How many homeschoolers HAVEN’T been asked “But what about socialisation?” by extended family, friends or random strangers?
Zero. Exactly none.
We’ve ALL been grilled on this topic. Which makes some of us a bit jumpy and defensive.
Hence the repetition of this question:
“Will my children get enough socialisation if we home educate?”
I’ve been hearing people ask this question in home education groups and forums since I began unschooling with my two sons 17 years ago and it’s baffled me for that long too.
Why do people want their children to be “socialised” and what do they mean by this?
Do you really want your child to be programmed with an institutional mindset? Or forced to interact with their peers in an authoritarian institution where their natural instincts are disregarded? Because that’s basically what socialisation at school is all about and I’m very happy that my sons managed to avoid a lot of it.
Yes! That’s what I’m saying.
Let me explain my perspective.
There’s a lot of confusion about the concept of socialisation because there’s at least two very different meanings.
Mixing in social groups and having friends
Some people think it’s all about children having a social life. They want their child to be comfortable about mixing with other children. They want their child to have friends.
Of course it’s nice if children have friends to play with, if that’s what they enjoy, but its a mistake to assume that all children have the same social needs or that school can help them learn social skills.
Some children love playing with lots of other children, having lots of friends, seek out social situations and thrive in big groups. We call these folks extroverts. They don’t generally need much help with socialisation; they’re just busy getting on with it.
LOTS of children like a few friends to play with and usually take quite a while to learn all about friendships and getting on well with people in groups. For many of us, it’s a lifetime’s work.
Some children are born introverts and/or have challenges learning social cues and dealing with the sensory stimulation of social situations. These children can take longer to feel comfortable mixing with other children and may not feel the need for many friends. Or even any friends. They may be happy learning about social skills and relationships in their own family and local community. There is a lot of social pressure for these children to “be socialised.” This pressure comes from fear and is usually unhelpful. I know this from observing one of my own sons and how he responded to my own fear-based pressure to socialise more.
Does school actually help kids socialise?
No children are helped in their socialisation by being forced into an institutional environment. School was not set up to help children learn social skills in a way that suits children. They wouldn’t be coerced into staying at school if it was about social skills. They’d have the option to get away from social situations that were unpleasant or harmful. That isn’t the case at school.
I’d also hazard a guess that most children aren’t helped by being pressured into having lots of friends or lots of time in big groups from a very young age.
As my friend Sarah Beale puts it:
Your child needs to prepare to socialise at school. By learning how to socialise at kindy. Your child needs to learn how to socialise at kindy by going to nursery or child care.
It’s now the norm to send 2 year olds out of the home in order to LEARN to do something that is actually human.
It’s akin to sending a baby bird to flying school.
If we’re talking about kids learning how to mix with other children and adults, then extended families and local communities are a great place for children to do this in a way that suits their individual needs. That’s what home education can provide as children learn in a way and at a pace that suits them. They can go to homeschool gatherings if they want to and leave when they want to. If they don’t want to interact they don’t have to.
Learning to behave
The other meaning for socialisation is “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.”
This is where the school system really comes into its own. Most of us know that the modern institution of school was invented during the industrial revolution to educate and train a willing workforce. That hasn’t changed much at all.
Schools put enormous pressure on children to comply with rules, conform to rigid adult expectations and suppress their emotions and natural instincts. People pleasing and masking are highly valued in school and yet adults pay therapists to help them recover from these patterns.
Contrary to everything that you were ever taught at school and by mainstream society, children don’t need to be trained and punished in order to get along with others and relate in generally accepted ways.
Human children naturally want to get along with other humans. They do the best they can given their stage of development, their neurology and what they’ve learned from those around them.
Is socialisation really about emotions?
There is no doubt that social interactions are likely to stir up some emotions and it is our relationship with emotions that is at the core of this type of socialisation. So much of human emotion is considered dangerous, negative and unacceptable. Of course, there are adaptive and maladaptive ways of expressing emotion, but so often children are just SHUT DOWN.
Sometimes children express emotions that many adults learned to repress long ago. We call this “tantrums” or “unacceptable behaviour” but in fact it is often a natural human way of experiencing intense emotion. This may make us uncomfortable, but it’s NOT a good reason to lock children away in school and tell them to sit still and shut up. At least, I don’t think so.
Every time one of my sons had a meltdown (and there were LOTS) I had another opportunity to resolve my own repressed emotions and get clear of some of the old thinking that went along with it. I call that liberation. Thanks to a lack of school-style socialisation my sons had a chance to learn adaptive ways of expressing their emotion in their own time and I had a chance to recover from my childhood.
Is school-style socialisation harmful?
I believe that socialisation of the kind entrenched in our school system is unhelpful and potentially harmful to many children. Most of us survived it, but I know a lot of adults who are still recovering and trying to be true to themselves once again.
Do you really find people pleasing, conformity and emotional repression valuable as an adult? Do you remember the social scene of your school days fondly? Or do memories of bullying, meanness, isolation and envy resurface too? These are the effects of institutional socialisation. Is this what you want to pass down to your children?
How does socialisation work for homeschoolers?
The sort of free range, organic socialisation that many home educated children enjoy is so different to the school variety that it really needs a different name altogether. Let’s call it “humans growing up.” That way we can relax and enjoy the process with our children. We can create a bubble of freedom and respect in which our children can learn social skills in a new way.
Home educated children who haven’t been coerced and socialised to bits are experts in being true to themselves. They follow their inner compass and say NO to people, social situations or activities that are not appealing. They naturally have good boundaries because they haven’t been forced to ignore them. They’re not compliant just for the sake of it.
This doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of cooperating with others, helping to solve problems or following rules that make sense to them. Both of my unschooled sons, who were never trained or punished, have a keen interest in how our society functions, its laws and conventions. They’ve both also chosen to go to school for the later years of high school and managed to fit in without difficulty – because they wanted to, not because they were forced into it.
What people really mean when they ask home educators “Will they get enough socialisation?” is
Will they be weird misfits that can never hold down a job?
Of course, I don’t know the answer to that question for all home educated children.
I don’t mind if the answer is sometimes “YES”.
I do know that school-style socialisation was not what I wanted for my children. I was happy that they missed out on it and that they learned social skills and made friends in a way that suited them individually. I am deeply grateful for the profound lessons I learned from my children along the way.