I know, I know. Socialization, the “S word”. Icky, ewwww, yucky!
Now that we have that out of our system, let’s talk about socialization specifically as it relates to older children.
As adults we have a good sense of how much socialization we can handle, and some of us can handle more than others. The same is true for our children, they just tend to flux a bit more in what they can handle on any given day.
Socialization is important, especially to kids of middle and high school age. Socializing is how we learn to navigate the world, how we learn what is important to us, how we discover our individual moral codes, and a safe start in socialization is something all parents need to give their children.
Socialization starts as soon as baby is born, with visits from friends and relatives. As baby grows they accompany the family on outings and learn how to wait in line at the grocery store, how to buy stamps at the post office, how to order food at a restaurant and eat it politely. These are great and important lessons and crucial to our children’s future. These are socialization skills that can be taught solely within the family regardless of a parent’s educational choice. This isn’t the type of socialization most people are asking about.
When someone asks “but what about socialization?” they mostly want to know if your child has friends & if they can go to prom. I know it doesn’t sound rational. You and I know it isn’t rational, but to the people who ask it really seems to be a rational concern.
I know the question is annoying and it’s truly not any their business, but it’s also a question that has some merit and has to be addressed. In my years of leading a support group I see the topic of middle and high school-aged kids socialization come up a lot.
So how do we meet the socialization needs of older kids?
1. What are your child’s realistic socialization needs?
Determine how much socialization your child can endure and accept it. Some kids are natural social butterflies, some are homebodies, and sometimes our kids flip from one to the other overnight. Often our children’s needs don’t meet ours so socializing them means we have to step out of our safety zone.
2. If you build it, they will come.
Does your child want to go to prom? Create a prom. I’m not saying hold a prom in your basement like in that horrible, horrible, awful, terrible, not-at-all funny episode of Good Luck Charlie. Rather, get together with some other homeschooling parents and make it happen!
3. Look to the community.
If your child is interested in sports start by looking at your city or county parks & recreation website. If you live near a sports team they may offer children’s clinics. Check our local soccer, baseball, and football community leagues.
If your child is interested in agriculture or public speaking look into local 4H groups, there are many open just to homeschoolers!
If your child loves to perform there are thousands of community theaters across the country that offer affordable opportunities for your child to step on stage.
Ask the school! In many states homeschooled kids are welcome to participate in school-wide extracurriculars.
Do you see where I am going with this?
4. Look to the non-profit sector.
My oldest children volunteer with a local wish-granting organization. Once a week they volunteer to answer phones, clean, escort visitors, and do whatever else is needed. They also volunteer at fundraising events, including an annual very prom-like charity ball. Not only are they helping a great organization but they’re interacting with a lot of different people and learning valuable work skills.
No matter what your child’s interests, there is a volunteer opportunity for them. Check local newspapers and Facebook pages, or visit Volunteer Match to browse opportunities.
5. Look to the working world.
My oldest child started working at 17, many kids start even earlier. Yes, the purpose of a job is to go to work and do the job, but there is in inherent social aspect as well. My child has made many friends on the job and frequently spends time with them away from work. Additionally, my kid has also learned that there are people at work who don’t have your best interest in mind, and she is learning to navigate those waters. Learning the skill of workplace socialization so early is invaluable!
6. Look to a support group.
Support groups seem to be something people love or hate, and I understand why. For us having an inclusive, truly-supportive group has been a lifesaver. My children are still friends with support group kids they met a decade ago, and that’s saying something in today’s world! It also happens that the support group has been my network of friendship, inspiration, and sanity.
Good support groups can be difficult to find, especially if you’re a “fringe” homeschooler (ie: secular or unschooler). I had to create a support group to find one that met our needs and while the job comes with some frustrations it’s been mostly amazing and I cannot imagine homeschooling without the support. Our group is now 13 years old and has over 600 member families, which just goes to prove that if YOU need something someone else does too!
7. Don’t be afraid to let go.
Whether it’s their first co-op class without a parent at 8 or their first day of dual enrollment in college at 16…you have to let go. We hold our children’s hands as long as we can and then it’s our job to let them go. Be there to cheer them on and pick up the pieces if necessary, but let them go out and seize life by the horns and be young, because it only happens once. Our children NEED the chance to spread their wings and the earlier we let them start, the better their future will be.
(was that full of enough cliches for ya??)
Letting go is hard for me, it’s a process I’m still struggling with, even with my adult child. I’m learning though, and thankfully I have an excellent support system to help me with it.
So what would you add? How do find the resources for socializing your child and how do you determine how much socialization your child needs? Have you found the socialization need to be different between younger & older kids?
Meg Grooms is a decades-long secular homeschooling mother of 6 children, ranging in age from preschool to married with kids of their own. Always a vagabond at heart, Meg and her family have embraced a slow travel lifestyle, currently calling Southern California home. Your guess is as good as hers as to where they’ll end up next.
Meg blogs about secular homeschooling and gameschooling at Homeschool Gameschool.