At dinner the other night, Bean said, apropos of nothing except the common themes on tv shows and in school age books, "You know what I like about AFE [her homeschool program]? There are no school yard bullies." I asked her if there had been bullies at her old school, unsure of what her answer might be. She said, "No, but I wasn't very school-y, you know? The other kids just had this different ...thing, edge...to them."
Yes, I do know. She wasn't very school-y. She doesn't have a need to fit in, be a part of a group, pair off with another girl for social protection. It's not that she doesn't want these things, but she doesn't need them and she was quite willing to hang on the sidelines and do her own thing, only joining in if the game was particularly interesting. But once there was conflict, she moved on. In kindergarten and first-grade, this wasn't a particularly big deal, but of course I fretted about it. That was also the reason I wasn't particularly worried about socialization before we started homeschooling.
It turns out, this was one of the first things I worried about. In the first weeks, it seemed like Bean decided that she no longer had to follow all of the social niceties that had been required at school. She was rude to a neighbor who stopped by and asked our home school consultant how old she was. I don't remember some of the other examples of poor social skills anymore because this behavior seemed to be a phase probably related to adjusting mid-school-year to her new circumstances. At first we tried the "you know better" lecture but quickly switched to directly, but kindly, reminding her what was and was not okay.
Bean has never liked playdates, either with or without one of her moms. It doesn't matter where she is or how much she likes the other kid, after about an hour, she's done - and says so. I've gone back and forth between giving up on playdates unless she asks for one directly (she almost never has) and giving it another try. Typically, impromptu playdates that arise when we happen to see friends or friendly strangers (of the child-variety) at the park or out and about tend to work best. What she would really like is a handful of kids in the neighborhood who could just pop in and out of each other's houses and yards at will. We don't have that. We might if she went to the local public school and she knew the kids down the block and around the corner better, but our neighborhood is oddly constructed and not really conducive to the kind of itinerant kid-wandering that is romanticized in children's literature. I remember these neighborhood ramblings myself.
Right now, I think we have settled into a good balance that works for Bean. Once a week, she attends a 2.5 hour enrichment class at the public school homeschool program with 15 other kids aged 7-10. She is the only 7 year old and has been all year, but despite any worries I had (and you know I had them) it seems to be fine. Academically she is on the same level and there have't been any social issues. Some of the other kids have clear social issues, but the teacher is experienced and there are always parents and other adults on hand so it seems to work out. In all my observation, Bean has had no problem getting along with the other kids, and following direction from the teacher. This short class time is plenty for her, though she could probably handle more.
She takes a few lessons throughout the week - dance, sewing, and drama - some with other kids, some one-on-one with the teacher. I think time with adults who are not her parents is just as valid from a socialization point of view as time with other kids. We try to get out as much as possible to parks, the library, and running errands. I encourage Bean to talk to adults and other kids in the environments and make the most of that time out in the world.
Bean and Boo used to play together more, but as she approaches 8 I have noticed that playing with a 2 and a half year old is more of a chore for her and she would just rather do her own thing. This is natural I think and part of the sibling dance that will change over the years.
My current favorite article on the subject, from the homeschooler's point of view is from Dianne Flynn Keith. It turns out, she didn't have any of the difficulty I did getting out her thoughts on the subject - maybe because her kids are grown.