One of the biggest questions that I get about homeschooling is “What about socialization?” I’d like to use my 11- year old son’s journey meandering through different schools as a basis for exploring this issue.
When my daughter was in the third grade at a full-time charter school close to our home, my son Adam started kindergarten at the same school. (I’m using Adam instead of his real name to respect his privacy.) I had bright hopes for him at the school. A few weeks into the school year, I realized my daughter was not learning all that I thought she should at the school. To simplify our life, I realized that we would need to make a school change for her, and for Adam as well. I found myself considering homeschool; I talked with other families that homeschooled and got the courage I needed to try it. I made the conclusion–both kids would leave the charter school and begin homeschool the following year.
To make a longer story short—we homeschooled for 3 years. At the end of those years, I realized I needed to take a break on homeschool, so my three kids all went back to full-time school. My oldest–my daughter–went to a private middle school. Adam began attending a full-time arts charter school. I felt that the school was an okay fit. Two of the aspects I appreciated about it were that the homework load was modest and the school had a personalized/integrated/projects-based learning bent to it. I also told myself that one of the reasons I was sending Adam there was to take advantage of robust (full-time) socialization. I knew he would be tested to be out of the home for 7-8 hours a day. I knew connecting with other kids would be a challenge as he was a shy kid–never the type to walk into a group and start talking. His style was to observe and then relate a later when he felt comfortable.
Fourth grade came and went. He made 2-3 friends and was invited to a few birthday parties. Fifth grade began. It seemed like it was going okay at first. As the year went on, I began wondering. A few of his friends he made last year did not invite him to their birthday parties. I myself was running short on time with everything on my plate. We were into April, and I had a feeling that he was not very connected with his classmates. My husband and I made the decision to move him out of the school for 6th grade, and homeschool him. We found a new option in Pasadena where he could attend school for two days a week, and then complete independent work for the other 3. One week before his 5th grade graduation from this school, my dad picked up my boys from this school. When they returned home, I heard a knock on my bedroom door, and Adam came in–his front right tooth was broken in half. He had the presence of mind to collect the two broken pieces and put them in a plastic bag. I was understandably upset and rattled. I wondered what happened. I asked him if any teachers at school saw the incident. He said “No.”
Adam continued to tell me that some of his younger brother’s friends (2nd graders) had this game where they would jump on Adam’s backback and try and bring him down. This game had been going on for several weeks. Second graders jumping on a tall fifth grader. Adam had knocked one of the second graders to the ground, and that student stopped jumping on him. I asked him if he asked these kids to stop. He said “Yes, he did.” After calling the school, the support staff talked with the student who caused Adam to fall. The student said he was playing a game and he thought Adam liked it. After this student jumped on him, Adam fell down on his teeth and hit the cement three feet from the school exit gate.
Adam later admitted in a conflict resolution meeting at school about the incident that often he would stop and tell them he was tying his shoe as a way to stall these kids. Being persistent second graders, they waited. And then they tried to jump on him. Adam was not in fact telling them “No.” He was stalling and avoiding confrontation. Being the nice, shy student he is, no one thought anything of it. I felt like such a failure. I had sent him to school for socialization, and now he was leaving the school without friends, and with his front tooth cracked in half. Had he learned anything? Had the whole experiment been in vain?
Four weeks later at a routine physical, his doctor asked him how school was going. He said “Not so good. I didn’t have any friends.” My heart sunk when he uttered these words.
My purpose in telling this story is not to fault the public school. Clearly Adam needs more tools to assert himself. In a way, I am glad that this incident came up as I am flagged about a serious issue. But, I do think that as a generalization, merely sending a student off to full-time public education may not help certain kids with their issues with socialization. Some students need more help navigating the relational waters—and possibly less time in a busy larger classroom environment would be more helpful. He choose confrontation patterns that were not effective for him. And given all the students attending the school, I cannot expect the school to notice everything. But, I will say that as his parent–I am charged with noticing and caring about his growth and development. And I believe, for the person Adam is, a more intimate, quiet, and focused-curriculum environment would be most conducive to his being socialized, especially where he is at in his current development. Socialization is important, but how that happens for each student is unique.