My first exposure to homeschooled children came several years before Joshua & I had kids of our own. We’d made friends with a couple who had three children who were homeschooled, and the first time we were invited to their apartment, I was struck by how socially adept the kids were. Yes, that’s right, adept. They moved and spoke with ease among adults and children alike, no matter what their age. Since then, I have found that this was not an isolated incident, so much so that I can’t quite figure out where the stereotype of the socially inept homeschooler originated. Of course there are a broad range of personalities on display in a group of homeschooled/unschooled children, just as there are in any schooled group of kids, from gregarious and outgoing to shy and retiring. The difference, I would say, is that the shy kids are accepted and encouraged to participate in any activity in their own time, on their own terms. No one makes them feel bad for sitting out if they don’t want to play.
We experienced a prime example of the ease with which most homeschooled children interact with others today at a birthday party. Maya has known Maeve for a few years, but they are casual friends. Maeve’s family lives in Brooklyn, and although the girls have always enjoyed each others’ company, we live too far apart and don’t see them on a regular basis. Maya was thrilled to be invited to the party (and the invitation was extended to our entire family) so that’s what we did today. Altogether there were probably 20 kids in attendance, ranging in ages from 2 to 14 or 15. We knew some of the other guests, but not all. 30 minutes or so into the party when Maeve’s Dad suggested they all play a game together, probably 15 of the kids jumped up, enthusiastic and ready to go. The larger photo you see at the top of this entry is a screen shot of a video I took just before one of the games began. In the photo, the girl with the dark brown hair has her hand on the head of the boy next to her, he his arm at her shoulder. She is 14. He is 5. Many of the kids are standing with their arms draped around each other, in preparation for part of the game. Just by the height variations, you can tell there is a broad age range. No one forced the older kids to play, and no teenager was embarrassed to grab a younger child for their team. That kind of negative social behavior just doesn’t happen (or very rarely happens) when groups of homeschoolers get together, whether they know each other or not.
So if someone mentions to you how socially inept or awkward homeschooled kids are, ask them how they know. And then send me a message and tell me what they said. Here’s what John Holt thought about it, according to his colleague Patrick Farenga:
“It’s ironic that one of the common criticisms of homeschooling, that children won’t be properly socialized, was actually, in John’s mind, a major reason homeschooling makes sense. His observations led him to believe that children are, above all else, social creatures, and that socialization into one’s family, one’s extended family, one’s community, and so on, helps children to learn and grow… The fact that school too often denies children social opportunities — indeed creates negative social experiences in many cases — was never lost on John.”