. Our own website has links to homeschool groups across Virginia and they’re organized by geographical area. To find your state’s homeschool organizations, try using an internet search provider like Google to search for your state’s name and “state homeschool organization.” For example, searching for “Virginia state homeschool organization” gets you to The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
Online discussion groups are another terrific resource for finding homeschoolers near you. Yahoo Groups and other discussion services host a wide variety of groups that focus on homeschooling, and many focus on specific geographical areas. Try searching for “homeschool group” and your city or county and state name.
Once you’ve identified a homeschool group or two that meets near you, and a few discussion lists that look interesting, contact the group leaders and introduce yourself. Explain that you’re new to homeschooling, or considering it, and that you’re looking to meet some homeschoolers in your community. Find out if the group is inclusive (welcoming to everyone) or if the group has specific criteria for homeschoolers who wish to join.
An inclusive group can offer a wealth of experience to newcomers. It’s likely to have people who come to homeschooling from different backgrounds and educational styles, and who offer a variety of perspectives on the questions that may arise as you begin your homeschooling journey. You can take what works well for you and your family, and let the rest go. An exclusive group may offer expertise in a particular area—a focused style of homeschooling, or homeschooling from a particular perspective. An exclusive group may be more useful once you’ve found your own homeschooling niche than when you’re just starting out.
Many communities have informal “park days” where homeschoolers meet up at a local park to play and socialize. Once you find another homeschooling family or two, or a homeschool group or two, you’re likely to hear about park days and other activities you can try.
While schoolchildren do spend much of their days in school with other children, they also frequently hear the line, “you are not here to socialize.” Their opportunities to socialize may occur daily at school, but be limited to relatively short recess periods. Homeschooled children may or may not get the chance to socialize with other children every day, but when they do get together they usually have the luxury of longer times to play. Park day may begin at noon and last until the kids are tired—giving children multiple hours of fun together.
Clubs, classes, and lessons are also opportunities to meet others and have a chance to socialize. Some homeschoolers participate in scouting, 4-H, music, dance, or martial arts lessons, etc., with other schoolchildren. Some participate in homeschool troops or take lessons during school hours with other homeschoolers. The number of options available to your family will be based in part on where you live—urban and suburban areas frequently have large numbers of homeschoolers and a wide variety of options available. People living in more rural areas, where people are spread out and there are fewer children in general, may fewer nearby resources.
A commonly-heard phrase in the homeschooling community is, “build it and they will come.” Chances are, if your family would like an activity, club, class, field trip, or opportunity, there will be others who would like it, too. Begin organizing and creating what you’re looking for and publicize your efforts—chances are, you will find other families to join you and help make it a success.
It can take a while to find your niche when you first begin homeschooling. It’s a bit like moving to a new neighborhood. Take advantage of opportunities to try new experiences and be assertive in seeking out people. Patience, flexibility, willingness to travel a bit, and openness to meeting new people can go a long way in smoothing the transition to a homeschooling lifestyle.
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated solely to homeschooling issues. Created in 1993, VaHomeschoolers is a state-wide, inclusive organization that provides information on homeschooling and protects and promotes homeschooling freedoms at the state and local level.
We provide a comprehensive website on homeschooling in Virginia, answer questions through our toll-free homeschool help line and email homeschool help desk, publish the bi-monthly journal Voice, as well as several electronic bulletins, and offer conferences and seminars on homeschooling throughout the year. We represent homeschooling interests in the state legislature and across the state, and help parents and school divisions resolve homeschooling issues.
Our organization has no political or religious affiliations; we focus exclusively on issues related to homeschooling. Our website does cover the specific legal aspects of homeschooling in Virginia but it is also filled with information and resources on homeschooling that apply universally. It is a great place to gather further details and support on all the topics discussed in this series.
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Leslie Nathaniel has been a member of VaHomeschoolers since she began homeschooling and is now a member of the Board of Directors. Her children began learning at home as soon as they were born, but they became official homeschoolers when her eldest reached kindergarten age in 2002. Prior to children, Leslie worked in information technology consulting. She is a homeschooling mother of two. As a volunteer for VaHomeschoolers, she answers telephone and email requests for information; writes articles for the VaHomeschoolers Voice homeschool journal; speaks at conferences and seminars on a variety of topics; and organizes homeschooling seminars around the state of Virginia.
Celeste Land is a member of the Board of Directors for VaHomeschoolers and the director of our Government Affairs department. Her two children began homeschooling in 1996, and are continuing to learn at home right through the teen years. Her daughter has recently graduated from homeschooling high school and will be attending college full time this fall. Celeste has lobbied on behalf of homeschooling interests here in Virginia and Washington, DC, for 10 years. Her articles on homeschooling have been published in the VaHomeschoolers Voice and the VaHomeschoolers website, as well as several homeschooling magazines in the USA and Canada. She also has been a speaker at many homeschool seminars and conferences.
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