One of the things that keeps being stated concerning homeschooling is, "What about your child's social skills?" I do understand this in some ways. In other ways I do not. I think that people may picture Lars and I home alone all day everyday. I never pictured this at all so this question, and really often a form of judgement, surprises me. I know that from some people this is an honest concern. Others just use it in their armory as a list of reasons why they are against homeschooling.
I was talking to a friend who also decided to homeschool this year. During this conversation I think I was able to firm up some of my feelings on this. There are really more than one aspect of socialization. The first is what it sounds like social skills. The time spent in the company of others and in this case peers. How does Lars social time stack up against when he was in school? Well in middle school the actual social time was very limited. They had only a 15 minute recess and a half hour lunch. Then there was the time waiting for the bus. Seeing that the crazy bus took forever to get him home after the time change he had very little time to interact with the kids in the neighborhood. Between getting home between 4:30 and 4:45 and home work it left little to no time to play after school. This means for true social time Lars was getting just over 3 hours a week. That is if they actually got recess and were able to talk and socialize at lunch.
With our homeschool schedule Lars is now done when the other kids are getting off the bus. If the weather is nice they are able to play for a good period of time before dinner. Lars also has much more time to play on the weekends since our projects and work are all done during the week. We also do most of our work on a 4 day schedule and we spend about 4 hours at a local park with many other homeschoolers. There are many boys there and they have very well organized games and activities that they put together and play. This is an extended time to really be with, work with, and interact with children of various ages. We are working on plans for something inside for the colder times and times with nasty weather. When I have looked at this Lars actually gets much more social time with his peers now than he did at school.
The second part of socialization comes down to learning how to get along in society's parameters. In this is involved working with others, learning to take leadership, learning to accept leadership, and learning to get your needs met while following society's written and unwritten laws. Children in school work on these a lot; raise your hand to talk, wait in line for the bathroom, wait for a drink, don't interrupt, contribute to a project, don't goof off too much. These are all things that children are exposed to in school.
This is where I as a homeschooling mom must purposely put in items in place. Having Lars accompany me to stores often shows him how to follow many social norms. Norms such as, wait your turn, don't run in the store, don't hit others with your cart, politely ask for what you need, try your best but seek help when needed and so on. However, children learn very well when put with others. Lars is in a Lego Robotics group this year. They are working on programing a robot to solve every day problems. He works in a group of about 10 boys to do this. He is also taking homeschool classes at the zoo and COSI (a local science center). He is also in a homeschool band. When we get back from Florida he will be taking a homeschool PE class. All of these classes give him the opportunity to work in groups with others to accomplish tasks. He can emerge as a leader, a follower, or something in between. If he chooses not to carry his load he will hear about it from his peers.
He is gaining much practice with his social skills with these experiences. One of the parts I really like is that since he is not always with the same groups his role can change as he grows and changes. This allows him the freedom to try being the leader and try being the follower and feel out what each role is like. He does not get pigeon-holed into a role and feel as if he must stay in that because that is what his group of peers expects.
These are my thoughts on socialization. They will probably grow and change as we continue down out homeschool experience. We will also have to figure out what to do for the several weeks we are in Florida. I have found a group of homeschoolers there and several places that offer classes. I hope to be able to participate in these while we are there.