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North Hills Monthly

Socialization Opportunities Abound for Homeschooled Students

Jan 01, 2018 02:05PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

For the sixth time in seven years, the FINS Robotics team, a group of middle and high school homeschoolers from the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, qualified for the BEST Robotics regional competition in North Dakota.

Socialization. It’s often referred to as homeschooling’s “S” word.

It's a common misconception that homeschooled kids miss out on opportunities to socialize. Many people think that being “stuck” at home with a parent doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for kids to interact with other children. 

The concern is that while the word “socialization” refers to social interaction, it also refers to learning to navigate a society’s social norms and rules of behavior. However, most homeschool parents believe that socialization is best gained through life experiences that not only center around the family, but also includes interactions with those in a variety of age groups.

As parent-led teaching at home has surged in popularity over the years, many homeschooled children now have large social networks and active social calendars. These homeschoolers are involved in field trips, play dates, ballet or gymnastic classes, group sports, music lessons, homeschool co-ops, and even dual-enrollment at community colleges. 

For example, for the sixth time in seven years, a group of middle and high school homeschoolers from the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh have qualified for the BEST Robotics regional competition in North Dakota. Team FINS is comprised of members of Family Instructors of the North Suburbs (FINS), a support group sponsoring clubs, socials, field trips, and many other enrichment opportunities for homeschooled students to meet each other. 

“Homeschooling is NOT staying home all day and just learning,” explained FINS founder Barb Beideman. The Franklin Park mom and former teacher chose the homeschooling path in 1996 after the birth of her first son. 

“When I was teaching students, I found that it was difficult to meet the individual needs of each child. So when the time came to make the decision for our own children, my husband and I decided that by educating them at home and participating in the homeschool co-ops that are available, our boys would be able to learn in ways that are relevant to their interests,” she explained. 

“We found that they not only learn at a pace that bests suit them, but they accomplish their tasks faster,” she added. “The experience has turned out better than we could have ever expected.”

Relationships with homeschool co-ops allow parents to collaborate, share resources and teach subjects with which they feel comfortable. “Co-ops can provide the structure for homeschooling or simply add enrichment,” Beideman said. “Your child may attend a session at another home, at a church or at the local library, for example, and they are being instructed by parents or paid tutors.” 

Another advantage is that kids are not just with children their own age. “Many of the programs offer mixed level learning so that the kids learn how to interact with different ages; there is no exclusivity,” said Beideman.

FINS recently had the opportunity to pair up with a local scientist through the Carnegie Science Center. The astronomer, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, taught a monthly high school-level class over the span of a semester, and the museum even loaned them equipment. 

“It was a fantastic opportunity, and the students thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on experience,” Beideman said. “Education is not just sitting in a classroom memorizing information. By offering students real-world experiences, they’re being taught to apply lessons to their daily lives.”

There are many programs available for socialization and academics outside of Scouting troops, churches and libraries. These include Swim and Gym at the YMCA, Toastmasters Gavel Club at CCAC North, SALT Speech and Debate Club, 4H, Pittsburgh Youth Concert Orchestra and Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, art classes at the North Hills Center for the Arts, Math Olympiad, North Park nature classes, literary clubs, chess tournaments, and even smaller groups for cooking, sewing and games.

“The list is even more extensive when you add special homeschool day tours of our local historical landmarks and classes at the Museum of Natural History, Phipps Conservatory, and the Science Center,” said Beideman. “The opportunities to learn are endless.”

Beideman’s oldest son is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University, and her youngest will be graduating high school in May with a dual associate’s degree from CCAC. As with any parenting challenge, Beideman knows that it’s all about choosing what’s best for your family at that time, moment and place. 

“For us, the flexibility that homeschooling offers in its approach to curriculum has allowed us to choose a method of learning tailored to our children,” she said. “We are always on the go with all that is available, but at the same time, we are able to stay in tune with their lives. We know who their friends are, and we can make sure that they are learning with others who have similar interests. This has helped them grow while still being challenged.”

To learn more about all of the opportunities available to homeschooled families in the Pittsburgh region, visit