How do homeschooled kids make friends?

I do a lot of career coaching for people making the transition from college to adulthood — the transition from being told what to learn to becoming a self-learner. It’s also when people begin to notice that there is very little correlation between how well you do in school and how well you do at work.

A difficulty many people have when making this transition is making new friends. In school, friends are a function of proximity (the social psychology term for this relationship is propinquity.) If you put kids in a classroom and then tell them they have to wait for recess, they have to be quiet for math, they have to line up, and so on, then the kids have shared problems: how to get through stuff that they don’t like.

The same is true of college: Kids are in a dorm spending most of their time not doing homework. They are hanging out together.

Then comes adult life with new cities for new jobs and they have no idea how to make a friend that is based on interests rather than proximity. They have no idea how to make a friend by appointment. But that is actually how people have friends in adult life. Which is most of their life.

So how homeschooled kids make friends is how people make friends in the real world: by common interest. First you have to identify your interests and then you have to identify someone who shares those interests. And then you do that special thing with that person. It’s fun and lucky if you can do a wide range of other things with that person as well. That is part of the process of discovering each other.

So here is a list of three ways kids develop friendships in homeschool:

1. Parents use the language of friendship. The term socialization is what people use for school, to mean teaching kids to be like everyone else. In homeschool parents use language about self-directed learning, which teaches kids to bond over the things that make them special rather than the same.

2. Kids make learning social when they homeschool. Self-directed learning often involves other kids. If you choose what you do for learning, and you love collaborating with other kids, then you’ll choose to learn with kids. This is actually the opposite of what school is, which is 30 kids learning in a room so it’s inherently non-social and more like a factory.

3. Parents first teach kids to find an interest. My son loves dancing. It’s very easy to make a friends with kids who adore being on stage as much as he does. My other son is playing Minecraft every day with his friend in Pakistan. He has never met this boy, but they have a shared goal that they work toward each day, which is the high-quality type of friendship people yearn for as adults.


14 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “Then comes adult life with new cities for new jobs and they have no idea how to make a friend that is based on interests rather than proximity. They have no idea how to make a friend by appointment. But that is actually how people have friends in adult life. Which is most of their life.”

    Let me guess. They make friends at work, get together with their work friends after work, and talk about work after work. So they never really have a life outside work. I know I did that to some extent until I realized what was happening. You’re right – you do learn propinquity in school.

  2. Tracey Mansted
    Tracey Mansted says:

    I think you have summed up real life friendships for homeschool kids…after homeschooling for a few years now, this is a good description of how our girls make friends.

    The other thing I really like about homeschool friendships – they are not based on age or gender as exclusively as school “friendships”. Big kids, little kids, in-between kids, all in together where interests and personality and getting along count for everything.

    Cheers! Great post!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is actually another reason that homeschooling is so great for special needs kids. My son who has Asperger’s has social skills that are a year or two behind his age group. Being in a world where kids are not divided by age group gives him more of a chance to find someone who is the right friend for him.


      • Amanda
        Amanda says:

        My son still wants to play and be young he’s 11and I let him be 11!! Most of my nephews and friends kids are like teens at 11 and it’s crazy! My son tends to have younger friends cause he still likes playing games and pretending and using his imagination! We need to find a group in Oklahoma to where we find him friend with same interest!

  3. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I think homeschool friendships also cut out the cruel group think/dog-eat-dog/Lord of the Flies thing that happens in public school–when one kid is identified as uncool, and then the rest of the group must mock that child to remain inside the group–even if they don’t really want to.

  4. CJ
    CJ says:

    My eight yo son goes to a wilderness “class” all day on Thursday’s. He and 11other children aged 7-13 go out into the woods all day to build shelters, make fires, scavenge for food and locating water sources, climb trees, talk science of bugs n slugs and more. I have nothing but homeschooling in common with the other parents that I have discovered yet, and my son has little in common with most of the kids, yet they all absolutely love being there. Each week my son exclaims that he wishes he could do that every day of his life. They really band together out there in the woods, share resources, protect each other and teach one another about their varying interests. The guides are really great at demonstrating but then standing back to let the kids do for themselves.

    Then he plays minecraft at night with my husband and his little sister and he explains all the parallels to his wilderness, real world experiences. It is AWESOME!

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      *like* :-)

      Really, I just wanted to click a *like* button here, but since there isn’t one, I will say that I really enjoyed reading this story. One – I love hearing/reading about different interesting activities, projects, and/or experiences home-schoolers are involved in. My son is 6, and we still haven’t found much in our community that would count as great experiences. “Field trips” is the best I’ve found, but are mostly pretty boring. I had high hopes for boy/cub scouts, but most of them seem to be religious in my neighborhood, though I’m still hoping my husband will find a group they could participate in. Two – My son doesn’t have any close friends, so it’s nice to hear examples of children working together with each other even though they perhaps wouldn’t be friends outside of that experience. So, thanks for sharing this. :-)

      • CJ
        CJ says:

        Thank you so much Tanya!! I have had that same experience looking into boy scouts and such too! And I have some friends, both HSers and traditional Ed parents, that have shared way too many bad experiences there unfortunately. Our homeschool group has lots of younger kids, my son reads to them and helps them climb playground stuff ;-) but, the wilderness day, it really gives him confidence I have never seen in him before being out there with older kids. He tells me it just makes him happy to be with them. His only profound close/best friend has been our daughter and now he seems to really want to make connections/and friendships. That wasn’t the case when he was 6! Peacenluv, cj

  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    So true! My home educated daughter is 9, one of her best friends is 14. They would never have met in a school setting and if by chance they did, they would have learnt that you can only be friends with someone your own age!


  6. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    The ‘socialization’ question for homeschool always struck me as weird. Traditional school doesn’t guarantee friends or fitting in–I spent most of my elementary and pre-teen years without any friends and dreaded recess when my loneliness would be on display. I’m 25 and have found it quite freeing to finally base friendships on choice not proximity.

  7. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    Since job hopping makes us move every 2 years anyway, it’s particulary important now to learn how to make friends this way.

    And it’s also how we keep the friends that we make. I’m having a hard time keeping up the friendships from all over the world. Those solely based on proximity quickly run out of “email”-topic !

    Thanks for the post :-)

  8. Introvertgirl
    Introvertgirl says:

    Unfortunately the Lord of the Flies situation can play out in homeschool groups too… check out my story on my blog.

    I am encouraged by your story, good points. I am hoping my DD will have opportunities to make friends based on common interests more and more.

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