This time last year, we made a rather monumental, and life-changing parenting choice. We didn’t share with many people, initially, because we wanted to try and work out how our plan would look, and if it was working then we could share and if it didn’t work, we could go back to what we knew with minimal fuss. We opted to pull our son, aged eight and half at the time, from school, and homeschool him.
One of the things we are asked about, when we say we are homeschooling, or a concern that people have expressed is about socialisation. This is the concept that traditional school life is important to teach children social skills and to help them socialise with their peers. It is, in fact, the thing people ask us about most. It’s a very common concern. Somehow not being in school means that my child (or homeschool children) will not develop appropriate social skills or have friends or spend time with different groups of their peers.
Socialisation and school as a partnership is a myth and children do not need to be in school to learn social skills or spend time with other people to learn how to develop relationships.
However I will say before I go further on that that as a homeschool parent, it is my job to make sure my child does have friends, does have a social life that is appropriate and does learn how to be around and with people and to relate to them. This is, in fact, the job of all parents, not just parents who choose to home educate. Sending our kids to school does not do this job.
I will admit that in school, my child would be around a mix of children, some his own age, some older and some at his peer level. He would also be spending time with children from different backgrounds. This is not a bad thing.
School is a false evironment
School, however, I feel, is a false environment. It is either over-managed by schools or not managed well (when bullying and behavior issues are not handled properly or not dealt with) and whilst schools talk about teaching consideration, respect and kindness, the reality is that there is actually a limited amount of input they can give our children on this, with everything else they are trying to cram into the school day, and it is a parents job to make this happen. If your child happens to be unhappy and struggling to make friends at school, school can be a very hard place for them. The school playground can be a place where friendships are formed but it can also be a place where children struggle with isolation, and behavior issues and habits in their peers that are not good for them (a conversation with a friend who has a young child in primary school who is coming home talking about “being thin and shaving her legs” for example, that she has learned about from her peers at school) which makes me think that we actually are very naive in assuming that what are kids are exposed to in school and the playground really what we want for them.
A lot of schools practice restorative and reconciliation justice techniques where children are made to work with each other to resolve conflict, deal with bullying and issues. In some instances this can be a good thing and teach them life skills, because as human beings we do need to learn to live with each other, but it feels like a blanket practice that is used to try and fix or force relationships in young children who aren’t capable of coping. Making a child sit next to the child they have been bullied by in an attempt to make them get along, is something I have seen happen.
On the reverse side, there is a concern that homeschool children can be isolated and part of our assessment personally when we made the decision to home educate was our son’s social life and social skills. It was also something we were questioned about by the education welfare and local homeschool team.
Life can be learned outisde of the playground and classroom
For us socialisation, access to appropriate peer groups and exposure to people is important. The life we live means that naturally happens for our son. He comes to work with me and is around children and families that he wouldn’t necessarily meet at school. He attends various sporting and club groups that means he’s with boys and girls his own age, and older and younger than him. He is in a regular Sunday School class at church, which allows him to be in a classroom environment. We also facilitate play dates and days out with children he “gets on with”. He is in fact rather a busy little boy, with frankly better social exposure and a better social life than his parents, it feels when I look at our diary and see what our week involves. Spending time around adults as a child is important I think, for children, outside of their family circle. Learning to talk to people that might come from entirely different backgrounds and learn from them, learn to listen to them and understand them, is not something school facilitates but that we are trying to implement as part of “socialisation” as home educators.
So, when someone asks “but school teaches them social skills”, I just smile and nod, and move on. If they ask I will explain, but most people insist that school is vital for children to learn social skills. My son came home from his first week of reception class and told me all the swear words one of his new friends had taught him, safe to say I wasn’t impressed by this as a social skill.
Let’s just say, we are not worried, life has more to offer than school does as far as socialisation skills go.