Does Homeschooling Improve Social Competencies Among Children?
By Dr. Brian Ray, Crosswalk.com
In nearly every court case in which I serve as an expert witness, an attorney or a judge asks me, "But, Dr. Ray, can you tell us why some people are concerned about the social development of homeschool children?" Despite the fact that home and family-based education was the norm, globally for thousands of years and we are about forty years into the modern homeschool movement, many people still do not fathom the reality, richness, and history of home education.
Homeschooling has grown phenomenally during the past thirty years around the world, especially during the past two years. For example, the number of home-educated children in grades K–12 in the United States grew from an estimated 2.65 million during 2019–2020 to 3.72 million during 2020–2021 (Ray, 2021). In the Eastern Hemisphere, as another example, "The number of homeschooling families approved by the Israel Ministry of Education increased by 700% from 2005 through 2019" (Madara & BenDavid-Hadar, 2021).
Numerous studies have examined the demographics and academic achievement of home-educating families and students (e.g., Ray, 2017). An increasing number of scholars have become focused on an increasingly wider variety of topics with respect to homeschooling. Recently, Michal Unger Madara and Iris BenDavid-Hadar probed the social competencies and creative thinking of home-educated children. This brief review will touch upon only the former topic in the study.
The researchers aimed to evaluate the social competencies of homeschool children. There are two components of social competencies. One "...is adaptive behavior, defined as a collection of conceptual, social, and practical abilities that a person has learned in order to function in daily life as well as communicate with the environment" (p. 9).
Abilities included here are "...self-functioning, daily skills, use of community resources (transportation, shopping malls, ability to activate control-and-audit mechanisms), social intelligence, and cognitive competencies that enable an individual to develop mutual relations with others in diverse situations and in ways acceptable to society" (p. 9). The other component is related to emotional intelligence. It deals with "...how people interact with others in different situations and in socially accepted ways. This is a skill that benefits both the individual and others and is related to emotional intelligence..." (p. 9).
Social competencies were the explained variable and were measured by using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) questionnaire. This instrument is used to examine levels of social competencies and social behaviors among children ages 3 to 18. The SSRS consists of five subscales: Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control.
The explanatory variables were (a) the child's background variables (i.e., sex, age, and country of origin), (b) the parents' background variables (i.e., education, number of children); and (c) background variables of the community (i.e., residential area). The mediating or independent variable was homeschooling or public schooling. Six regression models examined the relationships between the variables.
None of the background variables was statistically significant in terms of explaining variance in social competencies. Simple regression results explained social competencies according to the type of education; that is to say, "... homeschooled students have a higher level of social competencies than students attending public schools" (p. 18). Furthermore, the differences in social competencies were retained even after statistically controlling for student background variables. Also, the scholars found that "... the greater the number of siblings, the higher the level of social competencies of homeschooled students" (p. 18).
Citing others' research, scholars Madara and BenDavid-Hadar note that some persons attribute the development of social competencies to attending public and private institutional schools. On the other hand, they point out the following,
Schools also have major social disadvantages, including bullying and peer victimization. Research shows that young people who were frequently victimized and bullied as children are liable to use drugs and other substances during adolescence and even to develop mental health issues.... (p. 19)
The researchers conclude that in their study, "...homeschoolers exhibited higher achievements on social competency indices than their counterparts attending traditional schools" (p. 20), and their data showed "...that 96% of the [home-educated] children participate in some activity at least one hour a week and socialize with children of different ages," which is consistent with other studies.
Finally, the researchers conclude that their "...study shows that homeschooling may be more effective in terms of developing creative thinking and social competencies than traditional learning. Therefore, it can offer a high-quality alternative to public education or private schools for those who choose it" (p. 21).
This is a well-planned, executed, and reported study. The area of the social competencies and creative thinking of the homeschooled has been explored in a very limited number of studies, and this piece is a stellar addition to the research base. It furthers our understanding of why neither the courts, policymakers, homeschool children's grandparents, nor the neighbor down the street need to be concerned about the social and emotional development of home-educated children.
• Madar, Michal Unger; & BenDavid-Hadar, Iris. (2021). Does homeschooling improve creative thinking and social competencies among children? Homeschooling in Israel. Journal of School Choice, DOI
• Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 11(4), 604-621
• Ray, Brian D. (2021, July 1). Research facts on homeschooling here.
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Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Winter 2022-23 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
Dr. Brian Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI.org). He has published numerous articles and books, been repeatedly interviewed by major media, served as an expert witness in court cases, and testified to legislatures regarding educational issues. Dr. Ray is a leading international expert in research on homeschooling. He holds a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University. Brian and Betsy have been married for 43 years and have eight children, all of whom were home educated, and they have 17 grandchildren. You can donate to the nonprofit NHERI (www.NHERI.org/donate) and sign up for free research updates.