Whenever I talk to other people about home education, the socialisation question almost always comes up. Actually, it is a bit confusing for me as I wonder where people have got the idea that home educated children don’t see other children. Where did it come from? It can’t be that all these people know some home educated children somewhere who sit at home and see no other children at all, because I’ve never met any and I’m fairly sure that this mythical family doesn’t exist…
Is it from the media? It is certainly true that there have been a couple of cases where the children in a family have been held captive and haven’t been allowed to see the outside world, but these are extreme and incredibly rare cases. It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 home educating families in the UK. Is it the popular belief that all of these families are hiding from the world at a desk at home?
The truth, in fact, is that us families see each other. A lot. The friendships that home educated children have cross all age ranges, social strata and are neurodiverse. They form friendships according to common interests and not simply because they are exactly the same age or ethnicity etc. Schooled children are made to sit with the same people of the same age for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. The potential for these children to find other people who like similar things and play in the same way is drastically reduced as the ability to mix with a varied range of children is almost completely closed to them.
I would like to suggest that actually, us home educators are as worried about socialisation as much as anyone (because we are questioned about it so much, perhaps), and because of this, we go out of our way to seek groups and play opportunities for our children in order for them to form many friendships. It has to be the case that our children are having so much opportunity to mix with children with common interests, that they could be forming more varied and meaningful friendships than those children who happen to be in the same class, age (and often gender) at school.
So, if you are new to home education, or have been doing it for a while and are worried about socialisation, here are some tips for how to get your children out there and forming lasting friendships:
1. Join as many home education Facebook groups as possible.
I have found that the vast majority of meet-ups are advertised on local Facebook groups. Just search for “home education [your area]” in the Facebook search bar and it will bring up groups local to you. Try searching by county and also towns local to you. You’ll find a range of meet-ups and groups at various dates and times available to you.
2. Don’t worry if you’ve been to a meet-up and your child didn’t play with anyone.
As is the case for adults, children also need to find other children that they ‘click’ with and have the same interests as them. Don’t be disheartened if you have been to a group (or a few) and your child hasn’t engaged with many people. It will come. Keep going to different meets until you find your ‘tribe’… Those people that ‘get’ you and your children and welcome you for who you are.
With more reserved children, it may take a few visits to the same groups for them to ‘warm up’ and step outside of their comfort zones to talk to other children. I find this especially true for those children who have found school stressful or difficult socially. They need time to adjust and to regain their confidence for making friends. For some, school settings can be damaging socially (it certainly was for me, but more about that in a future post), and it takes time to undo the fear that some children experience when walking into a busy room full of children again. Give it time.
3. Chat to the parents!
When you go to meet-ups, make sure you chat to others. It can be daunting, but I have found that there is a big sense of community amongst home edders and they are happy to share knowledge and tips with others as they have been where you are too.
Other parents can tell you about the social meets and groups that are not advertised on the Facebook sites. These meets are many and varied and are often arranged by a group of friends whose children get on well together. If your children have common interests with the others (and even if they don’t), they will be welcomed along and you will have a full social diary in no time!
4. Go to your local park in the daytime.
Do your children play with other children at the park? If they do, walk over to the children’s parents and chat to them. If your child is playing with another child for a long time, go and say ‘Hi’ to their parents and introduce yourself. Parks are very busy after school, but if you go in the daytime, it is much easier for your children to play with one or two other children and have the space to run around. I have found other home-educating families this way and have made some great friendships, for me and for W. It is a bold step to go out of your way to meet people in this way, but you and your children could end up with friends for life, who live very near indeed.
5. Go on organised trips.
Organised trips for home educators happen all the time. In fact, they are so frequent that I have to pick and choose only the best ones for W to go on as there is so much choice.
Ask other parents at regular home-ed meets to join you to email lists and Facebook groups that are advertising trips at the education discount rate. It is not expensive to go on these as home educators can get the schools rate when they go in a group. Adults are often free and children’s tickets are at a drastically reduced cost, often with workshops included in that price too!
Search on Facebook for ‘Home education trips’ to find some of these.
When you are there, you will meet even more families similar to yours, especially if you are going to s specific workshop for a specific interest.
Try not to push your child to mix with others if they are not comfortable doing so yet (especially if they have recently been deregistered from school and are still finding their feet). Our job is to provide the opportunities for them to play with others, but not to push them into it. If a child feels pressured to do something, it is less fun and less meaningful for them than if they had done it under their own steam.
Model the behaviour you want to see in your child. Talk to others (adults and children) and show that being with others can be a fun experience. Take it easy, though. It takes time to step outside of your comfort zone, just as it does for our children.
We have all been there. We have started the home-ed journey with nerves, trepidation and doubt. We all found each other somehow and have the common goal of doing the best for our children. Taking the first step of de-registering (or even deciding to home educate before school age) is a huge decision to make, but we did it. And we did it with our children’s best interests at heart. And that is the point of all of this, after all.