Allaying Fears About Friendships in Homeschooling
Advice for Undecided Parents
Homeschooling is ipso facto appealing to a lot of parents. The opportunity to get out of the conventional school system, the chance to spend more time with your kids, and the creative fulfillment of coming up with a curriculum of your own design can all be extremely rewarding. However, it’s understandably intimidating for other parents.
That’s not just because it’s a lot of work—after all, who wouldn’t do a lot of work for their kids? Homeschooling is intimidating because it doesn’t seem to present your kids with a lot of opportunities to make friends. And if you’re the parent in a two-parent household who’s hung up on that, it can put a strain on a lot of things—not just your education plans, but potentially your marriage as well.
If you find that that’s the case in your house, let us allay your fears for you: homeschooling does not have to be an asocial experience. Your kids can have a lot of opportunities to make deep and lasting friendships while homeschooling, just like they could in conventional school. In fact, we’ve done some in-depth writing on this blog to explain how.
Homeschooling Co-ops: an Opportunity for Socialization
It makes sense to be skittish about homeschooling if you’re worried about socialization. The lack of built-in school support networks, plus the ingrained stereotype that homeschooled kids are “weird”, can make socializing seem impossible.
It’s worth remembering, though, that conventional school comes with its own set of social ills. Conventional schools can breed bullying and social ostracization, neither of which you’ll have to worry about if you homeschool your kids. Conventional schools, especially daycare programs for very young children, can also lead to impulsiveness and feelings of abandonment for years down the road. We’ve written about issues around daycare before. What we want to stress here is that conventional school is by no means a free ride to social success for your kids—plus, you can save money and (counterintuitively) time by homeschooling your kids.
Besides, homeschooling doesn’t need to be just you and your kids in your house. There are a lot of options homeschooling parents can consider to help their kids make friends. The one we’ve written most about in the past is the homeschooling co-op.
Homeschooling co-ops are groups of homeschooling parents who have pooled their resources in order to teach things they wouldn’t be able to teach on their own. This can include everything from group activities like team sports (you can find a link here if you want info about whether your state allows homeschooled kids to play scholastic sports) to specialized subjects like music, and it can run the gamut in terms of formality—many co-ops are made up of five or six families, but one very prolific co-op in my hometown had its own building and offered parent-taught classes to 50 or 60 families. The co-op model is so flexible, and offers so much in terms of customization, that it can accommodate just about any social model you like, and it offers more than enough opportunities for your kids to make friends and be social.
As with any kind of social organization, it has its pitfalls, but in our post we try to walk you through how you can compensate for those and make sure that the co-op that you choose to join (or organize!) is right for your family. If you can figure that out, you should be well on your way to a fulfilling homeschool experience.
And yet. The advantage of a conventional school model is not just that it offers opportunities for your kids to make friends, but also that it teaches them how to be good friends. Theoretically, being around lots of other kids means that they’ll learn social skills and have a chance to practice them. Homeschooling, even in a large co-op, doesn’t seem like it would offer quite the same level of training on that front.
For every story of a “weird” homeschooled kid there has to be at least one story of tormentors in conventional school. Click to Tweet
Better Friendships Through Philosophy
Luckily for you, we also have posts about how to teach your kids to make good friends and maintain strong friendships. Briefly, we think there are tools that you can give your kids in the process of homeschooling that allow them to nurture friendships. One of those is the study of philosophy, which your kids won’t get in conventional school until high school or college, if they get it at all. If your kids have been taught how to think clearly and rationally about what kind of friends they want, and they’ve had a chance to put that clarity and rationality into practice in a co-op setting, you really have nothing to worry about. We’ve written about this subject as well.
After all, conventional school does not have a monopoly on friendship. For every story of a “weird” homeschooled kid there has to be at least one story of cliques, outcasts and tormentors in conventional school. Our advice to you, if you’re an undecided parent waffling about homeschooling, is to read our material about co-ops and maintaining friendships and make your decisions based on those. Homeschooling can be an incredibly enriching and enlightening experience for a child, and that’s not limited to academics—kids are more than capable of forming lifelong friendships in a homeschool setting. As with everything else in homeschooling, it takes a little extra work and customization, but the rewards are worth it.
And remember this: homeschooling is easier now than it’s ever been before. With resources like Khan Academy, the Open Yale program and other open-access programs from large universities, and Ron Paul’s homeschooling curriculum, high-quality education is available, in many cases, for less than the cost of gas to and from PTO meetings. So if you or your spouse are waffling on whether or not to homeschool your kids, ask yourself a few questions: will my kids really get a better education ins conventional school than they will at home? Will they really be better off socially? Will they really have more friends? I suspect that if you think about those questions in detail, you’ll realize the answers aren’t as clear-cut as they seem at first.