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Socialization: Tackling Homeschooling’s “S” Word

The mainstream perception of homeschool students is that they are an antisocial bunch, toiling away lonely hours at a kitchen table with only their parents for friends. But homeschoolers themselves will tell you that socialization—the “S-word,” as some call it—is really a nonissue.

“Socialization is always the hot topic,” says Kate Fridkis, an adult who was unschooled until she was college age. Fridkis, who blogs about homeschooling at, says that when she tells people she was homeschooled, they often respond by asking if she had any friends. “People seem to translate the term [homeschooling] literally into ‘school in the home,'” she says. “But you’re actually socializing so much more than your average kid who’s sitting in class all day.”

For Fridkis, homeschooling gave her the freedom to immerse herself in her community—and to develop relationships with people who were outside of her age group. When she was 12, she started visiting regularly with an elderly woman in a nursing home; by 15 she was a lay clergy member in her synagogue and auditing a course at Princeton University.

“People for some reason define socialization for kids as interacting only with kids, but if socialization means only interacting with kids that are exactly the same age as you, then that seems pretty narrow,” says Fridkis.

National Home Education Research Institute president Brian Ray agrees. He says socialization is not a problem for the vast majority of homeschool students, many of whom are involved in community sports, volunteer activities, book groups or homeschool co-ops. “Research shows that in terms of self-concept, self-esteem and the ability to get along in groups, homeschoolers do just as well as their public school peers,” says Ray.

Ray cites a July 2000 study by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute in which counselors watched videotapes of homeschooled and schooled children playing. The counselors, who did not know which children were from each category, noted that the homeschool students demonstrated fewer behavioral problems than their peers—a result that Ray attributes, in part, to homeschoolers’ main role models: “Public school children have, as their main role models, peers, while homeschool students have as their role models, adults,” he explains.

Broadening a child’s peer group may offer some advantages—especially when it comes to avoiding negative influences. Jeffrey Koonce, a school superintendent in Miller County, Missouri, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on how homeschool students fare when they transition into the public schools, says that the students he interviewed were, in many cases, more “socially adept” and mature than their peers. Koonce says that the homeschool students who entered high school would hear “16- or 17-year-old kids talking about getting drunk and who’s sleeping with who, and they’d be like, ‘Get real. Get a life.'”

Fridkis had a similar reaction to some of the students she encountered when she enrolled in college. “The environment was a little bit childish,” she remembers. “So many kids just wanted to drink and party. … I already knew who I was, and knew what I was interested in.”

But Kenneth Bernstein, a high school government and social studies teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, says that while some homeschool students possess a maturity that their peers lack, others can be sheltered, especially when it comes to exchanging ideas with people from diverse backgrounds: “It depends upon how their parents approached [homeschooling]. It also depends upon circumstances other than schooling for the opportunity to interact with young people different from them.”

For her part, Fridkis agrees that getting out of the house—and seeking out new experiences and situations—is the key to becoming comfortable in the world. “Homeschooling is a great opportunity to go out all the time,” she says. “I would go insane if I was only with my family.”

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  • Pingback: Socialization . Education . PBS Parents | PBS

  • Terri Lynn Merritts

    I have homeschooled for nearly 20 years and helped other families honeschool. Homeschooled students are not locked up for years in an age-segregated kiddie prison but are socialized in the real age-integrated world. Homeschool kids go on field trips with other homeschooled kids, do homeschool classes at museums , zoos and other places, have support group fun, do a lot of volunteer work, start home businesses, play sports, and are involved in music, art, and drama lessons. They tend to be more involved with their community and glad of it and they are extremely mature. They are more independent and ready to be leaders. They make friends with adults even as kids and can do so much more than public and private school kids. 

  • Teaching for Christ

    I am on my third year homeschooling four kids ages 2-7. Although the idea of being around your kid 24/7 can seem overwhelming, it actually has been quite a blessing.  I thought I was here to teach them, when in fact they have taught me more about who I am as a person.  I love being my children’s mother, caregiver and most importantly, teacher.  A teacher leads by example, not demands. A mother loves unconditionally. They have the best of both worlds – even with my imperfections! 

  • Justina Jones

    My older sister, Elizabeth, went to public school. I wanted to do school at home instead of Arbor Station.  My older sister got a 3.9 average in high school and graduated in 2003. I attended Arbor Station Elementary School for four years. Miss Holt was my second grade teacher. Ms. Conforti was my third grade teacher. Mrs. Rigdon was my first grade teacher. Mrs. Turner was my older sister’s science teacher.

  • Amowry

    For more great ways to keep kids active and fit check out the following blog

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  • Nick

    very good post

  • Erik Nyquist

    Homeschooling is just a way for evangelical parents to teach their kids make-believe instead of actual science. Socialization is a useless psychological buzz-word; any amount of poor exposure to social peers can’t compare to the damage of kids being taught that the earth is 6000 years old, global warming is a myth, and hurricanes are god’s punishment for gays by their ignorant fundie parents.

    • Gaelyn Pierce

      You’re delusional. Homeschooling isn’t about promoting a religious agenda, it’s about equipping your children with a quality education and the tools necessary to make them successful later on in life. And while I’m not the most spiritual person around, I would rather my kids learn about God than learn about drugs and sex before they reach puberty. What could damage a kid more than that?

    • Tibeca

      We are 100% secular (not religious). My children learn about evolution. We study religion from a historical perspective when they are ready. You know what they say about what happens when you “assume”

    • Stephanie Pawley

      Not everyone who home-schools is super religious like you are assuming. I am homeschooling and even though we attend church on Sundays, I still am teaching my daughter about evolution. That way she she decide for herself when she gets older what she believes. And as for your comment about hurricanes- where in the world do you get your ideas?

    • sand

      Bigoted, much? I am a “fundie evangelical” and I also have multiple science related degrees. After 27 years of education, including post doctoral, and fellowship, etc etc, all in the biomedical sciences, I can say that it matters not one bit to me what people believe about prehistory, geology, or evolution. Most scientists that I know don’t use those ideas in their daily work. I can also say that your “god’s punishment for gays” slur is not worth contradicting. Because it is difficult to have a rational conversation with a bigot. Sorry your mind is closed so very tightly.

    • Zephod Beeblebrox

      Where is your research Erik? If you had bothered you would know almost half of all home schollers are secular homeschooling thier G/T special needs kids due to inadequate schools in affordable neighborhoods. Instead of antidotal, misinformed media based opinions you might want to use that scietific method and actually get to know the subject you post about. My 7 y/o is now more deeply involved in science (via robotics club, quantum mechanics,cosmology meet group, gardening/weather watch) than he ever could be in a
      traditional school setting – especially for his age.

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    sumboooooooooooooodeh want to get active

  • An observer who cares

    I am not against homeschooling. I know a lot of families whose children need something different than what public school has to offer. Many do a great job, However, some of these families have serious socialization issues. I see their children trying to interact with peers at church activities and being very unsuccessful. It breaks my heart. It isn’t the other children either. It’s very obvious that these particular children lack social skills. Often their parents do as well. Not everyone who homeschools is great about involving their children in the community, but they need to be. Saying it’s really not an issue is irresponsible. It doesn’t HAVE to be an issue, but it should be talked about!

    • Isaac’s mom

      Maybe because those children already know each other from school, and already have a friendship established? Sometimes children aren’t as willing to let others in as you might believe. Personally, I have a hard time butting into someone else’s established friendship, I do better when invited. And I was public schooled, in fact I did very well in school, and I did have friends.
      What is certain is that anecdotal evidence doesn’t negate general trends.

    • sad

      Sometimes, kids don’t do well socially. This is true for home and public school environments. These kids would probably be crucified and tormented in the public schools…like I was. I am not the social type either, and frankly, I don’t NEED to smile more or come out of my shell. Some people don’t include people who are different. I know, I was one of those different people. I wish I could have been removed from the hell that was public school.

    • Zephod Beeblebrox

      Maybe they are being homeschooled because they have social issues? That is one of the many reasons we homeschool….

  • Josie

    I don’t think that socialisation is a buzz word per say, but seems to be incorrectly applied to home schooling. Children from abusive backgrounds often have problems with socialisation due to their emotional isolation.

  • Greg

    My parents are both agnostic. They homeschooled me because public schools these days are crap, not because they dispute science.

    • Zephod Beeblebrox

      Same here – just because the books are secular doesn’t mean
      the people presenting are…not all religious folks interject their beliefs,
      but from k – 1st grade we spent so much time correcting negative fed back our
      son was getting because his teachers did not understand scientific method or
      had a decent background in science – it was healthier to pull him out. Holidays were hilarious – the whole Santa/easter bunny thing was very hard for him.

  • Jo W.

    Sometimes, it’s about the type of socialization they are receiving. My daughter is autistic, she’s going to be socially awkward. When she started getting bullied (physically and verbally) and the teachers, principals, and guidance counselor told me it was out of their control to stop it, I pulled my daughter out and began homeschooling her. She has flourished and rediscovered her love of learning. That spark is back in her eyes and I know we made the right choice for her. If being called “ugly” and “Stupid” and having kids push, hit, and kick you in the back is the type of socialization they want my daughter to have, they can bite me. That’s not socialization, that’s abuse and I don’t have to let them treat my daughter that way. The public school did nothing to protect her. She’s getting much more out of life now, spending days in the libraries and local college campus doing art studies and interviews. I’m glad we made this decision.

    • Rachel A Moore

      I love this. Kudos to you Jo W. For braving the homeschool journey. I just heard a young man with autism speak at a local fundraiser for Awe-tism. It was inspiring to hear of his journey. He now has an AA college degree and said, “Judge me by my character not by my diagnosis.” I wish you and your daughter many blessings and positive experiences in your education and life journey.

      • Jo W.

        Thank you for your kind words. It’s not always easy, but she’s learning what she wants to learn and at her own pace. She’s currently in the bathroom with my husband learning about tools as he works on a remodeling project. He’s even let her use the nail gun (much to my apprehension). The point is, she’s not just learning facts and figures for some test now. She’s able to learn about the things she truly wants to learn about, including skills, like carpentry, that may come in handy some day. :)

  • makhia

    no imformation

  • Valerie

    The worst experience my public schooled child ever had was with a home schooled child. That child took a safe, fun activity of biking on the numerous path in and around Montgomery Village, MD and turned into a dangerous situation by leading my daughter across the busiest road in the area. While my daughter suffered and struggled for 18 months and counting, the other family claimed profound trauma for their daughter. In that girl’s trauma she traversed the accident site daily, visited the rescue squad and got on the ambulance that carried my daughter, took college classes, and competed in elite gymnastics, but she never visited, called, or wrote to my daughter. People tell me that she feels guilty. I think she does not want to have to tolerate a disabled child.

    • Zephod Beeblebrox

      Very sorry this happened to your child – but the child that did this could have been public schooled as well – many of my secular friends homeschool becasue of the bullies and physical abuse their children endured in public school. This is one child who happened to be homeschooled – she did not do what she did because of the homeschooling.

      • PatriotGranny

        EXACTLY! It was a tragedy, but a tragedy that had absolutely nothing to do with what kind of schooling anyone had.

  • Stacie1711

    Hello Everyone! I am a Doctoral student in Education at the University of Phoenix. I am doing my dissertation on the socialization of homeschool students. If any of you parents or care givers that homeschool his or her children would like to participate in my study through surveys and interviews through email/skype, please send me your email address of where you would like the survey to be sent.
    Thank you so much!

    • Stacie1711

      You can either post your email to this post, or you can email me at

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  • Mark

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