Anyone who has been home educating or even just considering it for any length of time will know that one of the big "concerns" over home education is the 'socialisation' issue, ie "How will your child socialise?".
I have explored this issue fairly regularly in my blogs over the past year or so, and have come to the conclusion that although it is true that there are more opportunities to socialise or hang out with friends in school (despite education spokespeople saying that this is not a school's purpose), it can work against a child as well. In the ideal scenario a child goes to school and makes friends. Great. It has worked for some I know, and it's lovely to see. But some children are bullied, some are not naturally gregarious and struggle to bond with others, some are subject to negative peer pressure etc, and they lose their identity or become withdrawn. When a child hits relationship issues (what parent hasn't heard "so-and-so isn't my friend any more"?) the theory is that they learn resilience... but the fact is that many children don't, they just suffer. I know: I was one of those children. You could say that I went through it and I turned out all right - but bear in mind that I am over forty now. It took me the last twenty years of my life to undo many of the damaging lessons I 'learned' about myself and how to deal with people while at school. (I wrote about it in "My Learning Story" for those who are interested). So social opportunities? Yes, for children like Eldest, for whom life is just one big social opportunity - but definitely not for those like Middle who although willing to be friendly to everyone, finds relationships a more complicated obstacle course to navigate.
Then again, when some people bring up the 'social' issue, they seem to assume that this means a child is "socialised" in school. The Oxford dictionary defines socialization as "the process by which somebody, especially a child, learns to behave in a way that is acceptable in their society". This is where I lose sympathy for the "socialising" argument. Do children learn social skills at school or at home? To my mind it is obvious: at home! Who teaches children to say "please" and "thank you"? We (the parents) do. Who teaches them to share, or apologise for causing pain? We do... all of these ideals are being taught from toddlerhood onwards. Who teaches them to wait in a queue (this is a British blog after all)? We do - as we queue in shops with our precious ones in buggies, way before we need to start thinking about registering for school.
Social skills are learned at home. School is one big opportunity to put those skills into practice, and refine them - but not exclusively so. In our house this month we have been having a big "social skill" opportunity. Not because I sat down with my planner and decided that it was time for some PSHE lessons or Citizenship classes - no, it was because for some unknown reason the boys have become increasingly snarky with each other lately. There has been an increase in fighting, name-calling, tale-telling, teasing etc. We're a family. It happens. Maybe it's hormones, maybe a growth spurt or two, maybe they're picking up on parental stress - who knows? Most likely a combination of the above, plus the weather... but more important to me is that I do know this: it's an opportunity to help them learn how to deal with difficult social situations. So we have been chatting a lot about the importance of forgiveness; we've been discussing the best way to resolve disagreements; we've been talking about the power of words. Not as an abstract theory, but as and when each issue arises. I've been letting them argue and try out their own methods, and I have stepped in with guidance when I felt the situations warranted it. If one of them has lied to me I have stopped whatever we were doing and lovingly challenged them, because teaching them honesty is more important to me than most other learning opportunities. As home educators we are now used to taking the time to address whatever is needed and important at the time - and lately that has been less about academic subjects and more about practical life-skills.
So there we go: another blog post on "the socialising issue", because it still seems to be the main stumbling block that people come up against when telling their loved ones (and random strangers who feel bizarrely entitled to interrogate them) about home educating their family. The primary source of training in social skills is - and always will be - home. But if you want to know how I ensure my kids get plenty of chances to practice those social skills, not to mention just having fun with their mates? Well - we attend a few clubs a week, some small, some large, some where they have freedom to mooch, play, and run about, some where they need to listen and follow instructions. We visit friends and have friends visit us - widely ranging in age and outlook on life - and the boys interact with all of them, with increasing confidence. And of course, even home on our own there is nothing like sibling rivalry to provoke some really good opportunities for honing those social skills!