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Homeschooling: The Good Stuff #6 -- Age-Mixing

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The sixth in an occasional series about some of the under-recognized benefits of homeschooling.

What about socialization?

It's a question homeschooling parents hear all the time. Those of us who are seasoned homeschoolers know it's a non-issue.

In fact, the opportunity for mixed-age socialization is one of homeschooling's great benefits. At homeschooling park days, for example, kids of all ages interact and play with each other. My teens attend one where some kids engage in a game of ultimate frisbee, while others play capture the flag, and still others enjoy the playground or brook.

Generally, it's the teens who play ultimate frisbee, but an interested and motivated younger child would not be turned away. Sometimes, you can see younger children watching the game with rapt attention, clearly admiring the "big kids" and looking forward to joining their ranks. When a younger kid wants to be in the game, the older kids get to act as mentors, offering valuable experiences for all involved.

In recent years, I've noticed a tendency in homeschooling support groups to create age-segregated events. In some cases, age segregation may be desirable. Teenagers, for example, like to participate in social events limited to their agemates. Parents of preschoolers may also find that playgroups with other preschoolers make their kids happy and allow them chances to socialize with each other and compare notes.

If age-segregated events are a small part of a person's life, and the person is engaging in the larger world full of many different kinds of people, those events can be one component of a full life. But I sometimes think the push toward creating age-segregated events in homeschooling groups is driven by our cultural obsession with age segregation.

There's plenty of research on the benefits of mixed-age groups, but research aside, my common sense and my own experience make clear that age-mixing is a better choice. Everyone gains knowledge, perspective, compassion, and confidence from interacting with people from all stages of life.

When older children serve as mentors and role models for younger children, either intentionally (by directing them in a play, for example, as my 15-year-old has done), or inadvertently (by playing in their presence a robust game of ultimate frisbee that involves cooperation and skill), the benefits are tremendous. Adults also reap rewards from mentoring relationships.

It's true that sometimes parameters need to be set for a group. Parents who want to start a math club might need to define the level of ability required to join. A writing group might necessitate a particular skill level to participate. In all these cases, however, homeschooling parents can consider ability above age as the most important criteria.

When my son was turning 16, the list of invitees for his birthday party included homeschooled and schooled kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens, and adults including homeschooling parents he counted as friends, fellow members of his birding group, and other community members. The gathering reflected what I have seen to be true time and again -- homeschoolers raised with lots of mixed-age experiences become socially well-adjusted teens and adults who enjoy relationships with all kinds of people.

Interactions with people of all ages is something which homeschooling naturally offers, so get over the idea that classes, activities, and other programs need to be defined by age, and enjoy and reap the benefits of age mixing.

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