Here is how this conversation usually goes:
-So, what year is Isabel in school now?
-She is in kindergarten. Isn’t that crazy?
-Oh, yes, they grow up so fast, don’t they? Is she liking school? Do you have her in a private Christian school?
-No, actually, I homeschool.
-Oh (said with a sad look). My sister/friend/neighbor/aunt/obscure relative homeschooled. My, those poor children had NO social skills!
Screeeeeech. Arrrrghhhh. Hiiiiiisssss. Sigh.
We went to a party not long ago where Isabel did not know many of the children. She knows just what to do, this social butterfly. She quickly approached a little girl and said: “Would you like to play with me? I’m Isabel.” The little girl looked at her, said nothing, and ran away. Isabel tried this a few more times with other little girls, with similar results, before finding a kindred spirit. I watched and thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows how to approach a stranger and start a friendship.
Later that day there was a situation where a child accidentally pushed Isabel causing her to fall hard on the ground. The child who did the pushing walked away without apologizing or helping Isabel to get up. My tender-hearted child asked me why the little girl did not apologize. In our home this would not be tolerated behavior and she knew it. I tried to explain that in different homes different rules apply. A few minutes later I overheard her go up to the little girl who had pushed her and say: “You didn’t say you were sorry when you pushed me, but I forgive you.” A hug followed and I thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows that not apologizing is not right and that we forgive nonetheless.
To say that a child has poor social skills BECAUSE they are homeschooled is a misconception. I taught public high school for many years and I met plenty of children who had been in regular schools all their lives and yet lacked the proper social skills to interact with peers and adults. As a former public school teacher and current homeschooling mom I have come to believe that the choice of schooling has no impact in the proper or improper socialization of children.
Honestly, I think that parental example and guidance are much more influential in how children learn to interact with other children and adults. Matt and I work hard not only at teaching Isabel how to develop and foster friendships but also at providing her with plenty of opportunities to be with other children and put her learning to work. School is not the only place where children can meet with other children. A traditional classroom is not the only place where they can be exposed to other adults as authority figures. It does take work and planning but having lots of friends with little children helps. My kids are sociable because I am sociable.
The thing is, I’ve been thinking about what properly socialized means. I bet if I sent her to public school I will stop hearing stories about “lack of social skills” any time I have the schooling conversation. But will that mean she will then be properly socialized? Is a child properly socialized simply because they attend public school even if they don't know how to respond to a polite greeting or how to apologize to a friend they’ve hurt? Does properly socialized mean my daughter will blend in well with other five year olds having the same mannerisms, dress, and behavior both positive and negative?
I read an article not long ago in which a coach was asked about homeschooled children who want to join the public school teams. Here is what he had to say:
“Those kids are nothing but problems. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”