Gifted Homeschooling and Socializing
After curriculum, one of the most frequently asked questions the Davidson Institute receives regarding homeschooling is how their child will make friends without the brick-and-mortar school. Homeschooling is a big step for many families, and for gifted families, sometimes becomes the reluctant last-resort option. However, many gifted children who are homeschooled have enjoyed both access to advanced academics and a fulfilling social life.
What are the main concerns around homeschooling and social development?
Some of the common fears around pulling a child out of school is that they will feel isolated and miss out on important social skill building opportunities. After all, schools have recess, group projects, and events that foster both connection and social skills. For new homeschooling families, it can be difficult to imagine how to replicate what the school does for social development. However, what every experienced homeschooler will tell you is that it is not about replicating the school structure, it’s about using the unique freedoms of homeschooling to set your child up for success. Some examples for how homeschoolers develop their social skills include volunteer groups, traveling, distance classes, and youth clubs.
Will my gifted child miss out on friendships if we homeschool?
When we talk about being socialized while homeschooling, it is important to address what we mean by this. Do we simply want our children to learn to tolerate others? Do we want our child to have a calendar filled with social events? Or do we want our children to feel connected to someone in a meaningful way? While the first two are important, most parents agree that we want our children to feel understood and supported by one or more peers. For gifted children, this distinction is important when considering homeschooling.
Many gifted children feel alone while in traditional schools. They are often aware that they are different from their age-peers and have few areas of shared interest with their classmates. Even popular gifted children with a full social calendar can feel that they lack a true peer who understands them. Just like their advance intellectual needs, many gifted children seek more mature friendships as well. Because of these reasons, homeschooling can sometimes be very liberating for the gifted child. Homeschooling might be an enjoyable way for your gifted child to meet others in their community who share their interests, which may increase their sense of belonging rather than their sense of isolation.
Considering your child’s needs and personality will help parents choose the right options to fulfill both general social development and friendships while homeschooling. For example, if you feel your child would benefit from learning how to express themselves, perhaps joining a local community theater group would be a great way to build this skill. If your child wants someone to discuss dinosaurs with, perhaps befriending a museum volunteer would be a fulfilling connection for them. Homeschooling accommodates individuality in a way many traditional school can’t, so for some parents the homeschooling process is about letting go of what they think their child’s social life should look like and embrace who their child really is – even if that means only having one or two close friends at a time, friends of a different age, or different friends to fulfill different needs.
How do I socialize my gifted homeschooler?
Many gifted homeschooling students can finish their lessons or academic work within a few hours and still have several more hours free each day to do other activities. There are many ways to fill these additional hours with social activities. While school can be one place for social connection, it certainly isn’t the only way for students to find likeminded peers, friends, and community. Here are a few creative options and ideas that some families have used to facilitate social connections outside of school and provide opportunities for practicing social skills:
- Join a Homeschool Co-op: HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) is a good place to start if you are looking for a local homeschool co-op or group. Don’t forget – you’re likely not the only person homeschooling in your area! Many community organizations offer special tours, classes, and events especially for homeschoolers where you can meet others.
- Sports, Extracurriculars, Summer Camps: Were there social activities your child did in school that they would like to continue? Chances are they will still be able to! Many school districts and organizations have arrangements with homeschoolers so they can participate in the traditional afterschool and summer enrichment experiences alongside non-homeschoolers.
- Volunteering: Your child might consider volunteering at the local library, senior center, a food bank, a local hospital, American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, The Humane Society, DoSomething.org, the Special Olympics, or a local food bank.
- Youth Groups: 4H, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club, and YMCA are just a few examples.
- Community Groups: Sky is the limit here – community theater, sports leagues like bowling or badminton, culture-based groups, music venues, interest-based groups such as fandoms or fan conventions, historical societies, makerspaces.
- Culture & Language Groups: Does your child speak multiple languages? Are they interested in other cultures, or learning more about their own heritage? Maybe your student would enjoy language-based discussion or social groups or apps like iTalki.
- Social Media & Gaming: Many families want to look beyond online connections, and many families have valid concerns about social media, gaming, and internet usage for their teens. However, there can be ways to leverage technology for positive social connections. The articles, “Five ways social media can be good for teens”, “Video Games Are Social Spaces”, “Be social, make friends and play video games”, and “6 surprising benefits of video games for kids” describe some of the positive aspects of social media and gaming.
- Getting a Job: For our older teens, consider your student’s interests. Do they enjoy music? Perhaps they could work at a record store. Does your student love to read? An independent bookstore might be a great place to work. Other ideas might include antique stores, an aquatics center, a museum, a theater, the library, working with the city council in a youth position, food co-ops, wilderness centers, parks and recreation, tutoring, or working as a summer camp counselor.
- Connect with Family: Is there anyone in your family with an interesting profession, background, or lifestyle that your student is interested in? Do they have any shared interests? Family members are some of the most overlooked social connections we have in our lives. Some students have enjoyed setting up monthly tea dates with a family member living abroad. Some students connect with their grandparents in a weekly book club.
Homeschool is not alone-school
Homeschooling can be individualized so your child gets better quality, more varied, and healthier interactions with people that bolster social development and a sense of connection. Don’t just take our word for it though, as here are a few quotes from of our community about their homeschool social experience:
“My dd who had always been homeschooled was looking forward to expanding her friendships when she enrolled in a regular school. It turns out she hardly socialized with anyone because everyone was so busy with sports both before and after school. As a homeschooler, she finds she has more time with her homeschooled and non-homeschooled friends because she just has so much more time.”
“We are new to homeschooling by 1 year. Last year we pulled our daughter out of regular middle school for a number of reasons including poor academic curriculum and teen girl social drama which at the end was becoming negative and bordering on bullying. Having been homeschooling for one year now, we have experienced and discovered profoundly richer and more authentic and reciprocal friendships in the homeschool community. My daughter has more friends now than she did in regular school. She has more friends who are boys and also more friends who are different ages than her… Now she can be herself and all of her friends support that because they are themselves too. This to me is the best example of a healthy authentic social environment. And it is our belief that it is priceless.”
“As for socialization, this was never an area that was easy, and loneliness when surrounded by many (in the school) was painful. I can’t say we were super successful in that area, yet, he was able to find inner peace, and a few meaningful relationships along the way. He is very introvert and respecting this was key. As time passed he learned more skills and was able to function and enjoy social setting, as well as develop relationships. I think the number one tip for new homeschoolers I would share is to listen, respect and accept your child. Look at the gifts every person holds and treasure the time together. We can’t and shouldn’t mold them into… we can provide the right environment, tools, classes, books, and support for them to thrive. Our role as parents is scaffolding and facilitating in order to expand the comfort zone, enrich their lives, and build together unconditional love and trust relationships.”