A homeschooler’s sense of belonging is a measure of success

I talk with a lot of you so I know there are an inordinate number of people who homeschool their kids because their kids are training  for the Olympics, or are prodigies in chess or music…. the type of kids who are extremely specialized and do their thing all day and schedule tutors after their special thing. Of course there are a lot of those people. I was one of them.

But the majority of homeschoolers started because they felt like they don’t fit in with the schools. I’m one of those as well. That’s how I started. Of course that’s the majority: If we feel like we fit in then we would not take our kids out. We would feel like school is so great and those are our people. And you can’t take your kid out of school unless the kid feels like their not a good fit. Kids who love their friends and feel at home in school won’t leave.

Kids learn best when they feel like they belong. This is totally not surprising because people work best when they feel like they belong as well.

Leaving somewhere we don’t belong is a natural human tendency. Seeking out somewhere to belong is natural as well. And part of a homeschooling curriculum must include that: How to find a place to belong. This is a life skill. And even if we as parents have accepted that we’re bad at it doesn’t mean it’s okay to let our kids be isolated.

I have known this from the beginning. It’s why there is a category in the navigation called fitting in is good. It’s why I always took pictures of Z in a group at the end of recitals – because there are so few times when my kids were in a group and smiling.  I’ve tried to do as much as I can to counter balance how many people who meet my kids think their mom is too difficult to deal with.

I make rules for myself.

1. Join things that look scary or unappealing to join. So what if you don’t want to. People have to join stuff to fit in. That’s life. It’s why humans did not go extinct.

2. Find something you love and find the people who can do it with you. Don’t decide it’s solitary. Even Georgia O’Keefe couldn’t be a great painter in a solitary life without first creating an art-world network for herself.

3. My kid is an introvert is not an excuse. Introverts are not people who don’t like people. Introverts are people who recharge alone. Everyone likes people and everyone needs to connect with people. Introverts need to recharge AFTER being with people, but they don’t need to be alone all day.

4. When a kid decides to stay home and do things alone all the time that’s quitting. That’s deciding they don’t feel like they belong and they’re quitting. But it’s quitting the world around them. It’s enticing for a parent who has already done the same thing (Hello, autism) to say great, let’s do that together. But it’s not fair to the kid.

Homeschooling is ultimately about helping a kid find out where they belong. That might sound radical, but most of the US is considering quitting their job right now because they don’t feel a strong sense of belonging. This is why people quit. This is what makes people think what they are doing doesn’t matter.

The classic picture of autism is someone who is really happy doing what they are interested in all by themselves all the time but wishes they were not so lonely. The opposite of autism is belonging.

3 replies
  1. Emily Kramer
    Emily Kramer says:

    I love this! I’m wondering what you think about private schools or charter schools in this respect. Is it better to work with your kid and model fitting into public school, even if they might have to tone themselves down to fit in? Or better to put them into a situation where people don’t expect them to change to belong?

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    The question itself projects an outcome onto the kid. A kid only needs one best friend at school in order to love school. (The same is true of adults at work. One best friend.) Showing your kid your believe in them and you can help them make a best friend is much more powerful then showing them that you didn’t fit in so they won’t either.

    Also, kids who have autism know how to advocate for themselves by the time they get to college. They’ve had an IEP, they got extra time on the SAT, they asked to hand in homework late without penalty. College professors don’t care if you hand stuff in late, there are notetakers for every class for kids who don’t take notes. It’s a whole new world. But there is not someone to hold the kid’s hand and tell the kid what they need. The kid needs to know that by the time they get to college.

    So it’s easy for them to do all this in college if they’ve been doing it in school. Or with tutors and national testing — which is really expensive and I don’t recommend it.

    Also, the workplace provides the same easy-going accommodations. There are accommodations everywhere, but if your kid doesn’t learn how to manage them early on, it won’t matter that they’re there.


    • Emily
      Emily says:

      Thanks for this! She has a best friend and after your comment I invited her over for a play date and realized how much it means to my daughter to have her. It’s a friend from her school last year and they are in different schools this year. The friend went to a private school – and I sent my daughter to public school for financial reasons. I guess I have some guilt about that, which was a hidden part of my initial question. But the play date was a hit, so thanks for reminding me about just how important friendship really is.

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