Today is the kickoff day for Cub Scouts. The park will be overrun with little boys playing Spider Man, spy and astronaut while their mothers take care of business for the year ahead. Watching these little boys, no one would think they are any different than the other little boys playing in the park. They are normal little boys who have friends and activities and are learning to get along with others both one on one and in groups. They are involved in scouting, like thousands of other little boys across the nation. One wouldn't know by watching them or listening to them play that they are all home schooled.
Home schooled children have plenty of opportunities for making friends, spending time with other people and learning how to get along with others in a variety of settings. Despite this fact, many parents that are considering the home schooling option wonder if their children will be isolated from the world around them. They wonder: will they be lonely, will they learn how to get along with others, and will they have friends to spend time with.
While there are some families that isolate themselves, such families would be the exception rather than the rule. If a parent is concerned about her children being isolated or friendless, the chances are that the parent will naturally find ways to get her children involved with other people doing various activities and making friends. She will take steps to make sure her children are learning how to get along with others and are not lonely.
By its very nature, home schooling is a family based lifestyle. Especially when the children are very young, just about everything that happens in the life of each family member is part of the family experience, rather than disjointed individual experiences. Parents are involved in finding and choosing the friends of their children. For those that begin the home school journey with the mother staying at home with her children when they are little, the mothers spend the majority of their time managing the home life and caring for the children. They rarely spend time by themselves, but instead take the children with them when they go out. Children accompany their mother to the grocery store, the bank, the doctor's office and on just about every conceivable errand.
These mothers of young children form relationships mostly with people that expect her to bring the children along on visits. Usually the friends have young children of their own whom they bring along as well. In this way, relationships are formed with other families. The children of various ages learn to play together and enjoy each other's company. This extends through elementary school. As the children mature and join activities they attend independently, their main connection is still the family, rather than their peers. Parents can continue to have considerable input into the social lives of their children well into the teenage years.
There is a point of view common amongst home schoolers that social skills are first and best taught at home with siblings. If people do not understand the dynamic behind this philosophy, they may be concerned that some families are not getting enough outside interaction. While most home school families do not think outside interaction and friendship are bad, they often do not consider it to be important for children to constantly be with their friends either. Most families schedule time for their children to meet with friends and enjoy company outside the family, but unless there are neighborhood friends, this is usually not a daily thing.
Family members can be our best friends or our worst enemies. Teaching siblings how to get along with each other is one of the best ways to teach good boundaries and excellent social skills. We should not expect that our children will get along all the time or always enjoy each other's company. It is a rare family where the children do not have squabbles now and then; sometimes there are periods when there are a lot of them. If parents use these opportunities to instruct their child in how to get along with others, they are building foundations for forming healthy relationships.
If a child can get along with her sister that just took off with her bicycle or who is not doing her share of the chores, she will be better equipped to get along with the co-worker that is walking off with things from her desk or not taking responsibility for her work load. If children are taught how to maintain a good attitude and to be proactive in dealing with difficult people and situations at home on a daily basis, they will have an excellent foundation for dealing with all the different people they meet in the rest of life. Teaching our own children how to get along is the best way to start in building good friendships. Not only do they learn how to get along with others, but they also learn to turn to each other for companionship.
There are many types of activities that parents can get their children involved in to meet friends and learn social skills. This is especially good for families with only one child or children that are spaced very far apart. Finding a home school support group is often a good first step. Home school support groups usually include field trips as part of the group. If a family has a particular interest or area of study, they can plan a field trip and other people will sign up to go along. Support groups also have activities through out the year such as science fairs, international fairs, spelling bees, pot lucks and park days. After doing various things together with a group of people, familiarity builds and people get to know each other.
There are many other activities where children meet and interact with others apart from home school support groups. A short list would be church, neighbors, library groups, scouting, 4H, community groups, organized sports and band. In these ways, children get to know each other and build friendships. Many of these activities include children from families that use other educational options, so the children can easily have a wide range of interaction with people other than home schoolers.
Like many other American families, home educating families can have trouble finding a balance where they aren't involved in too many activities. Worries about children not having enough interaction with people outside the family are seldom heard. The most common concern about social interaction is about becoming too busy. There are so many activities available that it's easy to become overwhelmed with it all. The real issue is finding and maintaining a balance between outside activities and family life.
*This article first published on September 6, 2006.
Cynthia is a home educating mother to three children. She is a member of The Christian Writer's Guild.