Have you heard the one about the homeschool Dad who was asked how his children would adapt to “life in the real world” after being kept out of public school? He replied that “life in the real world” does not consist of thirty people all the exact same age doing the exact same thing at the same time while one significantly older person stands at the front of the room giving them all instructions. Hence the Myth of Age-Mates.
Homeschooled children will have a much truer picture of reality than their government schooled counterparts, simply because the homeschooled students have not been restricted to an artificial environment. You and I know that our day-to-day activities are seldom routine and seldom identical day after day. As much as we struggle to wrangle our homeschooling lessons into a manageable schedule, we know deep in our hearts that no two days will ever be quite the same. We may attempt to do our subjects in somewhat the same order each day, or in nearly the same time frame, but we are not caught completely off guard when some minor crisis occurs which lets the timetable sneak out the back door unobserved.
Homeschooling families also realize that aside from twins, triplets, or other multiple births their children will be surrounded by siblings of greatly varying ages. Government schools seem to come with a built-in (although unwritten) taboo on playing with children from other grade levels. If a child should seek out playmates from an older class, he is often called a “baby” and sent away to find others his own age. When the same child attempts to play with younger children, he is once again ridiculed as being babyish for wanting to consort with those younger than himself. Ah, the cruel and endless cycle of peer pressure. How I do not miss it!
Children who grow up in a homeschooling environment will see nothing extraordinary about associating with people from a wide range of ages. They will be able to communicate with adults and older students, as well as be able to draw on the patience and compassion required for dealing with much younger siblings, neighbors, and friends. Homeschool support groups and co-op networks provide a ready age spread for those families who have few children of their own.
The co-op classes we participated in were often grouped to include several grade levels, simply for the convenience of forming a group of children with similar interests. We held twice-a-month gatherings with classes loosely divided into early elementary, older elementary, and secondary (based on reading abilities and technical understanding), open fellowship times (sack lunches eaten with friends), and recreational periods segregated by physical ability (strictly for the protection of the little people). The children’s ages often varied greatly within any given “class,” but we did not experience any significant problems because of it. Instead, the children were given the opportunity to work with other students of similar interest and ability even though their ages often differed. The various re-groupings throughout the day allowed each student to alternate from being one of the oldest in one group to being one of the youngest in another group — and to find himself accepted in every situation.
Our well-meaning friends and relatives worry needlessly that homeschooled children will be secluded from “other children their own age.” In truth, our homeschooled children are skipping over the age-segregation period of life known so well to government schoolers; our children also get to skip the reintroduction-to-all-ages phase that follows the end of formal schooling. Homeschooled children are fully integrated with all ages at all times, and do not “suffer” because of it. Instead, it gives them a great boost in life and in their ability to interact with all people.
[For more on this topic, see the articles linked below.]
Socialization and Why You Don’t Need It (The Socialization Myth, Part 1)
The Socialization Code