By Lorel Shea, from Secular Homeschooling, Issue #9, November/December 2009
My husband and I have four children. Three of the four are introverts. They need downtime to recharge their batteries, and get worn out with too much stimulation. Yet they each enjoy time with friends and can be very social.
My extrovert craves companionship and seems to feed off interaction. If he doesn't see friends face to face, he is apt to be on the phone with them. He never gets tired of talking!
One of the coolest things about homeschooling is that we can regulate social interaction to suit the individual needs of each member of the family. We've found that the social freedom homeschooling provides is every bit as wonderful as the academic freedom.
Eight years ago, when we started homeschooling, my husband and I had some major concerns. Our sons were both of school age and we also had a little girl toddling about. We didn't worry much about the academics, as we knew our kids were bright and they had already demonstrated that they were very capable learners. But we had one very introverted child and one clear extrovert. How would we keep both boys engaged and happy on the social front? Their needs were so different.
Hector was turning five when we pulled him out of Montessori kindergarten to homeschool. He had been so happy to be in the midst of a group! His social calendar was very busy, and he relished time spent with other children. But the academics were no longer working, and we knew it was time for a change.
Ajax, on the other hand, had been in traditional schools for years, and he struggled to make friends. At age 13, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and we finally could make sense of all his quirks. If we brought Ajax home to learn, would he turn into a hermit? How could he establish connections with other kids? His teachers told us that he needed to be in school so he could learn to get along with other kids. But Ajax had been in group day care from infancy and then attended school through seventh grade, and he still didn't seem to understand the give and take of friendship. When the neuropsychologist who evaluated Ajax suggested that we should homeschool him, we decided to give it a try.
Hector maintained ties to a few of his best friends from the Montessori, plus an old neighborhood friend. He let us know when he needed a social "fix," as he became cranky if he didn't have playtime with other kids several times a week. We soon fell into a pattern of group classes, play dates, and shared field trips. We also joined a homeschool support group, which had ready-made activities for all ages. Our social butterfly simply flourished. He had all the positives of social interaction that he craved, and none of the negatives. At his old school, he'd gotten into trouble for talking too much and for helping friends to do their work.
Things were going well for Hector, but what about Ajax? He was just old enough to join the homeschool teen group, which held regular activities such as movie nights, mini-golf outings, and a prom. Suddenly, Ajax had a circle of true friends for the first time in his life. We discovered that it had taken a huge amount of Ajax's energy merely to exist in a busy classroom full of sensory overload. Now that he was ensconced comfortably at home, he had more energy and inclination to reach out to others. He used to be too exhausted after school to do much of anything, and now he was calling friends on the phone and arranging role-playing game sessions. The move from school to home changed him, but the dynamics of the group itself had a lot to do with Ajax's radical shift in behavior. The homeschooled teens were unique individuals and did not expect everyone to conform to a certain standard. They appreciated Ajax's dry sense of humor and tolerated his tendency to offer monologues on his favorite topics. The group was also fairly small and consistent. Most activities attracted 10 to 20 kids, in contrast to the 30 kids per class in Ajax's crowded charter school. Our best-attended teen event was the annual prom, which attracted 50-75 kids each year. It was focused on friendship and not couples, so almost nobody took a date.
Ajax still felt uncomfortable with large group functions in close quarters (such as our science fair), but he could usually remove himself from the center of the action and find a quiet corner to talk with a friend or read a book. He had the option of not attending certain functions as well. Having choices can make such a difference!
My young daughters have never attended any type of school. When people ask me about the "s" word, I tend to smile and tell them that it's the last thing they need to worry about. Homeschooling can be the best thing in the world for both "innies" and "outies"!
Lorel Shea is editor of the BellaOnline gifted education site (giftededucation.bellaonline.com). She's also a freelance writer and presenter, and talks to anyone and everyone she can about the joys of homeschooling. Lorel and her husband Tim live on ten acres of old farmland in Connecticut and have been home educating their four children since 2001.