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What About Socialization?

By Karen Kolp

When we started homeschooling, socialization was the least of our concerns. Our oldest, then seven-year-old Luke, suffered a scary array of health problems brought on by academic pressure. A voracious reader with a wild imagination and lots of buddies, Luke's problems were brought on only by writing and spelling. Since these skills must be taught, and a certain pace must be kept up, he would likely continue to suffer while attending school.

"But," concerned family and friends asked when we pulled him out of second grade last November, "what about socialization?" They worried that Luke would turn into someone without friends or connections to the outside world, a modern-day Boo Radley. My husband and I took many deep breaths and asked them to trust us. Within a few weeks as a homeschooler, Luke's night terrors and migraines ceased completely. After several months, his weight stabilized and the tantrums stopped. He's now a happy, healthy boy.

Luke learns by doing: visiting playgrounds, stores, and museums, running and climbing, exploring nature, and reading about his passions. He uses math for real-life solutions (sales tax on a four dollar toy) and game-playing (Star Wars Monopoly). He has the confidence to daydream, and the time and know-how to find out the answers to any questions that come up. Luke has made tremendous academic and health gains this past year, but much to my surprise the biggest benefit has been the positive socialization. Homeschooling, the ultimate extension of multi-age education, is a great way for kids to grow up because they are out in the wide world, experiencing their communities firsthand. Consequently, Luke and his younger brother, four-year-old Owen, play happily with children of all ages, and converse intelligently with adults, too.

For Owen, it's always been this way. Luke, however, had to unlearn two-and-a-half years of school-enforced socialization. He had trouble letting go, for example, of the "girls have cooties" stereotype. In first grade he would ask me to turn off music featuring female vocalists because "I only like music sung by boys." Learning that girls make excellent playmates was enlightening for Luke, and sets a good example for his younger brother. Additionally, in school Luke learned to hold in his feelings, causing anxiety and, unsurprisingly in retrospect, some of the major health problems that started us homeschooling in the first place.

Luke and his little brother belong to a Pokémon club. Recently, Luke wanted a bag to carry his Pokémon key chains, which he treats like adopted children. When I dug up an old purse (the kind that surely would be made fun of in school), he was thrilled. Now, just like the others in his club, his Pokémon travel with him wherever he goes., his Pokémon travel with him wherever he goes. Luke carries his key chains proudly, and the joy he feels at being part of this little band — of belonging — is palpable.

People worry that if a kid doesn't get used to the negative socialization that is so prevalent in schools, perpetrated both by the adults and other kids, they'll never develop a tough enough skin to be able to weather negativity later, in the real world. I used to think that, too, but my son's experience has changed my mind. Like Luke, if a kid has confidence in his own abilities and ideas, if he's secure in the knowledge that he belongs in some way, to some group, then the thick skin will develop, not as a scarred, tattered skin, but as one that is whole and well-insulated.

This is what homeschooling has taught me.

Karen Kolp, a writer, chronicles the adventures of her homeschooling family at http://www.stoneagetechie.blogspot.com/.