Now that I hopefully painted a picture for you of how homeschoolers get their interaction in, let's talk about how that interaction differs from public school (and even private school to a certain extent).
We talked in the last post about how it's good for kids to spend time with people of all ages. I don't want my children to only interact with those who were born in the same year as they were. Senior citizens, other trusted adults, even kids who are younger than they are should all be part of who they spend their time with. This is where homeschool differs. And for many of those interactions, I am right there to help them navigate social situations.
When we first began homeschooling, we joined a local homeschool group who met every Thursday for gym day at a nearby church. There were 30-50 people there the first week we walked in. I marveled as I watched a couple of 17 and 18 year old brothers organize a game of dodgeball. My oldest daughter had just turned 8 and at one point in the game she got knocked down. She was fine, but I watched one of the teen boys whistle and call time out while 5 or 6 children gathered around her to ask if she was OK and to help her back up. Then they continued playing. No one tattled. No one laughed. No adult help was needed for the situation. They showed an appropriate level of care for the problem and continued playing. I blinked and looked around the gym. A teen boy stooped down to tie a young child's shoe while he continued talking to his friends. No one batted an eye. Kids of all ages were talking and playing. Moms were visiting. Some girls carried the toddlers around on their hip watching out for them. No teens sat around the edges of the gym looking sulky. No one was on their phones (well, this was a long time ago, but no one was on a hand-held electronic game either). I was so confused. I was amazed. I had never seen kids like this.
Now you should know I grew up attending public school. I taught in public schools for 11 years. My oldest daughter went to public school for 1 1/2 years and private school for 1 1/2 years all before we began homeschooling. We were both kind of amazed. So what's the difference? Are homeschooled kids just nicer?
Well, part of it is that there are nearly always parents nearby. In most all homeschool situations, someone's mom...and possibly everyone's mom is right there. Problems that do arise are swiftly taken care of. Most children don't dare to act the way around their parents that they might if they were not being supervised. Also, since there is always a parent nearby, a lot of necessary training in how to treat people and deal with conflicts goes on throughout the day. I believe these things make a lot of difference.
I have noticed that in the homeschooling community, those teens and older kids who spend the most time in same-age peer groups, exhibit the most public-school like behavior. For example, cliques, whispering, mean teasing, etc. Those children who spend more time with their parents and siblings tend to not exhibit those behaviors as much. Just my observation.
Now can you even imagine what it's like to be a quirky kid or a kid with something about them that would cause other kids to bully them...to be enveloped in a welcoming, non-judgmental group of kids of various ages who are willing to let you be you? I've seen it happen time and time again. Homeschooling really brings out the best in most kids. I believe kids want and need that much parent involvement.
After I quit teaching, I was sitting in my parked van waiting to pick up my daughter from Kindergarten one day. Some 5th grade boys got in a fight in the parking lot nearby. I immediately went into teacher mode and with nothing more than my physical presence and my voice, I busted up that fight and sent the whole crowd on their way. You have never seen two boys more thankful that an adult intervened! I still laugh thinking about it. Kids feel better when they are in a safe, supervised environment.
So, have I ever seen a fight break out in a homeschool crowd? Yep! Sure have. Two boys had a quick skirmish one day at our co-op during lunch. Before any moms or dads could even get over there, their friends had broken it up and the one who probably needed a good smack from one of his peers had received just that. Tensions over, they had no more problems that year. I'm not saying that homeschool kids are perfect, just that I have always noticed some really positive differences.
My advice to new homeschoolers would be to get your kids involved in enough activities to let them spend some time with friends and others of varying ages, but not to have them spend the majority of their day with peers. That may take some getting used to if they have been in public or private school long, but they will adjust. You will all adjust. And when you do, you may just find yourself in a pretty good crowd.