If you’ve ever ventured anywhere near homeschooling, you’ve probably encountered someone asking the classic and dreaded question, what about socialization? This question is always asked by newcomers to homeschooling. Veteran homeschoolers are more likely to ask things like, how do you balance the needs of multiple kids with very different interests and personalities? or how are we out of snacks ALREADY? I JUST bought those. I’m not a veteran homeschooler yet, but thus far I’ve found that one of the biggest benefits of non-traditional schooling has been the opportunity to socialize.
What is socialization?
The dictionary defines socialization as “the activity of mixing socially with others.”
The research is clear that humans need plenty of interactions with friends and acquaintances for optimal health and wellbeing. In the happiest places on earth, people spend six hours each day socializing face to face. One of the things I love most about our alternative education path is that our kids have the ability to experience this kind of wellbeing. They get to be with friends, collaborate on projects of their own invention, get messy together, build consensus, navigate conflict, and just be kids.
Our social nature is our chief strength as humans. We can accomplish great feats by working together, and childhood is the time to start. If you’ve ever seen a group of 8 year olds deciding on the rules of a new game, you know they are learning negotiation skills that cannot be taught nearly as well from a textbook. In my experience, kids naturally socialize and play when you bring them together. If our schools are going to bring out the best in our kids, they need to celebrate our social nature, not squash it. But I believe they are missing the mark right now.
Anyone who has attended a traditional school within the past few decades is familiar with the phrase, “you’re not here to socialize.” I can’t blame them. Teachers have an incredibly difficult job. They are dealing with student needs ranging from hunger and trauma to interpersonal conflict and boredom. They have to deal with administrators and parents. On top of all of that, they are expected to teach students who will later sit down for high-stakes testing. These requirements often leave teachers stuck cracking down on “socializing” to focus on “learning” — a prioritization that may have worked in 1850, but is less appropriate as a way to prepare for life and the workforce today. The National Education Association highlights the need to teach 21st century skills in schools, summarized by the four Cs:
- Critical thinking
Unfortunately, schools today often continue to emphasize correct answers over critical thinking, competition over collaboration, and compliance over creativity.
As Sir Ken Robinson points out in an interview with Educational Leadership Magazine, “Most original thinking comes through collaboration and through the stimulation of other people’s ideas… The greatest scientific breakthroughs have almost always come from some form of fierce collaboration among people with common interests but with very different ways of thinking.” In other words, human ingenuity rarely happens in isolation.
Although children may not be responsible for the next scientific breakthrough until they grow up, they can and should work in groups today to come up with ideas and problem-solve together. Working together toward a common goal builds a sense of community and helps children build greater empathy toward different ways of thinking and looking at the world. Learning to socialize with people of different ages, genders, cultural backgrounds, and brain patterns is more important than ever. Social interactions geared toward a common goal also help kids work on their communication skills as they practice listening to others and explaining their own ideas. This is exactly what I see kids doing in the mixed-age, mixed-gender, mixed-brain pattern groups they spend their time in as homeschoolers, unschoolers, and alternative schoolers.
As an innovative school in Dubai puts it, “Learning to communicate in a group, even if it takes a great deal of scaffolding in the early years, means that children can grow to be thoughtful, flexible, confident collaborators.” This is what the new century needs as technology pushes us forward and the world becomes more interconnected. As it turns out, we ARE here to socialize.
A second definition of socialization
Socialization is also defined as “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” This one requires digging a bit deeper than the first definition. What does to mean to act in a way that is acceptable to society?
The messages that we often get as children, and then carry on into adulthood, are usually to avoid rocking the boat. Follow directions. Don’t question too many things.