Anna Dusseau | 8th June 2020
This is the bugbear of all homeschooling parents; the question we get asked all the them. The answer is a resounding ‘YES!’ but let me clarify what I mean here.
Our understanding of what friendship is and the nature of human connections have changed immeasurably within the past twenty years. The rise in social media interactions and ‘screen time’ (especially mobile phones, here) has rapidly taken us to a place where we have developed unhealthy ideas about what socialisation should look like. These include:
- Being ‘connected’ and ‘available’ all the time.
- Measuring our self-worth based on the number of social media followers we have.
- Consequently, treating friends as ‘followers’ rather than real people.
- Needing to accumulate a large number of friends, rather than a few important people.
- Allowing the culture of ‘likes’, hash tags and trolling to infiltrate the way we deal with actual people, at work and in the playground.
The misunderstanding of socialisation is part of the problem when it comes to understanding the way socialising happens in home education. Regardless of persuasive evidence which indicates the negative impact of social media on our well-being, there is an increasing tendency for families to be ‘constantly social’. It is considered normal to spend all day in a large group, either at school or work, and to arrange ‘play dates’ and further social time after school and at the weekend. Even when we are travelling to and fro, we are constantly available on our phones, exchanging WhatsApp messages and Tweets with a frenzied concentration; as if this is of the highest importance. It is very hard to step back and imagine doing things another way.
Most homeschooling families will, for the most part, undertake the majority of structured or autonomous learning together at home or in the local area, with a few classes and activities to punctuate the week, as well as making space for ‘real life’ (shopping, dentist, post office, library). Children who are home educated are no angels, but they quickly form strong bonds and learn to rely on each other and respect each other within the family, as well as seeking friendships outside the home.
An interesting aspect of this is that, for example, when the recent pandemic took us all into lockdown, I don’t think I heard a single homeschooling family complain about ‘missing friends.’ The home educated children we messaged and did video chats with during this time, seemed almost universally to accept the situation and to be rather enjoying kicking around at home. Fundamentally, the homeschool family unit is strong and isn’t seeking constant contact and reassurance from fleeting friendships. This might seem hard to comprehend, but if you think about it, this mentality forms the basis of most solid relationships and households in the adult world. It is, surely, what we want for our children? To be happy in each other’s company? To be talking face-to-face with their partner, not sitting next to each other on their phones?
When homeschooling families do socialise in groups, either for ‘family days’ together or as children get older, increasingly, independently and on their own terms, it tends to look quite different from the way schoolchildren mix. We had a real problem when my daughter was at school, with friends coming over to play and immediately going into my daughter’s bedroom and shutting the door on the boys. Big girls, only. No boys and no babies allowed. This happened so frequently and is such a contradiction to the way we have raised our children, that my husband and I began to wonder whether we were the strange ones. Until we discovered homeschooling.
There are no ‘big ones’ and ‘babies’ in the homeschool community. There are just people. A fourteen-year-old boy will not ignore the request of his eight-year-old sister and her friends to help build their den. It is a chance to share his skill and to feel the power and wisdom of his age; it is good for him and he knows he will get many admiring looks as he does so. Similarly, babies are not just left to the parents, but are quickly absorbed within the larger group of children playing, with the older ones usually responsible for the safety and rules of the game, while the younger ones fool around teaching the baby new words or playing peekaboo. The parents get to keep an eye from a distance and have a cup of coffee.
Because the quality and general atmosphere of mixed age homeschooling play tends to be so positive and enjoyable, the time spent together is also totally different. Children need far less ‘micro-managing’ when their play is naturally regulated by a healthy mix of ages and genders, all keen to be involved and keep the game going. Rather than arranging a rather stressful play date after school, which might last two hours and has to be broken several times to resolve disputes, a homeschool family might arrange to come over to our house on Wednesday and – I now know – I will set aside the whole day for them. This is because the really good games won’t even begin to get going until a couple of hours in and, just at the point when you would usually be saying goodbye-and-thank-goodness, is the point at which the children seem to dive into another level of play and creativity. It’s wonderful to observe, whilst keeping a respectful distance; this is their time. Disputes are resolved, the game evolves exponentially, and we usually end up inviting everyone to stay for dinner.
So yes, the world of homeschooling is social – very – but not in the way you might think. It’s about quality, not quantity. And many school families, I know, take this approach too.