Will home-schooling affect my child's social skills?

While trying to find the the perfect learning environment for her son, Reva wonders if home-schooling will affect his social skills.

Photo: CEFutcher/iStockphoto

How much money would you pay to make sure your kids were in the “right” peer group?

Would you pay $7,000? $12,000? $25,000? Or even more?

Private school tuition in Canada varies widely depending on the type of school and its location (with some of the more established institutions in large cities charging more than $40,000.)

Although there’s no data to prove that private schools actually provide a tangible educational advantage, enrollment in Canada is up and it’s growing steadily. Smaller classes and greater resources are part of the reason. The other is that parents are hoping to self-select into a peer group that best supports their child.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with parents across Canada about their educational decisions and priorities.

Both home-schooling families and those that have invested in private schools often say that a key reason for their decision was the desire to surround their kids with friends that would motivate them and that share their values — even when their kids are as young as six or seven.

Of course, anyone who’s seen an episode of Gossip Girl or 19 & Counting would probably have a hard time imagining that either a private school or the home-school approach would provide a “better” peer group for any child. But trashy TV aside, these parents are onto something that, until now, I’d casually overlooked.

Experts agree that as early as three, a child’s peers have an increasingly lasting and dominant influence on their development and expectations. Even at this young age, friends are often a stronger influence than the parents.

Looking back, I know I had seen a shift in my own son’s behaviour when he started grade one. Previously, he was passionately devoted to dinosaurs — he would read books about them, draw them and took immense pleasure in categorizing his gigantic collection by whether they lived in the Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous era (it made tidying up exhausting, by the way, since they all had to be kept separate!)

But when he started grade one, all of the other boys were into Star Wars. By October, all things dinosaur had been replaced by the same manic devotion to Darth Vader and Storm Troopers.

I thought it was an inevitable part of growing up, but now I wonder if it was the influence of his new friends? And even if it was, isn’t that just part of learning to navigate peer groups without losing your own sense of self?

I like to live under the delusion that I can control or fix things for the people I love and so I completely understand the desire to try and find — or create — the perfect learning environment (and friend group) for a child, whether its by paying for it upfront or with the time and effort that home-schooling requires. And yet, these recent conversations on trying to control or self-select our children’s friends and peer groups have actually given me the first real pause about my school-at-home plan.

While I want my child to have a peer group that motivates and encourages him, I also want him to be able to manage and navigate a variety of social situations that aren’t working in his favour. And isn’t that the better training ground for adult life? But my concern now is whether that is a homeschooling contradiction?

Until now, my biggest complaint about our local school is that it’s pretty lacking in cultural diversity, especially given the city we live in — but is my current home-schooling plan going to make the entire situation much worse or can I find a way around it?

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