This is the first thing adults ask when you announce that you are considering home schooling. How fatigued we home school facilitators grow of constantly defending our stand. I am not saying it was not a challenge. It was perhaps the biggest challenge, but it can be done and done very well.
First off, as far as socializing goes, a homeschooled child sees no age difference when it comes to choosing friends. They forge real friendships with anyone, and are not limited to just children their own age.
When I was hired to speak about our adventures and my books, I usually took the children with me. They often found relating to older people much easier than their peers. At one retirement community, a lovely 89-year old American Czech woman, who wore her country’s costume for the occasion, took to Sierra & Bryce and ‘played’ with them all evening. She taught them songs in her own language, held their hands and ‘flew’ down the hallways, (her white lacy handkerchief hat had wings on the sides), invited them back to see her mineral collection, and told them to choose a favorite rock to bring home. My kids adored her and never left her side all evening. In the car on the way home, Sierra wisely said, “Jeanette is not old. She just looks that way on the outside.” They made a friend, never mind the colossal age gap.
This is closer to real life, the real world. So in this sense, homeschooled children may be more socialized. But finding commonality with their own age group was important and so I worked hard at this. Many things ‘traumatized’ them, however, or so my son claimed, at least in the beginning.
I encouraged Bryce to take a hip hop class but since he was the only boy with two dozen girls who were into doing cheerleading moves and shoulder shrugs and forced him to solo across the dance floor, he needed to quit and claimed he was permanently, emotionally scarred from the experience.
Then there was fencing classes which went on for a year or two but the instructors were so into precision and form and discipline when Bryce really longed to just whack his homemade PVC and foam noodle sword like Pirates of the Caribbean with his dad. He hung in there longer than he wanted because I thought it was good learning, a handful of young fencers were present and his sister had a crush on one of them (whom Bryce nicknamed ‘Silver Sword, ’and made up love poems about them).
Sierra was interested in taking a Spanish class through a local religious homeschooling group but when they warned that the girls were not allowed to wear neither shorts nor sleeveless shirts in the heat of the summer during class, we thought perhaps this was not ‘our tribe.’
(Pre-established home school groups did not resonate with us as the ones in our area were organized for religious purposes and their goal was to insulate their children from the broader world. We, on the other hand, were home schooling for just the opposite, to create more opportunities where we could expose our children to a broader world.)
At our local library, Bryce read books aloud to small children, which was ‘embarrassing’ and taught clay modeling classes at the library to kids, which ‘was hard to be in a teacher role and make them listen to you.’ I mostly ignored his drama and just made him go.
For us as a family, it meant finding a new place to attend church because although we all enjoyed the Unity Church, Sierra and Bryce were about the only teens and spent most of them time doing ‘glue and glitter’ crafts. The Unitarians had a vibrant youth group and there they were nurtured and thrived.
They became involved in the Red Cross and had to learn to make cookies with young mothers with babies in shelters and work a soup kitchen for homeless people. At our Unitarian Church they worked the weekly food pantry and had to learn to assert themselves to the ‘takers’ who pretended they couldn’t understand English and filled their bags with more of the allotted cans of food than was allowed.
Both children accompanied me to Maine on a job for Scouting Magazine where we hiked with a local Venture Crew. They proceeded to join the crew and Sierra was appointed Trip Coordinator. They found their ‘tribe’ among these teens, and enjoyed years of outdoor adventures without Mom!
As a young teen, I enrolled Bryce in day time art classes at local institutes, where there was usually a homeschooled kid or two. When he came home with a paper requesting my signed permission for him to draw life models, he had a fit.
“I have a problem with it,’ he said.
I said, “Too bad, I don’t have a problem with it and they are asking me to sign it, not you, and I am signing it.”
He came home from the first class repulsed by the female model’s age and weight (“ancient and fat”). So I sat in the hallway one class, doing some work so I could check her out when she went to the bathroom in her robe.
“You’re ridiculous,” I told him. “She looks to be in her 30’s and she maybe has five extra pounds on her. If you want to be an artist, you’re gonna need to learn to draw from life,” which was a stretch for him at his young age.
These experiences were still ‘scary’ as a teen, but by this point, Bryce was used to his mother pushing him past his comport zone, he had enough experiences under his belt that he knew he would not only survive but learn something and enjoy it, and maybe meet another like-minded kid in the process.
I enrolled Bryce in a three-day magic symposium at a local college. Bryce was always fond of this art and used to perform tricks for us as a little boy that he taught himself from books. The philosophy professor, whom I worked with in the past on magazine stories, put the workshop on for professional magicians from around the country. Another homeschooled boy was enrolled and he invited both boys to spend the nights at his home instead of commuting. This resulted in being a marvelous opportunity as the older magicians took to Bryce, taught him all their tricks and buoyed his self-confidence tremendously.
As they grew older, and their confidence grew and they became comfortable as home-schoolers, they struggled less with my quest to socialize them. They began to seek out opportunities themselves. They became involved in the Young Democrats Club and canvased for Obama during his first election. They attended meetings and rallies and manned booths at festivals and learned to knock on doors to deliver materials here in red-necky Schuylkill Count (which ‘was scary’), and also in New Hampshire. And they were taught to be assertive and make phone calls and deliver information and speak to strangers about what they and Obama believed in and it was excellent for them, besides earning Political Science credits.
Sierra became involved with the local biologists at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary who took her under their wings and tramped the woods together doing field work and conducting studies. It not only helped ‘socialize’ her, but gave her valuable information on whether she wanted to make a career out of wildlife biology or not.
I knew however, that we had finally gotten this socializing challenge licked when Sierra decided to form her own student conservation organization here in our county. She mobilized a dozen teens to actively participate in over two dozen projects over the course of her high school years. She learned to create her ‘own tribe’ and led them into doing amazing community service projects.
She was recognized for her work locally and won awards. And because of her leadership role and very successful projects, which could only have occurred with her abundant freedom as a home schooler in charge of her education, she was able to win a private $10,000 college scholarship… all in the quest for ‘socialization!’
Now, with both children in their early 20’s, it is heartening to see them move easily amongst people and groups of any age. Bryce became the best babysitter to our neighbor kids as he held disco dance parties on the bed, became a human wave machine in their pool, and had mud ball battles in the yard. The kids begged their parents to go out on dates so Bryce could ‘come over and play.’
And Sierra forged lasting and deeply meaningful relationships with her professors and mentors at Temple University, regardless of their age gap. Yet both children are embraced and well-loved by all their peers. I can only equate this ease of being in the company of all ages to the fact that they were schooled in the BIG world and taught to see similarities amongst people, not differences.