Homeschool Social Skills from an Occupational Therapy Perspective
Most home school families have heard the question, "How will you socialize your child?" or "How is your child socialized?" After being a home school family for years, I can say socialization is not a concern for my family at all. However, when we were first considering switching from public school to home school education, we did intentionally set goals in 5 specific areas. Being an occupational therapist consulting with homeschool families, I made sure my children were participating in activities to address the 27 social interaction skills as identified by the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework.
1. Speaking Publicly- We want our kids to be comfortable speaking in front of other people. During the school year, our children do a 3-5 minute presentation weekly with their Classical Conversations community. The older students receive tips and coaching on eye contact, posture, gesturing, and clarity of speech. The younger students build familiarity with presenting and ask appropriate questions. In addition, we also participate in a poetry recitation night with another group. Remembering poetry with other eyes watching can be even harder than discussing a familiar topic. In OT language, this addresses the skills of , produces speech, gesticulates, speaks fluently, turns toward social partner, makes eye contact, and discloses appropriate information.
2. Interacting with variety of people- We want our children to be comfortable interacting with adults and children of all ages. We want them excited to learn from people that don't look like them or sound exactly like them. We choose co ops that have free time and group projects mixing age groups, and also have many adults involved. We also attend a church that has over 50 different nationalities. These choices have required us to have many conversations about respect, language/ slang, and leadership. The occupational therapy practice framework identifies these skills as acknowledging and encouraging others, empathizing, and matching language including tone, dialect, and socially appropriate language.
3. BuildingFriendships- We want our children to have strong relationships with their peers. This includes participating in organized activities as well as having plenty of free time to just be together. Both types of activity encourage deeper relationships based on commonalities yet also allow disagreeing and then recovering from those disagreements. One way we ensure these relationships are fostered is through a weekly hiking group. We listen to a short lesson on a topic of nature from the curriculum Exploring Nature with Children and then hike at varying local trails. Attendance grew to almost 45 kids at it's peak. Watching kids and parents of all ages in nature is a beautiful sight! The skills of expressing emotion, placing self at appropriate distances from social partner, responding to touch, regulating behaviors, keeping conversation going, expressing differences in opinion, replying to social messaging, and taking turns are all naturally addressed on these free range hikes.
4. Working as aTeam- We want our children to know how to work well as a team. Our children are all involved in team sports of their choosing. My daughter competes as a synchronized swimmer and my oldest son plays travel hockey. Though all 27 social skills have been met in the first 3 goals, completing them as part of a group adds an entirely different dynamic. We want them to be both comfortable both as leaders and team members; both roles take practice.
5. Communicating Safely- This takes all of the previous skills and puts them into an online setting. We have discussed bullying, language, safety, and etiquette with regards to zoom calls, social media, and texting. We have a social media contract, and have used the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures to discuss pornography.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework (4th ed.). American Occupational Therapy. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.74S2001
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Sarah is an OT and home school mama whose zone of genius is bridging the gap between OT's and homeschool parents with resources to help them both thrive.