When my wife and I decided to begin home schooling our daughter last year, we had plenty of concerns and reservations. Although we felt she'd benefit from the increased attention and the customized curriculum she'd be getting at home, we were concerned about the effect being at home most of the time would have on the development of her social skills.
After all, both my wife and I had attended public schools all our lives. It was all we'd ever known. Sending your kids off to school once they reach a certain age is, after all, the "normal" thing to do and the home schooling option seemed a little risky.
Compounding our concerns were the surprisingly negative reactions we got from a lot of the people we know when we mentioned that we were considering the home schooling option. Some people actually came right out and told us we were making a mistake, that our daughter would not grow up normally unless we sent her to school. From their reactions you'd almost have thought we were selling her to a band of gypsies or letting her run away to join the circus.
However, no one seemed to be able to provide any concrete evidence that home schooling would warp our child's social skills. We met with a few home schooling families and were impressed with both the academic abilities and the social skills of the home-schooled children with whom we spent time.
So despite the dire warnings that our daughter would turn into a social recluse, we decided to try teaching her at home for a year and see how she responded. She is now starting her second year of home schooling, and the results have exceeded all our expectations.
I am not surprised that her academic progress has improved. My wife is a very smart woman and has put a lot of effort into designing a challenging program for our little student. What has surprised me is that my daughter's social skills have noticeably improved as well.
It's not as if she never leaves the house. She has some sort of planned activity nearly every day of the week that allows her to spend time around other kids, and we have noticed that she has become more outgoing and self confident around her peers since we took her out of school.
At first this surprised me, but upon further reflection it makes sense. Most people seem to take it as a given that warehousing children in large groups for six hours a day with limited adult supervision is the optimum way for them to learn to interact in society. But some parents are beginning to come to the conclusion that it is not natural, healthy, or optimal to place their children in such an environment.
Many home schooling parents feel that keeping their kids at home cuts down on the peer pressure they are subjected to in a school environment that can encourage negative behavior patterns. And they also feel that children learn to relate to people of all ages in a family environment rather than just kids their own age, and that this prepares them better for social interaction in the real world.
Home schooling is not for everyone. It takes a great deal of commitment of time and effort and requires more patience than many of us are blessed with. But I no longer look at it as a risky experiment, and I no longer worry that my home schooled child will grow up with underdeveloped social skills.
All parents want their children to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. But we need to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all plan to reach that goal, and that parents have to do what they think is best for their kids even if it's a little unorthodox. After all, don't we try to teach our children not to do things just because "everyone else" does it that way?