Socialization at School or Home: Redefining is in Order

I ran into a high school acquaintance the other day–he recognized me after 22 years. We exchanged pleasantries and the basic questions: “where do you live, how many kids do you have, where do you work,” etc.

He had three children, one of whom was present during our conversation. In fact, he was a little more than present. He was 8, if I remember, and his Dad was struggling to converse with me, getting on to him for various interruptions and making the “Oh brother….kids” face so I would know that he disapproved of his behavior.

He asked me, “So where do your kids go to school?” And it was as cliched an exchange as ever I’ve had about homeschooling…

“Ohhhhhhh…..well, we send him to school. They just get more socialized there.”

Now first, what am I to say? “Oh, I haven’t thought about that. Do you think we’re ruining our children?” From a guy who I’m pretty sure has not known many homeschoolers personally.

Interestingly–and I think his remark was harmless enough–I can’t imagine telling him I homeschool so my children can be socialized, insinuating that his school choice obviously couldn’t accomplish the task.

But that’s not even the point: as I drove home thinking about this parent’s struggle to simply talk to another human being without his son’s constant interruptions and rudeness, and the fact that the father was very aware (and agitated) and still claimed he believed he would be better socialized at school, I realized that we are talking about two different words.

His definition of socialization? “He gets to play with a lot of people his age.”

The real definition? “The process of learning to interact with people in conformity with the values of one’s society.”

What I’m about to describe isn’t meant as a slight against those whose children are schooled, it’s just a simple matter of facts…

If we are aiming for the real kind of socialization–if we really want to teach proper social behavior, correct social etiquette, manners, conflict resolution, self-worth, and everything else it entails, we certainly wouldn’t prefer other children to be our child’s teachers, no more than we could expect someone to teach an instrument who themselves had not yet learned.

Additionally, if we want a well-rounded socialization course, we wouldn’t expect to find it in a room for most of the day, with no interaction with the real world or little variation in age range and intelligence.

It doesn’t mean a child will not learn proper social skills, but it will likely be in spite of the influences of other children who don’t know them yet either, not because of them.

Again, my point is not to try to slight those whose children are in a conventional setting, but rather to expose a faulty rationale, one homeschoolers are frequently and unashamedly questioned by.

I just think we need to be honest. School may very well offer you things you think are important. State those things with confidence. School might be a lot of things, but a great place to be socialized isn’t one of them.

Learn all about RELAXED Homeschooling in Think Outside the Classroom!









24 Responses to “Socialization at School or Home: Redefining is in Order”

  1. laura says:

    I know what you mean, Kelly! In spite of my failings, my kids are NOT the typical homeschool, shy kids…THey talk to everyone, kids, toddlers, and adults, and can carry on a conversation TO adults…even ones they don’t know really well. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in the company of a public schooled child and they have no idea how to talk to me. I try to engage them in conversation and they look at me like, “why are you talking to me??” or they rudely don’t answer my question, or just ignore me and walk away…The difficulty is, at church sometimes, I have noticed that my kids don’t really know about the things that other kids do…they don’t see the same movies, they don’t have the same exposure to technology…so while other 8 year olds are connected by certain things, I think mine feel a little left out sometimes…and actually uncomfortable around kids their own age…and more comfortable around adults…we went to visit our elderly neighbor last week who is in a care facility(she’s like 95, and got sick), and my 8 year old talked more than I did!! And I know his little stories about pulling our carrots from the garden and other tidbits from our busy lives were brightening to her day.

    • Bekah says:

      Hello Laura I’m a home school graduate and I understand completely how your children feel. All my peers at church were always talking about the latest fashion trend, talk show, music group, or celebrity couple. All the girls would only talk about boys and the guys would always talk about sports or flirt with the girls. For me being in church I wanted to talk about the Lord sadly some adults only wanted to gossip but I always enjoyed talking to adults more. I still enjoy talking to senior citizens today as there are not many peers around me that I can really relate to.

      • laura says:

        Even as I say this, I really know that being consumed with hollywood junk, or fashion, or boys or girls is really NOT the most important thing…neither is “relating” to your “peer group”. And as a public schooled kid (more or less my whole life), I was strange in that I had strong political views and wanted to discuss things other than what my ps peers did…That though I was ps’ed, I STILL didn’t really fit…But I can understand my kids perspectives because of that and know that it’s not always “fun” to be different…but it can be GOOD…Espcially nowadays when so many boys deem it “uncool” to love learning…and such a “drag” to love *gasp* to WORK…YEs, my kids are different and they are NOT perfect, but i want something more for my boys than spending 40 hours a week playing computer games and never growing up…

  2. Natalie says:

    You nailed it Kelly. Way to salvage yet another one of “those” home school conversations and make it fodder for a great blog post. 😉

  3. Dawn says:

    As someone who sends my children to public school, I just wanted to say please don’t read too much into comments made by public schoolers when having “that talk”. I’ve been in your situation when I homeschooled, and it seemed like every time another parent asked where my kids went to school and I said we homeschooled at the time, the other parents looked visibly uncomfortable and couldn’t just say “Oh, my kids goes to ___”, but felt like they HAD to state their reasons for public schooling. After I put my son back into PS I felt just as awkward as they did when asked, and felt the need to explain as well. I don’t think many of them mean to put down homeschoolers, I think sometimes they are struggling with their own guilt at feeling the need to send their children to PS, so they try to explain/justify why they don’t take the time to homeschool. I still struggle with not being able to homeschool (children’s father won’t allow it-guess why? He thinks they need “socialization” in public school lol) and it really bothers me…so when I start explaining why I don’t homeschool, it’s not because I think you are weird or wrong for doing it, it’s because I wish I could, too and it makes me sad that I can’t.

    • Word Warrior says:


      That’s a great perspective…thank you! I think lots of time, that is true. And then there are some people I know more personally, who are invested in the school system, who TRULY think children who aren’t in a classroom full of other children are missing the most important thing in life. I wish they had a more well-rounded view.

    • Kristen says:

      I totally agree with you, Dawn. I get so many excuses from people as to why their kids are in ps. It does make me feel awkward, “I just don’t have the patience to teach my kids” and I’m thinking,”and what? You think I do?” And the latest was,”we just couldn’t survive on one income” and I’m thinking,”I’m sure you could, it’s just a matter of what’s important”. Lately, I’ve found that I never have to be the one who has to justify why she home schools. People always have to justify why they ps.

    • Miss says:

      Dawn, socialization happens at two different stages. When you had your children home and were able to home-school them, you gave them a good primary socialization. Then it was time for the secondary socialization, outside of your home. The secondary socialization is about interacting with people outside of your circle of acquaintances, family and friends. A great place to get socialized (at the second stage) is in fact school. You meet people from different cultures, social backgrounds etc. You learn to understand people who are different from you. Secondary socialization is important for a person’s identity. When you come in contact with different ideas and values,you will find out which ideas and values suit you. You learn to shape your identity in both stages of socialization. The secondary socialization is not less important than the primary one.

  4. Amy says:

    I think the Bible is very clear on the “socialization” issue:

    Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20

    Spending the day in a classroom of 25-30 children of the same age and with only 1 adult is not walking with the wise.

  5. laura says:

    I certainly don’t want to “bash” public schoolers, or put them on the defensive…just stating my experiences…

  6. LVH says:

    I have to agree with Dawn, somewhat. You have not seen this person in how long and you’re writing a whole blog post on a few(?) sentences that he said. People in general have a hard time with small talk and often say things that can be taken the wrong way. Don’t assume and judge (are you?) his choices because of this small exchange. Maybe he has an entire explanation and rationale for why he sends his kids to public school. Who knows…

    Second, I see this trend among Christian mommy bloggers where they write entire blog posts about a small exchange in a grocery store or somewhere else. “This mom said she was happy her kids got to public school…why does the world hate children…” Its trite and meaningless to judge people like that. Ya know?

    Third, I think you’re judging public school parents just as much as you feel you’re being judged by them. First off, when it comes to socialization, even you are assuming narrow definitions. In this post and some of your past ones, you keep mentioning/suggesting that kids in public school are not getting proper socialization because they are in classrooms divided by age.

    In my opinion, socialization is more than “age ranges and intelligence.” It means dealing with people who have different socio-economic brackets, religions, languages, cultures, ethnicities, races and so on. Yes, from K-6th grade, I was mainly in classrooms with kids who were the same age as I was. However, the amount of diversity in other areas made up for that one lacking factor.

    Everyday, I had the chance to learn something new from a different kid in my class. I learned about my classmates whose parents escaped Vietnam to make a new life in America, from Catholic classmates going through their first communion, and Black classmates trying to overcome racism and stereotypes. I learned about Hispanic culture, what the heck “Bar-Mitzvah” was, what it meant to be poor and from classmates who lived with only one parent.

    Public school was just a “starting” point. I was invited to the homes of classmates and had the chance to meet their families; grandparents, aunts and more! I was invited to attend their different religious and cultural events. I learned so much from my classmates and I’m thankful for those experiences and for the teachers who stressed how unique everyone truly is.

    When I got to high school, the age range started to open up more. I interacted with classmates older than me and younger than me. I also found that there was much more diversity among the the teachers. We had teachers young and old, ones who retired from amazing careers and decided to teach, and teachers who served in the armed forces and gave us unique perspectives. I still remember this 80-year-old teacher who would just tell the best stores about world war two. I treasure those memories that so much. Despite the age factor, I feel like I became quite socialized in public school. 🙂

    Also, a lot can happen outside of public school as well. I interacted with the elderly all the time. My parents grew up in a culture where the elderly are very loved and respected, and so our family always visited and invited elderly members to festivities and functions. Many of my public school classmates did the same as well.

    Lastly, socialization and how it happens can depend on many factors. For example, where one lives can effect some aspects. People who live in or around cities are most likely going to interact with a huge diversity of people. People who grow up in small, rural towns and never travel anywhere–maybe not as much. For home-school and public school parents, how committed are they to letting their kids interact with different people? Are parents trying to keep their families in sheltered suburban little bubbles?

    Parents, everywhere, have a duty to help their kids socialize. How that happens, where it happens, and with whom can look different for everyone. And yes, lots of socialization can happen in public schools too! 😉

    • Word Warrior says:


      The reason I wrote a whole blog post about “a few sentences” one person said, is because it is the same few sentences I hear over and over. And yes, only public school advocates seem to feel the liberty to virtually tell you that your homeschooled kids will not be properly socialized. They should get blogs if they want to vent their feelings about it 😉 I write as a broad example (leaving names and details anon.), to try to help people see the fallacy of their beliefs because I do experience this same fallacy over and over.

      I attended public school, so there isn’t really a need to describe the experience. Being around people of other ethnic backgrounds (which homeschoolers do too) is not the essence of “socialization”. Learning proper behavior is. The point of my post is this: a child needs to learn proper social behavior from adults who have already learned it. One only needs to take a cursory glance to see the bombardment of bad habits and bad social skills that run rampant among most groups of young people who are largely unattended. That’s why I said a child *can* learn right behavior, but it will be in spite of the influences of other children, much of which a parent must undo.

      I think you might think I live in a bubble since I’m a homeschooling mom 😉 But I don’t. It’s not rocket science, this reasoning.

  7. Nicole says:

    While we drove past our local public school, my young children questioned why the P.S. children had to start eating lunch so early in the day. I explained that the children had to be separated by age, and so some had to start eating very early in the day so that there would be enough time to feed all 9 grades. My children couldn’t possibly understand why the children needed to be separated by age (we all eat together ages 1, 3, 5, 6, 30 something mom, 40 something dad, grandparents….).
    I explained that P.S. children aren’t instructed on socializing with younger ones. My 6 year old can appropriately play with and care for a one year old, but the P.S. can’t trust an 8th grader to play with a 5 year old because they aren’t instructed on how to appropriately. Funny to think that they are the “unsocialized” ones.

    In response to the topic of Kelly’s post: I think that she is warning on some of the subtle ways of thinking in which many of us are deceived. While the gentleman that she ran into may have only spoken “a few sentences”, those statements revealed a pattern of faulty thinking that should be addressed so that we don’t fall into those same mistakes. I know that I used to think the same way, and were it not for others pointing out the errors in my logic, I would have continued to share ideas that were foolish, un-Biblical, and unintentionally offensive to others (and believe me, I did!)

    This doesn’t even address the issue that Kelly wasn’t “judging” but rather discerning. It is easy to take scripture out of context and say, “Don’t judge others!”, ignoring all the scriptures where it is encouraged and commanded. We are to be discerning thinkers, constantly holding up every comment and thought to the light of the Word of God to see how it measures up. As I never saw Kelly complain of being “judged”, it is important that we don’t put this on her. I may not agree with her on every theological topic, but I find no fault with her scrutiny of the world as she strives to please God.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Thank you, Nicole.

      You articulated my heart better than I could.

    • LVH says:

      Kelly (and Nicole),

      My point was that age is not the only factor in socialization. Part of social behavior is dealing with people who are different than us? In age? In development? In religion? In political thought? In language? In race? Yes, public school kids (at least K-6th grade) mainly interact with kids their own age during school time, but still have a chance to hit the other factors.

      My daughter who attends public school is in a class with peers the same age as her. Despite the age factor, she interacts daily with kids of different races, religions, languages and culture. She is learning how something in one culture may be hurtful and insensitive in another.

      Parents are a great starting point to learning proper social behavior. Yet, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of socialization. My parents, who immigrated here, taught me kindness, love, manners and compassion for all. However, I learned through my Caucasian peers that it is polite to wait for everyone to receive their food before eating. In my parent’s culture, it is a bit rude not to start immediately eating. From my Asian peers, I learned that it was proper to always bypass every single person and greet elders at a party. When Eid came, I knew how to properly greet my Muslim friends.

      “Proper social behavior, correct social etiquette, manners,” are different everywhere. Many of my Southern peers would lament about how racist their grandparents were and how they would say things that weren’t socially acceptable.

      I’m not here arguing public school over homeschooling at all or saying that Kelly lives in a bubble. I’m saying that socialization looks different for each person and each family. Public school kids get plenty of socialization and I am sure plenty of homeschoolers do too.

      • Meg says:

        As a past public school teacher as well as a Christian private school teacher (within the past 9 years) I can affirm that there is no time for interaction among students. They are constantly instructed to be quiet and not to talk. They have opportunities to talk before school, the five minutes between classes, and at lunch (all of which are poorly or probably not supervised by adults). Let me assure anyone reading that 99.9% of the time these brief conversations are not culturally enlightening, socially encouraging, or thought-provoking in the least.
        When I was growing up in public school, our teachers would always inform us that “we are not here to socialize”.

  8. J in VA says:

    We started to hs our 13 yo dd 3 years ago after private school for 6 years. My dh says he can always tell a homeschooler because they can carry one a conversation with anyone–even someone they just met–especially adults.

    Our observation is that many (not all) children who school in classrooms rarely have a direct conversation with an adult either in the classroom or home so often they don’t have those skills. Even teens don’t make eye contact and have anything meaningful to say to an adult.

    It seems your conversation was not long…it’s sad that the 8 year old was so squirrly 🙁

  9. Keri says:

    As homeschooling moms..have we honestly EVER been out with one of our kids and they had one of those Moments? I’m sure we all a little grace and understanding at those times might be good.

    I loved what a friend of mine said once…”It’s not that our children won’t do something wrong..It’s how we respond”.

    One of my friends started homeschooling her daughter when she saw the difference in my daughter after I started homeschooling her.Her personality just seemed to bloom and I think it was just that she needed that one on one learning and attention.She was struggling in school to get this.

    I think as homeschool moms that we have to be really careful that we not think to harshly or judgemental when these kinds of things come up with other people because they will.I know when my kids were younger and I was in the it was easy to look at others and think..they should all be doing this.

    I was learning and watching from others.I have honestly known homeschool kids who were very shy and awkward and public school kids who could relate and talk to everyone. I personally think it depends on the home.

    My two youngest are by no means shy..but they are quieter right now but as I have watched with my other children, they will come out of it. I have realized that in some my 14 yr.old son honestly does not know what to do with younger children and babies..At first, I was like what is the deal and then I realized that he really doesn’t have much exposure to babies and toddlers. So, we are working on that. He is the youngest in our family so he had no babes to play with.We are not around babies to much..but now when we are..he tries to interact and it’s pretty comical.

    I also have to add that at times my kids don’t fit in with all the typical talk of the hollywood stuff going on or the boyfriend girlfriend thing but they have learned to deal with it.

    I think most importantly..and this is just my opinion here..We have to remember when we run into someone like this,either from our past or just in the present. Do they know the Lord? If they don’t, they are not going to see things the same.Pretty much about anything!

    One of the best things to do in those times is to just give them a kind word and maybe a Christian Tract and show love and grace.Better yet..invite them to church.

  10. Nicole says:

    I absolutely agree that we can show grace, and kindness in dealing with others: especially non-Christians who are not living by the standards that we hold to. Certainly our imperfect children will act in sinful ways, but we as (sinful) parents are directed to redirect them toward the Word….rather than just ignore the behavior uncomfortably while we converse with others. And even if we experience one difficult moment in public, the following discipline to that child will likely ensure that we don’t encounter the same difficulty again (or at least that it will be quickly stopped by a future raised eyebrow by mom.) ;o)

    The point that socialization is more than just age, is absolutely correct! Great point! That is one great reason why homeschooling provides diverse socialization. Not only are we exposed to different age groups, but my children know how to appropriately interact with different cultures (with gospel-mindedness not simply social graces), with different religions (and with the knowledge of why those religions are incorrect Biblically, and how we can be “ready to give an answer” to someone from that religion “with gentleness and respect”), with people of different cultures (and the knowledge of how their cultural influences impact their view of the gospel), with different languages (and can hopefully learn how to share the gospel in the language of their choosing), and ethnicities (knowing that race is a man-made concept but the various ethnic diversities are wonderful examples of God’s creativity in His creation).
    Is the difference evident? It is not enough to understand a culture, religion, ethnicity, or language, if it is not evaluated in light of scripture. If the socialization of others doesn’t lead us to deeply love the people WITH an understanding of their need for a Savior, and with the actions to share that Savior, than it is not enough. A humanistic public school system can’t teach that, and so the “socialization” is incomplete at best.
    Moreover, all of this direction, teaching, and “socialization” happens under the direction of my (and my husband’s) guidance. Rather than happening positively or negatively on a playground, lunch room, or field somewhere, as an ever-present parent I can help coach those interactions into a God-honoring way….hardly the goal of the humanistic public school system.

  11. Mrs B says:

    Hi Kelly, just thinking back on my own experiences…
    I was a student in one of the most academically competitive high schools in the Midwest. Our college prep program gave us access to some of the most talented teachers in the region. That in itself was NOT the problem. The problem is that I attended this school when a lot of “experimentation” was going on. The books we read, the conversations we had, the group projects we did–some made me quite uncomfortable. If I tried to voice my feelings I could count on being belittled first by the instructor, and then by my peers as being “old-fashioned” and outdated. So, of course I did my best to make it look like I went along with the program. I will not go into gruesome detail about the things that went on during the school-sponsored dances, rallies, etc. It seemed as though the ones who should have been our mentors-our protectors-were intent upon being our “buddies” by encouraging us in the desire to indulge in irresponsible, reckless behavior. But what could I do? How could I go against the grain? It was simply a matter of survival–I had to get my high school diploma, then get into college, and then grad school. These teachers, adminitrators, fellow students were the vast majority of my world. And yes, my academic/professional mission was accomplished– all I had to do was allow my trust and hope in the God who created me to erode day after day, year after year. What made me choose to follow Jesus? It’s a long story, but if you read Psalm 1 you’ll get a pretty good idea of what HAD to happen.

    Now, please let me state once again that it is not the pursuit of education in and of itself that is the problem. Learning about cultures and communities that are different from your own is definetly not the problem. But what I just described happened decades ago, and now the situation is much more widespread. This isn’t merely about young people with a rainbow of skin pigmentation sitting together at a lunch table. This is about those same young people learning that they are created for a purpose and were precious even before they began to form in the womb. Something is not quite right about what is happening to our young people, and it’s not good for anyone to pretend otherwise.

    I guess you could say I could have had a better support system at home, or there should have been more effective influnces from our church, etc, etc, etc…It’s hard to say what should or could have happened in my case–but I think it’s a little dangerous to dwell too long on the hypothetical. However, my heart goes out to young people who find themselves in an environment that pulls and squeezes them against their desire to honor God with their lives. Some will make it, many will not. But my testimony is that I am alive today enjoying the most precious blessings from God not because of my public school socialization, but despite it.

  12. Mrs B says:

    Oh Kelly—
    I see a couple of mis-spellings and typos in the above, despite my best efforts to proofread my post. Humble apologies to the most discerning of your readers! 😉

  13. Carolina says:

    Hi kelly, great post. Do you know a book called Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld? It makes those points and more.

  14. Rechelle says:

    One of human kind’s most primitive responses to life to to filter out all those who might be different than they are and “circle the wagons” to form a community that rejects “different” by teaching it is somehow “evil” and worthy of some sort of “eternal punishment”. This is obviously what homeschooling is. While those who send their kids to a public school fight the primitive response and allow their children to experience the “different”, learn to understand, appreciate and even love those who might not share the exact same value system as those that are expressed in the studet’s home. It is this mindset that leads to progress in humankind. If everyone was homeschooled, we would still be a tribal society, terrified of other people’s differences and living in constant warfare – much like say… the OT.

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