Homeschooling and Socialization

Homeschooled children are better socialized than those in public and private school. (click for credit)

When I first started working with homeschoolers, lots of people were concerned about socialization. They wondered how children would “learn” to get along with other children and navigate difficult social settings without being in school. Even before I started researching the matter, I thought the concern was unfounded. After all, school is probably the most artificial social setting a child will ever experience. When are adults ever cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people who are the same age? Never. Thus, the idea that students can learn good socialization at school always seemed nonsensical to me.

Nevertheless, people did express concern, so I looked through the academic literature. Even back in the 1990s, there was a wealth of research available on the socialization of homeschoolers. Not surprisingly, the research showed that homeschoolers were better socialized than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. Perhaps the most interesting study done back then was a Ph.D. thesis by Larry Shyers. In his study, he filmed children from public, private, and home schools in free and structured play. The behaviors of those students were then analyzed by clinical psychologists who didn’t know the schooling backgrounds of any of the children. When Shyers compared the analyses of the homeschooled children to those of the other children, he saw that in nearly all categories of social interaction, the homeschooled children were equivalent to the children from public and private schools. There was only one category in which the homeschooled students scored lower: problem behaviors. As Shyers wrote:

It can be concluded from the results of this study that appropriate social skills can develop apart from formal contact with children other than siblings.

Wow! What a shocker! Children can learn to get along with other people even if they aren’t cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people their own age!

Now as I said, even back in the 1990s it was well known that homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. Why, then, am I writing about homeschoolers and socialization now? Because someone raised the issue in a Facebook group of which I am a part, and I decided to turn my response into a more detailed blog post.

Let’s start with the academic research, of which there has been a considerable amount. Dr. Richard Medlin, a Professor of psychology at Stetson University, has produced one of the best summaries of this research, which is actually an update of a summary he produced in the year 2000. In his summary, he discusses research done on homeschooling parents’ views about their children’s socialization, the social skills of homeschoolers as measured by standardized assessment tools, emotional and life-satisfaction of homeschooled students as evaluated by the students themselves, the moral and religious views of homeschooled students, and how homeschooled students have adjusted to college or adulthood. He summarizes the results of the studies as follows:

Compared to children attending conventional schools, however, research suggest that [homeschoolers] have higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Their moral reasoning is at least as advanced as that of other children, and they may be more likely to act unselfishly. As adolescents, they have a strong sense of social responsibility and exhibit less emotional turmoil and problem behaviors than their peers. Those who go on to college are socially involved and open to new experiences. Adults who were homeschooled as children are civically engaged and functioning competently in every way measured so far. An alarmist view of homeschooling, therefore, is not supported by empirical research.

While the academic research is important, I have been working with students from public, private, and home schools for most of my career. As a result, I would like to add my personal observations. First and foremost, the reason I work with homeschoolers today is because I experienced homeschool graduates while I was on the chemistry and physics faculty at Ball State University. They impressed me by being better educated than their peers, more mature than their peers, and less likely to get into trouble than their peers.

Once I started working with homeschooling parents and children who were being homeschooled, I continued to be impressed with how well socialized the students are. For example, as a university faculty member, I often visited high schools to speak with students about coming to Ball State University. When I asked for questions, no one would raise a hand, and after class, it was nearly impossible to engage the students in conversation. They just weren’t interested in socializing with someone like me.

When I spoke to student groups at homeschool conventions and asked for questions, hands would shoot up in the air. I even have done a few sessions where all I do is answer homeschooled students’ questions. When students would come to see me at my booth or after a session, talking with them was easy. They were genuinely interested in socializing with me. In fact, I would often have to apologetically tell students that they had to move on, since there was a line of other people waiting to speak with me as well.

Are there socially-awkward homeschooled students? Absolutely. Are their socially-awkward public and private school students? Absolutely. Based on both the academic research and my own personal observations over the past 20+ years, I can say without a doubt that students who are homeschooled are, on average, much better socialized than their peers. If your goal is socialization, then, your best option is homeschooling.

6 Comments

  1. Joshua WD Smith says:

    It looks as though only the abstracts for the journal are available without a subscription, so I can’t read in more detail, but, since you’re more of an expert, what do you think of the Lubienski, Puckett, and Brewer article? Their abstract claims that there is a “remarkable lack of empirical evidence on the effectiveness” of homeschooling, but does this claim hold up? Do they ignore key studies in their article?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      The Lubienski, Puckett, and Brewer article has very little merit. They do point out the weaknesses of many homeschool studies, specifically when it comes to self-reporting. However, there are several studies that do not require self-reporting that show homeschooling is very effective. I think the best ones come from universities that have studied their student populations (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These studies don’t require self-reporting, and also, they tend to compare students from equivalent backgrounds, as university student bodies are significantly more homogeneous than the population as a whole. Thus, to a large degree, they get rid of confounding factors like income, dedication of the parents to education, etc.

  2. Robbyn Fisher says:

    After homeschooling for 5yrs and hearing this all the time I have come to the conclusion that what someone really means when they ask me if I am worried about my children being socialized is this: “aren’t you worried that your children won’t be exposed to porn, gossip, sexual abuse, bullying, and cursing everyday like my kids are?” It is then easy to say “heck no!” Growing up I went to 10 different schools and I was exposed to all of these often. Times have not gotten better. Homeschooling gives my children the chance to focus on learning, and then they can “visit/ socialize” with those their age at weekly activities or on the weekend.

  3. Edjucayshun says:

    Not much re the demographics. By and large homeschoolers are wealthier than students with socialization issues and more likely to come from stable homes. Let’s not romanticize homeschooling when many kids in public and private schools do well.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Most studies control for demographics like family income, so that doesn’t affect most of the studies discussed in Medlin’s article. In some studies, even when income can’t be controlled for, it is shown to not be a factor. For example, in this study, the authors show that homeschooled students who were given a structured education did better than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers, despite the fact that they had a lower-than-average income (and mother’s education):

      Although we made efforts to ensure that the two groups were drawn from similar populations…mothers’ education and median income were slightly higher for the public school group. It should be noted, however, that this would have been expected to bias the study against finding a homeschool advantage. This was clearly not the case.

      In addition, I think the best indicator of homeschool success is the studies done by universities, as I explained to Joshua. Those studies look at a student body that is much more homogeneous than society as a whole. Once again, in those studies, homeschooled students are superior to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers.

      In the end, I am not trying to “romanticize homeschooling.” I am simply reporting what the data and my observations indicate – that homeschooling is the superior model of education in the U.S. and Canada.

    2. Robbyn says:

      Edjucayshun, more stable homes – yes because God is the center and love & respect are often taught. Wealthier – I would say no from Canada where I am from and myself plus many others are one parent working. We started homeschooling with an income of 28K Canadian (something like 20K US) per year. We then moved to a different province where anyone can homeschool and $1000 is given per child per year no matter how much you make for all your books & supplies. We have 2 kids. but some who have 6 kids are gived $6,000 to homeschool. I am sure there are rich people homeschooling, but I guarantee there are many who are poorer than you but want to spend the time they have with their children. If you think we are all Christians – think again. In my homeschool gymnastics group we varry from Christian,Muslim, Athiest, Witch, Wiccan, Trans, and homosexual. Of course many kids do well in school, but I don’t want my kids to just do well. At home they can decide. My son started playing with circuits when he was 4yrs. old. He was soldering by 8yrs. Now at 10yrs. he is working on a robot. School here didn’t even offer science till Grade 2. He wants to be an electronic engineer. My job is to research and help him learn all he wants to become what he has a passion for. If he changes his mind that is fine because as a Jill of many trades I know it will still be useful. We still do regular stuff like spelling, writing, history, geograpgy, math. I just bought Dr. Wiles new series “Science In The…” and they are fantastic. Don’t mock homeschooling till you try it. We love it.

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