Socialization: the debate over discussion.

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Debate continues amongst families in various homeschooling communities as to whether socialization is an issue worthy of discussion. A few in the blogosphere go so far as to suggest that any mention of the social needs of homeschoolers is problematic and only adds to perceived misconceptions about homeschooling as being isolated, with children lacking social skills. Experienced educators and college admissions boards are aware of research that shows otherwise, but because socialization may not prove troublesome in the vast majority of homeschooling cases does not mean that it is never a problem or a valid concern. Dismissing all discussion of socialization and homeschooling for fear that it exacerbates myth is stifling to the important work of fostering positive social communities for youth.
 
In Social Skills and Homeschooling: Myths and Facts, Family Education contributing writer Isabel Shaw noted that much of homeschooling takes place outside the home, “The homeschoolers I know are out and about every day, enjoying museums, beaches, parks, and shows without the crowds. They travel often. The kids participate in Girl and Boy Scouts, 4-H, and sports. They take art, dance, drama, language, and music classes, to name a few.”  With the out and active days Shaw describes, it is ironic that within homeschooling communities feathers can still be ruffled by suggestion that the term “homeschooling” may be a misnomer. While each homeschooling family differs in the amount of time and number of activities they participate in, the value of children being able to regularly engage with others outside of their family unit cannot be underestimated.
 
The tendency of homeschoolers to take part in the activities Shaw described is a likely factor in why homeschooling children do generally fare well socially. This makes her statement, “How you interact with your kids -- and how they watch you interact with the outside world -- teaches them all the social skills they'll need to know” contradictory, because it is through experiences that children, for the most part, navigate on their own (such as being on a sports team or in a dance class) that they are able to learn skills in self-mastery, autonomy, and social graces. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that homeschooling families often do need assistance and advice in seeking social and educational opportunities for their children.
 
Shaw’s advice to, “Stop worrying about socialization. It's a "problem" that never existed!” is dismissive and untrue. Parents that go out of their way to schedule outside time for their children are not seeking needless remedy, nor are concerns about social options for homeschoolers wasted. For many families, frequent relocation, living in a remote or rural location, language barriers, lack of transportation, and other variables can all lead to isolation and lack of relationships. For this reason, it is unfortunate that within some homeschooling communities, discussions about socialization are often avoided or charged with promoting homeschooling myths. The suggestions Shaw made to check out local 4-H clubs and sports programs are sound, but would be better if not presented pointedly to “those still concerned about socialization”. There are reasons for parents to be concerned: relationships, etiquette and social grace, customs and courtesy all matter, and all are products and results of social interactions.
 
Dr. Montessori noted the importance of children having social lives; her writings specified a sitting room in her schools where students could chat, read and play music and asserted that youth should be engaged in community activities in order to forge relationships not segregated by age. In the Montessori Method, Dr. Montessori explained the importance of socialization, “We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself, and can, therefore, regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life.”
 
Activities that take place outside the home afford children the opportunity to participate in society and offer the following benefits:
 
·      Children can develop an understanding and appreciation for diversity and learn how to be confident and adaptable in different social spheres.
 
·      Scheduled activities are a lesson in planning, being punctual, and displaying accountability.
 
·      Children can learn situational appropriate behavior expectations and norms (remaining quiet during performances, keeping to one side of the track, standing during an ovation, etc.)
 
·      Classes and informal occasions allow children the opportunity to experience different teaching styles and to observe the learning styles of others.
 
·      Social outings and activities give children chances to develop skill in cooperation, collaboration, coordination, and teamwork, and may afford opportunities for public speaking or performing for an audience. 
 
·      Children can develop decision making skills by comparing the cost and time commitments of experiences. By discussing the economic aspects of activities (both fees, equipment, time and opportunity costs) children can learn how to critically evaluate which experiences are most meaningful and worth the expense.
 
In Montessori philosophy education is viewed as having two aims: to perfect the individual in order to perfect society. Avoiding the topic of socialization does not serve to squelch misconceptions or myths about homeschooling but rather dampers what can instead be lively discussions about how social opportunities help fulfill these aims.
 
Shaw, Isabel (2012). Social skills and homeschooling: Myths and facts. Retrieved January 2012 from http://school.familyeducation.com/home-schooling/human-relations/56224.html#ixzz2IeW9qrUa
 
Written by Miriam Coates
Miriam Coates holds a Masters of Arts in Education and Montessori from St. Catherine University, Advanced Montessori Studies Program, and she also holds an American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential, and an undergraduate degree in Humanities.   With over fifteen years experience in the educational field, Miriam has worked as an educational consultant, Montessori directress, curriculum designer, and youth advocate. With passions for Montessori, home-schooling, foodways and sustainability studies, she is a freelance writer and education consultant for a variety of clients, including Magellan Montessori LLC.
 

This article was originally published January 30, 2013.