Socialization and Home Educated Children: An Exploratory Study
Bryan G. Miller, M.A.R.
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa 50011
Keywords: Homeschooling, home schooling, home education, socialization.
Historically, the idea of parents teaching their children at home is not a new concept. However, the current resurgence of parents educating their children at home has greatly increased the attention to this ancient practice. Several studies have been conducted that have focused on identifying the characteristics, attitudes, and motivations of homeschool families, (e.g., Knowles, 1991; Mayberry, 1988; McGraw, 1993; Ray, 1988) and a few studies have focused on how these children are developing socially (e.g., Delahooke, 1986; Shyers, 1992; Smedley, 1992; Taylor, 1986).
“Socialization” has been frequently mentioned as a concern by critics of home schooling. Critics express fears that the children will lack in proper socialization skills if they are educated in the home. Responding to this concern, Wright (1988) encourages researchers to “consider the impact on children and their future development if the primary objective of some home schools is to limit their children’s exposure to different values, ideas, and people. In other words, how will these children function in our diverse multicultural society when they are raised in a setting with monolithic views and beliefs?”
Despite this concern, the preliminary research has been favorable for home educated children. Delahooke (1986), explored differences between traditionally educated children (private school, n=28) and home educated children (n=32), ages 7 to 12, in the areas of social/emotional adjustment (measured by peer and authority relationships) and academic achievement. To assess socialization, Delahooke used the WISC-R, Roberts Apperception Test, and a sentence completion task and she concluded that the home educated child is being socialized by peers, “although perhaps in a different context than traditionally educated children” (p. 86). Delahooke also found that home educated children were less focused on peers, saw their parents as primary authority figures, and may be less adept at problem solving compared to their traditionally schooled peers.
Taylor (1986) investigated the self-concept of home educated children. He used the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale (PHSCS) to explore self concept in a random sample of 224 home educated children and compared them to the test’s norms. Taylor found that the self-concept of the home-schooling children was significantly higher (p<.001) than conventionally schooled children, and concluded: “Insofar as self-concept is a reflection of socialization, it would appear that few home-schooling children are socially deprived” (p. 187).
Shyers (1992) measured self-concept in a sample of 70 home educated and 70 traditionally schooled children. This study, a replication of Taylor’s use of the PHSCS, failed to support Taylor’s findings of significance. However, Shyer’s findings indicated no significant difference between traditionally schooled children and home educated children. This also appears to support the premise that home educated children are being socialized at least as defined by this outcome measure.
Smedley (1992) asked the parents of thirty-three children (twenty home schooled and thirteen traditionally schooled) to rate their children on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. And although, as the author admits, the study was limited in that the participants were not “blind,” and the instrument was used in unorthodox fashion, the results support a view that the home schooled children were “more mature and better socialized than those who are sent to school” (Smedley, 1992).
Although these studies are limited in several ways—such as in the sampling frame used for selection, differences in the definition of socialization, and in generalizability—the most significant limitation for the study of socialization has to do with how the construct of socialization relates, if at all, to home schooled children. Baumrind (1980) defined socialization as “an adult-initiated process by which developing children, through insight, training, and imitation, acquire the habits and values congruent with adaptation to their culture.” Discussing the study of socialization, Maccoby (1984) states that students of socialization are interested in how “children acquire the motives, values, knowledge, and behavior patterns that are needed to function adequately in the society…”
Reviewing the literature, Yawkey and Johnson (1988) note that in the history of the research socialization has been viewed from two vantage points. One body of literature has focused on the parent-child relationship in socialization. Theorists working from psychoanalytic, attachment, social learning, or reciprocal role view-points share this view. These professionals have concentrated on the dyadic relationship of the parent-child and its affect on social behavior. A second view, following a Piagetian tradition, views socialization from a cognitive-developmental perspective. These theorists often focus on topics such as the development of the “self,” social interaction, play and integration, aggression, and similar topics. This latter view was the primary definition of socialization used in the conceptualization of this study.
This current work was done with the hope of extending the current knowledge by looking at how home schooling parents view socialization. No attempt was made to define socialization, as commonly understood by laypersons or researchers, for the participants. It is hoped that this study will fuel further conversation about socialization as it applies, or does not apply, to educating children at home.
The information in this exploratory study was gathered through a focus-group conducted, in March of 1997, with six home education parents from Michigan and Wisconsin. The qualifications for inclusion in the group included: having more than one child, including one exclusively home schooled child older than seven years of age, and a willingness to participate in the focus-group format. Group members were invited to partake in a discussion group about socialization and home educated children. The group consisted of one facilitator, one assistant facilitator, and six participants.
The group began with the facilitator asking, “What has homeschooling been like for your children?” This broad question was designed to allow the group to identify the important areas to explore. Participants were encouraged to develop their ideas and other members were asked to corroborate or contradict these ideas based on their personal experiences. The group members were quite active in their participation and both supported and contradicted other group members at several points. After this initial exploration, each member was encouraged to express their understanding of socialization as it related to home educated children. Participants were assured that their contributions were based on their own personal experiences, that there were no “right” answers, and that the researcher wanted to hear all views including views not shared by the majority of the participants.
The group consisted of four mothers (Cassi, Darla, Karen, and Pam) and two fathers (Gene and Sam). All were Caucasian. All participants were married — however, no marital pairs were included in the group — and were in their first marriage. The mean for Years Married was 15.17 (range 10 to 20). The mean number of children was 4.67 (range 2 to 8). Annual income was high, with one reporting income as “$100,000 and over,” two in the “$50,000 to $100,000” range, one in the “$35,000 to 39,999” category, one in the “$25,000 to 29,999” bracket, and one not reporting. The sample tended to be religious and on average attended church 6.33 times per month.
Prior to the data collection it was hypothesized by the researcher that socialization would be a primary concern of home educating parents. Secondly, it was postulated that these parents would define socialization differently from the traditionally accepted definition. Finally, it was assumed that parents would identify both benefits and drawbacks to socializing children through home schooling. The a priori conceptualization of socialization was developed from a review of definitions in the popular literature and attempted to reflect a populist view of socialization; thus, socialization was defined as the ability the child possesses to interact and adapt to social contexts in a successful manner.
Participants were recruited from a home school support group. Recruitment occurred through contact with the publisher of the support group’s newsletter, who identified and approached potential participants based on a profile of the “qualifications for inclusion” (listed in the previous section). These participants were given a letter of introduction, including the details of the study and a statement of confidentiality, and were asked, if interested in participating, to contact the publisher. Ten responses were obtained and six of these respondents both met the criteria and were available for the study.
The participants were involved in one focus group which lasted approximately 2 hours. The group conversation was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Methods patterned after Kvale (1996) Joanning and Keoughan (1996) were utilized for the analysis. The transcript was read and re-read. Key words identifying topic areas were identified and written in the margins. The key words were then listed and categorized into conceptual domains. These domains, along with the transcript, were submitted to an independent researcher familiar with qualitative design but unfamiliar with home education. This researcher coded an unmarked copy of the transcript, performed a “conceptual audit” and verified, or questioned, the identification of key words from the transcript and the clustering of the key words into domains.
Discrepancies from this audit were discussed and alterations made based on agreed changes with this auditor. These verified domains were then used to re-code the transcript and to organize the written data into topic areas. The final re-coding, as well as the entire research process was then reviewed by a second qualitative researcher and final adjustments made to the organization of the data.
Upon completion of the transcript analysis, the data was organized into forty statements about home education and socialization. This list, along with a five-point Likert scale was sent to each participant. Each parent was asked to state if they strongly agreed, agreed, neither agreed or disagreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with each statement. Scores for each item were summed and the means were obtained. Answers were used as a member check of the data and means were used as a second indicator to an item’s importance.
Qualitative rigor was addressed through two methods. First, by using outside auditors (qualitative researchers) that are not a part of, nor have connections with, the home school movement and secondly, through member checks of the data with the participants.
Because this was an exploratory study, the grand tour question was, “What has home schooling been like for your children?” The preliminary analysis of the data yielded interesting results. Although it was hypothesized that the home educating parents would define socialization differently than traditionally schooling parents, it was also hypothesized that socialization would be a concern for the home educating parents. It was not. The home school parents in this group rejected socialization as a concern:
Cassi: “…it’s really impossible to ‘shelter them.’ I mean, people think, ‘Oh you’re sheltering them. You’re home schooling—you’re sheltering them.’ Well, just going to the cousin’s house they’re unsheltered…” Sam: “The thing that always stuck out in my mind when they ask about socialization and children is exposure. Ya know? Why do people pull their kids out of public school? Because they don’t like the socialization.”
Rather, the parents were concerned by what they called “character development,” being able to relate to people on a “friend-type basis,” or “being their own person.” Subsequent analysis, presented later in this paper, demonstrates that this apparently is related more to the homeschooler’s definition of socialization than to rejecting socialization as a concern.
Second, these parents saw personality as playing a significant role in the development of social skills. The parents generally agreed that socialization is significantly affected by personality and that the method of schooling is at best unrelated, and at worst detrimental, to this aspect of socialization:
Karen: “… I don’t think it makes a difference …, if [they are] in the public schools, they have friends, and there are others that don’t have friends… And, personalities are a big factor.”
Gene: “… some of our children, who are adopted, …would be in… ‘special education’ classes in school. And I have seen a lot of those children never break out of that mold, even as adults. They’re always ‘second rate.’ Their self-esteem is shattered. And I think with home schooling you have the opportunity to really value them as an individual. To tell them, ‘There’s more valuable things in life than getting your Ph.D.’”
Despite this view of socialization, the parents did recognize that some home school children have problems with socialization. However, these problems were seen as independent of the child’s school setting.
Gene: “I think that I see children that I think are … uh … dysfunctional—and they’re home schooled. But I think they’d be dysfunctional anywhere.”
Negative aspects to home schooling, that these parents identified, had to do with trying to educate an exceptional child, the need to improve constantly as a parent because of the intense modeling in home schooling, and the intensity of parenting as a homeschooler. However, the parents saw the increased opportunity for developing strong familial relationships as counteracting most of the potential negatives.
After the initial analysis of the transcripts, the domains identified were used by an outside researcher to code a “clean” transcript and this was compared with the original coded transcript. Agreement was found on a high percentage of the codings. Differences were discussed and are reflected in the results. From these results it was decided that the data generally conformed to the questions originally asked by the research hypothesis. Therefore, the next step was to re-code the transcripts with the focus on the original questions posed by the researcher: “How do homeschool parents view socialization?”; “What are the benefits and challenges in socializing homeschooled children?”; and, “How do you increase the probability that homeschooled children will be socialized?”
The coded segments were sorted by these categories and then condensed into broad themes. Emphasis was given to items that were mentioned by more than one person and that were “themes” stated more than one time in the course of the group. These themes were then rated by the participants themselves on a five-point Likert scale as a member check to guide the final reporting of the group beliefs. Consensus was very high for all but a few items.
From this analysis, the homeschool parent’s view of socialization can be represented by the following list:
1. Personality is a major influence on a child’s socialization.
2. Good socialization includes the ability to get along with people across the life-span, not only same-age peers.
3. Good socialization means the ability to get along with others and the ability to “stand up against the majority” for what he or she believes.
4. Parents should play an active role in children’s socialization.
5. Socializing children is a moral/ spiritual process.
The parents in this group mentioned personality many times. They indicated that personality affects the abilities that a child has in social interactions. They said that the need for social contact varies with different personalities. And finally, they emphasized that public or private schooling does not guarantee that a child will be successfully socialized — and that it may even be harmful.
Karen: “… I find personality type really does affect how they respond to homeschooling, and how friends influence them at church or whatever. One participant stated, ‘… My husband is the most anti-social person. He wonders why anyone would come to our house—including the family—and he went all through public school… . So he’s ‘socialized.’ He’s socialized properly. [But] he still doesn’t want to be around people.’”
Second, these parents viewed socialization as being able to relate to people of all ages. While they agreed that children benefit from contacts with other same-age peers (even negative experiences) they emphasized strongly that it is important that the child be socialized through contact with people from all parts of the life-span. They emphasized this in two ways. First, they talked about the dangers of children who are “peer-driven” (over-identified with their peer group), socialized through age-stratification, and not exposed to “real life” socialization. And second, they talked about the need for children to learn to “get along with older people and adults;” “serving others and relating to them as friends.”
Sam: “… Why do people pull their kids out of public school? Because they don’t like the socialization. And when, at our age, are they ever going to be age-stratified?”
Gene: “…one of the big benefits I think is that they’re not peer oriented. They’ve always been able to relate to… even elderly people, which I think is real positive, they see them more as equals, rather than someone ‘old.’”
Third, the homeschool parents frequently mentioned that healthy socialization includes the ability to stand up for their beliefs.
Cassi: “I think socialization, when people ask you that question, they mean, ‘Are they gonna be weird?’ Well, I hope so. I think socialization is a reason to homeschool. I want them to become who God created them to be and not conformed to a ‘cookie cutter image’ that commercials, the media, the schools — whoever it is out there that tells them what is cool this year — I just don’t want them to get that disease… And being able to be that person in the face of pressure not to be.”
Fourth, the homeschool parents believe that parents should have a major influence on the children’s social development. Several parents talked about their role in guiding the socialization process. One such example is given by Sam, who responded to the opening question, “What has socialization been like for your children?,” in the following passage.
Sam: “… In answer to your first question [the grand tour question], the children have appreciated it, and really enjoyed it. Since they’ve been exclusively homeschooled, they have a curiosity about what actually happens when kids go walking by [to school], and go back later on. They’ll be sitting out front though, and they’ll have some of the playground activity happen as the children go walking by … My daughter had somebody tell her that she is ugly, and I have a beautiful daughter—and that’s not just a fatherly response (group laughter)—so their interaction and their socialization is being hybridized at home, in the place that we can monitor their situations and be able to interject … in a way that would be beneficial for their life …”
Other parents talked about this process as well. Gene talked about putting his children in settings (Little League and 4-H) where they would be with children with different backgrounds while keeping them “close” and having more control over what they were learning, especially the moral aspects. Karen called this process “immunization.” In her view, you put them in situations that are controlled and help teach them right from wrong. Cassi, said “…you’re sort of a gatekeeper. You decide, because you know your kids best, how much of this can they handle? Before you just shove them out the door and say, “Well you gotta learn sometime. Get used to it.” Pam agreed, “Put them in situations where they’re around other people to make sure they do have situations where they do learn, ‘How do you relate to society?’”
Fifth, the parents saw socialization as a moral or religious process.
Gene: “I think healthy socialization is being able to relate to people on a friend-type basis. Being interested in who that other person is, rather than my own personal enjoyment.”
Pam: “But how do you relate to others? In relating to others, so much of it does have to draw from where your own personal relationship [is] with God, and your family, so that you have that foundation to be effective in other people’s lives.”
The second research question looked at the benefits and challenges of socializing children who are homeschooled. Many of the benefits of homeschooling that the parents described related to areas other than socialization. Some of these areas were increased family cohesion, ability to personalize the child’s schooling to match their learning style, and flexibility in scheduling, among others.
The advantages of homeschooling that related to socialization, according to these parents, tended to cluster around the parents involvement in homeschooling. This may be reflected by the high involvement of these families in “outside activities.” The families averaged 9.33 church related (6.33 services and 3.0 “other types” of involvement) activities per month. All are involved in a home school support group and, except for the children not yet school age, are involved in an average of 15.5 activities per month (range 8 to 28) that are not church related (Boy Scouts, basketball etc.). Therefore it is not surprising that these homeschool parents did not identify significantly different peer interactions for their children.
What was emphasized by these parents, unanimously, is the importance of the role of the parent in the socialization of the children. These parents described the parental role as pivotal in helping to guide the child through the process of socialization. As mentioned previously, this was described as the parent being a “gatekeeper” or “immunizing” the child. Still another parent (Sam) talked about this as an apprenticeship or discipleship. Darla said she wanted the children to be able to hear her “small little voice”—have her influence—among the multiple influences that they experience in the world.
The parents listed several reasons why this involvement is a benefit in socializing children:
1. The parent develops a deeper relationship with the child and can improve his or her understanding of the child’s needs.
2. The parent has more control over the role models for the child
3. It helps the parent to be aware of possible negative social interactions and to support the child in a way that aids his or her socialization.
4. Parents are able to help the child understand the moral implications of behavior and to reinforce good decision making.
5. Parents can help the child to focus on their strengths, avoid negative labels, and see themselves as valuable.
6. Homeschooling increases the amount of time the parent has to model desired social behaviors.
Other benefits the group listed were that homeschool socialization “mirrors real life” by not being same-age or peer focused, may increase the child’s confidence in social situations, and may reduce negative socialization and could result in rebellion against the parents.
These parents also recognized several potential challenges or weaknesses in socializing children who are homeschooled. These can be classified by looking at the challenges faced by the parents and those faced by the children. They listed seven challenges parents face in trying to socialize homeschooled children:
1. Homeschooling is not yet common, and social contacts often require the parents to justify their decision to homeschool to other people.
2. Because homeschooling is often challenged, parents who are proud may be “blinded” if the child has special needs.
3. Homeschool parents may discover that they must make more personal sacrifices to provide socialization opportunities for their children.
4. Parents may have to be more assertive with providers to gain access to socialization opportunities (i.e., high school sports) for homeschoolers.
5. The child’s socialization choices may conflict with the parent’s choices. (i.e., high school activities)
6. Homeschooling may make the parent increasingly aware of his or her own flaws.
7. The increased time with the children, with “over-correction” of the child’s behavior, may lead to the feeling of being “under a microscope.”
The children also face some challenges that are unique to children that are homeschooled according to these parents:
1. They may feel different from their peers.
2. Some may have a limited number of peers available.
3. They may feel lonely.
4. Other people may define the children as “different.”
5. Boys (and presumably Girls) may have limited access to socialization through sports activities.
6. Increased exposure to siblings may cause some homeschool children to negatively connote their skills.
The last question in this study was, “How do you increase the probability that homeschooled children will be effectively socialized?” Listed below are suggestions from the parent’s responses:
1. Parents must spend time with kids to help them develop socially.
2. Parents need to provide moral/ religious teaching on how to relate to others.
3. Parents should model the behavior they want in their children.
As hypothesized, these home school parents were concerned about how their children interacted with others. This was indicated by comments like “they need to learn to be friends to others,” and “yeah … and sure, it’s [speaking of healthy socialization] getting along with others.” However, to these parents, socialization seems to be defined not only as getting along with others, but also by having a strong moral character, and the ability to relate well with people of all ages. It is influenced, in their view, by personality and can be shaped by parental or peer interaction.
According to these parents, homeschooling provides advantages in socializing children in five ways. First, the deepened relationship with the child lets the parents be more aware of the child’s needs and the influences of their environment. Second, this awareness allows the parent to be supportive of the child’s social interactions, positive or negative. Third, having the children at home allows the parent to guide the child in understanding the moral implications of behavior. Fourth, because of the high degree of parental involvement, parents can highlight the child’s strengths and protect them from negative labeling due to weaknesses. Fifth, homeschooling allows the parents to increase their influence through modeling good socialization.
The participants identified three possible weaknesses in trying to socialize children who are homeschooled. The first was the limited opportunities for socialization. The second was that the children, as home schoolers, could view themselves negatively or be viewed negatively by others. And, third, the potential that they could compare themselves to their siblings who have superior skills and develop a negative self image.
Finally, the parents indicated, directly and indirectly, ways to improve the chances that homeschooled children will be successfully socialized: parents can help their children develop socially by spending time with them, providing moral/ religious teaching about how to relate to others, and modeling the behavior they want from the children. Additionally, these parents involved their children actively in many “outside” experiences, recognized that their homeschooled children WERE different, and emphasized the need for parents to improve their modeling of good social behaviors for the children.
The most striking characteristic that these parents share, at least according to this researcher, is the emphasis that these parents place on the parent’s responsibility to guide the socialization of their children. These parents talked both about guarding their children from the negative aspects of socialization (negative labels and peer pressure) as well as teaching positive components of socialization (being a friend, serving others, helping others grow). However, despite the high level of parental control, the parents also talked about “exposing them” to different types of behavior and social situations. What was unique was the emphasis these parents placed on assisting the children in interpreting those social interactions.
This preliminary study raises many questions. Does the view of socialization described by these parents reflect the views of the population of homeschool parent’s? Are there other strengths or weaknesses in socializing home educated children? Does the unique qualities of this group, high SES or religious involvement, bias these results? Does homeschooling achieve the family solidarity that the parents seek? And most importantly, are the homeschooled children demonstrating social competence, as defined by homeschoolers and/or society, as they reach adulthood? What is known is that there continues to be a need for qualitative and quantitative studies to explore these questions.
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