Friday, 12 August 2016

The Socialisation Deception

The first question that most people ask when they meet a home educator is, "What about socialisation?" I have written on this before, here and here, and there are many excellent articles on the subject of why home education usually equips children with better social skills etc, so I'm not going to go over that here.  However there is one aspect that I really wanted to write about today.

A comment that I have heard often and even used myself is that "socialisation is something you do to dogs, not children" - the idea being that as humans, childrens needs are more sophisticated than dogs.  It's a nice little idea that trips off the tongue, but not something I had really experienced - until now.  You see, we have recently gained a new four-legged member of the family. Puppy is an eleven week old labradoodle and has more than his fair share of cuteness, alongside sporadic bouts of nipping, chasing, and general what-is-he-eating-now insanity. He is gorgeous and we are all totally besotted with him (apart from when he widdles on the carpet).

The thing is, among the many (and I mean MANY) YouTube clips that I have watched on puppy training in the last couple of weeks, there have been plenty on socialisation.  My goodness, I had no idea how complicated it is! When you introduce your puppy to other puppies, you need to take them to a safe, neutral area.  You need to keep them on the leash so you can swiftly remove them if they get overwhelmed, to avoid setting up any associated anxieties that could damage them for life.  You need to do your best to ensure that you are not introducing them to an anti-social dog.  You need to know your puppy and pay close attention to all of their body language during the session: play-bowing, rolling over, sniffing and licking are generally good; barking, turning away, lip-licking etc may show that they are becoming unhappy - and you need to know when to intervene.  And that is only as much as I have gleaned so far as a total newbie.  Basically, it is a massive deal!  It is intense and very hands-on and involved for anyone who wants to be a responsible dog-owner.

This got me to thinking: I am pretty sure that whether they prefer the approach of Cesar Milan, Victoria Stillwell, ZacGeorge or another chosen doggy guru, dog-lovers of the world would agree that the worst way to socialise your puppy would be to find a group of about 30 puppies the same age, leave them all in the same room as each other - sometimes without any supervision at all - and let them figure it out for themselves.

So now I have a question rattling, or rather screaming, around in my brain.  I do not mean to be inflammatory or disrespectful in any way, but I am now asking myself this: if puppy socialisation is this involved, this heavily supervised, this fraught with potential disaster - how much more so for our precious children?

Edit: To be clear (I hope)...
If our puppies need a safe neutral place to be introduced, how much more our children?
If our puppies need to be kept on the leash (ie right next to us so we can intervene if they are overwhelmed), how much more our children?
If we need to be closely watching our puppies body language and other cues, how much more our chidren?
If we need to ensure our puppies are not playing with anti-social dogs, how much more our children?
And if we wouldn't throw our puppies into a large group of other dogs who are not fully and closely supervised and leave them to work it out as a pack, why on earth would we do so with our children?

Of course there are many differences between children and animals, and many reasons why some children can do well in school - but in the context of being "socialised", I firmly believe school is not necessarily the best place for success.


  1. Interesting thoughts (as ever) I am not sure I agree. Puppies are babies, if we follow the argument through then we would be comparing it with babies being left unsupervised together. Parents and careers of babies and toddlers are very careful not to leave them alone, or introduce them to an aggressive child and they watch their child's cues and body language, leaving early or intervening if the child shows distress.

    Older children are introduced to school in a careful way, they are usually exposed to the classroom bit by bit, gradually. They are also not left unsupervised at a young age,

    I have seen my children learn to deal with different situations, mediate, stand up for themselves and others, getting a little more mature with each new year and challenge. Of course there are pros and cons, but they learn about sharing and tolerance, they are on various pupil groups and councils and find ways to work together even when they disagree.

    Of course it is not the only way and I know there are many other opportunities for home educated children to be socialised. Perhaps my view is different because our school is so very tiny, but I do I think there is a strong argument for socialising through school.

    1. I would say that if puppies up to the equivalent of teenagers need close supervision, so do children. By close supervision I mean more than a large class and even a whole school at break times with only one or two teachers on patrol. I know of far too many children who have experienced genuine overwhelming emotional and social distress at school and who have been left to figure it out for themselves. Some can, some can't. Nobody's fault, just the system cannot provide all that these kids need. But yes, small schools have less of an issue, and yes children can and do learn some social skills through schools of any size. One of mine did fine at school socially, another was totally crushed socially - both in a tiny school. I sent them there because I bought into the socialisation argument. I would love to have known then what I know now.
      I disagree that older children are introduced to school carefully, or at least it is not always carefully enough - the sheer scale of children being bullied and having mental health issues nowadays seems to highlight a massive issue.
      However, the post was not intended to be an anti-school rant so much as a defence against the most common accusation aimed at HEors and socialisation as an argument for sending a child to school and against home ed, plus maybe a challenge to see another point of view - sorry if it seemed disrespectful or missed the mark xx

  2. This is the main reason why I did not send my eldest child to school (and still haven't). Our village school is small, but even so I knew that that many children in a small space would be so totally overwhelming for him that he would not have learned anything.

    I think what is most important is that we allow our children the freedom that they can cope with and as parents we are in the best position to decide that. I also don't think we should force our children into a situation that they are really uncomfortable with or not ready for, that time will come at some point.