Do Homeschool Children Have a Social Life?

Anna Dusseau | 8th June 2020

This is the bugbear of all homeschooling parents; the question we get asked all the them. The answer is a resounding ‘YES!’ but let me clarify what I mean here.

Our understanding of what friendship is and the nature of human connections have changed immeasurably within the past twenty years. The rise in social media interactions and ‘screen time’ (especially mobile phones, here) has rapidly taken us to a place where we have developed unhealthy ideas about what socialisation should look like. These include:

  • Being ‘connected’ and ‘available’ all the time.
  • Measuring our self-worth based on the number of social media followers we have.
  • Consequently, treating friends as ‘followers’ rather than real people.
  • Needing to accumulate a large number of friends, rather than a few important people.
  • Allowing the culture of ‘likes’, hash tags and trolling to infiltrate the way we deal with actual people, at work and in the playground.

The misunderstanding of socialisation is part of the problem when it comes to understanding the way socialising happens in home education. Regardless of persuasive evidence which indicates the negative impact of social media on our well-being, there is an increasing tendency for families to be ‘constantly social’. It is considered normal to spend all day in a large group, either at school or work, and to arrange ‘play dates’ and further social time after school and at the weekend. Even when we are travelling to and fro, we are constantly available on our phones, exchanging WhatsApp messages and Tweets with a frenzied concentration; as if this is of the highest importance. It is very hard to step back and imagine doing things another way.

Most homeschooling families will, for the most part, undertake the majority of structured or autonomous learning together at home or in the local area, with a few classes and activities to punctuate the week, as well as making space for ‘real life’ (shopping, dentist, post office, library). Children who are home educated are no angels, but they quickly form strong bonds and learn to rely on each other and respect each other within the family, as well as seeking friendships outside the home.

An interesting aspect of this is that, for example, when the recent pandemic took us all into lockdown, I don’t think I heard a single homeschooling family complain about ‘missing friends.’ The home educated children we messaged and did video chats with during this time, seemed almost universally to accept the situation and to be rather enjoying kicking around at home. Fundamentally, the homeschool family unit is strong and isn’t seeking constant contact and reassurance from fleeting friendships. This might seem hard to comprehend, but if you think about it, this mentality forms the basis of most solid relationships and households in the adult world. It is, surely, what we want for our children? To be happy in each other’s company? To be talking face-to-face with their partner, not sitting next to each other on their phones?

When homeschooling families do socialise in groups, either for ‘family days’ together or as children get older, increasingly, independently and on their own terms, it tends to look quite different from the way schoolchildren mix. We had a real problem when my daughter was at school, with friends coming over to play and immediately going into my daughter’s bedroom and shutting the door on the boys. Big girls, only. No boys and no babies allowed. This happened so frequently and is such a contradiction to the way we have raised our children, that my husband and I began to wonder whether we were the strange ones. Until we discovered homeschooling.

There are no ‘big ones’ and ‘babies’ in the homeschool community. There are just people. A fourteen-year-old boy will not ignore the request of his eight-year-old sister and her friends to help build their den. It is a chance to share his skill and to feel the power and wisdom of his age; it is good for him and he knows he will get many admiring looks as he does so. Similarly, babies are not just left to the parents, but are quickly absorbed within the larger group of children playing, with the older ones usually responsible for the safety and rules of the game, while the younger ones fool around teaching the baby new words or playing peekaboo. The parents get to keep an eye from a distance and have a cup of coffee.

Because the quality and general atmosphere of mixed age homeschooling play tends to be so positive and enjoyable, the time spent together is also totally different. Children need far less ‘micro-managing’ when their play is naturally regulated by a healthy mix of ages and genders, all keen to be involved and keep the game going. Rather than arranging a rather stressful play date after school, which might last two hours and has to be broken several times to resolve disputes, a homeschool family might arrange to come over to our house on Wednesday and – I now know – I will set aside the whole day for them. This is because the really good games won’t even begin to get going until a couple of hours in and, just at the point when you would usually be saying goodbye-and-thank-goodness, is the point at which the children seem to dive into another level of play and creativity. It’s wonderful to observe, whilst keeping a respectful distance; this is their time. Disputes are resolved, the game evolves exponentially, and we usually end up inviting everyone to stay for dinner.

So yes, the world of homeschooling is social – very – but not in the way you might think. It’s about quality, not quantity. And many school families, I know, take this approach too.

Published by Anna Dusseau

Writer | Educator | Homeschooling Mum

21 thoughts on “Do Homeschool Children Have a Social Life?

  1. That is really interesting to learn how the dynamics of the friendships change. How you saw a “no boys or babies” and then age or gender didn’t matter. There is a family that lives on our street that homeschool. The kids do not really play with the other kids on the street but they do play with other homeschool families who come to visit. They also exchange lessons, so at times there are a lot of kids out playing in between lessons. I am friends with the mom and she has told me how a lot of activities that outsiders think homeschoolers miss out on – well, they don’t. They do field trips, they have proms and dances – so the only thing that is really different is that they do their learning and curriculum at home instead of in the classroom. Two of her five have graduated college (early) and high school (early). It’s great to see.

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  2. The inclusivity of play described sounds amazing Anna. The idea of the ‘big girls’ shutting everything else out to be behind a closed door with ‘a friend’ also sounds so sad. I remember this state of affairs from my own childhood family home. Your interactions with other families sounds like a much better approach to social interaction. Yes, screen time has ebbed away at us all sadly.

    We seldom have the girls friends from school over to do a play date sadly (pre lockdown) but the few who gave come have played with all 5 thankfully! Mind you, they’re still so young and kind of have to come as a group!

    Keep up the great work 👏 👏

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  3. Thanks And. We are the same and I think when you are a big family it’s a bit of a ‘take it or leave it’ thing which is good. It’s so sad when siblings don’t support each other. Many thanks for your comments.

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  4. Excellent! Just FYI, I was posting daily but now I am posting once a week on a Wednesday – long read – as I am in the final stages of editing for a book on homeschooling coming out in August with Hawthorn Press. If you like the blog, I think the book will be your thing, too. Watch this space. And in the meantime, do check out the podcast, if you’re looking for more discursive review of the complexities of home educating. Thanks so much for following!

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  5. I think there was never a constitutional requirement for young people having to attend public schools. Perhaps more of people appreciating an opportunity for young people to learn and prepare for life ahead, having more opportunities, including careers. As I see it, schools should prepare young people for work, and along the way, learn real history and basic skills, projects to facilitate working together and asking questions. Home schooling can do all of this and more. **Here’s the difficulty. Parents are first and foremost the most important in their children’s lives. It’s on them to raise, nurture, teach the facts of life, and prepare, and it’s on them should they decide to send them to a source of education, to know what their children are learning. The other difficulty is if programs are not doing the job of educating, how can parents be mandated to send their children? Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives as our conscience shows. That requires parents to choose whether to send their children or teach at home. But fully informed.

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  6. Thanks very much for your reply. I think that’s absolutely the case. Home educating parents are almost universally freedom-seeking individuals wanting the best possible educational experience for their children, and conscious of their children as individuals, too. Although, as in mainstream school, safeguarding measures do need to exist for the protection of a minority of children, it is not reasonable to create a culture of fear around the simple choice to lead a lifestyle and pursue an education other than that forced through school. Indeed, for some children, their experience of schooling itself is abusive and violates their rights as an individual. Thanks again for your comment, and for making me think.

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  7. Something else. Seeing what we see happening in the country, seeing the mismanagement of information and truth-telling, what happens to our young people subject to mismanagement of information, rhetoric, and more? There’s a reason parents are the one’s most responsible for their children.

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  8. Mmmmm. I have to say, I absolutely agree with you. I find it hard taking a firm political position, as my family on both sides have extremely strong and vocal political views and I found that hard – overwhelming – growing up. But these are our children; our future. I agree with you 100% here. It needs to be said.

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  9. With family, we always keep politics out. I was the black sheep of the family. I would always think for myself, look to understand, and follow the rabbit trail down the road of understanding.

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    1. I remember, years ago, before I ever taught, a good man explaining that many children placed in places of education, where propaganda and rhetoric runs rampant “hate” their parents, though they may not realize why or how deep. Children are born loving their parents. They want to see them as the best, for they are their parents. And without realizing, they look for real understanding, love, and supporting what they had when born. So, when their parents send them to places where they can’t feel secure inside, where their common sense is pushed aside, when they have to unlearn reality, they wonder why their parents sent them there. In a time of great confusion, home schooling is a great opportunity for the family, for through it all, the children will love you for time well spent. They know you care.

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  10. What an amazing comment, and so filled with truth. It is very painful to acknowledge the reality of the picture you present here, but I believe it to be correct, and it is better said out loud than remaining a mystery. Thank you so much for your engagement with my blog!

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  11. To some degree, in some situations, it’s like throwing sheep to the wolves, perhaps ignorant wolves, or those who are puppets of wolves we don’t see. If I have to explain anything to anybody, I go right to what the subject is about, my experience, education, and talks, and speak from a place of understanding. I’m trying to get the others to “see” for themselves. That way, it’s real. What we see, often, is a deluge of information not based upon the real and useful.

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