Socialization During Homeschool | Emergency Homeschool Podcast
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EPISODE 7

What Are My Homeschool Socialization Options?

LISTEN ON: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Stitcher


FEATURING:
Andrea Dillon, Content Manager at A2Z Homeschooling
Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, Licensed and Board-Certified Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, and Founder at The Center for Well Being
Will my child miss out on socialization if they aren't in a traditional classroom? This is a common worry for many parents considering homeschooling. In this episode, we discuss how you can help your children interact with the world, while learning at home during a pandemic.
People have this ideology that going into a public school immediately gives you friends. But I'm not sure that's true anymore.
- Dr. Stephanie Mihalas
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What is a School’s Role in Learning vs. Socialization?

One of the many benefits of in-classroom learning is the chance for your child to join hundreds of similarly aged students every day. During the pandemic, however, parents fear their children will lack opportunities for social development if they choose to do at-home learning.

This is a valid concern. It’s important for parents considering homeschool to ask themselves: How can I recreate those same friendship-finding opportunities in an at-home learning setting?

Learning and Socializing in a Traditional School Setting

How much of school is about learning and how much is about socializing? Andrea Dillon says it should be both. We need to teach children how to interact with the world, and school is a great way to do that. If you’re a homeschool parent — or considering at-home learning temporarily — you will need to be thinking about socialization more often

First, it’s important to consider the assumption that a group of children in the immediate physical vicinity automatically translates to a network of friends. Some children are introverts, have chronic or mental health issues, or come from a type of background that makes public or private school a poor fit for them. Being around hundreds of kids does not always guarantee lots of friends.

An upside of the at-home model is that parents have options for tailoring socialization to what their child needs.

Options for Socialization While Homeschooling

So, what are some of those options for social interactions outside of the traditional classroom?

The pandemic has made in-person opportunities unlikely, but there are still homeschool groups, Facebook communities, and online networks for homeschoolers. Students can join Meetup groups, take live classes on YouTube or LinkedIn, or get involved in live weekly learning opportunities.

More than ever, it’s critical that parents make time for intentional socialization so their child receives the support they need.

How to Avoid Creating a Homeschool “Bubble”

The homeschool “bubble” refers to the risk of homogenous thinking or connection that could happen without enough socialization. Will your child be exposed to alternative ways of thinking? Or to people who don't look, sound, or even eat like they do?

The onus lies on the parent to make sure you don’t create a metaphorical bubble for your child. And with intentionality, it’s not as hard as you may think.

First, make sure your day-to-day education and discussions include topics of diversity and new experiences. Consider the food you eat. Is it all food particular to your culture? What about the places you go? Do you only drive to certain neighborhoods, talk to certain people, or make connections inside your bubble?

Next, ask yourself what you are doing with this information. Once you expose your children to diversity, how are you acting on it? Have you talked to your child about standing up for others or what they believe is right? For example, speaking up against a bully (especially online bullying, now that most of our days are spent in front of screens) or donating funds from a money jar to someone or something outside of your everyday bubble. Teaching them about using their voice, time and resources as a means of action goes a long way.

Popping the homeschool bubble is a recursive process that takes time and effort, but it can be done!

How to Prioritize Students’ Mental Health During the Pandemic

It is so important that parents actually listen, look, and learn what their children are trying to tell them.
— Dr. Stephanie Mihalas

The pandemic has dramatically changed the way we live and interact with one another day to day. It’s also had a deep impact on the mental health challenges that already exist in our country.

What can we focus on to prioritize the mental health of our children right now?

First, remember that children may not express their worries verbally. You want to be careful not to overlook actions that might indicate that something's troubling them. Overeating, hitting, bedwetting, and sleeping too much or too little can all be signs of depression, anxiety, or fear.

One behavioral change doesn’t necessarily mean your child is experiencing a mental health crisis. But more than one? That could indicate a child may need help. All children need support, even if their specific troubles don't necessitate therapy or other outside help. And right now, with the different stressors in every aspect of COVID life, it's easy to miss a child in crisis. Having those critical conversations with your child now could prevent a more difficult situation down the line.

Emergency Homeschool - Episode 7 Transcript

Narrator (00:00):
We've had so many parents reach out to us and say, "We're trying to be prepared for whatever happens this fall. Can you recommend curriculum for other subjects, like what you offer for Math and Language Arts with Beast Academy, AOPS Academy and AOPS online?" To help them out, we surveyed our Art of Problem Solving families to find out exactly what curriculum they use for their curious and motivated students. See their homeschool recommendations for yourself at aops.com/homeschool. That's aops.com/homeschool.

Eric Olsen (00:35):
What do you miss the most about school?

Child (00:37):
I miss my best friends. I especially miss playing tetherball together and reading together in the library. It would be hard to see them at school and have to keep a distance from them too. So I'm not sure which would be harder.

Eric Olsen (0:53):
I'm Eric Olsen with Art of Problem Solving. And this is the very first time we've ever considered homeschool options for our nine year old daughter. She loves her public school. She loves her teachers. She loves her friends, but we just don't know what traditional school is going to look like come fall and want to be prepared either way. So, in this series, I interview some of the best minds in the education and at home learning spaces to figure out our options and learn how to craft an at home learning plan that's right for our family. This is Emergency Homeschool.

Andrea Dillon (01:25):
Socialization is a common worry for those considering homeschooling versus public schooling. However, there are more ways than ever to find those friendships outside of the traditional classroom, even during a pandemic.

Eric Olsen (01:38):
This is Andrea Dillon, content manager at A2Z Homeschooling.

Eric Olsen (01:43):
The opportunities for socialization and development is one of the biggest concerns parents have with at-home learning. But is that what school is for? How much of school is about learning versus socializing?

Andrea Dillon (01:57):
I think it should be both. I think we need to teach our children how to interact with the world. I think that is learning. As homeschoolers, I think we think about that more often because we have the stigma of not supporting socialization.

Eric Olsen (02:13):
But even as an adult, finding friends can be difficult. Just one of the many benefits of public schooling is, "Here's hundreds of kids your age to meet and have to learn how to get along with." How can we re-create those same friendship-finding opportunities through a homeschool or at-home learning experience? This is Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, licensed and board-certified psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, and founder at The Center for Well-Being.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (02:42):
People have this ideology that going into a public school immediately gives you friends. But I'm not sure that's true anymore.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (02:52):
There are some children that have chronic health issues, that have mental health issues, or frankly are just introverts, or come from a different type of family or background where a public school actually isn't an appropriate fit for them. So being around hundreds of kids does not necessarily give them lots of friends to pick from. I think it's actually important to take that step back and break down that ideology, that it's an immediate group of friends.

Eric Olsen (03:25):
What are some options for social interactions with other kids outside the traditional classroom? And have those become much harder to find in a pandemic?

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (03:34):
Obviously for those parents that are homeschool gurus, they know that there are Facebook groups where they can meet one another and meet in person. There are online groups where they can meet face to face, but there are also now meetup groups. There are so many classes that people can find on YouTube that are live, on LinkedIn that are live. And there are various different classes that people can take that are week-to-week-to-week that are actually extracurricular classes, where people can meet online.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (04:11):
Now looking outside of the pandemic, we can think about various extracurricular activities where children can make friends outside of the educational arena. They can join a soccer team. They can join a dance group. They can join a choir. They can be part of a religious affiliation, if that's appropriate for them. I think it's important for children that are doing at-home learning or homeschool to not just think of the traditional sense, "I have to be in a classroom in order to meet friends."

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (04:46):
There are hundreds of different opportunities that are extracurricular, where children can meet friends and gravitate to. Even in the neighborhood, if kids are biking or running, they can join up with children there. Being in the public school or private school is not the only way for children to make friends.

Eric Olsen (05:06):
Let's talk about the concept of the homeschool bubble. The concern that "In the safety of my home, in my safe bubble, perhaps my kids won't be exposed to alternative ways of thinking, to people who don't look like them, to people who don't think just like them. How do I pop that potential bubble?"

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (05:27):
The onus is on the parent. If there is a homeschool educator, because I know with some homeschool families, the parent decides to actually have a homeschool teacher educating. It's critical and imperative for the educator or the parent, or both, to do this. The day-to-day educational matters and discussions have to involve topics of diversity, topics of social justice. Not just conversations, but actions.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (06:03):
What are you bringing into your home? Is it all food that is particular to your culture, or is it various foods? Do you talk about it? Do you discuss the cultures and religions of that country? When you go out into the city that you live in, are you only going to a certain neighborhood, or are you going to various neighborhoods? Are you talking to the people when you visit the neighborhoods? Or are you just staying in your car? Are you making connections outside of your personal bubble?

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (06:39):
Are you just staying within your own religion? Or are you visiting various houses of worship to let your children see that there is so much diversity in the world? Then once you look at this diversity, what are you doing with it? Are you just sitting with it, or are you acting with it? That leads into the social justice perspective. Again, not staying in this homeschool bubble that I think some people can get stuck in.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (07:12):
But are you, for example, standing up if someone's getting bullied? Even online, if people are stuck in the online forum and you see someone being bullied. Are you, for example, having a money jar and donating it to someone who's outside of your homeschool bubble and talking about it? Are you showing children movies that look at differences and talking about it, and making meaning of what standing up for people really is about? There are so many creative ways. Even science experiments can look at things like this, but it takes time. It takes effort. And it's really a recursive process to ensure that you're popping this bubble.

Eric Olsen (07:57):
This pandemic has created a new mental health crisis above and beyond the existing mental health crisis in this country. What should we be focused on to prioritize the mental health of our kids right now?

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (08:10):
I think first and foremost is to actually be aware, to not avoid or overlook what our children are trying to communicate to us.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (08:22):
If a child may be overeating, undereating, hitting, bedwetting, sleeping too much, sleeping too little. I mean, there are signs and situations that are happening in our homes that are different from the normal day-to-day experiences that our children may be having. We need to see those signs because our children may not verbally say to us, "Hey Mom, hey Dad, I am depressed. I am anxious. I am scared. I need help." Because oftentimes, children and teens don't necessarily say that. But they show it in their actions, and we really need to be attuned.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (09:04):
Of course, not every child necessarily needs therapy, but a lot of children right now need support. And the support may be extra family time. The support may need to be conversations around how can we give you extra attention? The support may, in fact, be therapy. Maybe medication, maybe clerical support, maybe support from the rabbi or someone else in a religious institution. It depends on what culturally is appropriate for the family of origin, and how they seek support. But it is so important that parents actually listen, look, and learn what their children are trying to tell them.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (09:53):
I think also a critical sign here is that one deviation from the norm doesn't mean there's a mental health crisis. But a couple indicate, "You know what? We need to get our kid help before it's too late." I think a lot of parents right now are just avoiding, because there are so many other problems happening in their home. There's financial stress. There's a couple kids they're dealing with. They're trying to work. They're trying to deal with the slump of summer, when most of their children are in camp. It's so stressful, that unfortunately one or two children, if they're a couple in the home are getting overlooked until it's too late. Then they end up in the therapist or a psychiatric office at a place where they're engaging in harmful behaviors that could have been dealt with earlier on.

Eric Olsen (10:48):
When we think about socialization opportunities in our at-home learning environment, do we need to think differently about them for a traditional homeschooler versus a hybrid homeschooler who's potentially taking some live online classes in a group video setting as well?

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (11:06):
I think the primary difference is that we just have to be a bit more creative. I also think that we have to consider possibly talking to our children more in terms of, "What is it that you like? And how can we get you those opportunities?" Because I think some of the socialization aspects that can accrue happen outside of the nine-to-three timeframe. That's where the juggling aspect for parents gets a bit more difficult. We would have to map that out more, and I think that's where it can get more difficult. Sometimes parents end up saying, "Well, you know what? My child's got my academics in, and that's all that matters." But it actually really doesn't.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (11:57):
It's critical that parents make time to have multiple socialization events throughout the week, so their child feels like they're taken care of. I've seen a number of children in my office who are homeschoolers. They get very angry, very depressed, and very resentful of their parents for not being attuned to the importance of the socialization aspect of their life.

Eric Olsen (12:23):
Stephanie, thank you for your time today.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (12:25):
You're welcome.

Eric Olsen (12:27):
In the next episode of Emergency Homeschool, we'll find out how a period of homeschool could affect your student's college admission chances. We hope you'll stay with us as we interview the experts and navigate our at-home learning options together.

Narrator (12:42):
You've been listening to Emergency Homeschool, an Art of Problem Solving podcast. Since 1993, Art of Problem Solving has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students for success in prestigious universities and STEM careers through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. To learn more, visit ArtofProblemSolving.com. That's ArtofProblemSolving.com.

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