Socio-Emotional Development

Tieners-flashmobOne of the questions most frequently asked of home educators is: ‘How do children develop socially? Shouldn’t they spend five days a week in a classroom with their peers?’ These are also questions parents often ask themselves when they are first considering home education. We would like to take this opportunity to share a snapshot of typical daily life of home educated children and how they blossom socially.

Healthy socio-emotional development does not require school attendance

Socio-emotional development is a broad concept, which can be used to refer to many different things. The term is often used to mean ‘social contacts’.

On this website, we use the following definition of socio-emotional development: children learning to deal with others – the social component – and learning to deal with emotions such as joy, sadness and anger – the emotional component.

The socio-emotional development of home educated children has been the subject of many studies, both in the Netherlands and abroad. The conclusion of these studies is that home education is a valid form of education that produces good results in terms of both cognitive and socio-emotional development. In fact, the results of home educated children are comparable to those of school-going children [1, 2, 3 and 4]. But how is this possible? After all, these children do not spend every day in a classroom with a large group of their peers. Where do they find their social contacts? How do they develop their social skills and learn to deal with their emotions?

The world as a classroom: social contacts in many different places

Children who are home educated have social contact in many different ways. Just as school-going children, they join local clubs to play sports and engage in other activities that involve groups, such as hockey, football, gymnastics, ballet, judo, scouting and music lessons. They are not only members of their own family household, but also of an extended family and a wider circle of friends and relations. Next to this, children often are part of a (church) community, depending on their life philosophy or religion. As well, playing outside with other neighbourhood children is part of a home educated life.

In addition to these regular kinds of contact, comparable to those of school-going children, home educated children also have social contacts that are specific to the form of education they receive. They are involved in many activities together with other home educated children. A few times a week and in many places throughout the country, home educators organise workshops, playdates and educational excursions to such places as the NEMO Science Centre and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Open Air Museum in Arnhem, the Railway Museum in Utrecht or atelier ‘De Ontdekhoek’ (the Discovery Corner) in Rotterdam. An important part of these gatherings is meeting each other, playing together and exchanging information and experiences.

It is clear that home educated children interact socially with peers in many different ways. Since home educators are free to organise their own learning times and one-on-one education is a highly effective form of education, there remains a lot of time and energy for families to give attention to this wide array of social contacts.

Learning social skills and growing in emotional resilience

One-on-one education offers many advantages. The learning materials can be covered much more effectively and quickly, leaving more time for sports, games, family visits, outings, helping neighbours and clubs. In one-on-one learning, it is in many ways easier to help a child develop socio-emotionally. Adults can provide a good example and can immediately help redirect the child’s behaviour if necessary. The most important requirement for developing good social skills is the guidance of people with better social skills than the child itself.

At get-togethers with other home educators, children come into contact with other adults than their own parents and with children of different ages and backgrounds. This helps them to learn to deal with the diversity in our society.

For the past five years, we have been regular visitors of the speel-o-theek (toy library) together with our children (aged 3, 5 and 7). The employees know us quite well by now. One of them was very surprised to hear that home education might soon be banned. ‘But why?’ she said ‘Your children are so social and so much fun. They are not disrespectful to adults and you can really talk with them.’

Naturally, emotional development progresses in a slightly different manner for each child. Good guidance requires being able to adequately respond to the qualities and the challenges of the individual child. Home education provides ample room and time for this: parents can precisely adjust the learning situation to the needs of the individual child and this makes home education a perfect example of adaptive education. In addition, learning in one’s familiar, safe and calm home environment provides an excellent, stress-free basis for practicing social skills and growing in emotional resilience.

How does it look in practice?

Just as with school-going children, the world of home educated children grows as they do. Very young children spend a lot of time at home with their parents and family and their social contacts consist primarily of playing with other children. Somewhat older children learn to collaborate, for instance by carrying out projects or following workshops with other children. Teenagers go one step further and organise activities themselves, take their first steps into the labour market, such as through part-time jobs as babysitters or work in supermarkets, undertake voluntary work, or participate in social internships.

Home educating mother of three about voluntary work:

“My son does voluntary work at the mill (nearly) every Saturday. He helps the miller and offers guided tours for the visitors. Especially if the visitors speak English: the miller really appreciates my son’s ability to communicate well in English. He has been doing this work for five years now; he really enjoys it and says he would like to continue doing it once he has finished with the home education he is receiving now.

The mill employees are currently compiling a history of the Battle of Noordhorn, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Noordhorn Mill. Our son is involved in the preparations.”

For more information on the transition to further education and the labour market following a period of home education, please see the page entitled ‘What does the future look like after home education?’ (currently under construction).

Mother of four on social internships:

“My daughter teaches young children three times a week and every Wednesday, from 1 pm to 4 pm, my son organises sports, games and other activities for children (often with learning or behavioural difficulties) from the neighbourhood. Recently, he re-vamped a small pedestrian tunnel, together with twenty neighbourhood children. The graffiti artist who created the design and the Councillor for Youth and Welfare were also present.”

Some children are extroverts and have an above average need for social contact. Others are more introverted and need not only their social contacts but also enough time at home to recharge. Some children are shy, others like to be the centre of attention, some are very lively, and others more quiet. Home educated children all develop in their own way, but always with both their feet firmly planted in our society. These children have their own specific challenges and talents, just like all other children!


[1] Kunzman, R. & Gaither, M. (2013). Homeschooling: A comprehensive survey of the research. Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 2(1): 4-59.

[2] Medlin, R. G. (2000). Home schooling and the question of socialization. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1&2), 107-123.

[3] Reavis, R. & Zakriski, A. (2005). Are home-schooled children socially at-risk or socially protected? The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 21(9).

[4] Blok. H. (2004). Is school echt zo belangrijk voor de sociaal-emotionele ontwikkeling? Jeugd in School en Wereld, 89(1), 29-32.