For about 2 million kids in the U.S., learning takes place not in a classroom, but around the kitchen table. Many parents who homeschool say they teach this way because they’re worried about the public school environment, they don’t consider their local school educationally rigorous enough, or they want to give their kids a firm moral or religious foundation.
Academically, homeschooled kids appear to do well — and they might even have an edge. A progress report from the Home School Legal Defense Association found that homeschoolers scored, on average, 37 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized tests. But what about socially? The common perception is that homeschooled kids are lonely and socially isolated, starved for peer interaction because they spend the entire school week one-on-one with a parent.
Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to Richard Medlin, PhD, professor of psychology at Stetson University. “Research suggests that homeschooled children’s social skills and self-esteem are certainly no worse than those of children attending conventional schools, and are probably better on average,” he says. “They tend to be happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives.”
Although homeschooled children have less contact with their peers than kids who attend school, the interactions they do have are more meaningful. “Compared to children attending conventional schools, research suggests that homeschooled children have higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults,” Medlin says. They also learn to interact with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. And when they go off to college, those formerly homeschooled kids are “socially involved and open to new experiences,” he adds.
That said, all children can benefit from social interaction. And you can find a lot of opportunities to socialize your homeschooled child — including the same programs public and private school kids attend, such as music or dance lessons, art classes, organized sports, scouting, or hobby groups. “In fact, the flexible schedule and more efficient use of time homeschooling affords may allow homeschooled children more time to participate in extracurricular activities than children attending conventional schools,” Medlin says.
You can also create prospects for social interaction by banding together with other families who homeschool. “Almost every community of reasonable size in the U.S. has at least one homeschool support group offering field trips, group activities, special classes, and other opportunities for homeschooling families,” he adds. Or, look into a homeschooling co-op, in which a small group of families joins together to form small classes. Kids attend this “school” once or twice a week, and parents teach.
During the summer, give your child a break from home by sending him off to a day or sleep-away summer camp. Camp gives kids a chance not only to explore new surroundings but also to form new friendships.
Finally, use the time you have together to build strong family bonds. “Research does show that socialization is most effective when it occurs within the context of a warm, supportive relationship,” Medlin says. “Homeschooling may ensure that more of children’s socialization experiences are an intrinsic part of such a relationship.”
August 14, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN