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“Socialization is so important. I would never homeschool.”

That’s what the man on the plane said when I answered his “What do you do?” question with “I educate my children.” (Hmm, how can I possibly explain our social life?)

This is a question I get all the time. From the subtle remarks of a grocery-store clerk insinuating that my kids only hang out with me to people who saw us acting in a skit about anger and somehow believed it was real. From children who know my kids from sports but can’t picture what their day is like to the direct questions of the man I happened to be seated next to for a five-hour flight. All these people picture us home everyday working alone.

I think much of the confusion comes from the fact that 20 years ago people tackled this choice without a lot of support from other homeschooling families. Yet currently, where we live, there are so many homeschoolers that the trick is to stay home enough to get the academics done.

But still, I’m asked the same question so often that I don’t want to give a flip answer — even to myself. Am I really providing enough socialization for my kids?

To honestly assess that, I have to compare to the “standard,” which in most people’s eyes is the public school system. (I won’t even debate what the norm should be.)

So how much time everyday do public-schooled children get to socialize? Adding up recess (20 minutes), lunch (20 minutes) and even 5 minutes of talking / misbehavior per hour in class, that’s about 70 minutes every day of social time. So almost 6 hours a week would be a generous estimate, I’d say. (Some kids ride the bus and some don’t, so I figured it isn’t fair to count that.)

For our “social time” or occasions when the girls can chat with friends, here’s what our family does weekly:

* One-plus-hour walk with friends three to four times per week.

* Two hours of cooperative physics and geography learning.

* One hour of choral singing followed by 1 hour of free play.

* One hour of an art class with two other friends framed by at least one hour of talking time.

* A two-hour, highly-interactive writing and literature appreciation class every other week.

* A play date every other week with a friend’s children.

There are more activities if I look monthly. But limiting calculations to strictly social time, this list shows an average of seven hours per week of unstructured conversation. Add in the interactive writing class, the art class where they can chat the whole time, the cooperative physics and geography, and we’re up to 11 hours per week of social time. And I’m not including chorus when they can’t talk, town soccer (outside of school time) or school band.

Anyone who asks about our socialization doesn’t really want this list. I’ve tried explaining these details to people just to prove I’m not neglecting my children’s social skills, but their eyes usually glaze over. Those who have remained interested usually then counter with, “Yes, but I mean kids their own age.”

I can’t say much to that. It’s true, as homeschoolers my kids play with kids of varying ages. They tend to hang out with kids within a year of their ages, but just the other day we had friends over, and the two oldest kids each ended up pairing off with the two youngest to go play.

On rare occasions when I can muster up the courage, I’ll ask the person if their friends are their exact age. Then I’ll point out that as people do in the real world, my kids interact with children older and younger than them, too.

Oddly, once I mention town sports and school band, people generally relax. I hope this is because I’ve made my point: Homeschooling doesn’t have to mean isolation. But I have to wonder if some people think all homeschoolers might turn into Andrea Yates and that by interacting with the school system, I’m somehow saner.

So today we went on a four-hour field trip for my 9-year-old to learn more about electricity — her physics topic of the month. While Katherine made light bulbs (and caught them on fire, but that’s another story), I hung out with my younger daughter and her friend from birth. (Or from before birth — Can bellies talk?) Two other moms were nearby also focusing on their youngest children.

Listening to these mothers, their homeschooling experiences were quite dissimilar from my own. They live in different rural towns in western Massachusetts. Each had driven hours to come on the field trip. One was even staying overnight the ride was so long. (And I had begrudged my 35-minute drive.)

“We know five other homeschooling families in our area,” one woman said. “But none of the children are above age 8, and my oldest child is 12.”

I didn’t tell her we have over 20 families just in our chorus and that there are four girls who are about 12 years old in the group. If I add in our other regular coops, we see almost 30 other homeschooling families every week. Being a social person, five didn’t seem like much to me either.

As these women detailed their lack of social interaction, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that we just dropped out of a 35-plus family coop because we just don’t have enough time to have that much of a social life. (And those 35 families have almost no intersection with the other families we see.) Or that a huge cooperative in Acton is just something I haven’t even tried.

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