Socialisation. It is one of the first things you are asked about by anyone when you say you home educate. The common response on home education lists is that socialisation isn’t a problem, if there is a problem it is fitting in all the social activities. But is that the full picture?
I went to school. Did it provide a good socialisation experience? Primary I think so, secondary I think not. Has it effected me as an adult? definitely.
My Primary school was fantastic. We mixed freely, boys, girls, different school years, worked independently but had a good sense of group and worked well together, had good relationships with teachers (I still see some of them sometimes) and developed a lot of self confidence.
Unfortunately, secondary school did a lot to undermine that self-confidence. Being a bit ‘different’ the good natured teasing which I’d never minded (ability to laugh at myself has got me through a lot ) gave way to out and out bullying. I was never really badly effected by it though, or so I thought until recently. I certainly never cried myself to sleep over it, or tried to alter myself particularly. I had a few really good friends (still my core group of friends) and the rest I refused to let bother me, I never got upset over the bullying because I shut myself down and stopped engaging with other people.
What has this meant for me as an adult? I think I come across as quite self-confident, as long as it is about practical matters. I’m quite happy to put myself forward as spokesperson/organiser, I find dealing with authority easy, I won’t say I like it but I don’t mind public speaking, I gave up on having any dignity a long time ago which means I never get fazed at making an idiot of myself, I can laugh it off. One off interactions over the years have got easier and I’m getting better at, and even known to instigate, polite banter with strangers. Where I struggle is that gap between stranger or casual acquaintance and friend. I’m not good at small talk, if it is of a practical nature I’m okay I think my self confidence got dented so much at secondary school that I prefer not to share much myself with others and in return I don’t ask that they share anything with me. It takes a long time for me to take down boundaries in a group situation (one to one I’m better) and there aren’t many people I feel comfortable chatting with. I suspect I come across as standoffish at times, and while I try to make the effort, the truth is it is a lot of effort and I can’t always be bothered.
What has this got to do with home education?
Well, obviously school as a social experiment never worked for me. I never really considered socialisation that much when we started out, I started going to a local HE group when Jack was 3 and I assumed we’d get more involved and we’d add in extra groups as they got older. I suppose if I considered the social side of home education it was to hope that the boys can have experiences like I did at primary school with out the negative ones I had a secondary school.
As a family I have no doubt we get on better because we spend more time together. I think this is particularly true in relation to the boys. To some extent they are forced into being each others best friend. That is not to say they don’t bicker — the shocking amount of grey hair that I have for a 32 yo will testify that they do, but I’m sure it would be worse if they were in school and they are genuinely close.
The boys are also both confident and good at dealing with adults. They are very good at going into shops without me and are probably as good as making polite small talk as I am. However being good with adults is one thing, I believe it is massively important that children get to spend time with other kids, although I make an effort from time to time I can’t (and don’t really want to) play at their level and even when I do I’m seeing it through adult eyes (or haze of nostalgia).
Despite the denials I have seen plenty of examples of people having difficulties with home education and socialisation. Firstly there are practical difficulties such as paying for and getting to activities. We live in a small village with not much on offer and rely on public transport (which is non-existent of an evening) which makes some things expensive and rules out some activities completely.
By home educating we are singling our children out as ‘different’. They go to groups such as cubs and they don’t have people from their class, they don’t have the shared experiences of homework nd school routines. They start with a disadvantage and they have to make themselves fit by the strength of their own personalities. So far the boys have managed fine, touch wood, and the only times the issue of home education has arose (asfaik) it has been as a source of curiosity and envy. I think where more problems have arose is that until recently we didn’t have a TV or game system and still refuse to get a hand help one. These are sadly such a big part of culture now-a-days that I know it did make Jack feel excluded and different so we cracked and got TV and X-box, although seldom watch/play.
Then there is the problem of what if they don’t want to do groups? Sam isn’t bothered and I feel a bit guilty that he doesn’t play with kids his own age much, but on the other hand I’ve only a few friends and Pete is the same but the ones we have are pure gold, so if Sam is happy playing on his own and having just a couple of really good friends who am I to tell him that’s wrong. He’s got so used to playing with Jack and his friends, that he finds it difficult to play with kids his own age anyway.
Third problem is our relationship with our kid’s friends. If they were in school they would make their own friends and we’d have nothing to do with it, we could have a say in who they invited home and saw outside school, but who they mixed with in the school no. As home educating parents we have a level of control over our kids friendships that I’m not sure is healthy. I was going to say I don’t like some of Jack’s friends but actually that is not true at all. I don’t like Jack’s behaviour after he’s played with certain friends and I worry that he gets taken advantage of, and is likely to give in and do things that he knows are not right to keep in with the group. But to what extent do I or should I intervene? I suspect the correct answer is not at all, you have to let them take the bumps, learn from them and sort things out themselves. Easier said than done, when you have to put up with rude, obnoxious behaviour from your normally very polite boy for days afterwards or when you hear their friends swearing (at the parents swearing at their own kids ) and your kids pick up on it Still working on finding a solution to this, I don’t want to control my kid’s friendships, but sometimes these friendships have a negative impact on our relationship and we have yet to find the balance that works.
On paper home education groups sound like the perfect solution, certainly gets around the ‘different’ label. Over the years we have enjoyed lots of wonderful days out with home education groups and met lots of lovely people. But we are still yet to find a group that truly works for us.
From the kids standpoint one of the problems is consistency, people drop in and out of home education and in and out of groups, which means long term friendships are difficult to maintain. Also they struggle with the different expectations of behaviour that come from mixing as families. I am incredibly strict for a home educator ( I don’t think I am really I’m just very keen on good manners) which means we end up with a lot of — but so and so did, well you’re not allowed — scenarios.
Then there is the problem of activities. Anything too structured doesn’t appeal, study groups doing lessons and lapbooks leave us cold. Because we adopt a structured approach at home our reasons for meeting up with others is mainly social. By this I don’t just mean friendship. I look for opportunities for my kids to work with other kids as I think developing group work skills and co-operation are important skills which are difficult to practice at home. But despite being part of a number of groups for a quite a number of years have found these opportunities thin and far between. I have found that social groups always end up being predominantly young kids and Jack’s outgrown them.
Also it is naive to think that home educated kids always get on wonderfully. Yes I’ve spent many hours watching large groups of mixed age kids play happily, but the minor tiffs ‘so-and-so won’t play with me’ type situations still arise. More importantly I’ve heard of more than a couple of examples of bullying going on and I’ve seen entire groups come close to collapse over difficult (and undisciplined) behaviour of one or more children.
The main problems though with home ed groups from my perspective is that they require the parents to socialise! As already said I find socialising an effort, as a result I tend to distract myself by taking on too much organisation. I’ve met some lovely people over the years but still find that some weeks I struggle to face going. Also I find most groups develop cliques around something other than home education; people who live very local so meet up more often, people with particular religious beliefs, people with particular parenting/home ed philosophies. We’re very laid back and find we don’t fit into any particular group, which means we often feel awkward and uncomfortable even at times unwelcome.
So where does this leave us? Despite the negatives I still believe that it is possible for home educated children to have very good social lives. I think parents need to be confident at recognising their child’s needs, some need lots of social contact others prefer a few good friends. In school they are subject to a certain type of socialising, at home you can focus on trying to meet the needs of the individual. Mixing in home education groups isn’t essential many families exist happily without them. Neither is home education the right option for everyone.
I envy those who have found their niche, groups that suit them. But home education is growing in popularity and I believe as times goes on it is becoming feasible for more and more groups to exist and becoming easier to find like-minded individuals. Effort is definitely needed from parents and if what your children need isn’t out there you have to be prepared to try and organise it yourself. It can feel very hardgoing at times, home educators can be very disorganised and very opinionated (often with contrary opinions). But when it comes down to it we all want the best for our kids. I’ve spent many years working on trying to listen to other peoples wants and desires but over the years my patience has waned and I prefer to step away from things that don’t work for us rather than compromise and choose to focus on the positive relationships that we’ve built and spend time with the good friends and like-minded people.
Home education isn’t perfect, and for us the difficulties in building friendships is a downside. But effort and time have turned up good friends (home educated and not) and the ease the boys find in mixing suggests that we’re not doing too bad.