Social aspects of home education

Many people, can see that, academically, home education is likely to be an improvement on classroom teaching. One obvious reason is that children have the chance to learn at their own rate, with one-to-one attention. Research in the USA and elsewhere shows that home educated children tend to achieve academic goals easily. They are welcome at university or vocational courses, and are easily able to think for themselves. Most can learn anything they want to learn with confidence. But time and again, home educators are asked about ‘socialisation’.

What is socialisation?

There are often reservations from family and friends about whether home educated children are able to socialise or be sociable. Concerns include several issues, some of which are good questions. Are they isolated from other children? Are they able to make friends with a wide variety of people? Will they be able to fit into society as adults if they haven’t been through the ups and downs of school life? Do they become too dependent on their parents? Are they reluctant to go out to meet new situations and people? Yet, if asked directly, many people find it hard to describe what they mean by ‘socialisation’.

People, on the whole, are social creatures. Being sociable is part of our nature.  If we allow children to develop in their own way, they will begin to relate to other people when they are ready.  Clearly children need to meet people in order to be sociable, but home educators don’t tend to be isolated from the community!  A child is just as likely to be sociable with one or two people he meets at home than with a class of thirty children who just happen to be the same age as he is.

More importantly, a home educated child is more in control of his social life than he would be in school. Parents – who know their children best – can observe, and encourage, and introduce a shy child to other people at relaxed times. They can meet other children in safe environments, rather than forcing them into situations where they may become withdrawn, or angry, or upset.

What do we mean by social skills?

Social skills include culturally appropriate manners, knowing how to greet different people, and joining in conversations.  They are the ways we learn to relate to people in order to build relationships. They help us to communicate and spend time enjoying company.  Our children will primarily learn their social skills and cultural expectations from their parents and those they see around them. Thus the most important thing you can do is to model the kind of behaviour you would like to see.

Children at schools may well develop other social skills which relate to school culture. However those are not a lot of use in the rest of the world. Regular spates of truanting, depression and aggression by British schoolchildren shows what serious damage can be done to a sensitive child when the environment is not appropriate.

If you still feel, deep-down, that true social skills can only be learned at school, have a look at this newspaper article. Admittedly it’s about a school in a particularly poor area. But not only can the children barely read, they apparently have not learned any social skills at all. The irony is that it is proposed to include them in the curriculum. Social skills are not naturally learned in schools.

Our socialising experiences

Undoubtedly there were times when our sons felt a little isolated or lonely. However, children in schools report this at times, too. Being in a crowd is no guarantee of happiness or sociability. Nonetheless, our sons had more opportunity for afternoon and evening activities than did most of their schooled friends, as they had so much more time. Moreover, they did not limit their friendships or general socialising to people of their own age.

When they left home, they both settled well into social situations; one on an international ship, one at a British university. Much to my relief, home education had in no way damaged their ability to socialise as young adults.

For an expanded discussion of the above issues, see: ‘The dreaded ‘S’ word part 1 and part 2

Further reading on other sites: 

Socialization issues – by Fred Worth. A lengthy article, with about every possible question on this topic.

Research article – Encouraging findings from Paula Rothermel’s PhD survey amongst 36 UK home educating families in 2002.