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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. 

    • Carson R. Thaler

      wasn’t my experience- or like most others I’ve observed, but I caught up and am smarter than most my age anyways.

      As one who was once home schooled- I disagree with you, but don’t let any bias slow you down ;)

    • Maetje Haime

      I’m very seriously considering homeschooling my only child. A very smart 5 year old girl who is interested and active in reading, writing and math on a second grade level. I have the feeling standard schooling will kill this interest and motivation.
      Given the fact that you have 20 years of experience in this field, would you please advise me on where to start this journey? I live in Surinam, a country that does not have a lot to offer, it borders on a third world country. There aren’t any (book)clubs or other activities where she can socially interact while developing. here. So some online help and guidance would be great. What are the best programs online to teach her cognitive skills? I have to go about this very creatively to get the best out of it.

      Thank you in advance.

  • 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

    It’s a project for a Master’s degree in Sports and Physical Education and gives great advice and motivation to keep kids active.

  • 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.

    • dara

      Are you crazy????

  • sumboooooodeh

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  • 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….

    • aikimoe

      Poor socialization is no more of an issue for homeschooled kids than it is for kids who go to public and private school. This is a fact as objectively true as evolution and climate change.

  • 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. :)

    • Kristin Orozco

      Hello, I am a high school student and currently doing a research project on the benefits of alternative schooling. I would really appreciate if I can get more information on your point of view on homeschooling, my email is
      Thank you and I hope to be hearing from you soon!

    • Ettina

      That’s why my parents homeschooled me. I commend you for protecting your daughter from the toxicity of school socialization.

  • 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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  • smifenuf

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  • Marmalade

    Lazy reporting like this irritates me. It is simplistic and superficial. I’m no more informed for having read it.

    What about all the confounding factors? There are issues of race, economic class, economic inequality, social problems, social capital, cultures of trust, etc. Also, what about the similarities and differences between US states and betwwen countries? How comparable are the education systems and homeschooling practices?

    Furthermore, did the researchers actually find and conclude what is reported here? What was the sample size? What was considered the control group and was it a useful control group in controlling for confounding factors? Was the research paper peer-revewed? Was the research repeated or otherwise confirmed with other research?

    I can’t tell from the article whether this was high quality social science research or not. And I can’t tell how it fits into other data. I have no context by which to judge how accurate and meaningful it might be.

    • Jennifer Denver

      Here is some peer reviewed research for you if you would like to review it.

      • Marmalade

        First, I wasn’t arguing there isn’t research out there. I was merely criticizing this reporting on this particular study. There are no doubt much other research as well.

        Second, even considering the paper you share, it doesn’t appear to control for the kinds of confounding factors I described. It also doesn’t tell me about what consensus may or may not exist within the field among researchers. Nor is it a meta-analysis of the field.

        That said, I do appreciate that you are looking at some data and shared it here. If I was serious about this issue, I’d research it in depth. But it isn’t an area of personal focus.

        That is why I was disappointed by the low quality of reporting in the above article. I was hoping to get a better sense of what is supported by the data, without having to personally dig through dozens of studies and meta-analyses.

        I was hoping for an overview with a larger context of research and analysis. But neither this article nor the research paper you link offer that. That is fine. I was only a bit disappointed. If I ever get curious enough, I’ll spend some serious time researching it for myself.

  • salty

    Home school is the original school. All public school is, is a place to deal with harassment, bullying, drugs, and to be baby sat. The only people that get more out of it are adults who sell the government materials and parents who would be horrible teachers. Sad fact is due to the requirement for two incomes (which is a product of public schools) parents can not really be dedicated to the family. They have to send their kids to the system in order to provide.

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  • Kaitlin Kessler

    It’s so funny to me how people automatically assume, (when I tell them I am a homeschooled 8th grader) that I have no friends. I have plenty of friends, but they’re not all kids my age that I have to sit in a classroom with for 8 hours a day. I have friends in highschool, my own age (heck, I’ll have conversations with my friends parents :) ) The difference is that I have to seek out those friends. I have to be willing to go up to people and say hi. Yes, a lot of my friends are from church, co-op, etc… but I also have friends whom I met while doing a one month Chinese language and culture study last summer. Friends that share my beliefs, and ones that do not. To me, that’s the beauty of homeschooling. I really do believe it is preparing me for later on, to be able to initiate conversation, look people in the eye (you’d be surprised how many people I know who can’t look an adult in the eye), and to be able to think outside the box. I know homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but for me, it has really been a blessing.

    • JonHoffman

      Friends are not the socialization home-schooling causes people to miss out on. Most people will have friends either way. Also, being able to “look an adult in the eye” is something most people will be able to do eventually. Although, being mature and confident are both useful things for a young person, I’m not trying to belittle those qualities.

      What you miss out on are situations where you have to be around a large group of people you don’t choose—people who may be very different from you—and still be productive. I encourage you to use your extra maturity to put yourself in groups of people you disagree with, or people you share no interests with, and try to do something productive with them. It is frustrating to do that sometimes, but learning how to handle those kinds of frustrating situations will be an extremely valuable skill later in life. We can rarely control who we interact with as adults.

      • Nathaniel Witmer

        Are you kidding me @JonHoffman ? You assume she doesn’t regularly encounter large groups of diverse people, some of whom she doesn’t like, and still be productive? Why not maybe just ask her if she ever encounters those situations. My homeschooled daughter does all the time, like at the production play she acted in, the cheerleading squad that she’s in, and the many classes and meetups that she attends.
        Rather than being stuck with the same one big group of peers for 12 years like most kids do in public school, homeschooled kids usually have many different groups of peers, some that know the other groups and some that do not. This is much more like life in the real world and better prepares children for real world social life. Kids in traditional institutional schools are so insanely obsessed with their social status in the herd because that’s the one and only social circle they can possibly have. Homeschooled children still encounter children and adults they don’t like and who don’t like them. And they still learn to work woth these people productively. As the other homeschoolers have commented, tbey experience interacting with a broader section of society, not a narrower one.

        • JonHoffman

          Case in point: I acted in plays, played soccer, baseball, golf, practiced Tae Kwon Do, attended extra curricular classes/camps, etc… And I went to public school where I got additional exposure to different groups of people and participated in groups I didn’t get to choose.

          My point is not that home schooled kids don’t get exposure to these things, it is simply that they get less of it by nature of removing the public school piece (which, for me, was a major portion)

          • Nathaniel Witmer

            @JonHoffman your original claim was “What you miss out on are situations where you have to be around a large group of people you don’t choose—people who may be very different from you—and still be productive.” Now you’re saying that public school just provides additional exposure to these situations. My daughter and most homeschooled kids get plenty of exposure to these situations, enough that she knows how to deal with them very well. No need to sit in an institution for the majority of her waking hours for 3/4 of the year during her whole childhood just for some extra exposure to situations where she needs to work with people that are different than her or that she doesn’t like. Try to understand that being homeschooled doesn’t mean just an absence of the experiences that institutionally taught children have, but rather a different set of experiences. And typically a more robust and diverse set of experiences that better prepare the children for real life and that are more enjoyable as well.

    • Kristin Orozco

      Hello, I am a high school student and currently doing a research project on the benefits of alternative schooling. I would really appreciate if I can get more information on your point of view on homeschooling, my email is
      Thank you and I hope to be hearing from you soon

  • MomOf2

    #4 is very important and one of the main reason I bought this manual,

    The internet makes people lazier and I believe all families should change this by motivating future generations to get fit instead!

  • John Hancock

    The “Discovery Institute” is a religious organization “teaching” scientific illiteracy.

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