“Home education sounds great, and I’d love to do it; but what about the whole social aspect?”
This is a comment I’ve seen and heard (or variations of it) many MANY times, since beginning to consider home education. It’s the one about socialising… and friendships…
There seems to be a widespread misconception, that home education somehow denies children the opportunity to socialise or make friends. I can kind of understand where it comes from… I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there may have been a time, in generations before this one, in which home educated children spent their “schooling” hours sitting at a desk in their home, being tutored. Or perhaps that’s the way it has been portrayed in books, films, photographs from yesteryear. But today, this is by no means the reality. Far from it, in fact.
I have to admit, before I had children of my own and began to look further into home education (many people here in the UK prefer the term “home education” to “homeschooling”, for this very reason), I think I shared this flawed vision. As a teacher I’d known a few students who’d left the school system to be home educated, and I guess back then I imagined them sitting at a table, with workbooks in front of them; a parent sitting opposite, teaching them. It would never have occurred to me that perhaps families that aren’t bound by school expectations might do things differently. I had no reason at the time, to educate myself in the ways of home education. Nor (as brutal as it sounds) was it any of my business. So yes, I probably shared the same misconceptions, ignorance even, about how home educating families function: a misguided image of each family, operating alone, in their home. A vision – apparently – shared by so many who are unfamiliar with it, totally oblivious to how it really works.
So here is the truth. A window on our world, which will hopefully put some minds at rest, whether you are considering home educating your own children, or concerned about others. This is why there really is no issue with socialisation for home educated kids…
1) Home education doesn’t all happen at home.
Sometimes I wonder if this might be the biggest and most confusing misnomer of all. It unfortunately does nothing to dispel this myth that our education happens in the home, within the family, when in reality it happens all over the place, with all kinds of people. In fact, there must be as many ways to educate, as there are children, but legally the umbrella term “home education” is the one we all find ourselves grouped under: those children who are not registered at a school are considered to be “home educated”. But it certainly doesn’t all happen at home. It can, and does, happen anywhere… and everywhere.
There is no rule that says you have to be at home studying for a certain amount of time; no rule that says you have to sit and learn from a teacher, or from books; no rule saying you have to have a timetable or a curriculum. It is nothing like school. It is a totally different way of learning. Many families, in fact, spend no time whatsoever sitting and intentionally learning at home, because education happens perfectly adequately without any of that. It happens in the shops, in the playground, at the library, in the swimming pool, at playdates, at the beach, in the woods, at a theme park… If education is intended to be a preparation for living a happy, independent life, then it’s not hard to see why many families choose this way of educating through real experiences.
Some families choose to adopt a school-like structure, with more formal lessons, even a timetable perhaps – it can work very well for a lot of children – but even those children are not deprived of opportunities to be social. Structured learning can be done with other families (we see group tutoring sessions organised, workshops, group educational visits to museums etc). But beyond that, even for families that do their structured learning at home, it doesn’t take all day, as it would in school. Learning at home can be much quicker. A day’s “lessons” can be accomplished in a couple of hours rather than the 5 or 6 hours spent at school, leaving the rest of the day available for socialising.
If you are interested in reading more about the real time spent “curriculum-learning” in school (you might be surprised), I wrote about it in another article, here: Time is Precious.
2) There is a home-ed community, that most non-home-educators know very little about.
It is massive; it is local; and it is growing by the day. My children have never set foot inside a school, but they have plenty of friends from this community. Just in our corner of the UK, there are groups and activities, full of home educated kids, every day of the week. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a day without some home ed activities going on. Non-home-educators don’t hear about these or see them, because more often than not, they’ll be at work or at home, or elsewhere, and because these things aren’t advertised outside of the home ed community. I find that when I explain this to people, they are visibly surprised. If you’re considering home education for your child, but have been worried about this, a quick Facebook search with “home education” and the name of your county or region, should put your mind at ease. The community is growing rapidly, with more and more parents and children becoming disillusioned with our broken school system and looking for an alternative. The extent of opportunities to develop friendships and social skills within the local home ed community, is vast, and incredibly varied. Which leads me on to…
3) Home educated children socialise with the full age-range and with children from all kinds of backgrounds.
The social groups, learning activities, outings and informal meet-ups are often open to a wide range of age groups. Admittedly, some groups may be limited by age, of course: for example a sports group or forest school might be split into older and younger children, so that appropriate skills can be focused on. But in most cases, all ages are welcome, often including pre-school aged siblings, right through to teens. And it’s fascinating to watch how they interact with each other. Psychologist and advocate for autonomous education, Peter Gray, wrote a brilliant account of the value and benefits of this kind of age-mixed learning, here.
But it isn’t just in its age-range that the home ed community is diverse. It includes families from all kinds of backgrounds, faiths, social classes, ethical beliefs and philosophies. What better way to help children to learn how to socialise, than to allow them to encounter such diverse beliefs and customs for themselves, and to chat freely with peers from all walks of life?
4) They can socialise without unwelcome interruptions.
Putting my school teacher hat on for a moment (one I wear less and less nowadays), I can attest that a lot of children say the best part of school is seeing their friends. But can’t they still do that without school? Without school, there’s the opportunity to play and learn without being interrupted by a bell or whistle that’s telling you to stop playing and come back inside and learn; there’s the opportunity to work together on something with a friend, and get really stuck into it without distractions from 25 other children in the class; the opportunity to take your focus off on a tangent and discover something new without being steered back onto the course that someone else had planned. Real, true, uninterrupted, social learning.
5) Home education allows children to retreat when necessary.
As a parent to two highly sensitive, introverted young children, this is perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for us right now. When necessary, there’s the opportunity to take a break from people (even good friends that we love dearly) and be alone for whole days at a time if the children need to. In my family we call it “home days”. Some will call it downtime. It’s time for them to retreat away from others and allow themselves the space and time to think about themselves, and the things they’ve been doing. To reflect on things. To re-energise and recharge. Perhaps for some children, spending 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, with the same group of people, may sound like heaven. But for many it’s exactly the opposite, and the source of much stress and anxiety. With home education, you can be busy with other children all day, every day, if you want to. But you don’t HAVE to. It’s a choice that each family can make based on their own children’s needs, and a choice that schooled children definitely do not have.
6) Home educated children DO learn about authority.
It’s another question I hear, often: “How will they learn to listen to people in authority?” If I’m totally honest, I’m often a little confused by what people really mean by this… I think it’s actually them asking one of two things:
A) “How will they learn skills or knowledge from an (authority) expert?” In this case, I wonder why some people think that all these experts are ONLY found in schools? There are experts in real life, doing these things for real, and often writing books about how to learn it, or making online tutorials… why would anybody need to be in school to learn specific skills from an authority figure in that area? In fact, I wrote about this before too, in an article here, entitled “Why homeschoolers don’t need “qualified teachers”
More often, though, I think it’s:
B) “How will they learn to do what they are told and obey a superior?” To this, I say, actually… maybe they won’t. Not in the way that you mean, anyway.
They will learn about having true respect for the authority figures they encounter in everyday life. They will learn to assertively put across their own viewpoint and enter into discussion or negotiation with them. Surely this has to be better than learning how to blindly and dumbly follow an adult’s instructions, simply because that’s how you were taught that authority works? Not much progress would be made anywhere in the world, if all adults simply followed their superior’s instructions. Imagine it in government… a dictatorship in which every citizen plays along, every politician is a yes-man. Imagine it in a business… no bright new ideas offered up, no entrepreneurial opportunities or risks taken, just mindlessly following orders. Imagine it in a family… a domineering, authoritarian parent and spouse, imposing their will on the others in the household, who follow without question. And if you consider this notion in regards to exploitation, it can become really scary. Do I really want my daughter to feel like she HAS to do what this person says because he is the adult in the room, even if her inner voice tells her NO? I realise this sounds extreme, but do we really want to teach our kids to blindly obey orders? Isn’t it better to show them that authority figures may well be deserving of respect, but that it is also ok, in appropriate ways, to ask questions, suggest alternatives, propose ideas?
I’m not saying I want us to raise a generation of anarchists; our children can learn about authority and respect, but without being compelled into thinking that one person should be obeyed at all times. With the many opportunities we encounter in our everyday lives, we learn about respected authority figures – police officers, gymnastics teachers, sports coaches, tutors, bus drivers, shop keepers. And, anyway, how people can believe that school is the place to learn a healthy respect for authority, when so many children rebel against it as they grow towards adulthood, is beyond me.
7) Children don’t have to be bullied to “learn how to deal with bullies”.
Here’s a thing… parents don’t send their child to school to be bullied… So why do home educators hear this so much – that one of the reasons school is good, is that it allows children to experience bullying and learn how to stand up to bullies? It’s UTTER nonsense and it makes me so angry when I read it (mostly on the comments of media/news articles about homeschooling – it literally always comes up!).
Imagine if, when you registered your child at a school, they said to you, ” Thank you for registering your child… just so you know, we have a policy of enforcing bullying, and will ensure that your child is bullied… don’t be alarmed by your child’s depression, self harming or suicidal tendencies, it’s all good preparation for dealing with bullies in adulthood, we promise…”
Honestly, I despair at this one. Surely, no loving parent would purposely cite this as a reason for sending their child to school? I’m sure any parent who has been on the other end, having seen their child’s life made a misery by bullies, or even just any parent who cares *an iota* about their child’s wellbeing and sanity, would be horrified by this! It’s absurd!
So how DO home educated children learn to cope with bullies? Through observation at the playground, or in local groups, through reading novels and reflecting on the characters, through characters on TV, through talking with parents or family members. They learn that you don’t have to sit next to them (or opposite them) day-in-day-out, and put up with them; that you can speak your mind to them and/or walk away; or that in a situation with a bullying group-member or co-worker, that the group leader should be consulted to help resolve this. It’s not rocket science, and it’s pretty much the same strategies they would learn in school, except that they’re not then forced to sit in a classroom with that same bully for the next three years. Even in a workplace this wouldn’t happen. Either the bully would be fired, or you’d find another workplace. Whoever came up with this idea that you have to BE bullied, to know about bullying? It’s really very strange! So the whole dealing with bullies issue, really isn’t an issue at all…
So there we have it: the whole socialisation thing… debunked, surely?
Is it an issue for people who are home educating? No.
Is it an issue for people who don’t know very much about home educating? Most definitely.
But by sharing a few reassurances like these, maybe we could begin to change some of these misconceptions.