The only time I worry about the s-word

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

Written by Caitlin Curley of My Little Poppies

For the past six weeks, our homeschool routine has centered around that dreaded s-word: socialization.

In January, our family rescued a puppy. His name is Gryffin and he was born on October 30th in a hospital parking lot adjacent to a major freeway down in Louisiana.

Anyone who has had a puppy before knows that socialization is a priority throughout the entire first year, but particularly during those first six months.

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

This is especially important for pups like Gryffin, whose mother was fearful due to maltreatment.

And so, for the past six weeks, we have been focused on socialization 24-7.

(As a homeschool mom, I find this focus hilarious. More on that in a minute.)

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

When socializing a puppy, the goal is to expose the puppy to as many new experiences as possible. Notice I didn’t say that our goal is to expose Griffin to as many new puppies as possible, or as many new people as possible – socialization is so much more than that.

We want him to experience new sights, smells, sounds, places, and events on a daily basis.

This means that we want to expose Gryffin to:

  • Children, adults, puppies, and dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages
  • ALL the noises
  • Traffic (cars, bicycles, skateboards, strollers, and shopping carts- you name it)
  • Car trips
  • Visitors
  • Trips to the vet
  • Visits to pet store
  • Parking lots
  • Walks on dirt, gravel, sand, and asphalt
  • Handling
  • Grooming
  • Feeding
  • The ability to be alone
  • Playdates
  • Puppy training
  • … and so much more!

Our trainer asked my children to take photos of Gryffin doing at least ten new things each day and she joked that the goal is to have one thousand people pat his head every week.

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

My children are always up for a challenge and they have made it their personal mission to socialize Gryffin. They brainstorm new experiences, plan day trips, and schedule events. They solicit help from strangers and friends.

“Hey, Mum! Can you ask your friends to ring our doorbell when they drive by? So that he gets used to unannounced visitors and UPS deliveries?”

“Hey, Mum! What if we take him to one of the horse trails? So that he’s not afraid when he comes across a horse on our hikes? Oh! And the farm. He needs to get used to farm smells and sounds.”

“Hey, Mum! Can we dog-sit for Ms. Paula? Then Gryff could meet her dogs, cats, and bird. He’d have some new friends!”

“Hey, Mum! Gryffin hasn’t been on sand yet and he’s going to need to walk on the sand this summer. Let’s take him to the lake today and see if he’d like to get his feet wet and dig in the sand!”

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

Gryffin’s daily calendar is chock-full of excitement and fun.

I kid you not – we have friends ringing our doorbell every day, both planned and completely out-of-the-blue. We have friends’ dogs asking us over for playdates and hikes. When friends see us playing in the driveway, they honk their horns a little louder and a little longer than they normally would.

My children have taught all of their friends how to approach a dog and earn trust. We have spent so much time on the local trails that “strangers” now greet Gryff by name and offer treats when he doesn’t bark at them.

My children delight in Gryffin’s triumphs. Once scared of everything, Gryff now sleeps through dance parties, surround-sound movie nights, sibling squabbles, and the hairdryer. He’s no longer terrified of our humidifier, cars driving by, people wearing hats, Alexa, crossing bridges, trash bags, kites, or … (you get the idea).

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

The world is Gryffin’s classroom and he is our willing student, happily accompanying us all over New Hampshire.

Our goal is daily variety; no two days are the same. And our job is to support him through these new experiences so that he can be successful. We want him to be self-confident. We want him to connect with others-  fur-friends and human, young and old. We want him to delight in new experiences and overcome obstacles.

Our goal is to raise a dog who will one day be a calm, loving, and well-mannered member of our family and the world at large.

The Only Time I Worry About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

Photo by Manuel Ingle

I know we are completely immersed in puppyhood, but does all of this sound like anything to you?

According to, the word socialization means:

  1. a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

As homeschool parents, we all kind of dread the socialization question, don’t we?

I get this question all the time- at the farm stand, the grocery store, the bank, the gas station, you name it.

When out in the world with my children (and now our pup), we are often asked, “No school today?”

And as soon as we answer, we know what is coming next:

“But what about socialization?”

The Only Time I've Ever Worried About the S-Word | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

The thing is, those folks are getting socialization all wrong.

Socialization is not dependent upon being in brick and mortar school building from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm Monday through Friday. Socialization is not something limited to the classroom, recess, or a hot lunch with thirty other children who share a birth year.

Socialization is an ongoing process through which a person learns the norms, customs, values, social skills, etc., that help that person to become a functioning member of our society- of our community

Socialization happens all the time.

We are not always home just because we homeschool. (We would drive ourselves bonkers if we spent all our days within these four walls!)

We constantly have new experiences, whether that is a volunteer opportunity, a field trip, or an excursion with other homeschoolers. We spend days out in the community, interacting with people of all ages and walks of life.

The world is our classroom and no two days are the same.

Yes, my children are involved in activities with same-age peers (i.e., sports, nature class, library programming, art and music classes, etc.), but they are also involved in a host of activities that are multi-age (i.e., homeschool meet-ups, volunteering, online courses, and church events).

My kids have a much broader peer group than I had when I was their age and was attending public school. (My 9-year-old son has a friend from Slovenia- they attend an online course together!)

I honestly believe most homeschoolers are “socialized” in the truest sense of the word.  

I’ve seen my kiddos interact with people of all ages, from babies to the elderly. Their friendships are not limited to others who share a birth year. I have watched them grow and discover themselves, and I have no concerns when it comes to their ability to make friends, show compassion for others, and conduct themselves in the community.

Now, the puppy is another story. Just ask my husband, my children, or my friends- they will tell you that I constantly worry about his socialization. Gryffin is a work in progress. He needs to learn the vacuum is not the enemy, and that most people are friendly. He needs to learn his puppy manners; to know when to bark appropriately and when to relax.

But my kids? They’ve got this. And I know they will help Gryff to find his way, too.

And that’s why the only time I worry about the s-word is when it relates to puppies.
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How do you handle the socialization question?

About Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast.


  1. Ruthann Blundell says:

    Love it!

  2. Thank you so much for this example, I’ll use it when we get the s-question 😉 Thank you! and kind regards from all the way over in the Netherlands.

  3. Lynda G. says:

    All this time it never occurred to me to look up the definition of socialization lol. This is fantastic! Thanks!

  4. My answer to what about socialization is to tell people that is the biggest misconception about homeschooling. My children have friends of all ages. They can interact with anyone, anywhere. My oldest son has friends in China and Mexico that he fluently speaks to in their languages. My younger son who loves everything WW2 made his Momma proud when he approached a WW2 Veteran, shook his hand, and thanked him for his service. They have learned so much more then they would stuck in a brick and motar building with same age peers all without bullying, rumors, and gossip.

  5. I love the puppy story! It so nicely points out what socialization really is, and how that dovetails incredibly well with homeschooling! We’re just hitting the age range where we’re fielding school questions. Thankfully, we’re not getting the socialization questions yet.
    Hamilton’s latest post: What Unscoolers Read: Milk Wars

  6. I agree 100% and your homeschool adventure sounds amazing. What about those of us who don’t have friends or family close? No homeschool group or at least one that clicks with you? Kids that see their hs friends maybe 1x a month or less? I know for me it was like that and as much as I tried to find real friends and meaningful relationships for my family we ended up at empty parks because everyone was at school 🙁

    • Kara and I have a couple episodes about this (and a post, I think) on The Homeschool Sisters. It can be so hard to find your tribe. I would encourage you not to give up hope. I actually created a group myself and that was hard for this introvert. Also, online support is a huge help in our digital age. Hang in there, Shanti. You’ve got this, and you aren’t alone.
      Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel: Book and Game Duo

    • OMG SAME Shanti! I struggle with mommy guilt because of the situation. I live in a pretty urban area and the mere thought of homeschooling is just absurd to most around here, like why would I do that to my child? He should be with children! *Loooong Sigh* I just try to remind myself that this is just a season and hopefully I’ll be able to find my tribe sooner than later.

  7. My response to the “what about socialization?” Question has always been “ we socialize our dogs not our children”. I get the funniest looks and sometimes even see people have an aha moment.

  8. This is so true! I’ve had the “What about socialization?” question many times, especially since our son is an only child, but we’ve also had the, “Your son is so well spoken,” and the “Your kid is so great at getting all the kids, bigs and littles, to all play together,” and don’t get me started on the endless conversations he dazzles adults with while waiting in line anywhere, much to my introverted dismay, lol. When they inevitably ask him what grade he’s in he says, “I don’t have a grade, I’m homeschooled,” I love the looks on their faces, utter surprise that such a “sheltered and unsocialized” child could have such eloquent discussions, and ask such intriguing questions. HA!

  9. I wrote about this on my site a while back. My stepsister raised dogs and that was the only association I ever had with the word socialization. UNTIL I became a homeschooler. I was so confused??!! lol! I need this list for my next dog. 😉 Since my 10-year-old puppy is way too old to learn now. Thanks for sharing with us Caitlin.
    Jen’s latest post: Our Favorite Games for Teens to Reinforce Learning

  10. There is a difference between forced association and socialization. And when during a school day do kids socialize anyway? They can’t socialize in class or walking in halls, they rarely get recess and at lunch they have to talk softly or end up with silent lunch.

  11. I was about to ask about the humidifier! LOL

  12. Socializing a puppy can be really tiring but fun at the same time. The way I see it, it’s not just Gryffin having the time of his life. Your family is enjoying each moment together, which is a good thing. It’s sad that I have to socialize my dog by myself, sometimes with my friends. But he turned out fine, one of the best dogs I’ve ever had.

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