My wife and I have two children, fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, soon to turn 9 years old. We homeschool. I always feel a bit reticent to admit it because some people are openly hostile to the concept (usually due to bizarre misconceptions about what homeschooling is or why we do it). It is, however, something I feel strongly about so I'll occassionally post about it here.
As any homeschool family can tell you, the number one question people ask about homeschooling is "What about socialization?" Don't be surprised if a homeschool family laughs at you if you ask that question because it's so stereotypical and also a ridiculous question for most of us.
First off, it’s a somewhat insulting question if you think about it since it implies we lock our children in a closet all day. No, we're not raising wild wolf children and if you saw them on a playground they're not standing by themselves against a wall somewhere.
Socialization is teaching children the skills to function as a member of our society. How to interact with other people. Much of that should be taught by the family anyway - things like manners (some parents today apparently neglect teaching this to their children), the concept of sharing, appropriate and inappropriate things to say, and modeling good behavior in front of them among other things.
Other skills the children pick up on their own from interacting with peers. Granted that does happen in a school environment but it also occurs with homeschooled children. Our kids play with other kids too. Homeschool parents are always getting together for play dates, field trips, and various learning activities. Our kids have participated in a homeschool orchestra (learning to play instruments), a homeschool chorus group, gymnastics (mixed kids), karate (mixed kids), Cub Scouts, drama class, writing courses, art courses, outdoor activities held by the Mohonk Preserve and Lake Minnewaska State Park, etc.
Some of the kids our children interact with are homeschooled, others go to public or private schools. The real difference is that our children interact more with children of different ages (because when homeschool families get together, they bring all their kids which may range from infants and toddlers to young teens. Another difference is that they're interacting with kids at these activities who want to be there and participate. There are not a lot of problems with disruptive kids ruining it for everyone - something that occurs all the time in public schools.
There is one thing our kids aren’t exposed to and that’s the Lord of the Flies environment that sometimes develops in a public school environment. My kids have never been mocked and ostracized for not wearing the “right” clothes or sneakers (which is good because homeschoolers swap hand-me-downs all the time). I still remember being in middle school and having some people mock me because my jeans were too baggy (tight jeans were “in” then) and didn’t have a designer label (they came from Sears).
My kids have never been afraid to ride a school bus or go to school because someone constantly beat them up. I had that problem before I hit puberty since I was a skinny kid who liked to read. When I hit 8th grade, and had a growth spurt, I exploded in rage one day over the constant harassment and slammed a kid's head into the locker. People left me alone after that. I have a coworker that once told me he thought I was wrong to protect my kids from bullies because they have to learn how to deal with them. I disagree - no one should be terrified to go to school because of bullying.
Now I know some people reading this may think I'm just projecting my experiences onto my children who may not have those problems. I'll offer two things to counter that. First, I know several teachers at our local school districts - as a community college professor, I've even taught some of them. Bullying, sexual harassment, and drug use is rampant in our local schools. Secondly, my son is skinny, very smart, shy, and bookish. I have no doubts he would be picked on in school. My daughter, being more social and outgoing, would probably do well but I'm afraid the type of socialization she'd get at school is that science and math are not appropriate for girls (being homeschooled, she doesn't know she's supposed to like Hannah Montana more than learning about how to train rats - her current interest).
I think parents who send their kids to public schools should worry more about their children's socialization because much of what they learn to value (and not value) from their peers is warped, at least in my opinion. Then again, I feel the same way about our celebrity-obsessed, anti-intellectual culture which I suppose places our family as a whole out of step with most of society.
By the way, if you're worried about how well my children do academically, they take the same standardized tests your children do and I'd match their scores against public-school kids any day.
Finally, I love this Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List.