What about socialization? This is a question that those of us who are involved in alternative education are very familiar with.

In fact, it is the number one question people have when they hear about or encounter families that are homeschooling, unschooling, or following principles of self-directed education.

Critics like to cling to the “myth of socialization” and are often misguided about how socialization can take place outside of the traditional school setting and within the world of alternative education.

How is Socialization in Education Defined?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, socialization is defined in the following ways:

  1. The process begins during childhood by which individuals acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of a society.
  2. Social interaction with others.

We can look at these definitions and reflect on the opportunities presented to children to socialize inside the traditional school setting versus outside in the world of alternative education. And there are definitely some interesting conclusions.

Those in the homeschooling community know that our children have numerous chances to meet other people and socialize.

According to an article by Homeschool Academy, “Among the nearly 3,000,000 children homeschooling in the United States, the majority of them participate in clubs, volunteering, activities, co-ops, homeschooling groups, and other forms of socializing.”

These children are presented with tons of ways to socialize and learn about the society they live in. Simple visits to the grocery store, post office, and local library are a part of many homeschooled children’s lives. During outings like these, children meet and mingle with people of all ages, ethnicities, abilities, and backgrounds.

One can argue that they are more “socialized” than the students spending the large majority of their time sitting behind desks with a group of same-aged peers all week.

Daniel Prince, a Galileo father and author of the book “Choose Life: The Tools, Tricks, and Hacks of Long-Term Family Travellers, Worldschoolers and Digital Nomads,” shared with us some of his own family’s experiences in regards to socialization.

Dealing with Criticism About the Socialization of Your Children

Daniel explains that when he and his family have been to stores during “school time”, they have faced blatant judgment. He refers to the “strong line of questioning” that they’d often encounter in these scenarios.

Aren’t the children’s interactions and witnessing of these conversations in stores, in fact, experiences in socialization? I guess because the interactions do not take place on school grounds with same-aged peers, it isn’t seen as “real” socialization.

It is no surprise that one of the main questions asked to families in the alternative education world is: “But how do they socialize?” Daniel likes to have fun with his responses and tries to inform people about how successful the homeschool movement is becoming.

As Daniel explains in his book, “The absolute favorite question-or, for want of a better word, accusation- was that of socializing. It was widely assumed, not to mention highly criticized, that we were damaging our kids’ social skills by not exposing them to enough opportunities to be with children their own age.”

In the real world, people of varying ages are constantly co-mingling and co-existing.

Children were originally grouped into classrooms with others the same age as a way to make top-down curriculum instruction more simple for those in charge. This is not a reflection of the world students will enter once they leave the traditional school setting, nor does research suggest this is best for children.

Another question that Daniel faces is, “When are you going to get back to real life?”

More importantly … What even is “real life”? For the Prince family, real life involves living, learning, and experiencing the world together. Of course, there are many opportunities for socializing sprinkled in this very real life they live.

Homeschooled students can partake in activities and classes that actually interest them and are in alignment with their passions. This gives them the chance to connect and socialize with people that share a similar direction and that they can learn from.

Homeschooled children are not reclusive individuals, never leaving the comfort of their own homes. Rather, they are out in the world, interacting, and embracing the freedom of not being held in a school 5 days a week for 6 or more hours a day.

In today’s evolving world, many homeschooled students are also participating in online communities that serve a real purpose in their lives. Online learning communities like Galileo (which is globally accessible and made up of people from different countries, backgrounds, ethnicities, and so on) offer students a way to socialize over the internet.

Some may be skeptical about how meaningful socialization can be over Zoom. As a Galileo facilitator, I am here to attest to the fact that connections are absolutely made in this way. Students and facilitators connect with one another during daily check-in classes, club meetings, and learning experiences.

Having been an elementary school educator in the traditional school setting for several years, and now being a part of Galileo, I can say that I feel just as connected with my students. Come to think of it, I might even feel more connected in my current position. This is because, at Galileo, students can direct their own learning experiences, which makes for much happier kids and positive interactions.

As Kerry McDonald points out in her book “Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom”:

“Bullying is practically nonexistent in learning environments free from coercion. It makes sense. If people- young or old- are placed in environments where they have little freedom and control, this can trigger bullying behaviors; and if those who are being bullied can’t freely leave, then hostility may continue indefinitely...freedom is a powerful social stabilizer.”

In learning communities like Galileo, students are in control and free to make their own decisions. This is powerful.

The Realities of School and Socialization

Daniel brings up a valid point about how the traditional school setting can be antisocial in many ways.

Students are grouped together based solely on where they live and their ages. Not to mention the fact that cliques form in the school setting, which often leads to awful social interaction for students.

According to John Holt and Pat Fargena in their book “Teach Your Own”, “If there were no other reason for wanting to keep kids out of school, the social life would be reason enough. In all but a very few schools I have taught in, visited, or know anything about, the social life of the children is mean-spirited, competitive, exclusive, status-seeking, snobbish, full of talk about who went to who's birthday party and who got what Christmas presents and who got how many Valentine cards and who is talking to so-and-so and who is not. Even in the first grade, classes soon divide up into leaders (energetic and- often deservedly- popular kids), their bands of followers, and other outsiders who are pointedly excluded from these groups.”

He goes on to say, “Not one person of the hundreds with whom I’ve discussed this has yet said to me that the social life at school is kindly, generous, supporting, democratic, friendly, loving, or good for children. No, without exception, when I condemn the social life of school, people say, ‘But that’s what the children are going to meet in Real Life’.”

We do not need to “toughen our kids up” and essentially normalize mean-spirited interactions and bullying. We should offer them experiences that prepare them to be positive, happy, and confident contributors to our world.
Tweet: We do not need to “toughen our kids up” and essentially normalize mean-spirited interactions and bullying. We should offer them experiences that prepare them to be positive, happy, and confident contributors to our world.

Having been immersed in the traditional school setting as a teacher, I have first-hand experience in this area. Sadly, a large majority of the social interactions I witnessed take place were negative and, at times, spirit-crushing.

One of the hardest mornings I had as an educator was when a mother of one of my students came to me before the bell rang and had tears running down her face. She explained that her 8-year-old daughter had come to her (also in tears) and said that other students were making comments about her weight on the playground. This 8-year-old girl was really hurt by this school ground “socialization.”

These types of interactions take place daily in the school setting. Perhaps people forget this, had different experiences while in school, or are simply unaware.

Another point worth mentioning about socialization inside the traditional classroom is that students are mostly told not to talk to one another or only about certain subjects and topics. This is of course so that the teacher can deliver all of the curriculum and information without any “interruptions.” There is little time for students to freely socialize while inside the classroom, where they spend almost all of their days.

John Holt and Pat Farenga make another interesting observation saying, “Of course, children who spend almost all their time in groups of other people their own age, shut out of society’s serious work and concerns, with almost no contact with any adults except child-watchers, are going to feel that what “all the other kids” are doing is the right, the best, the only thing to do.”

Influences and perspectives offered outside of the traditional school setting are vital to children’s development, thought processes, and decision-making abilities. For a well-rounded social experience, they should not only be influenced by their same-aged peers.

As Daniel points out in his book, “During our travels, we have come in contact with many homeschooled kids and have found them to be the most engaging, confident, easy-going, pleasant young people we have ever met. They have this air of confidence that you just don’t usually find in children. They are instantly at ease with their surroundings and are able to mingle with anyone in a sensible, engaging, and fun way...They find it second-nature to engage with any human being of any race, color, culture, nationality, sex, age, height, weight, whatever.”

Who wouldn’t want this for their children?

Spending Time Together as a Family: No Shortage of Social Interactions Here!

When reflecting on the changes that homeschooling brought to his family, Daniel states tensions and stresses do come up with the lifestyle change and increased family time.

Conflicts inevitably arise between family members and chaos can ensue.

Daniel points out that taking breaks, going for walks, meditating, and clearing your headspace all help with managing family stresses and increased time spent together. While he does not minimize the challenges and adjustments that come with homeschooling children and creating a more tight-knit family scenario, he strongly encourages anyone interested to absolutely do it. It has been a wonderful and life-changing experience for his family, and it can be the same for yours!

The socialization of children is a hot-button topic and the conversation is evolving as more people gain an understanding of how socialization can take place outside of the traditional school setting.

More and more people are realizing that schools simply are not a haven for positive social development. Children can develop social skills in amazing ways when they are not spending the majority of their lives in schools with the same group of people five days a week.

So, why not give your kids a space for meaningful socialization while also providing the flexibility that comes with alternative, self-directed education?

There are plenty of options out there for your family to discover.

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