A friend recently posed a question to myself and a few other homeschooling bloggers about socialization and the importance of fostering friendships outside of the family.
Like us, she can find it hard to “get out.” Snow, cold weather, and little people that still take a nap after lunch, make homeschooling at, well, home, a rather convenient and comfortable place to be, especially during the winter months.
But, even to a second-generation homeschooler like myself who knows better, the age-old question that was thought to have been put to death long ago and buried with mounds of evidence, can raise its ugly head: What about socialization?
How often should we get out of the house? How many friends does a child need? Do siblings count? What about cousins and friends from church?
Who gets to define what a properly socialized child looks like anyway? If sitting in a class with thirty other children the same age constitutes proper socialization, then I’m failing our children miserably. They’ve never been in a class with that many children the same age.
Instead, for most of the day, they interact with people older and younger them – people they did not choose to be their friends or live together within close confinement. They are learning how to play and get along with people of different ages, gender, interests, and abilities: their parents and siblings. I’ve come to believe that a child that has learned to love and adore their family, respect their parents, and be considerate of their brother and sisters, will be able to get along with everyone they need to.
Forced association is not socialization. An “outcast” at school knows this bitter truth all too well. Being bullied, ignored, picked-on or left out does nothing to boost a child’s confidence or trust of other people and hardly invokes a desire to interact with more of them. A child may respond by acting out in desperate need for attention or become seclusive and a “loner” in an attempt to avoid further humiliation.
Bad behavior isn’t something that only goes on in schools; it happens in our home, too. Disrespect, name-calling, bad attitudes, bickering, and poking fun at each other? Homeschooling doesn’t give us immunity to sin. The difference is that because my children’s misbehavior takes place right underneath my nose, I’m forced to deal with as it happens. Homeschooling is really just an extension of parenting.
You may not talk to Mommy like that or anybody like that. Ever. Do you understand?
Don’t push your brother to get something you want, even if you had it first. Now, try asking him for it in a proper voice.
If you want to be included in the game, then you have to be friendly. What does Proverbs say? “A man who has friends must himself be…?” Friendly, that’s right. Now, go to play nicely.
Even more important than immediate correction is the opportunity homeschooling provides for instruction so the need for discipline becomes less and less frequent. Training children is mentally exhausting, but it’s our scriptural mandate and the pay-off is worth it. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
We’re going to the library. I want you to be quiet and respectful. No running around inside the building or the parking lot. If the librarian asks you a question, you look her in the eye and answer her with a nice, clear voice.
We’re going to get groceries this afternoon. What do we need to remember? Yes! Stay beside the buggy, no touching each other or anything on the shelves, no begging, and be friendly!
Son, you’re almost 5. You’re big enough to be a gentleman. Can you run and hold the door open for that lady? It looks like she has her hands full. Good job, Bud! That’s being considerate.
Today, we’re going to write cards and send them to some sick people from Church. What do you think would be an encouraging message for someone who is not feeling well to receive in the mail?
Respect, honesty, thoughtfulness, consideration, kindness – these are socially acceptable behaviors that are learned through real-life application of biblical principles to everyday situations. They are not subjects that can be practiced simply by sitting and listening quietly in a classroom. Evidence of whether a child has been properly socialized is not something you can conclude with a written test or the number of peers they’re surrounded by. It shows in how they’ve been taught to treat others.
Of course, a child has his own free will and may choose to rebel against what he has been taught, but generally speaking, we often see God bless the humble efforts of broken parents who take seriously His covenant promises and desire to obey His directive to “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 6:22)
Training up children involves teaching them how to treat others well, how to interact in different social settings, how to respect authority, how to care for “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40) It’s a responsibility the Lord has given to parents, and while Scripture has much to say about walking with the wise, communing with saints, older generations mingling with younger, and avoiding the company of fools, nowhere does it suggest that a child must ever take part in a classroom setting or be surrounded by any number of peers the same age in order to be properly socialized. That’s a relatively new idea.
Great things can be learned and great fun can still be had in large groups. Our children have enjoyed Lego club, swimming lessons, art classes and field trips with other children besides their siblings and relatives. They have best friends outside of their family that we make a point of visiting regularly. They love attending church and developing wholesome friendships there. They have oodles of cousins and aunts that get together weekly at Grandma’s house for coffee.
My best friend when I was 8, was different from my best friend at 16, who is different from my best friend now. Friends come and go, but family is forever. If our children must learn proper social skills by experiencing real life together in the context of family, then so be it.
Neither of these books is about homeschooling per se, but they both have to do with raising children; we’ve enjoyed and gleaned much from them. Shepherding a Child’s Heart focuses on raising your children in light of the Gospel; Raising Godly Tomatoes is also aimed at the heart rather than behavior modification, but it delivers more practical wisdom in applying the reasonable correction and developing a close relationship with your child. Paired together, these books make a wonderful addition to a parent’s library.