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But How Do You Socialise Them?

One of the most common questions I get when people find out we’re home educating is, “But how do you manage their socialisation?” I’ve literally been asked this hundreds of times. There is nothing more irritating to a home educator than this question, and yet, I truly believe in the majority of cases, the enquiry comes from a place of either genuine interest or a lack of understanding. It’s not intended to offend. I even worried about it myself before I made the leap into the world of home education. But once you’re inside this world, it’s such a non-issue, that you feel incredulous that people obsess about it. In fact, I’d go further and say that not only is it a non-issue, I believe children are better socialised outside of our current schooling system.

An impromtu game of cricket with sticks for bats, a tree stump for the stumps and small sticks as balls!

The Definition

So, what do we mean by socialisation? The dictionary defines it as:

  1. The activity of mixing socially with others.
  2. The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.

So really, having friends and being able to interact appropriately with any individual in the wider world.

1. Friendships

Making a good friend/set of friends and having an opportunity to play with these friends on a regular basis is key to our mental and physical health. For children and adults alike. We are a social species, evolved to support each other and to pass information learned in our lifetime onto the next generation; thereby ever increasing our species’ knowledge over the centuries. 

As the ability to socialise is such a key evolutionary driver, our bodies have adapted to respond positively to social contact. For example, psychologist Susan Pinker states that, “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”

Social connection can improve memory and protect the brain from neurogenerative diseases. Having good friends makes us happier, lowering our propensity for depression. But it also strengthens our physical health. Various studies have shown that social interaction generates dopamine which relieves physical pain. For people battling serious illnesses, those with a greater level of family and friendship support are more likely to recover.

So, friends are vital. Making these friends from a randomly selected homogenous group of 30 similar-aged individuals who happen to live in a nearby postcode (and who invariably will be of a similar ethnic and social-economic background) is not. In home education, you have a much bigger net from which to fish and you can choose your friendship group from a wide range of children of varying ages. The downside is that it’s not as easy for the parents. More effort is required to find the individuals and more time spent allowing these relationships to flourish. But it’s worth it.

2. Interaction With The Wider World

On this point, I think home education has a natural advantage in that children are not restricted to the school grounds for five days a week. They have regular opportunities to go out into the real world and mix with people from all ages, backgrounds, religions and cultures. The travel opportunities afforded by the flexibility of the homeschool world offer rich rewards in terms of socialising with a whole spectrum of individuals with varying drivers and worldviews. So, from the simple interactions with the postman or the checkout assistant in your local Aldi to the more exotic connections made through travel, home ed children are practising “learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society” all the time.

Bean8 learning the Haka in Rotorua

Advantages to Home Educators’ Social Lives

In addition to the point above about the greater personal choice of friendship groups, here are some of the reasons I believe home education can provide a better socialisation experience than that of the school environment.

1. Confidence in Dealing with New Social Situations

Within the world of home ed, there are countless opportunities to socialise. Every day, there are numerous educational trips; workshops; regular arts, sports, science classes; informal group meet ups; educational co-ops; and play dates. There is simply no issue in finding opportunities to socialise. With many of these options, the children will be meeting existing home ed friends. But for the educational trips, workshops and some of the classes, I will regularly book them on to sessions where they don’t know a soul. After years of experience, this doesn’t faze them in the slightest. In fact, they seem to relish the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

This ability to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone and feel confident interacting and making connections is an extremely important life skill. For example, Bean10, who is very keen to get involved in the acting world, has recently been taken on by a management agency. She’s been to a few auditions in London and honestly never gets nervous. Not even in the slightest. She’s so used to entering unfamiliar situations and just getting on with it, that nothing seems to trouble her. Future job interviews, the stuff of nightmares for me, will be a breeze for her.

2. No Peer Pressure

This is a big one for me. Home ed children are quirkier than the average child, purely because the pressure to conform to some artificially created playground norm for their age group does not exist amongst their playmates. They dance to their own rhythm. There’s no need for holding back or behaving in a way deemed to be “cool” or whatever the appropriate term is these days. They can just be themselves. All of them. There is no crowd following to be seen.

So far, we’ve managed to avoid getting the children a phone and luckily haven’t even dipped a little toe into the computer gaming pool. The Beans play outside, with their toys, or just read a book to relax. Fortunately, there has been no need for, “Get off your X Box” conversations in our house, for which I’m very grateful. I’m fairly sure it would have been much more difficult to avoid these things within the schooling system without also making them a target for bullying.

3. Exposure to Individuals from a Broader Range of Cultures, Background, Religions and Age Range

Through extended travel, the Beans have come into contact with a wide range of cultures, from Maori cultural sessions in New Zealand to visiting Berber communities off the beaten track in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In remote parts of Indonesia, they experienced the physical affection of the local people and in the Bajo community, they witnessed the joy and enthusiasm of the children despite the high rates of poverty and infant mortality. They’ve played with New Zealand children in campsites; swam with Australians on the beach; cuddled Indonesian children and adults wherever we travelled; and played football with Spaniards. So many first-hand social experiences with other nationalities, laying down memories they’ll never forget, all with the overriding sensation of kindness and togetherness.

As Catholics, we’ve visited many churches around the world, but we’ve also been to see numerous mosques, along with Buddhist and Hindu temples, finding out more about these religions, meeting and getting to know their followers.

Home educators tend to have friends with a wide range of ages, which is much more akin to friendships in the adult world (very few of my friends are born within 12 months of me, and I certainly wouldn’t think it odd to befriend someone much younger or older than me). For example, one of Bean8’s closest friends is 13, and one of Bean10’s is 7. Most of the regular home ed sessions they attend have children of all ages (from toddlers to 14-year olds), many of which play together in one group. There are no year group divides. The younger ones learn a huge amount by copying/working with the older children and the older ones develop patience and empathy skills through helping the younger children. There is also no gender division; it’s very normal for boys to play with girls and vice versa. They don’t see the differences, it’s just one group of children mucking in together, as it should be.

One final point to mention in this section is that there is a higher than average occurrence of special educational needs within the home ed world, including Autism, ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorders. As a consequence, all the home ed children tend to be more sensitive to and have a much better understanding and appreciation of the needs presented by these conditions.

4. Closer Family Relationships

In a homeschool setting, it’s possible for children to spend more time with their siblings and parents, developing strong connections, than if they were at school. And if someone’s having a bad day and they need a hug, you can just snuggle up on the sofa and get that oxytocin release! Family relationships are your first and arguably most influential social connection. Often when people talk about socialisation, they don’t include family relationships, and yet they are so fundamental and to certain extent, influence our future social interactions. In our area, many of the secondary schools are single sex, so the two Beans wouldn’t even be in the same location for the majority of the week. They’d miss each other terribly as they’re extremely close – although don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean they don’t argue!

5. Parental Support for Difficult Social Situations

Conflicts are inevitable and are normally resolved amongst the children, whilst the parents are busy socialising themselves. But if the situation becomes overwhelming for the children and they can’t manage it for themselves, home ed parents are close by to step in and help. This has only happened once in the last four years, with Bean10 and an older boy. Although it wasn’t easy, I discussed the situation with the other mother and between us, we helped the children come up with a resolution. I think the situation would have been much more difficult to deal with had it happened within a school setting.

A number of people have said to me that the playground is an important place for toughening up children and preparing then for the real world. Seriously! This is a nonsensical statement. In the real world, if you are involved in a conflict you find overwhelming, you have a choice to either deal with the conflict or if you can’t, remove yourself from the situation. As a child in a school, they often have no choice, the impacts of which are sadly toxic and far reaching.

6. Adults Not Perceived as Authoritarian

A difficult one to explain, but as the children learn in small groups rather than one teacher to a class of thirty, there is more time for questioning and discussion between the children and adults. As a consequence, there is a more equal relationship between teacher and student. Often the questions they ask lead us off on tangents where ultimately, we all learn something new. Thus, adults are respected as friends of a different age rather than authoritarian figures, and this translates to all adults they come into contact with.

Finding bees with Izzy, the lovely lady from the Bee Preservation Society

7. Ability to Tailor Level of Social Interaction Depending on the Child’s Introversion/Extroversion Needs

Along the spectrum of introversion/extroversion, there are a wide range of needs. Some children simply need and feed off social interactions to a much greater extent than others. As an introvert, if I get too much socialisation, my energy levels become very drained and I need to spend time alone to build them back up again. For introverted children, home education allows them time and space to be by themselves or with smaller groups. On the flipside, for the extroverts, it provides plenty of opportunity to socialise in the large number of social groups mentioned above. The only difficulty is balancing the needs of everyone in the family, although this in itself provides them with a better appreciation that not everyone is the same as they are.

Socialisation Opportunities

Both Beans are extroverts and so our social schedule is full on to say the least! To be honest, as an introvert, I find it fairly intense, but I just about cope provided I make sure to get a bit of downtime at least some point during the week.

On a weekly basis, we always have the following social meet ups:

  • 4-hour genetics session with their close friend – learning together and playing in their breaks.
  • Piano lesson – they love chatting to their piano teacher and her husband, with whom Bean8 often has lengthy conversations about sport!
  • Home ed multisports session with a range of children from 5-13 – this week they played rollerball, which proved a big hit!
  • Two dance lessons for Bean10
  • Singing lessons
  • A 3-hour or more (depending on how long the parents can cope with the cold!) outdoor session with a local home ed group.
  • Cubs
  • Cricket masterclasses for Bean8
  • Hockey lesson for Bean8
  • Football lesson for Bean8 – he’s a little bit sport mad!
  • Acting lessons for Bean10 – her current one is 1.5 hours long, but we’re trialling another which would be 3 hours each week (although at some point, she’ll have to pick her favourite!) – she’s a little bit acting mad!
  • Church – they have a lovely group of friends who they meet up with during the children’s liturgy and afterwards for coffee and games.

Layered on top of this are the following social opportunities:

  • Monthly day-long watersports session with a home ed group – which is always accompanied by a lot of giggles!
  • Monthly hockey tournaments
  • Monthly filming session for Bean10 with a home ed group
  • Acting days in London and auditions for Bean10 (including one for a local Amateur Dramatic Production of Romeo & Juliet)
  • Cricket trials for Bean8
  • Home ed organised trips – in Dec, for example, we’ve booked to see the Nutcracker in London with a home ed group; a local panto with another; and have a different group of 15 children coming to our house for a full day’s workshop on A Christmas Carol.
  • Parties – just this week, we have one birthday party and are hosting a fireworks party for some friends from the village.
  • Playdates
  • Trips away with family and friends – on Saturday, for e.g. MrJ is taking Bean8 to watch the Mighty Palace play Chelsea with his grandpa and great-uncle.

So, I’m pretty sure we’ve got this socialisation thing well and truly covered! Probably too well covered. Which is why our holiday times are so sacred, as we relish the chance to spend time with just the four of us at home or exploring the world together. Food for this introvert’s heart 😊

For the next person who asks me how I socialise my children, I might well send them a link to this post!

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