So, there I was at the dentist, lying back on the chair and enjoying some child-free time when the dental hygienist asked me: ‘How do your children socialise then?’ I didn’t really get a chance to answer as suddenly she was cleaning my teeth with an ultrasonic instrument which emitted a high- pitched screaming noise (oh, second thoughts, maybe it was my brain screaming as if to say not that bloody question again!).
Let’s clear something up, my kids play with other kids a lot and they have proper, genuine friends that they have built up over the course of several years.
I wasn’t even going to mention socialisation on here, it seems so daft. Sometimes the kids get tired out by all the social contact they have and we have to deliberately put aside time at home to get other things done or just have time to chill. Yet the question keeps coming up in awkward places, like at the dentist or when I’m half-naked in the Jacuzzi or in the check-out queue at Tesco.
Someone even told me that I was cruel not to send my kids to school as they really do need friends. It’s weird though, since even if I try to explain that my kids do have friends and do see other children often, they kind of go deaf and look at me funny, as if I’ve said something incomprehensible.
People tend to feel it’s ok to judge your choice without knowing anything about it, but mostly they really don’t like it if you actually have an answer or try to have your say. I’ve had enough of these chats with both strangers and friends to know that generally they do not lead to anything positive. I never really feel good afterwards, so I just try not to engage with it anymore.
But for those who genuinely want to know or are curious, this is the answer I would give:
1) Home educating means you get to honour your children’s differing social needs.
How much social contact children enjoy is totally individual. Where we live there is a massive home ed network and we could enjoy a variety of different home ed groups and meet-ups everyday if we felt like it.
My daughter likes to see friends often, she also enjoys meeting new people and doing new things. My son prefers one to one social contact or hanging out with people he has got to know gradually over a long period of time.
(Intriguingly since writing this last year, my children’s social habits and preferences have changed a lot, they’ve kind of swapped over! Like I said though, that is one of the greatest things about home education, I can honour their needs at different stages of their development.)
2) Home educated children mix with a diverse bunch of kids and adults.
My own children and all the home educated children I know, have friends and socialise with all age groups, both sexes and families with differing outlooks. Both my children get along well with adults too and they don’t see adults as the enemy. For example they adore their ukulele teacher and consider him a friend, which I think is very sweet and a real positive in their lives. It’s healthy and mimics real life, since my own friends are all differing ages and from all walks of life.
3) It’s not all a bed of roses, there are challenges.
Of course there are downsides. To meet your home educated child’s social needs, parents have to get out there and socialise themselves! We have to try groups, meet lots of people and find out what works for our children. We have to be the ones building the community and helping our children see the same children often enough that they can build proper friendships. It’s hard work, it’s exhausting at times but it is part of the responsibility we have taken on.
Unlike schooled children, home educated children’s parents are there at the forefront of their children’s socialisation process in the primary years (well somewhere in the background chatting and drinking tea actually), but this is no bad thing. And like schooled children, as the children get older, they naturally start to sort their own social lives out (phew!).
Another common criticism of home ed is that our kids are protected from any social negativity. Sure, we can up and walk out of a group we don’t gel with, but unless we want to go no-where, we kind of all have to muck in and make things work. My children have lovely friends, but they’ve had their fair share of disappointments too. They’ve learnt that sometimes relationships are complicated and you have to work at them.
4)Home educated children often have a much better social life than their own parents!
It’s true! My children do all the normal things with friends that schooled children of the same age do. They have playdates, go to parties, and my daughter enjoys sleepovers.
My children could see their friends most days if they wanted, but we have found that 2-3 times a week is a great balance. Of course, socialisation is more than just having friends, it’s about building social skills in a range of circumstances. Home educated families go about the business of living together, and that means meeting people in our communities daily and honing those all important social skills.
In conclusion, home educated children are not stuck indoors with their parents, they meet people in the real world and they do it everyday. They have great social skills, honestly they do. That man I chatted to in the Jacuzzi said my kids were ‘really friendly and polite’. I just smiled whilst desperately trying to distract him from the goings on in the pool, namely my son whipping my daughters tankini bottoms off underwater and waving them above his head in triumph.