How to meet kids’ social needs while homeschooling
Practical tips on helping home-educated children connect with other people
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The COVID-19 pandemic has produced many first-time homeschool parents, and some feel trepidation at the thought of being responsible for their child’s education. This edited Q&A is the second in a series in which we pose questions about home education to several experts. In this installment, Alice Churnock, Sally Clarkson, Cathy Duffy, and Mystie Winckler address the issue of social needs.
At school, kids socialize with peers, teachers, and coaches. How can we meet kids’ social needs at home?
Mystie: Think about your child as a whole person. When you homeschool, it’s not just about grade level or the subjects you cover. You are parent and school administrator all in one. So, to meet my kids’ social needs, sometimes I teach a class and invite other homeschoolers in my community to participate. Maybe a writing or literature class. We’ve done a lot of co-schooling over the years.
Mystie: It’s not an official co-op, but we trade with friends who live nearby. For instance, when my oldest kids were in middle school, I had a baby and a toddler. During the baby’s nap time, one friend would come over and read to the toddlers and preschoolers. I taught the older kids writing composition. The older kids could discuss things, and we got a lot more done because the toddlers’ needs were being met, too. It was a teamwork kind of thing.
Cathy: We did exactly the same thing for years. Just trading talents with a couple of families. I liked teaching the older ones while others taught the younger ones.
Sally: Part of our homeschool plan was that our children had to serve. They traveled with us all over the world in our ministry work. They had to set up our book tables, and they had to be polite to people. They had to learn to talk to people and say, “How are you? Let me carry your suitcase.” They learned a lot by serving.
Alice: I would encourage families to check out online group classes for kids. Organizations like Varsity Tutors offer free classes such as “Make Your Own Lego Movie” or “Let’s Get Slimy” (about making slime). Be sure to vet any online classes, though.
What about extracurricular opportunities?
Mystie: We are not an organized sports family at all, but I had a middle child—a very extroverted boy—sandwiched between sisters. He needed some active boy time, so we let him play soccer.
Cathy: Apart from COVID-19, homeschoolers usually do multiple outside activities with all sorts of people. It’s much more real-life socialization. I homeschooled three boys. We would go places and people would comment, “Your boys are so well behaved,” and I would say, “What are you talking about?” But it does pay off over time. Teaching them manners. Teaching them how to work with people.
Sally, that reminds me of your discipleship model of home education. Can you explain that?
Sally: The discipleship model is about the whole person. The student will be like the teacher. So, you’re living in front of your children. You’re washing the dishes, or you’re riding in the car to Sam’s Club. You’re listening to audiobooks. You’re training them. You’re eating meals, thousands of meals together. You’re bringing up articles and books and music. You’re going for hikes. All of that builds their emotional health. And we’re modeling Christ. He made meals for the disciples and washed their feet. He lived out servant leadership on a daily basis.
Can you describe a time when you connected with your kids through serving?
Sally: One day, I was washing dishes. I was getting ready for a date with my husband, and my son Nathan ran inside the house. He said, “Mom, you have to come right now.” And the Holy Spirit kind of poked my heart to put down the dishes. So I did. Nathan said, “When you walk out the door, I want you to close your eyes and trust me.” Now, we’re living on the side of a mountain at this point, and he’s 10 years old, and I’m walking up the mountain. It’s sandy. It’s rough. It’s hard to do. Then I put my hand out and I realize, “This boulder’s taller than me!” And he said, “We’re going to climb this boulder, Mama, but you can’t look.” So I said, “OK.” You know, I’m thinking, What in the world am I doing?
We get to the top, and he counts to three and I open my eyes to see an incredible, amazing sunset. It was pink and purple and yellow and blue and red. He said, “I saw this yesterday. I’ve been waiting all day to bring you here.” He said, “I’ll never forget this moment, Mama. This is when you showed me you love me.” So I realized that’s his love language. He needs me to listen to him. Being attentive to his extroverted personality gave me the right to require things of him later.
Good words. As a working mom myself, I can’t always set work aside when I’d like to. So in another installment, we’ll explore how others can help provide loving discipleship. For now, Alice, what about kids who struggle socially? Are there basic skills we should prioritize?
Alice: First, I would focus on eye contact. One fun, easy way to teach eye contact: Everyone in the family puts stickers on your forehead between your eyes. It’s a silly way to say, Hey, look here. For older kids who struggle with social skills, I’d encourage families to get The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. It teaches basic social rules, such as, people don’t like it when you leave toothpaste in the sink.
Alice: For younger kids, teach them conversation skills. Get a beach ball or balloon and toss it back and forth. If you have the ball, you have the floor to speak. You can also teach kids that conversations have a structure. Practice saying, “Hi, my name is Sam, what’s your name?” Then, have them pick a topic. Maybe they want to ask a few questions about Minecraft or whatever. Then we have a conclusion. “It was great talking to you. Maybe we should get together sometime.”
Finally, nonverbal communication. Teach kids to watch their tone and volume. And help them recognize facial expressions. Playing charades could be a fun way to teach these things. Write different emotions on index cards. You could use an animal along with an emotion, like “sad monkey.” Then pull a card and act it out.
When should parents seek out a counselor for a struggling child?
Alice: My rule of thumb is, are they sleeping at night? Do they still enjoy life and do the things they used to do? If not, has this lasted more than six weeks? Kids typically show depression through anger and irritability rather than sadness and crying. So be aware of that, too.
Panelists for this article:
Alice Churnock is a licensed professional counselor and eating disorder specialist. She also offers counseling advice to Christian families in her podcast, Ask Alice. Alice is married and has two young boys in Birmingham, Ala.
Sally Clarkson is the author of more than 20 books, including Awaking Wonder: Opening Your Child’s Heart to the Beauty of Learning. She and her son Nathan together wrote Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box-Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him. Learn more about Sally on her website, sallyclarkson.com, or her podcast, At Home With Sally & Friends. Sally homeschooled four now-adult children and currently lives in Oxford, England.
Cathy Duffy began reviewing curriculum for her own kids. Her research led to several popular books including 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. See Cathy’s latest top picks as well as thousands of curriculum reviews at her website, Cathy Duffy Reviews. Cathy homeschooled three boys and now resides in California.
Mystie Winckler founded the website Simply Convivial, a resource offering gospel-centered homemaking and homeschooling self-paced courses. Learn more about Mystie through her Help for Homemakers YouTube channel. Mystie homeschools five children and lives with her husband, Matt, in Washington state.
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