Answering the Socialization Question
Over the years I have discovered that some advantages of virtual learning are easier for people to grasp than others. Personalized learning, challenging and diverse curriculum, specialized teachers, and alternative scheduling—most people can understand these benefits. The socialization factor, however, draws many blank stares and more questions.
It’s not uncommon to be in a store in the middle of a weekday afternoon with my children (especially when my children were younger) and suddenly find ourselves faced with a barrage of questions from a curious (but friendly) sales clerk. After the initial curiosity is addressed as to why the kids aren’t in school, other questions like “What do you do all day?” “Do you work in your pajamas?” “How do you manage to socialize with your classmates?” and “Do you have friends?” will keep coming at us. I watch my kids take a deep breath, smile and proceed to describe the details of their virtual schooling life to anyone who asks. Naturally, I’m glowing the whole time, because the simple fact that they can converse like this with anyone reminds me that they are growing into well socialized young adults.
The reality is that patterns of socialization for virtual learners are not so different from those in a traditional school. Do my kids ever miss the activities in a traditional school setting? Of course they do, but there are many things my kids have been able to do in a virtual school that they would have missed in a traditional bricks and mortar setting. If they had to pick between the two, they would tell you they prefer virtual school. Our family, our virtual school and our local community have all strengthened my children’s social muscles, by helping them learn the behavioral expectations of each group. A high-quality virtual school program will ensure that a variety of socialization support is readily available.
Many years have passed since I first started getting these questions, and I have come to realize that “the socialization question” isn’t just about defending my decision to attend a virtual school or whether or not socialization occurs in one. It also is an opportunity to help others see that virtual schooling works well for students when the adults in their lives—their parents, teachers, and school leaders—are as thoughtful about social development as they are about academics.
Some people are concerned that children educated in a home environment will be isolated. Personally, I’ve never found this to be true, but it requires that parents and schools make healthy peer interaction a priority. (Of course, this is true for all students in all types of schools.) They need to search out opportunities for kids to interact with a variety of people in several situations. If your school offers online clubs and activities, join in the fun! Make sure to take time to attend field trips and community sponsored events in your area.
There was a time when I dreaded questions about socialization because I felt they were an attack on my choice of education. I worried that my children would not grow into normal, socially adjusted adults. With one virtual school graduate and another one close behind, I know without a doubt there was no better choice for our family. Now, when the socialization question is raised, I reassure concerned friends, family and others that my children have many socialization opportunities through school clubs, sponsored field trips, family travel, volunteer work, community events, and much, much, more!
What is your reassuring answer to “the question”?