“I’ve made a huge mistake.”
These were the words that went through my head in November of 2021. At that time, my
family was a year and a half into our homeschooling journey. Like many families, we had begun
homeschooling during the onset of COVID, and had found ourselves loving it. The freedom it
offered us, the way it brought our family closer together, the opportunities our kids were able to
take, all of it seemed ideal. We had never even considered homeschooling prior to the
pandemic, but now it rapidly felt like we were embracing the lifestyle. So why was I standing
there, watching my oldest son, wondering if I needed to bring our homeschooling journey to an
Let me start by telling you about my oldest son, Spencer, and I’ll try not to sound like the
bragging parent, which we all know can be hard! He has a wonderful thirst for knowledge. At
that point, he was 6 years old, and if he were in school, he would have been in first grade. He
was already well ahead of where he should be, and just wanted to learn more and more. We
loved that homeschooling let us find his interests and allowed him to just keep learning more
and more. But the other thing you need to know about Spencer is that he is shy. Not just mildly
shy, but shy in a way that caused him great anxiety and panic. He was shy in 2019, when he
was enrolled in preschool, and a year of being quarantined with no friends had just turned him
further inward. We had been living in Connecticut, and moved to Rhode Island in early 2021. In
the summer of 2021, we decided to enroll him in one of ENRICHri’s co-ops, Masked
Adventurers, along with his younger sister, Ellie, age 4.
From the start, the co-op was magnificent. It was filled with so many wonderful teachers
who brought to the table things I never would have dreamed of teaching my kids. Arts and
crafts, sciences, and all sorts of fun games. It seemed perfect. Yet every week, I found myself
worriedly texting my wife. “Why isn’t Spencer playing with the other kids?” “Why do you think
Spencer won’t talk in class?” “Why doesn’t he have any friends yet?” Of course, I had to look at
myself in the mirror too. When I was Spencer’s age, I was nearly as shy as him, and I still had
trouble connecting with people. Just as he was having trouble making friends, I was having
trouble getting to know any of the other parents.
And so we faced a difficult decision. Maybe the multitudes of non-homeschoolers were
right when they talked about how homeschool kids lacked socialization. Maybe, even though we
were having great success with the educational aspects of homeschooling, we needed to admit
that we just couldn’t give him what he needed in terms of socializing, and that school could fill in
those gaps even better.
However, as I said, we were enjoying homeschooling immensely, and we weren’t ready
to let that dream go quite yet. So we signed up for the Masked Adventurers again in the spring.
I’d love to tell you that at the start of that co-op, he was magically Mr. Social, but that’s not how
life works. But it was better. He knew some of the other kids at that point, and while he wouldn’t
go out of his way to talk, he would participate more actively in class. Around the same time, we
realized there was more to ENRICHri than just the co-ops, and began signing up for activities.
Not many, just one or two here and there. But we would see some of the same people at each
event, and slowly but surely, Spencer became more and more comfortable with them.
After some more of this, we began to find our community. Spencer began to have a
network of friends, but it didn’t stop there. Many of those friends had younger siblings, which
was perfect for his younger siblings, Ellie and Milo. It meant that not only was Spencer
developing a community, but that Lindley, my wife, and I were finding our community as well.
We moved to Rhode Island not knowing a soul, and like Spencer, we were both shy and
reserved people. But we found an incredibly kind group of people who were patient and
persistent in working through that with us. They gave us all sorts of opportunities, informal and
formal, to get to know them, and to get comfortable with them.
That’s the reason I wanted to write this article about socialization. For those of us who
are parenting shy children (or who are shy adults), socializing can be hard. I’m not going to lie
and say there is a quick fix solution that will bring your child out of your shell. But what if I had
left Spencer to the devices of the school system? I had already seen him in preschool. A full
year, and he hadn’t seen a single one of them outside the doors of the school. We often think
that what our children need is forced proximity, to be in constant contact with other kids,
socialization by immersion.
For Spencer, that never would have worked. He gets overwhelmed far too easily.
Instead, he needed a place where he could explore social dynamics at his own pace. Where he
could pick and choose how he socialized. Where he wasn’t a part of a big group, but instead
where he could find more opportunities for one-on-one socializing. He needed a place where he
could meet people the way he was most comfortable, with his family present, his siblings by his
side. And to be honest, we needed that as well. If we only saw people at school functions, I
guarantee you, we would be without any parent friends.
I write this for any parent who is considering a homeschooling journey, and for any who
are struggling with their journey. It is hard. I know it’s hard. I’ve felt the pain, I’ve cried the tears.
But it is worth it. When your child, when your family, finds their community, there is no feeling on
earth like it. Those days outside in November 2021 were the last days I ever considered putting
him in school. After all, what do public school kids do for socialization that we weren’t doing, and
Written by Sam Chesser