We all know the stereotype: kids who don’t go to public school aren’t properly socialized.
It’s a legitimate concern, and it causes many parents to hesitate at the thought of pulling their kids out of the system. Kids in public school are constantly exposed to a revolving door of social situations: in classrooms, locker rooms, hallways, stairwells, cafeterias, theaters, art studios, gyms, recess, on the bus there and home.. Even though parents may hate the curriculum or the bureaucratic nature of public schools, the social aspects convince them to keep their kids in the system.
Socialization feels scary to give up (understandably). And let’s name the unnamed fear – no one wants their kid labeled as “the weird homeschooler.”
There’s a lot to unpack here (like the dark underbelly of public school socialization) but the first thing you need to know is the “weird homeschooler” archetype is a complete and total myth. Studies show that homeschoolers are actually more mature and have better social skills than kids in public school.
The second thing you need to know is that public school is not the only way to socialize your kid. There are plenty of ways we can help kids foster deep and meaningful relationships outside the glow of fluorescent lights and the ring of lunch bells.
Perhaps the most obvious example of public school socialization comes through sports.
Hours of practice, games, bus rides, and locker room conversations foster camaraderie and friendships. Not only do kids learn lifelong values like teamwork, empathy, and resilience, but working together towards a common goal is one of the most effective ways to build meaningful relationships.
Sports are by no means limited to public schools. Local community centers, YMCAs, rec leagues, church leagues, neighborhood leagues, and more host leagues where kids of all ages can get involved. Many states allow homeschoolers to participate in public school sports, too.
2. Community classes
Extracurricular activities are a great way to socialize kids while also helping them build new skills.
There are dance classes, martial arts, computer coding classes, and more. Whatever your kid is interested in, there’s something out there for everyone. Plus, they’ll be immersed in a community of kids who share similar interests.
3. Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
Scouting organizations provide a unique environment to socialize kids and teach important life lessons.
Kids make friends through hands-on activities like camping and hiking, while learning values like responsibility, independence, and leadership. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are now open to kids of all genders, but the two orgs have different missions and values.
4. Community service projects
Participating in community service can help socialize kids while instilling in them a sense of purpose and a deep understanding of how to make a positive impact on the community around them.
In particular, volunteering at a retirement home gives kids the opportunity to interact with older people. Schools enforce a strange schema that kids should only interact with other kids their age. Interacting with older people, however, can help expand your kid’s social skills in a dynamic way, and encourages them to meet mentors and guides to learn from.
Kids can also volunteer at local churches, food banks, animal shelters, zoos, and much more.
5. Summer camps
Most summer camps offer overnight or day options where kids can gather and engage in all different kinds of fun activities.
Summer camps are often skill-specific, like STEM camps or outdoor adventure camps, but they can also be generalized. Either way, they’re a great way to immerse kids in community so they can foster relationships with others.
6. Classes at local parks
Local parks often offer classes or workshops on a variety of topics, from art to nature exploration.
Not only is it a way to get your kid out in nature, but they can meet other local kids who are interested in similar things.
7. Recreational centers like YMCA or Lifetime Fitness
Recreation centers have a plethora of activities and amenities, like pools, gyms, climbing walls, and more.
Kids can join a league or a program at one of these centers, where they meet on a consistent basis, or they can go whenever they feel like it. There’s a lot of flexibility with these centers, but the amenities are open to kids of all different ages.
8. Library activities/summer programs/after school clubs
Libraries often offer a variety of programs throughout the year, from summer reading clubs to after-school programs.
Library activities are a great, usually free, way for your kid to socialize, learn, and pursue any interest they have in reading. They’ll not only socialize with kids their age, but kids of all different ages, as well as some adults.
9. Community theater
Creating something together is a great way to build meaningful connections, and theater is a wonderful option for kids to pursue that.
Kids will not only be immersed in a creative community, but they’ll work on building important traits like confidence and collaboration. Whether they’re on-stage acting, assisting with stage production, or helping design costumes, theater kids get out of their comfort zones and build relationships with others.
Music schools and community organizations typically offer choir and band programs for all ages.
For kids interested in developing their musical skills, this is a no-brainer way to meet like-minded friends in their community.
11. Challenge your kid to start a social group
Social groups are a great way for kids to foster the community that they wish existed.
For example, kids can start a weekly book club and put a personal twist on it – like always having pizza and homemade lemonade. They can run a writing workshop once a month, where kids write short stories and bring them in to share what they write. They can start a gaming club, an outdoors club, a basketball club – the beautiful thing is that it can be whatever they want it to be.
To get your kid’s club out in the world, you can advertise it at your local park or school, you can knock on neighbors’ doors and invite new friends to join – ultimately, it’s a great way for kids to build connections and have fun exploring life together.
Internships are valuable experiences for kids to have – both professionally and socially.
Local businesses and organizations offer internships for kids, from your local Winn-Dixie to the naturalists at your county park. Internships can last for one month to one year, depending on what your kid is looking for. Again, this is an opportunity for your kid to pursue their interests and build connections with people along the way.
Apprenticeships are like paid internships, and they can help expose your kid to new friendships while offering valuable career experience.
Essentially, apprenticeships are about gaining skills in a specific trade. Kids can apprentice for things like carpentry, plumbing, hairstyling, and more.
14. Shadowing local professionals
Shadowing local professionals is a unique way for kids to explore careers they may be interested in, while socializing with other people.
Kids can shadow doctors, entrepreneurs, writers, and other professionals. Just like volunteering at a retirement home, this offers kids a wonderful opportunity to bond with and learn from potential mentors.
15. Swimming pool
A great way for kids to socialize is by hanging out at the local swimming pool.
If they’re looking for more structure, you can enroll them in swimming lessons where they can meet new friends, learn important skills, and develop confidence in the water. Many swimming pools also offer swim teams and clubs where kids can participate in competitions. If your kid is older, they can sign up for lifeguarding, which is a good way to gain professional experience, make some money, and make new friends. Or, kids can simply hang out at the pool on a regular basis and make new friends organically.
Whichever way you choose, your local swimming pool is guaranteed to be a hub of connection for kids.
16. Art/pottery classes
Art or pottery classes are a great way for kids to express themselves in a creative environment with other kids.
It’s important that kids have a creative outlet, and these classes can be a safe space to foster creativity and friendships.
Forest schools are outdoor programs that can provide opportunities for kids to socialize and learn in a natural environment. Most are free and run by parent volunteers.
Kids can go hiking, camping, and take part in other activities to explore the outdoors. Aside from socialization, they’ll be developing important social skills like teamwork, communication, and problem solving. Taking a leadership or organizing role can unlock more growth opportunities.
18. Nationality/religious groups
Nationality or religious groups are hubs of social connection.
Whether it’s church, Hebrew school, youth group, Younglife, or Greek club, these groups connect like-minded kids through deep and meaningful ways.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program that challenges students to work together in complex programs.
They can develop critical thinking skills, creativity, and teamwork. Like in sports and theater, working together towards a common goal is a great way to bring kids together and nurture strong friendships.
20. Dual enroll your kid at your local school
If you’ve chosen to unschool your kid, you can still enroll them in sports programs or after-school programs at your local public school.
That way, kids can reap the benefits of public school socialization without having to participate in the curriculum.
21. Online classes, clubs, and courses
Online education and socialization are on the rise, offering plenty of opportunities for kids to meet others.
Whether your kid wants to learn entrepreneurship, teamwork, or STEM, there’s a course for their interests. Just to name a few:
- Beta Camp helps high schoolers develop entrepreneurship and life skills
- Kubrio provides classes for curious creators, age 8-18
- Synthesis School is a learning model that helps kids build real-world skills through collaboration with others
- Ender is a competitive Minecraft platform where kids can game, build, socialize, and win prizes
- Factor offers boot camps and programs where kids learn life skills from top-tier professionals with Snapchat, SpaceX, and more.
22. Discord servers
For kids 13 and up, a fun option for socialization is starting a Discord server.
Discord offers different channels geared towards different interests or topics, where kids can chat, hang out, and talk about what interests them with others. A popular way kids are using Discord is to meet friends through gaming or online courses (like we mentioned above), then dive into Discord to stay in touch.
4-H is a youth development program that focuses on hands-on learning experiences in areas like agriculture, STEM, and community service.
4-H makes socialization and real-world learning accessible to kids everywhere. It’s a great way to immerse your kids in community.
Conversation groups provide unschooled kids with opportunities to meet people from different cultures and practice their language skills.
Rather than focusing on hands-on activities, ESL groups offer a space to converse, learn, and build connections.
25. Creative, niche activities
The world is rich with countless opportunities for kids to socialize in ways that interest them – you may just have to get a little creative.
Kids can join a Latin club, a dramatic Shakespeare reading club, volunteer at the living history museum, apprentice with a costume designer, join a chess club, try rock climbing or ballet, and so much more.
What is your kid interested in? It’s important for kids to follow their natural curiosity, but also important that they get out of their comfort zone and try something new.
No one knows your kid like you do
In the end, parents are more than qualified to help kids get the healthy socialization they need.
Have conversations with your kid. What are they interested in? What do they want to get better at? What kind of socialization energizes them? You may be surprised when “locker room hangouts” or “public school bathrooms” don’t make the list. But don’t worry – there’s an entire world outside of those cinder block walls, just begging to be explored.