Homeschooling, socialization and my daughter

As a homeschooler, I spend a bit of time thinking about “the S word,” the socialization question.  What socialization is, what people really mean when they ask about it and whether schools really have anything to do with socialization in the first place.  As a homeschooler, I have all sorts of arguments and defenses for homeschooling.

As a mother, well, as a mother I confess to being a little concerned about my Mouse.  And more on the “socializing” front, since we homeschoolers frequently point out the difference between socializing and socialization.  “Mom, I don’t have any friends,” she complains.  “I just want a friend.”

Since she’s somewhat prone to exaggeration, I name a few friends for her.  But they are all in Lincoln and are a part of the various social activities our families are engaged in.  This left me thinking about school, socialization and the friends I had as a child.

If socialization is supposed to be about learning to work together and get along in diverse society, schools fail miserably.  Maybe I say that because I didn’t have that many friends in elementary school, but it seems to me that the other children made friends only with those who were most like them.  There was very little crossing of ethnic or economic boundaries.

It was different in the neighborhood, however.  Suddenly, other children to play with seemed a scarce resource.  Scarcity created a demand and that demand let differences fall by the wayside.  I was “friends” with every child within a reasonable distance from my house, regardless of their age or background.  Kids who wouldn’t talk to me at school knocked on the door to see if I could play after school.

We learned to get along not because the teacher told us to or by simple exposure, but because we all wanted someone to play with and our choices were limited.

But not quite so limited as my daughter’s.  There is one other girl in our town, and she is three years older.  In school, they’d likely have little to do with each other.  Out here…well…the only other girl for her to play with is my daughter.  And they get along well.

Still my daughter pines for friends.  At first, I thought it was mostly a problem unique to us.  After all, we do live in a small and aging town.  But then she and another girl really “clicked” during homeschool gym.  On the way home, I heard all about what she and G. did.  On the way there, I heard all about what she hoped she and G. would do.  She was making a new friend…in Lincoln.

Then her mother told me something her daughter had said.  Something that sounded very much like something my daughter could have said.

I hate it when I make a new friend but then I don’t get to see them again.

Transient friendships?  Ones made during various homeschool activities?  All of which have an ever-changing group of participants?  We are not currently involved in a homeschool group, just occasional homeschool activities.  But that part of my daughter that is yearning for a close friend cannot be appeased by opportunities to play and interact with a different group of children every quarter.

Suddenly my daughter has made two friends, two relationships which will be able to continue past the activities where they met.  Her entire demeanor has changed.  She no longer pines.

And it seems we have made a major accomplishment in our little homeschool, even though I never had the foresight to make it a goal.

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14 Responses

  1. I went to public school but moved very frequently. So I went through some of the same no-friends things on a recurring basis. It seems we would just settle in and I’d get used to things, and it was time to go. Stinks.

    So, anyway, not a problem unique to homeschooling IMO.

  2. For about four or five years we stopped doing the one-off HS activities, special events and classes that were a one-time thing as I felt it was teaching my children that yes there are other homeschoolers but none will wind up being friends. Plus to call that exposure ‘socializing’ was a stretch as most kids kept to themselves as they were all faced with strangers.

    I intentionally connect with other HSers in other ways. Groups here in CT are more fluid, we can be in more than one group and don’t have to do all that one group offers.

    I looked for things with repeated exposure to certain kids who my kids liked and we did and do those things.

    I also cultivate private playdates with other kids so the children of two families can play together (mine and theirs).

    Do you have contact info for that girl’s family and if so why not reach out and schedule a playdate?

    Starting at age 8 my kids really wanted long playdates and craved time with friends. Two hours didn’t cut it any more, they wanted at least 4 hours of play. And by age 10 my older wanted 6-8 hours and longer. I think that is a developmental thing.

  3. Actually, Christine, we did exchange contact information and decided to both put our children in an activity at the nature center, complete with picnics afterward. This was the first time she really talked much about any of the other kids. It was exciting for her…and for me, too, really.

    Funny thing is, if it weren’t for my hip, it might not have happened. Because I couldn’t do any sort of workout, I was stuck just waiting and her mom and I talked through the class.

  4. My Dad was in the Air Force and we moved every 18 – 24 months. My sisters and I were close enough in age that when we first got somewhere I had built in friends. But, my sisters are bubbly extroverts and made friends quickly. They soon moved on to their peer group. I was still working on finding a friend. I remember the triumph of finding a friend, so give your daughter a great big high five, plan some afternoon teas and sleepovers. You have entered a new parenting phase

  5. Both of my children are very outgoing, and make new friends easily. However, I’ve been concerned about how or if these friendships develop beyond mere situational convenience.

    My non-homeschooled daughter, the new teen, is not a typical girl who shares feelings and experiences. She’s had close friendships that disintegrated when she changed classes, schools, or extracurricular activities. I’m trying to encourage her to talk and share with her friends so that the relationships can flourish.

    My homeschooled son, on the other hand, has the obstacle of gender. He has lots of friends/acquaintances, but boys don’t share feelings. Fortunately, he has friends who join him for long, imaginative play dates. I’m hoping this is helping him develop stronger relationships, but I don’t know.

    As the parent, all I can do is provide opportunities. I can’t engineer or cement friendships.

  6. I went to a public high school and, while having many acquaintances and “friends,” I never hung out with anyone from my school if it wasn’t for swimming, cross country, track, musical practice, band events, speech meets…

    Not once.

    In other words: You’re totally right. School does not help us hang out with people who are different from us and, I would argue, not even with those who are almost exactly like us.

    ~Luke

  7. That is great she has made some friends! David’s loneliness was one of the MAIN, if not THEE main reasons we have returned to school, and despite all of the annoyances and problems we are having there, his ability to socialize keeps him wanting to return come Monday morning (by Friday he is whining and crying to stay home, and usually does.) It was all of what you noted that we were experiencing… only we weren’t patient enough to wait: loneliness is something that is all too painful for me, too painful to watch my child go through.

    But honestly, Dana… I think most homeschoolers are reluctant to admit it. Maybe if more did, those of us who were new to homeschooling might have had the patience and assurance to let things continue to unfold and wait… knowing that those relationships would eventually come.

  8. Shawna, I think some homeschoolers are very fortunate to have their little “clique” (meant entirely positive!) from their church or whatever activity and the families meet together often.

    And the whole thing did cause me to think about school once in awhile. It was the only thing that made me question whether we were making the right decision in homeschooling Mouse.

    Before this last event, though, I talked to her a bit about making friends and that it was totally appropriate to ask for someone’s phone number. We’re in Lincoln often enough, we can make arrangements for her to see her friends that live there, but it won’t happen without some organization.

    So she stepped a little outside her comfort zone and was immediately rewarded.

  9. Sandra, you said,

    As the parent, all I can do is provide opportunities. I can’t engineer or cement friendships.

    And that is so true. My frustration is that we provide many opportunities but the way things have worked out, they are for a defined period of time and then she may not see the kids again.

    This time, she hit it off with another girl the first day (rather than the last) so there was some time to work out a way for them to see each other again.

  10. This is another area where I have to trust. Up until this point, I haven’t been very concerned about my children’s friends. My girls have lots of friends their age, but my son still hasn’t found a buddy. He never complains. He’s pretty content to just build with Lego. I know that he needs at least one good friend though.

  11. Interesting discussion! I think Shawna has a valid point that many homeschoolers are reluctant to admit the possibility of a problem. We’re so used to defending ourselves that we assume that mode automatically.

    All three of my kids have different social needs, and I’ve learned how to make different concessions that may be inconvenient to me in order to meet their needs. And we’ve learned how to pick and choose among homeschooling activities based on certain people who will be there so we can encourage developing friendships. I know that, socially, my kids have developed more easily and more successfully than I did in public school, but it’s been a distinct effort on our part to help that happen.

  12. I’m glad I found this discussion. We are going to start homeschooling this fall and I am not concerned about socialization, but rather socializing with a few good friends. It is the one area I think will provide the greatest challenge for my 7 and 8 yr olds. It is so important to have a few good friends, the way their older sister, who went through public schools, has.

    I seems like I see a large number of articles on socialization, but little on the potential difficulty of making a few close friends.

  13. I find it necessary to be a ‘friendship advocate’ when homeschooling. With shy children, its really not enough just to let things be, even though we participate in lots of park days,etc. If I see children who seem potentially compatible with my kids, I always approach the mother and suggest getting the kids together. This usually works great. I find I do it a lot to get a wide circle of friends, because with homeschoolers, you never know when some families will choose another educational alternative one year and your kids won’t see them much again. It also helps to have your kids have success with other kids one on one, so when they see that other child in a group at a park day, they are able to connect easier in a group situation.——

  14. Yes, quite true, Carr. I never thought about it much with her because she really is not shy. She makes friends quickly, but seems to be uncomfortable asking for a phone number. We worked on that a bit and now she has two friends at least that we should be able to meet with regularly.

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