On Socialization – What the Research Says

Socialization of homeschoolers tends to be a big sticky point for too many people. As a homeschooler, I really consider it a non-issue (esp. on the days when my house is overrun with kids or I’m being a taxi driver for the kids).

However, a couple years ago, while working on my degree (yes, while working & homeschooling too), I decided to look into what the research really says about the socialization of homeschoolers for a class project.  While I’ve shared this with others in the past, this is the first time it’s been published.  I look forward to your comments. 

Note: Feel free to reference it and link to it, but please don’t copy and paste it anywhere else. It is protected under US Copyright laws. (many thanks!)  

Socialization of Homeschoolers
By Shannon Stoltz

For over a century, public education has played a key role in the socialization of Americans. With five generations of Americans educated and socialized in a public forum, many believe that socialization skills can only be built in a traditional classroom (Medlin, 2000). However, a segment of the population disagrees.

Homeschoolers, a growing number of privately educated students whose parents or guardians are their primary educators, are not exposed to the socialization techniques of a traditional classroom. Without the classroom exposure, can homeschoolers’ gain the socialization skills needed to succeed in society and to effective citizens? According to the research, yes, homeschoolers are gaining the socialization skills they need as well as or – in some cases – better, than their traditionally schooled peers.

What is Socialization?

“What about socialization?” or “Aren’t you concerned about socialization?” are questions often posed to homeschooling families. Even those who believe in the academic merits of home schooling raise the socialization concern. But what does socialization mean?  To some, socialization is exposure to other people and other children (Medlin, 2000). Others refer to teaching children to conform to social norms (Medlin, 2000).

According to Richard Medlin (2000), who reviewed dozens of research papers on the topic of homeschooling and socialization, the best definition of socialization is “‘the process whereby people acquire the rules of behavior and systems of belief and attitudes that equip a person to function effectively as a member of society.’” In essence, a properly socialized individual knows how to behave as a member of society and can function well in society.

Attitudes and Beliefs regarding the Socialization of Homeschoolers

Homeschoolers in general consider socialization a non-issue. Some believe that the negative influences and peer pressure found in a traditional school environment leads to poor self-esteem and negatively influences the child’s ability become an effectively functioning adult (Medlin, 2000). Most homeschooling families feel that their children have ample opportunity to gain needed social skills through their interaction in the various clubs, activities, sports, and music lessons they attend and by the fact that homeschooled children spend more time out in the real-world interacting with people of all ages than do their children’s traditionally-educated peers (Ensign, 1998; Kunzman, 2005; Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2004).

However, socialization of homeschoolers is a common concern for others.  In 1996, the American Psychological Association published opinions of educational psychologists about homeschooling (Medlin, 2000). The prevalent view was that homeschoolers would have little chance to form their own views separate from their parents and would be unable to value “what society as a whole” values (Medlin, 2000). The psychologists believed that homeschooling sheltered students and would prevent students from learning “cooperation, respect for others, and self-control” (Medlin, 2000).

Most homeschooling families are “committed to providing positive social experiences for their children” (Medlin, 2000). Homeschoolers feel that valuable skills such as cooperation, respect, and self-control are best learned “under the auspices of family” and in a “secure, positive environment” (Medlin, 2000). Homeschooling families believe that their children benefit from the “relationships both inside and outside the family” and that their children’s social skills develop well in a wider environment than a classroom provides (Medlin, 2000).

Yet, doubt still exists, especially among public school officials. A study conducted in the early 1990’s showed that 92% of public school superintendents believed homeschoolers received inadequate socialization (Medlin, 2000). The superintendents explained their concerns were that parents were keeping their children isolated and ignorant, keeping them anti-social (Medlin, 2000). Ironically, some homeschoolers believe that the institutionalized environment of a traditional classroom can make students “dependent, insecure or even, anti-social” (Medlin, 2000).
While homeschooling has grown and become more mainstream since the 1995 survey, a more current survey of Indiana school superintendents (completed in 2004/5) revealed that socialization is still a major issue superintendents have against homeschooling (Kunzman, 2005).  Today’s superintendents are still concerned about the influence parents have over their children and the homeschooled child’s ability to become their own person with their own views separate from their parents (Kunzman, 2005). 

Rob Reich (2002) is also concerned about homeschool children’s ability to become autonomous –that is, separate from their parents, able to think for themselves, and lead their own lives (Kunzman, 2005).  The fear is that homeschooling parents develop their children entirely in their own image and without the capacity to think for themselves (Kunzman, 2005). Reich (2002) proposes that because homeschoolers are under the control of their parents and are subject to parental control and viewpoints, homeschooled students are unable to gain the “exposure to diverse ideas and people” needed to become good citizens.  Reich (2002) claims in order to become a good citizen, students must be exposed to situations, materials, and ideas that are not selected by their parents. 

Yet, for Reich’s (2002) concern, he also notes that part of homeschooling parents’ influence and example is their activity in political and support organizations.  Reich (2002) agrees with Medlin’s conclusions that homeschooling parents are committed to providing their children with opportunities to interact with a diverse group of people and gain exposure to a wide variety of ideas. Reich (2002) even admits that he has “met many homeschooled students who are better prepared for democratic citizenship than the average public school student.”

What Does the Research say? 

A variety of studies have been conducted over the last twenty years to ascertain the effectiveness of homeschoolers’ socialization. Medlin’s (2000) review and analysis of these studies showed that homeschoolers consistently score as well as, if not better than, traditionally schooled students. Research into how often homeschooled students come into contact with other people and the students level of activities disproved perceptions that homeschoolers are isolated (Medlin, 2000). Medlin explained:

“The research documents quite clearly [show] that home-schooled children are very much engaged in social routines of their communities. They are involved in many different kinds of activities with many different kinds of people. In fact, the flexible schedule and more efficient use of time homeschooling affords may allow home-schooled children to participate in more extracurricular activities than children attending conventional schools (2000).”

Other studies Medlin reviewed showed that homeschooled students were equal or better than their traditionally schooled peers in social development (Medlin, 2000). However, some studies have been criticized for not controlling variables such as parental income, education level, and other socio-economic factors (Kunzman, 2005).

One study by Shyers did however account for these factors (Medlin, 2000). Shyers studied 70 homeschooled children and 70 traditionally schooled children who were “matched in age (all were 8-10 years old), race, gender, family size, socioeconomic status and number and frequency of extracurricular activities” (Medlin, 2000).  Shyers found that there were no significant differences in self-concept and assertiveness between the two groups (Medlin, 2000). However, in anonymous studies of the groups of children interacting, Shyer’s trained observers found that the traditionally schooled children’s “mean problem behavior score was eight times higher” than the homeschooled children (Medlin, 2000). According to Medin (2000), “Shyers  described the traditionally schooled children as ‘aggressive, loud, and competitive’ while the home-schooled children ‘played well together, cooperated in the group interaction activity, and were quiet’.”

While Medlin (2000) admits that social behavior is complex and the research on homeschooling and socialization is still relatively young, after reviewing the various research studies, he concluded:

“Home-schooled children are acquiring the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they need.  They have good self-esteem and are likely to display fewer behavior problems than do other children. They may be more socially mature and have better leadership skills than other children as well. And they appear to be functioning effectively as members of adult society (2000).”

Jacque Ensign (1998) agrees that homeschoolers are functioning at or above social levels of their traditionally schooled peers.  In a seven-year longitudinal study of 100 home-schooled students with regular and special needs (either learning disability or giftedness), Ensign (1998) found that home-schooled special education students “defied traditional stereotypes of special education students.” Traditional stereotypes for learning disabled students include a high drop-out rate, and limited study, reading, and math skills (Ensign, 1998). The learning disabled students Ensign (1998) studied had a “good self-esteem”, developed “areas of expertise”, and were “respected for what they do, rather than known for what they do not do well” (Ensign, 1998).

Traditionally, gifted students underachieve, “develop negative self-images and negative attitudes towards school” (Ensign, 1998). However, Ensign (1998) found that the gifted students in her study not only achieved, but also had a good self-esteem, interacted with a wide variety of peers, and typically were in leadership positions with their peers.

Ensign (1998) found that the homeschooled students in her study were not taught with the “assumptions and techniques used by special educators”. Instead, the parent-eductors focused on “the whole child rather than the disability or extreme ability”, customized the child education to meet their individual needs, and were caring, patient, and respectful of the child, waiting until the child was ready to learn (Enign, 1998). Ensign (1998) concluded, “the educational outcomes for these homeschooled special education students are self-confident students…”

More recent research and evidence continues to support Shyers’, Medlin’s, and Ensign’s conclusions. In 2003, Brian D. Ray (2004) completed the largest research study of homeschooled adults to date, encompassing over 7,000 homeschooled adults, of which 5,254 had been homeschooled for seven or more years. Adults in this study were more active in community and civic affairs than the general population, were more apt to further their education through higher education and/or reading, and were tolerant of other viewpoints (Ray, 2004).

Traditional Schools v.s. Home

If research to this point shows that homeschoolers are effectively functioning in our society and are becoming good and active citizens, why the question, the concern?  Many who raise the concern believe that traditional school settings are the best ways to socialize today’s students, advocating that school is the best place to learn cooperation, self-control, respect, tolerance, freedom, and civic duty (Medlin, 2000; Reich, 2002). 

One common myth is that homeschooling isolates students, yet the research shows differently. Both Medlin (2000) and Kunzman (2005) addressed the possibility that the word ‘home’ in homeschooling is misleading. Instead of being isolated and detached from the world, homeschoolers are actually out interacting with the world, learning cooperation, self-control, respect, tolerance, and civic duty from not only their parents, siblings, friends, and family members, but also from the various individuals who coach their teams, lead their 4-H, scouting, and religious activities, and tutor them in specialized interests (Kunzman, 2005; Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2004).

Given that five generations of our society has been influenced by the public education system and most adults remember school as a predominant force in their lives, it is not surprising that we discount the other people and events that impacted our lives outside of school. Nor is it surprising that we forget that before public education was the norm, children were educated at home or privately and still became effective, functioning members of society.
While the socialization provided in traditional schools has a place, the research (and history) shows that the socialization process is not limited to the classroom. Today, homeschoolers are functioning in society (Kunzman, 2005; Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2004). Even Rob Reich (2002), who advocates that homeschooling parents weild too much control over their students education and socialization acknowledges that many homeschoolers are “better prepared” as citizens “than the average public school student.”


Ensign, Jacque. (1998). Defying the stereotypes of special education: homeschool students. San Diego, CA: Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED419318)

Kunzman, Robert. (2005). Homeschooling in Indiana: A closer look. Center for Evaluation & Education Policy Brief, 3(7)

Medlin, Richard G. (2000). Homeschooling and the question of socialization. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1&2), 107-123

Ray, Brian D. (2004, Fall). Homeschoolers on to college: What the research shows us. The Journal of College Admission, 5-11

Reich, Rob. (2002). The civic perils of homeschooling. Educational Leadership, 59(7), 56-59.

Copyright 2006 Shannon Stoltz

Shannon Stoltz is a work-at-home, homeschooling mom to four fun kids. As a writer and consultant, Shannon balances homeschooling with work, juggling the roles of wife, mother, teacher, and business person. She embraces living life with her family and raising responsible children who love to explore their world. Shannon can be reached at www.shannonstoltz.com or www.workathomehomeschoolingmom.com

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3 Responses to On Socialization – What the Research Says

  1. Frazzled Mom says:

    Shannon – I enjoyed your article. As a homeschooling mom, I have seen the trends of maturity and responsibility in those homeschoolers around us. I pray my children will grow in their primary relationship with the Lord. I believe this gives them an even better ability to be a good citizen and student. I think many of the misconceptions about homeschoolers comes from the fact that our students react differently to their peers and adults than public school children. Anything different must be wrong! Great article!

  2. Silvia says:

    Shannon, what a beautifully and wisely crafted article. Congrats to you, and Elizabeth, thanks for bringing it up to our attention.

  3. Miranda says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I would personally never put my kids in school for socialization. It’s funny that someone used the rationing that kids that stay at home would be raised in their parents image and not be able to think for themselves. This person obviously hasn’t had kids of their own. It’s also funny to me that so many grown ups feel that 30 other kids that are their child’s age and strangers to their children can socialize them better than they can. If the goal is really to make them functional members of society than what better way than in the safety of their home where they can choose the people they want to be around, eat healthy food, not be bullied, not be subject to young, uneducated peer pressure, focus on academics, delve as deep as they want in to areas that interest them, develop deep relationships with siblings and have one-on-one tutoring whenever needed? I feel people that feel school is the best option either don’t really understand homeschooling or don’t want to spend a lot of time with their kids. Of course the schools are going to be against it since they are loosing money. Homeschooling is not for everyone. You have to be committed to your kids and that means not having all the time you like to yourself during the day. But at the end of the day, what is more important to you? It’s a very personal decision. When someone asks me about socialization I cannot answer that question because answering it gives validation that there is an issue. I just say, “It’s not for everyone. It’s a big commitment. I’m very blessed I am able to do it.”. It is not my goal to convince anyone else about the benefits, just to politely leave the conversation since it is probably not one I want to be in anyway.

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