The Kids are Alright I: Social Engagement in Young Adulthood as a Function of K-12 Schooling Type

Home School Researcher, Volume 36 No. 4, 2021*, p. 1-7, (* This issue was originally scheduled to be published in 2020.)

Jillene Grover Seiver and Elisa A. Pope

Department of Psychology, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Washington,


A common concern about homeschooled children is socialization. To examine this issue a survey study of 94 18-25 year olds who were homeschooled (n=30), publicly schooled (n=53), or privately schooled (n=11) during K-12 was conducted. Respondents provided the number and types of extracurricular activities that they engaged in during K-12 and in young adulthood. ANOVAs revealed that participation was equal during the K-12 years among schooling types, but that former homeschoolers reported higher levels of community engagement, namely in clubs and volunteer work. Contrary to many stereotypes about the social adjustment of homeschooled children, these findings suggest that being predominately homeschooled during the K-12 years was associated with greater community engagement during the young adult years. This positive outcome indicates that formerly homeschooled young adults have been adequately socialized so that they can fit in within their social milieu.

Keywords: homeschool, home education, socialization, community involvement

As the number of homeschooled children in the United States has risen – from 1.7% of school-aged children in 1999, to 3.3% in 2016 (US Department of Education, 2017a) – more researchers have become interested in the long-term effects of this alternative education strategy.  The Department of Education defines homeschooling as “school-age children (ages 5–17) in a grade equivalent to at least kindergarten and not higher than 12th grade who receive instruction at home instead of at a public or private school either all or most of the time” (US Department of Education, 2017b), and that is the definition that will be used for the current studies. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all students in the United States experienced some degree of remote learning between March and June of 2020. According to a USA Today/Ipsos (May, 2020) poll, 59% percent of parents said that they were likely to consider homeschooling their children in the fall of 2020 due to fears of COVID-19, and 30% said that they were very likely to do so. If even a small percentage of parents follow through with this, it would significantly boost the number of students in the U.S. who are homeschooled. On the other hand, one of the factors that fueled parents’ preference for their children to return to regular school in the fall of 2020 was the social benefit of learning within a traditional school setting (Staveley, 2020).

Laypeople hold many assumptions about the benefits and the deficits, both socially and academically, for adults who were homeschooled as children; the current study focused on the social effects. Researchers have long believed that peers play a significant role in socializing children in a variety of areas – sex-typing (e.g. Langlois & Downs, 1980), self-concept (Moore, 1981), learning to read (e.g. Entwisle, 1971), and cognitive development (Piaget, 1928), to name a few. Kunzman and Gaither (2013) described two categories of socialization: Learning social norms so one can function in society, and formation of one’s own values as a function of interacting with members of society. Most developmentalists focus on the former definition, arguing that the adolescent’s primary job is to fit in with their peer group, while loosening their attachment to their parents, so that they can form their own identity (e.g., Erikson, 1968; Fuligni, 2019; Harris, 2011). Many parents and teachers implicitly share the developmentalists’ view of the purpose of socialization, and they contribute to the general skepticism about the ability of homeschool families to adequately socialize their children. Indeed, a common perception of homeschooled children is that they are unsocialized (Stevens, 2001). In a comprehensive review of the literature on homeschooling, Kunzman and Gaither (2013) found that the majority of studies focused on acquisition of social skills, revealing that researchers are most concerned about that topic. Although every family is different, and the implementation of homeschooling can take many forms, the need to establish the patterns of social effects on the typical young adult who was homeschooled is clear. 

Because traditional schools place students of the same age together, students in traditional schools learn the mores and norms of their age cohort at school. Without daily, consistent exposure to peers, homeschooled children may miss the opportunity to become enmeshed in peer group norms. Homeschooling parents may actually see that as an advantage; according to a 2016 survey of 51,644 homeschooling parents compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (McQuiggan, et al., 2017), the most common reason for choosing to homeschool was concern “about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.” This response was chosen by 34% of parents – twice as many as chose “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools” (17%) or “desire to provide religious instruction” (16%). It appears that many homeschooling parents are choosing to homeschool, at least in part, to prevent their children from socializing with their peers in a daily classroom setting.

Homeschool parents understand the need to socialize their children outside of the family, however; Medlin (2000) found that homeschooling parents deliberately seek out socialization opportunities. A good example of that came from Mecham (2004), who interviewed ten mother-child dyads about their homeschooling experience in rural Utah. The mothers reported that they chose to socialize their children in mixed-age settings, believing that being able to get along with a variety of people was more important than getting along in their age-based peer group. Maarse-Delahooke (1986) reported one effect of this focus: Homeschooled children were less peer-oriented, but were as well-adjusted as their traditionally-schooled peers. The mothers in Mecham’s study said that they made specific efforts to expose their children to a variety of people in a variety of settings so that their social circle would be wider. A survey of homeschooling families in the United Kingdom (Atkinson, et al., 2007) concluded that they rely heavily on youth groups, religious activities, and homeschooling groups for socializing opportunities. As Eccles, et al. (2003) point out, participation in activities ties children together, and makes it more likely that they will draw friendships from those activities.

Medlin (2013) argued that parents have an advantage over other sources of socialization in that parents are invested in the child, have extensive knowledge of the child, and there is a strong reciprocal relationship with the child. He noted that socialization is an intrinsic part of any good parent-child relationship. As Harris (2011) points out, all parents seek out socialization opportunities through choice of neighborhood to live, choice of activities for their child to join, and fostering friendships with particular playmates. When children spend time playing with their age cohorts, the evidence of good socialization is most likely to reveal itself; Shyers (1992) found that homeschooled children displayed more prosocial behaviors than their traditionally-schooled peers.

Even so, the stigma persists. In a case study report by Silverman (2011), the author described her initial stereotypes about homeschooled children, which were broken when she spent time with a homeschooled youth choir. Silverman noted that the students were universally accepting of diversity, and expressed all of the same joy in social contact that one would expect from a socialized individual. In fact, White, et al. (2009) reported that previously homeschooled college students tested higher in openness than traditionally schooled students. Instead of becoming more closed off to experience, this data suggests that homeschoolers become young adults who are more open.

If homeschooling parents are indeed exposing their children to various opportunities for socialization, it should be revealed by the variety of activities in which the children are involved. Green-Hennessy (2014) analyzed the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) responses from 2002-2011, which included surveys of 182,351 teens between the ages of 12 and 17. Green-Hennessy sorted the respondents into groups based on the type of educational setting they reported experiencing during the previous 12 months (homeschooled or traditional), and whether they were religiously affiliated or not. The survey assessed (among other things) the types of activities the respondents participated in over the previous 12 months, and Green-Hennessy clustered them into three categories: School-based (team sports, cheer, choir, band, student government, and clubs), church/faith based (clubs, youth groups, Saturday/Sunday school, prayer groups, youth trips, service/volunteer), and other (music, dance, karate, etc.). Her logistic regression revealed that religiously affiliated homeschoolers were more active, and non-religiously affiliated homeschoolers were less active, than traditionally schooled students. Half of homeschoolers reported participation in school-based activities, whereas 80% of traditionally schooled students did. Religiously affiliated homeschoolers were more likely than non-religiously affiliated homeschoolers or traditionally schooled students to report that all of their activities were faith-based. In other words, all of the students participated in the activities that were most available to them, based on their type of schooling and their family interests.

Unfortunately, because the data in Green-Hennessy’s study came from a national survey, she was unable to determine the degree of homeschooling; to qualify as a homeschooler, children needed only to report that they had been homeschooled for the past year. Many children each year are forced into temporary homeschooling as a result of out-of-school suspension or expulsion from school, being pushed out by the administration (National Center for Youth Law, 2015), or a protracted illness, and their responses to the NSDUH may not have been representative of the typical homeschooled respondent. In addition, her data did not assess whether the combination of all homeschooled children (whether religiously affiliated or not) engaged in more or fewer extracurricular activities than the traditionally schooled. We designed the current study to address these deficits.

Recently, researchers have begun to turn their attention to the effect of type of schooling on extracurricular activities in young adulthood, which allows for an exploration of Kunzman and Gaither’s (2013) second definition of socialization – the formation of one’s own values as a function of interaction with members of society. Some studies have found that formerly homeschooled young adults are less active in volunteering, charitable giving, political activity, and other forms of participation in public life than their traditionally educated peers (Hill & Den Dulk, 2013; Sikkik & Skiles, 2015), whereas others have found that formerly homeschooled young adults are more active (Galloway, 1998; Ray, 2004) – especially in volunteering.

      Many researchers who have examined participation in extracurricular activities in traditional K-12 schools have focused on its effects on academic achievement (e.g. Covay & Carbonaro, 2010), student motivation (e.g. Holloway, 2002), and dropout rates (e.g. Mahoney, 2014). Even studies of extracurricular participation among college students have predominantly focused on its effects on retention (e.g. Flores-Gonzälez, 2000; Hall, 2006) and on academic achievement (e.g. Yin & Lei, 2007). Recently, more researchers have begun to explore the question of the developmental benefits of participating in school-based extracurricular activities (see Feldman & Matjasko, 2005 for a comprehensive analysis) and organized sports (e.g. Fredricks & Eccles, 2006), but few have examined the effects of other categories of extracurriculars (e.g. Eccles, et al., 2003), and rarely do the studies of traditionally schooled children examine positive outcomes in adulthood. Eccles, et al. (2003) is one exception. They examined traditionally schooled students’ participation in 10th and 12th grades in five categories of extracurricular activities: Prosocial (e.g. church attendance, volunteer work), performance (e.g. band, dance), team sports, school involvement (e.g. student government, pep club), and academic clubs. They resurveyed the participants at ages 21-22 and again at ages 25-26, and found that engagement in extracurriculars in adolescence predicted better outcomes in young adulthood (fewer risky behaviors, higher high school and college completion rates), especially for the prosocial category of extracurriculars.

      The current study compares young adults (aged 18-25) who were primarily homeschooled during their kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) years to young adults who were primarily traditionally schooled, on measures of extracurricular involvement during their K-12 years and in their young adult years. We wanted to expand the young adult population beyond those who were enrolled in college, which was the population from which Galloway (1998) and Ray (2004) drew their samples. We recruited respondents from college classes, and encouraged snowball recruiting of eligible respondents. In addition, we recruited from among homeschool groups in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, and again encouraged snowball recruiting. As a result, our sample contains some college students, but also includes many young adults who either did not attend college or who had completed it.

      We asked about extracurricular activities during the elementary years (5 to 11 years of age), the secondary school years (12 to 17 years of age), and the young adult years (18 to 25 years of age), because we wanted to determine whether higher rates of extracurricular activities at younger ages predicted young adult extracurricular activities more than type of schooling did. We also asked about type of schooling during elementary school (5-11 years old), middle school (12-13 years old), and high school (14-17 years old) so that we could ensure that we were comparing students whose lifestyle truly was that of homeschooling versus those whose lifestyle truly was that of traditional schooling. We predicted that during the school years, there would be no significant differences in the amount or kind of extracurricular participation, but that in young adulthood, formerly homeschooled respondents would report participation in more prosocial extracurricular activities.



Respondents were recruited via online college and university class postings in the Puget Sound area, homeschool group chat boards in Washington state, and social media. The sample consisted of 94 respondents aged 18 to 25 (Mage=21.32, SE=.22), 67 of whom were female. They reported the type of schooling they predominantly experienced during the elementary years, the middle school years, and the high school years, and we determined their schooling type by using their most common response across the three age brackets. There were three types of schooling that emerged: Homeschooled (n=30, Mage=21.07, SE=.35, 21 female), public schooled (n=53, Mage=21.49, SE=.32, 36 female), and private schooled (n=11, Mage=21.18, SE=.66, eight female).


The survey was delivered via SurveyMonkey. Extracurricular activities during the elementary school years (ages 5-11), the secondary school years (ages 12-17) and the young adult years (18+) were assessed with the prompt, “Please check any activity you were involved with or participated in for at least one year. Please check the age group you were when you participated in the activity. If you participated in an activity during more than one age group, please mark each age group.” The activities were grouped by category, and examples were provided for each category to facilitate recall. An “other” option was provided for each category, and a textbox was provided for respondents to indicate activities which had not been listed. The categories consisted of Volunteer: Church service projects, community service, Boy Scouts service project/community service, Girl Scouts service project/community service; Scholastic Extras: Student body, debate, science club, history club, robotics, honor groups, mock trial competition; Performance/Fine Arts: Art group, band, choir, drama production/class, dance/drill team/flag corps, orchestra; Sports Teams: Baseball/softball, basketball, football/rugby, soccer/lacrosse, swim team, wrestling/martial arts, track and field/cross country, ski team, gymnastics, tennis, hockey, archery, volleyball, cycling/BMX, skateboarding/surfing, climbing, horse related; Other Clubs: Girls Scouts of America, Boy Scouts of America, church youth group, young Republican/Democrat, chess club.

Next, respondents were asked about their schooling experiences. They were provided with these instructions and definitions:

“Please indicate the age ranges you were:

•    Homeschooled: No more than 10 hours per week of instruction at a public or private school

•    Public schooled: At least 20 hours per week of instruction at a public school

•    Private schooled: At least 20 hours per week of instruction at a private school

“If you experienced more than one type of schooling during an age range, please select the educational type that was the most common for you during those years.”

Beneath these instructions was a matrix with the types of schooling (homeschool, public school, and private school) in the columns and the age ranges (5-11, 12-13, and 14-17) in the rows. Respondents could select one schooling type per row.


The recruitment script, seeking young adults aged 18-25 years old, was posted in online college and university classes, on homeschool chat boards, and on other social media. The hyperlink to the survey was provided in the script, and respondents were encouraged to pass the hyperlink to others who were in the 18-25 year age range. Respondents completed the survey items in the order described in the Materials section.


The total number of activities per category per age group was calculated for each respondent. If a respondent selected “other” for a category, we assessed the textbox, and counted the number of activities that were listed there. There were significant direct correlations between the number of activities at each of the three age groups (see Table 1). Pearson’s correlations revealed that those who reported a higher number of extracurricular activities when they were 5-11 years old (M5-11=4.40, SE=.32) reported a higher number of activities when they were 12-17 years old (M12-17=6.71, SE=.50) and when they were 18 years or older (M18+=2.68, SE=.25).

Table 1

Pearson’s Correlations Between the Number of Activities at Each Age Category with the Number of Activities at Each of the Other Age Categories.


                                                12-17                       18+

5-11                                         .454**                     .358**

12-17                                                                       .354**


** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level, one-tailed.

The number of activities in each category was analyzed in a mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA), in which age (5-11, 12-17, and 18+) was a repeated measure and schooling type (homeschool, public school, and private school) and sex (male or female) were between subjects variables. The number of activities in the 18+ age period were also analyzed in between subjects ANOVAs with schooling and sex as independent variables. All non-significant results are at the p>.05 level.


There was no significant main effect of sex or interactions between sex and any other variable, so it was dropped from the remaining analyses. The main effect of age was significant (F (2, 174)=13.72, MSE=5.67, p<.001, ηP2=.136). Tukey’s b post hoc analyses revealed that the highest reported rate of volunteerism was during the 12-17 age range (M=1.33, SE=.14), and the lowest was during the 5-11 age range (M=.59, SE=.08); young adult volunteerism was between and significantly different from these (M=.81, SE=.08). Age did not interact with any other variables. The main effect of schooling was significant (F (2, 87)=11.11, MSE=9.04, p<.001, ηP2=.203). Tukey’s b post hoc tests revealed that the publicly educated respondents reported significantly fewer volunteer activities (M=.67, SE=.10) than privately educated (M=1.15, SE=.26) or homeschooled (M=1.24, SD=.14), which were not significantly different from each other. There were no significant interactions.      

      The between subjects analysis of the 18+ responses showed that sex was not a significant factor, so it was dropped from this analysis. The main effect of schooling was significant (F (2, 87)=3.63, MSE=1.89, p<.032, ηP2=.077), with higher volunteering rates among the formerly homeschooled respondents (M=1.14, SE=5.39), followed by the formerly privately schooled (M=.80, SE=3.16), and the formerly publicly schooled (M=.64, SE=7.21), according to Tukey’s b post hoc analyses.

Scholastic Activities

There was no significant main effect of sex or interaction between sex and any other variable, so it was dropped from the remaining analyses. The main effect of age was significant (F (2, 174)=10.30, MSE=6.58, p<.001, ηP2=.106). Tukey’s b post hoc analyses showed that the highest reported rate of participation in scholastic extracurricular activities occurred during the 12-17 age period (M=1.04, SE=.13), and the lowest rate occurred during the 5-11 age period (M=.29, SE=.08); young adults reported a rate that was between these two groups (M=.45, SE=.08). Age did not significantly interact with any other variables. There were no other significant main effects or interactions, and the between subjects analysis of the 18+ activities produced no significant main effects or interactions.

Artistic Activities

There was a significant main effect of sex on reported number of artistic activities (F (1, 87)=10.12, MSE=17.92, p<.003, ηP2=.104). Females (M=1.11, SE=.14) reported participating in more artistic activities than males (M=.49, SE=.14) did. The main effect of age was significant (F(2, 174)=21.96, MSE=12.43, p<.001, ηP2=.202), with virtually the same rate of participation in artistic activities in the 5-11 period (M=1.12, SE=.12) and the 12-17 period (M=1.38, SE=.14), and a much lower rate reported by the young adults (M=.30, SE=.06), according to Tukey’s b post hoc analyses. The main effect of schooling was not significant.

The interaction of age and sex was significant (F (1, 87)=4.18, MSE=2.37, p<.045, ηP2=.046). The participation rates for both sexes increased between ages 5-11 (M, Female=1.32, SE, Female=.16; M, Male=.58, SE, Male=.15) and ages 12-17 (M, Female=1.63, SE, Female=.18; M, Male=.73, SE, Male=.19), whereas the rates dropped off precipitously for females by young adulthood (M, Female=.36, SE, Female=.08; M, Male=.15, SE, Male=.09; see Figure 1), almost matching the males. There were no other significant interactions, and the between subjects analysis of the 18+ activities produced no significant main effects or interactions.

Figure 1. Mean rate of participation in artistic activities as a function of age and sex.


There was no significant main effect of sex or interaction between sex and any other variable, so it was dropped from the remaining analyses. The main effect of age was significant (F (2, 172)=8.01, MSE=19.04, p<.001, ηP2=.085). Tukey’s b post hoc analyses revealed that the highest rates of sports participation were reported in the 12-17 period (M=2.26, SE=.27), followed by the 5-11 period (M=2.05, SE=.20), and the young adult period (M=.837, SE=.14). There were no other significant main effects or interactions.

The between subjects analysis of the 18+ activities revealed a significant main effect of sex (F (1, 87)=4.65, MSE=8.05, p<.035, ηP2=.051). Males reported significantly higher rates (M=1.346, SE=.35) of athletic participation in young adulthood than females (M=.657, SE=.13) did. There were no other main effects or interactions.

Club Activities

There was no significant main effect of sex or interaction between sex and any other variable, so it was dropped from the remaining analyses. The main effect of age was significant (F (2, 174)=4.25, MSE=1.07, p<.017, ηP2=.047). Tukey’s b post hoc analyses showed that the highest rates of club participation were reported in the 12-17 period (M=.68, SE=.08), followed by the 5-11 period (M=.37, SE=.06), and the young adult period (M=.26, SE=.05). There were no other significant main effects or interactions.

The between subjects analysis of the 18+ rates of club participation revealed a significant main effect of schooling (F (2, 87)=3.68, MSE=.78, p<.03, ηP2=.08). Tukey’s b post hoc analysis clarified that the formerly homeschooled respondents reported significantly higher rates of club participation (M=.43, SE=.10) than the formerly privately schooled (M=.18, SE=.13) or the formerly publicly schooled (M=.17, SE=.05), which were not significantly different from each other. There were no other significant main effects or interactions.


These results show that the effects of schooling type depend upon the category of activity. Formerly homeschooled young adults reported significantly higher rates of the prosocial activities – volunteerism and club participation – which supports the idea that formerly homeschooled young adults are well-socialized. The finding that there is no difference in the rates of participation in scholastic, artistic, or sports activities based on schooling type suggests that young adults participate in these activities for reasons that are unrelated to their K-12 schooling type. There were no main effects of schooling type on rate of participation in any category of activity during the K-12 years; all children in this sample were equally active, regardless of schooling type. Only in young adulthood did the effect of schooling type emerge.

This sample was recruited from the Puget Sound area of Washington state, which has a very active homeschool organization, and very generous opportunities for homeschooled children to participate in the sports, clubs, and activities of their local school district. Many school districts in other parts of the United States have resisted including homeschooled children in their extracurricular activities (Gardner & McFarland, 2001). One concern that we have about our sample is that it might provide an overly rosy picture of homeschool children’s participation in activities. Future research must make concerted efforts to extend the snowball recruiting to other states and locations. In addition, our sample size is fairly small; conclusions from this limited sample are justifiably cautious.

Fuligni (2019) argued that contributing to their social group in adolescence supports and fosters the key developmental factors of adolescence: autonomy, identity, and intimacy. He proposed that the typical adolescent has opportunities to contribute within their own families, in their communities, at school, and with their peers. The common concern about homeschooled children is that they would be deprived of the latter two opportunities, and thus, may miss out on experiences that would benefit their development. However, the current study shows that formerly homeschooled young adults reported levels of extracurricular participation that was equal to or above those reported by formerly traditionally schooled young adults. It appears from these data that homeschooled children are afforded commensurate opportunities to participate in activities that would allow them to develop their own values, assess their talents, and find their own place in the larger social structure – a goal of socialization, according to Eccles, et al. (2003). Indeed, while their level of participation was largely equal during the K-12 years, formerly homeschooled young adults reported higher levels of participation in adulthood in clubs and volunteer work. It is possible that individual variables, such as personality traits or parental level of education could moderate the effects of type of schooling; our next study seeks to address these questions directly.

Although much research on participation in extracurricular activities has focused on the benefits for high school completion, college enrollment, and college graduation, the current studies focused on the benefits for the social development of the respondents. To see them continue with their extracurricular engagement into adulthood suggests that the respondents were enmeshed in their social group and with their communities. In particular, volunteerism and club activities are excellent measures of community engagement.

Overall, this study supports the notion that homeschooling is a viable way of educating children, not only about academic material, but also about becoming an engaged member of society. Not all homeschooling situations are ideal, of course. For example, parents who were forced to homeschool, largely in isolation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic surely struggled more than the typical pre-pandemic homeschool family to find opportunities for socialization. Indeed, the positive results from the current study should not be interpreted as a blanket endorsement of homeschooling for all students and families. But for those families who choose to homeschool their children, the current study shows that outcomes into young adulthood should be at least equal to those seen among traditionally schooled children. For those parents who choose to homeschool their children due to the pandemic and beyond, these data can provide comfort that their instincts to socialize their children in a variety of extracurricular activities is ideal.


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