By: Sandy Churchill
When I first encountered the concept of “homeschooling” several years ago, I fell into the common trap of questioning the amount of “social” time and peer interaction that kids get. It’s funny to me now, because I now know that is perhaps the greatest misperception about the homeschooling environment. While each homeschooling family embarks on its own journey, the dozens of families I’ve met are far from anti-social or exclusive. The image of the super-shy child, friendless and lonely, clinging to mom is a myth through and through.
Our family’s past educational experience includes Montessori preschool, public education for first through eighth grades, and summer enrichment programs for our older two daughters. When it came time to enroll our youngest child in kindergarten, his amazing reading skills spurred the staff to suggest homeschooling since there was no gifted program available. Thanks to some research I’d done as a newspaper reporter, I had become familiar with homeschooling and was willing to try this path for a year. We found some great mentors, attended the biggest homeschool conference in the state, and said several prayers as we jumped in with both feet!
We decided to enroll our son in a homeschool co-op — an arrangement of local families who offer advice and support along with opportunities to meet and teach each other’s children in a structured setting. Soon we connected with families from eight or nine local towns and joined groups for field trips and classes at Franklin Park Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Bridgewater State University. We discovered collaborative geography, science fairs held at local libraries, and even nursing homes. The children worked on their projects and presented them in public settings where they could hone their public speaking skills and confidence. Wonderful opportunities emerged at every turn! We are able to tackle our little guy’s education with creativity, enthusiasm, and flexibility, and tailor project work to his ability level—so he is challenged and excited about learning.
We learned that a treasured secret of homeschooling is that many of these children learn flexibility and social skills from continually being immersed in different groups and varied settings. They learn to make friends easily—whether it’s a field trip friend, a member of a co-op, or another class which may meet monthly or weekly. Other friendships are formed with playdates and other outings.
We also got our son involved in Cub Scouts, karate, Sunday School, and various town sports. Play dates with his public school friends (whom he has met through scouts, sports, and other activities) happen on a regular basis, so his friends are not limited to a given clique or handful of peers in a given class. As a result, we have watched him walk into new situations and classes with an easy manner and a friendly attitude that make each new encounter a welcome adventure.
This flexibility, approachability, and friendliness is a characteristic we’ve witnessed in dozens of homeschooled children we’ve met. Our “one year experiment” with homeschooling is now in its third year and we continue to evaluate along the way. Thankfully, our worries and misconceptions about insufficient “social skills” have dissipated, and each new class or project welcomes new friends into our learning community!