As a home educating mum of 7 children, I’ve had ample opportunity to become aware of, and observe, all the benefits and drawbacks of home education. Obviously, like so many other parents, I was challenged or criticised by others at times for our choices and have had to consider whether these critics have had a valid point or not.
Of course, one of the questions flung at all home educators at some point is “But what about socialisation?”.
I always start by responding that the ability to interact socially is not the same as socialisation, which is essentially learning about how to behave appropriately in the society in which we live. Most sociologists would consider parents to be the primary agents of socialisation – those with whom the child has an intimate, face-to-face relationship. What most people mean when they use the word socialisation, is being around other children the same age, which is of course a very different matter. We all know that children are hardly the people to be teaching each other what is appropriate behaviour in society!
So, for me, this question was always a bit of a silly one. Just think of American pioneers who lived remotely on some farmstead hundreds of years ago – would we have said their children were unsocialised? Of course not, as the parents prepared their children for the society of which they were a part. I’ve always felt that, unless the parents themselves are living the life of hermits, children will get ample opportunity to observe and mimic the social interactions that their parents model as they go about their normal, social lives. If there are siblings, what better training ground is there for learning to get along with others? I always used to say, “They need to learn to get along with each other, and then they’ll do just fine with the rest of the world”. It’s always easier to get along with total strangers than your own family!
And then of course, when we consider that, on leaving school and possibly university, it is very unlikely that the child will ever find themselves in a group all the same age again. In the workplace, the young person will need to be able to work with people both older and younger than themselves. The family provides great preparation for this, and for the home educated child, who is exposed to “real life” and society in a more natural way, as they are out and about in their community, they become comfortable with the company of adults, and children of all ages.
Having a large family, such as I have, the older children have always happily played with their younger siblings, and sometimes helped take care of them. The younger siblings, in turn, are used to being around big brother or sister and their friends. They are expected to be patient and treat each other kindly. Doesn’t always work, but that’s the idea. One of my younger daughters always had a bit of a Pied Piper effect in that little children followed her around, and loved to sit with her and watch her draw.
Our young people are often involved in fairly grown-up conversations about world affairs, relationships and life challenges. They are able to observe more of adult life in action as they are with their parents for significant periods of time, and can talk with their parents about their interests and ideas. This has had a really positive outcome, as I’ve observed my children learning to articulate their thoughts, and converse with curiosity and intelligence. It’s a real pleasure to watch my children at college interviews – confident, articulate and enthused about their subject – with the interviewer clearly impressed, and eager to sign them up! I gather it’s a surprising change after interviewing one grunting teen after another, some of whom seem to have no idea why they’re there!
Home educated young people also pick up on how their parents behave and interact. If a parent demonstrates leadership, entrepreneurship, charitable work, generosity, a good work ethic, it is very likely the child will emulate them, just as they might any negative traits. For me, as a home educator, I’ve been learning right alongside my children, and become excited by things I’ve learnt – which then excites them too! We have a significant role to play in how we influence the course of our children’s lives.
One thing which some might consider negative, is that my children have not always found it easy to get along with children their own age who attend school. However, this seems to be because the schooled children are often caught up in the world of playground politics, bullying behaviour, the desire to show off, and crude talk. One of my children started going to a running club, and soon found that she had more in common with the adults than children her own age, and complained that “all they want to talk about is sex and boys”, when she preferred talking about politics and current events. She found her college classmates to be childish, crude and disrespectful, but was completely comfortable chatting to her tutors.
Another of my daughters was made a college ambassador within 6 months of enrolment and has been commended by her college for her willingness to assist other students, and take initiative. Yet another serves as a student representative at university, and assisted at the University Covid-19 testing centres.
Some might argue that it is necessary for teenagers to be almost constantly with their peers, but I think it can be a very harmful environment during those vulnerable, self-conscious years, stuck between childhood and adulthood, with limited input from caring adults. It is really a time in the young person’s life when they should be learning to take on more responsibility, kept busy and active, and encouraged in their interests as they begin considering their future as adults. The school system keeps them as children, and treats them as if they are unable to think for themselves. Expectations are low, and mediocrity is celebrated. Silly little reward systems are just another box-ticking exercise, and a manipulative tool that children see right through.
When my children receive recognition from the outside world, naturally I am proud of them, but I also tell them that I am quite unsurprised, as I know that they are just being who they are. Giving them a solid foundation in common sense, guiding them towards independent thinking, and encouraging their individual gifts and talents enables them to stand out, without even trying.
Juliet is an experienced home educator who is passionate about encouraging and empowering parents to educate their children with boldness and freedom. She is engaged in a number of initiatives which benefit home educators in the UK, drawing on her personal experience of educating her own 7 children, running groups, activities and conferences, as well as her background in Social Work. Juliet’s idea of fun is creating, crafting, and singing.