“Homeschooling? But what about socialization?” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked that. I am positive that I am not the only one and if you’re considering homeschooling, chances are that one of the first questions that popped into your mind was about socialization too. It’s the “hot-topic” amongst non-homeschoolers and a non-topic to those of us who have gotten comfortable in our homeschooling skins.
However, since we all, at one time or another, wondered about it, it really is a valid concern. After all, the thought of homeschooling is daunting and when you’re first starting out it can be a time filled with a lot of doubt and worry. Breathe, Mama, I have your back. I hope you’ll rest easy with the idea of socialization and homeschooling after I share some easy ways to socialize below. It’s really not as difficult or as daunting as it seems. I promise.
Homeschool Socialization: 5 Ways to Socialize
1. Homeschool Groups
One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that there are co-ops and homeschool support groups where your children can learn from and interact with other homeschooling families. There are two main types of groups: socialization groups and co-ops. The groups whose purpose is purely socialization will be the ones with park days and field trips. Don’t expect there to be classes or lessons, as these groups really are just focused on kids interacting and moms taking a breather.
Co-ops, on the other hand, are your structured learning groups. Some are faith-based and others are secular, so make sure you do your research and ask that question before you show up at a meeting. Trust me, it can be really awkward to find out you’re in a meeting for a strict faith-based group…and you’re not of that faith. (Hello, voice of experience!)
There are usually requirements for parents to teach a class or lead a group at some point during the school year and many co-ops charge fees to cover the cost of space rental and supplies. Since these groups are really structured around year-long curriculums and lessons, they usually run September through May.
As always, make sure the group is a good fit for your family. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association has a great resource page that lists some of the groups that might be in your state.
2. Sports Leagues & Classes
In addition to homeschool groups and co-ops, there may be homeschool sports leagues or classes in your area that you can join. Typically, these types of leagues and classes are for older homeschoolers (middle school and up). Everything from basketball to Parkour is fair game. My boys actually take a weekly homeschool Parkour class held during the day when other children their ages are in school. We found out about it from a local homeschool Yahoo! group and the boys absolutely love the class. If you’re not sure about groups in your area, but your child really wants to take basketball or do rock climbing, call the gym and ask if they have or know of any homeschool classes. Sometimes they have them and don’t spend a lot of effort advertising them, because they’re driven by word of mouth.
Of course, non-homeschool leagues and community programs are another great option. The kids take a Tae Kwon Do class at a local Police Athletic League (PAL) Center and interact with kids of all ages, ethnicities, and personalities. Check with your state homeschool laws, because in many states homeschool students can still participate in high school sports.
3. Dance, Music & Art Classes
Little Miss loves to sing and dance…all.the.day.long. So, we really needed to get her involved in some arts programs
for our own sanity so that she could develop her talent. We looked at a lot of different options – community park and rec programs, dance studios, singing lessons, etc. For us, a lot of those were just much more than we wanted to spend on programs. Thankfully, we have an amazing non-profit community arts center that focuses solely on the performing and visual arts. So, she takes singing and ballet every week and has friends there that she enjoys spending time with. One of the things that I love about her taking classes with kids who don’t homeschool is that it broadens her perspective, but it also broadens their perspective. It’s a win-win socialization and learning experience for all.
4. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and 4-H
Scouting and 4-H is big in many homeschool communities. If you contact your local scouting or 4-H branch, they can put you in touch with local troops. All troops are different, so don’t be turned off to the entire idea of scouting if you find yourself in a troop that doesn’t quite meet your family’s expectations. Whether your son decides to be a Cub Scout or your daughter becomes a Brownie, chances are that your troop will not be made up entirely of homeschooling children. Mama, that’s a good thing!
Michelle from Homeschool-Your-Boys.com recently wrote an excellent article about “hardening” your sons to help prepare them for the world beyond your homeschool classroom. Letting them join groups and giving them opportunities to interact with those who don’t homeschool is part of doing that. Be brave.
In this article, I questioned when socialization meant solely interacting with the same group of peers in a closed classroom for 180 days. I still don’t understand that, other than that it’s most people’s norm…so it feels safe. Even though I went to public school and my husband went to public and private schools during his youth, I am completely okay with saying that I don’t agree that public school is the only place a child can learn social skills. In fact, I’d argue that real-world social skills can only be learned outside of the classroom. Hence, why volunteering is such a great socialization activity for homeschooling families.
Not only does it focus on kindness and giving back, but it also gives children the opportunity to talk with people of all ages. Volunteering at a nursing home with children is an experience like no other. Not only are the residents delighted to see kids, but there is so much children can learn from them. I worked in a nursing home for a few years and I will never forget how the presence of children made the residents’ eyes light up.
Volunteering at a local food shelter, at the zoo or a park, or even at the library can provide your children (whether they are homeschooled or not!) with some amazing social opportunities. It’s worth the effort of finding those positions and applying. It will make a lasting impression on your children and yourself.
Socialization opportunities do take a bit of work to find if you’re looking for a more formal, structured approach. Check your favorite local non-profits and see if they need volunteers. Do some research to see if you can find groups in your area. Inquire about starting a sports class for homeschoolers at a local gym. Find out what your children are most passionate about and give them wings to try those things.
Most importantly, remember that socialization occurs every single time they interact with someone else. Whether they’re talking with a sibling or the librarian or to the man behind the deli counter at the grocery store, those moments are equally important. After all, the goal is make sure your children feel comfortable talking with people in the “real world.”
You can do this.