When chatting with other parents about our children, I often mention that we home educate our three girls (7, 3 and one). Usually the first thing I hear is “Oh, I couldnt do that” closely followed by one of the most dreaded questions asked of home educators: “What about socialisation?”

Home education mailing lists on the internet abound with new home educators who ask, “how do I make sure that my child gets enough socialisation?” Relatives ask home educated children if they have any friends of the same age that they can play with, which is usually followed by an on-the-spot math test and spelling quiz. Media articles highlight the need for home schoolers to ensure adequate social opportunities or risk having their children turn into social misfits. So what is the big concern about socialisation?

Most parents view Socialisation as something that happens naturally when you throw a whole bunch of kids of roughly the same age together in one room. They expect that their children will learn communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills, social manners and rules from the other children, all of whom have parents who are expecting the same thing. Children do tend to learn off other children (as well as adults), but a lot of the things they learn are not necessarily what parents want them to learn!

In her book “School Free: The Home Schooling Handbook” Wendy Priesnitz states that a lot of parents choose to remove their children from the school system due to the negative socialisation they can experience there. This could be in the form of weak discipline, peer pressure (including bad language, sex and bullying), vicious competition and regimentation. She cites research explaining that home educated children tend to benefit more from interaction with others of varying ages ” from younger siblings to senior citizens, at a pace that is more suited to their individual development.

Home education allows parents to cater for their individual childs maturity and need ” some children thrive on interaction with others, whilst some children need to have plenty of time and space to become confident in their social abilities. Beverley Paine encourages parents to let their children interact with others at their own rate, and to also use other agents (books, videos and so on) to offer models for children.

Children who are able to choose the amount and level of interaction they have with others seem to gain more from those opportunities. Home educators whose children have regular contact with senior citizens tell of the delight on both sides when stories are swapped, new skills are learned, and the day is ended with an anticipation of meeting again soon. Group activities consisting of mainly non-schooled children see all ages happily playing together ” allowances are made for varying skill and ability levels, and older children often tend to look after the younger ones as a matter of course.

Regular writers on mailing lists talk about their children who previously had difficulty finding friends at school, and were unable to fit into a social group. Since home educating, these same children are able to more easily talk to anyone (regardless of age or gender), look forward to and even request getting together with others and seem to have no problems interacting in social situations. Giving children the freedom and support to find the confidence needed in these situations seems to have made more of an impact than throwing them in close proximity with 26 of their age-cohorts.

When our children are little, we take them to the playground where other parents go with their children. We nod and say hello to the other parents, sharing a smile and perhaps a few sentences and watch as both our children follow each other on the slippery side, before having to work out who goes first on the swing. The children might be shy to start with, but then they chatter, and as we leave they are waving to each other, saying “see you next time”.

The socialisation there wasnt just between the children ” they were watching us to see how we reacted with the other adults and their children. They learned how to approach someone new, what social niceties are exchanged, how much distance is comfortable for strangers as opposed to new acquaintances, they took turns sharing resources, and compared their own abilities with those of someone else. During this time we were there to provide security and encouragement, modeled appropriate behaviour and didnt tell them that they shouldnt be playing with the other child because that child was three years older than them. Socialisation happens naturally, and plenty of opportunities are available for home educators to continue the learning journey that they started when their children were first born. My answer to the question “What about socialisation” is “Thats one of the reasons we decided to home educate!”.

For more information:
“School Free: The Home Schooling Handbook” by Wendy Priesnitz
“Getting Started with Home Schooling: Practical Considerations for Parents of School Aged Children” by Beverley Paine
“That Dreaded S Word” at: http://www.angelfire.com/mo/sasschool/socialization.html
“Forced association is not socialisation” by Adele Carrall at:
http://www.geocities.com/adelecarrall/free.html (towards bottom of page)
“Socialisation. What About It?” by Belinda Moore at: http://homeschoolaustralia.beverleypaine.com/articles/belinda11.html