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Social Skills Activities

Social skills activities are important for all young people.

But are homeschoolers anti-social or deficient in social skills?

          Social Skills Are Taught Not Caught
I'm guessing you have probably heard the following argument:

"Homeschool children are deprived of social activities that allow them to function in society."

The a priori statement here is that the crowd of kids milling in front of your local high school have obtained the social skills we truant homeschoolers should be aspiring to.

The truth is, however, that homeschoolers often have MORE opportunities to participate in social activities that develop leadership and personal responsibility. However, some homeschool students do not have as great of an exposure to a variety of social settings and may not develop as much social confidence as others their own age.

What Social Skills Are Needed?

How many social activities are needed? See the article below.

Looking for a Social Skills Checklist? Check out the Social Skills Worksheets.

Social Skills Rubric?Get a free printable download of the social skills checklist above

Looking for ways to boost self confidence? How to Build Self Confidence

What are the advantages? Social Advantages of Homeschooling

Tips to Overcoming Social Disadvantages Social Disadvantages of Homeschooling

Help! My child is too shy The shy homeschool child

What are the social goals of homeschoolers? Four social goals of homeschoolers

Social Skills Pyramid

What Are Homeschoolers Missing

I just read another article warning parents against the dangers of homeschooling because their children will be unsocialized and doomed to never fit into society. Such articles are filled with blanket statements like, "Homeschool children do not learn how to get along with other kids their own age," and, "Homeschoolers have a very narrow academic focus since they predominately use religious curriculum."

Of course the authors of such statements have no statistics to support the concern that homeschool children have greater social problems; let alone that YOUR child will NEVER learn to fit in. However, the statements continue. It is the most common argument against homeschooling.

So if you are concerned about social skills activities (or are in a conversation with someone else who is) I have a simple assignment. Do an on-line search of the socialization skills taught in schools.

Are you curious what social skills, activities, and issues national organizations for teachers and school psychologists have listed on their websites? I visited several such sites today and found the following topics addressed:
  • Aggression and bullying
  • Self mutilation
  • Respect for self, others, and authority
  • Substance Abuse
  • Popularity and social ostracization
  • Harrassment and intimidation
Hey, sign me up!

To be fair, we need to give credit to the teachers and school psychologists who are working hard to counteract the anti-social behavior encountered by school children every day. I'm thankful for their work. But I wouldn't be too quick to stop homeschooling so your kids can benefit from their socialization activities.

Positive Social Skills Learned In A Classroom

It is true, however, that a classroom environment can assist students by providing positive social skills activities. These skills might include:
  • Navigating a large school building
  • Maintaining a schedule without being tardy
  • Collaborating with a group to complete a group project
  • Relating to a variety of authority figures with differing styles and expectations
  • Oral presentations
  • Avoiding trouble makers
  • Peer pressure against silly or annoying behaviors
No doubt the list could be made longer, depending on the experiences of the person(s) making it. All of these skills, however, can be obtained through a variety of activities and do not require attendance at a public school.

Another important question to consider is how long a student needs to attend public school to acquire the positive skills. There is the old adage in human resource departments that some individuals repeat experience rather than gain experience. For instance, if it takes one year to really learn how to do a particular job; an individual who held that position for fifteen years might write they have fifteen years experience on their resume. In reality, they have one year of skill-building experience, repeated fifteen times.

How many years of skill-building experience does the average public school student have from their years of classroom attendance?

How Much Skill Building Experience Is Gained In Classrooms?

How much actual positive social skill building experience does a student gain in public schools? A positive school experience probably produces about two years of social experience. Or stated in other words, the student can aquire the social skills taught in a classroom through two years of comparative experience.

Where do I get the number of two years? It is based on three things.
    1. My own experience - I had thirteen years of public school, and have two bachelors degrees and two masters degrees. I do not have 23 more years of socialization than someone my age who never went to school. Yes, I have adapted to situations they did not; but I can assume they can adapt to the academic settings I am familiar with in about two years (or less.)

    2. Experience of homeschoolers - Many homeschoolers have transfered to a classroom setting. It does not take them two years to adjust. Many of the students may have a period of adjustment, the length of which may vary according to the students' personality and previous experience. Some of them may transfer to schools because they enjoy the daily social interaction with a larger number of peers. But all of them will tell you it took less than two years to adapt.

    3. One room schoolhouse - Yes, this part of Americana is largely over. However my mother, who is in her seventies, attended a one room school house in Kansas. Right before entering eighth grade she moved to Massachussetts and started attending a Junior/Senior High School outside of Boston. At first her teachers and classmates thought she would be behind. They quickly found out that she was academically ahead of her classmates. She felt she had no social disadvantage.
The overall evidence today is the same as it was in my mother's day. The Big School experience doesn't produce socially or academically superior results; and those who think socialization can only occur through their type of school experience are usually too arrogant to realize how wrong they are.

Notwithstanding the arrogance and faulty reasoning of the public-school-for-socialization argument, it can still be contended that the traditional classroom provides several years of social skills activities that can be beneficial for all students. Homeschool families do weigh the social advantages of homeschooling and the social disadvantages of homeschooling.

So how can a homeschooler obtain the same level of social skills? There are two choices:
  • 1. Go to a traditional classroom for two years
  • 2. Obtain a similar level of social skills activites outside of a classroom

Developing Social Skills

Most homeschoolers participate in extra-curricular activities in order to meet a variety of personal goals. If, indeed, the public school experience was truly the model of socialization we desired to emulate, and that education provided a full two years of unique social-building skills; that would provide students with approximately 2160 hours of positive social skill activities. (6 hours a day for 2 academic years.)

By simple division, that would indicate a student who was homeschooled for 12 years, would need approximately 3 1/2 hours a week of social skills activities to maintain the same standard.

Of course, this formula is contrived. For one thing, many homeschoolers have some years of classroom education, many public school students participate in multiple extra-curricular activities; and all students vary in what skills they acquire from the same experience.

Nevertheless, we could use 3 1/2 hours as a rough goal of the amount of time a student should spend per week on social skills activities.

Social Skills Activities Pyramid

The Social Skills Pyramid graphically demonstrates the need for a large number of social skills activities for children and youth (the base) as well as expertise in a few skills (the peak.)

Involvement in the same activity repeatedly over time usually decreases the potential of adding new social skills to the participant. Remember the lack of new social skill building experience achieved by a public school attendee after multiple years in a classroom setting? The same deficit in contributing new experience will occur with other social skills activities as well.

That does not mean, however, that the student should stop their participation in a favorite activity after a set period of time. In many ways, it is better to do one thing well after five years of involvement, rather than do five things at a mediocre level of skill with only one year in each. Long term participation builds skill in that area; which increases personal confidence; which in turn assists in building social skills.

Hmm, sounds like I'm contradicting myself here. On the one hand, repeat participation does not add new social skill experience; but on the other hand it may build confidence which does.

social skills pyramid diagram

Let's think of the shape of the pyramid. At the base there are lots of activities and situations we have been exposed to. Towards the middle are a fewer number of situations with which we have more experience. Moving up towards the top are even fewer experiences that we have encountered frequently enough to develop a degree of comfort. And at the peak are a few activities in which we are recognized as being skilled in. For many of us, there are only two or three such peak skills. Often these few areas of expertise become part of our identify.

Here's a common example: bowling. A child is invited to a friend's birthday party at a bowling alley. The first time he goes, he learns that we take turns rolling the ball and trying to knock down as many pins as possible. Bowling is at the bottom of the social skills pyramid.

Over the next few years he has several opportunities to go bowling: through club activities, visiting relatives, etc. He has moved up to the middle level and knows a little more about the game. He enjoys bowling, and notices on one such trip that there is a bowling league for kids his age which he joins.

Bowling is now an upper level experience for which he is gaining increased skill. If he continues year after year and gets onto more competitive teams, bowling will become one of his peak skills. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the pyramid, he has added numerous other social exposures that he did not develop to the same extent.

Developing Your Social Skills Pyramid

What about the activities your student is involved in?

If a young person takes music lessons, plays on a sports team, and is active in a church youth group; that might seem like a well-balanced set of social skills activities.

However, if they continue with the same groups over several years, these activities do not do as much to add new social skill experience. By all means, they should be encouraged to continue their participation if they are benefitting. However, while they are gaining depth of experience with those few activities; they should also be gaining an increased exposure of new experiences at the bottom.

It should be noted that the goal of some clubs is to develop personal or leadership skills by intentionally exposing the participants to a variety of skills and situations. In this case, that particlar group is providing both depth of experience (peak of the pyramid) and breadth of experience (base of the pyramid).

Other activites, such as sports or music, focus specifically on increasing the skill in one area (peak) but do not provide as much new social skill building experience (base).

If may be helpful to develop a social skill activities pyramid on paper to assess and plan social skills activites.

Level One: New Exposures - These are new social experiences for the student. They are the base of the pyramid.

Level Two: Repeat Exposure - The next level represents activities that the student repeats approximately two to ten times. Increased exposure provides additional familiarity, opportunity for diverse interactions, and ability to converse on a wider variety of subjects.

Level Three: Increased Skill Building - While all levels of the pyramid increase skill building, this level of participation is particular valuable. The number of hours committed to the activity increases skills, confidence, and usually interactions over a longer period of time. This often occurs when someone joins a group for several months or years.

Level Four: Expertise - This is the peak of the pyramid, and occurs through committed involvement over a period of time. Expertise in any area increases a person's sense of accomplishment.

Record the activities, skills, and social events your student is involved with. Look for depth and breadth of experience. If your student spends twenty hours a week practicing the violin, she might benefit by increasing base level exposure to a larger variety of experiences. Certainly she should not be persuaded to decrease her committment to her violin. But perhaps a goal of spending one hour a week on new skills in addition to the violin would be helpful.

The social needs of homeschoolers are as varied as the students themselves. Have your student develop their own pyramid. As a starting goal, consider spending a minimum of an hour a week at each level - particularly any levels that are deficient.

Group Activities Or Individual Activities

One common fallacy is that organized groups are the only type of activity that increases social development. Group activities are certainly one way to develop them. You do not have to be in four different groups, however, to achieve this goal. Peak and base experiences can be achieved individually or through organized groups.

More Info On Social Skills

Return to the top of this page for more articles on developing social skills.

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