Saturday, 7 November 2009

Home educated children and socialisation

A mother who teaches her child at home asked me recently about the question of socialisation. It is practically an article of faith among many home educators that the entire socialisation problem is a complete myth. Indeed, even asking about it can make one look like a newcomer to the whole business and probably one who has been got at by their local authority into the bargain! I mean, socialisation! Everybody knows that home educated children aren't stuck at home, but get out to meet loads of people. Well, yes......and no.

The person who asked me about this was well aware that her child would be able to socialise to the extent of meeting other children. What she was specifically concerned about was how her child would be able to build relationships with those children. This is a very good question indeed, and one which is not always addressed by home educators.

There is of course all the difference in the world between seeing the same people at work every day, perhaps going to lunch with them, walking to the tube, going for a drink after work and so on and the situation with those we see briefly for an hour a week; say at an evening class. In the one case, which is very similar to school, we get to know them pretty well. In the other, which is like the ballet class which a home educated child might attend, we barely have the chance to exchange a few words. A lot of the "socialisation" undertaken by home educated children falls into this latter category; an hour or so once a week for specific activities. There is seldom the sustained, day in day out, week after week type of contact with the same bunch of kids which gives rise naturally to friendships at school.

There are ways round this. When my own daughter was little, I would assiduously "court" the parents of children whom I though might make suitable friends for her. This is a damned tricky business for a man, since most of the other parents are mothers. On the one hand you run the risk of looking like a predatory paedophile cruising around looking for new victims, on the other you might present as a lone father yourself, hitting on single mothers! Since my own social skills are nor particularly well developed, this led to some awkward situations over the years. I had a fair number of successes though, children that my daughter could have for sleepovers and so on. I have to say that I had to put quite a bit of work into this, even just to acquire three or four regular friends for my daughter. I must also say that the associations which I was obliged to form with various mothers in order to facilitate this gave rise to a certain amount of pursing of lips, narrowing of eyes and sharp intakes of breath from my wife.

Interestingly, now that she is sixteen and more or less her own boss, Simone does not choose to see any of these friends whom I so carefully engineered for her. Some of them, she saw for over eight years, but the friendships, if that is what they were, died without my input. I was of course always careful to ask her, "Would you like to see Joanne?" or Mary or whoever, so this was all done with her approval. Never the less, I do not really know just how good an idea it is for a parent to be arranging a child's social life in this way. In retrospect, perhaps not a very good idea.

The good news is that now she is at college, she does not seem to have any difficulty socialising and making friends. Presumably the experience of being home educated did her no particular harm in that regard. (This does not of course mean that when she is thirty, she will not be weeping to her therapist about the lonely childhood which she was forced to endure in the company of her mad father.) I am curious to know what others have found about this, especially those whose children have now grown up. The person who asked me this question visits this Blog and I am sure that she would like to hear other people's views about this.


  1. >>>>>>>>There is seldom the sustained, day in day out, week after week type of contact with the same bunch of kids which gives rise naturally to friendships at school.<<<<<

    You mean like in prison? LOL!

    I really do think you were handicapped by your gender in this respect. HE mothers tend to 'click' with eachother much more quickly. (Years of practice, all those NCT meetings! {g})

    I've been in groups where there's been the odd, lonely HEing Dad. We did our best to include him, but sadly, there was always a barrier there, no matter how hard we tried.

    Where the group of mothers get on, the kids tend to mix easily. Because they see eachother often, then the friendships emerge naturally. At first, Mum is needed to make the phone calls, do the arrangements, but gradually into the teen years, their ease with msn(?), texting and facebook etc takes over.

    My dd isn't a good example due to her ASD, but ds (16) is a social butterfly. Some friends he's had since the year dot. Others, he picks up along the way. He has 3 'good friends' all HE'd. I rarely get involved in the mechanics of maintaining those friendships. He does it all.

    The only times I've noticed socialisation to be a problem for HE'd kids was, very occasionally, when a parent expected the HE community to completely replace school and do all the work for her in that regard, not appreciating that the parent would need to be hands on and pro-active for the first few years. And those kids always ended up back in school.

    I don't think that was a failure of HE, BTW. I think the parents didn't try hard enough. And I also felt a bit sorry for the kids, who were then expected to rely on school for their socialisation...

    Don't worry about the therapy thing. All adults have some sort of baggage to carry through life. As home educators, we just help them pack their bags a bit differently. LOL!

    Mrs Anon

  2. I've never had to engineer friendships for my home educated children, though I do see (and personally experience) other parents trying to engineer them and I hate being courted in that way, for that reason. It's perfectly obvious when someone's conversing with me for their child's potential benefit rather than their own interest and it leaves me cold.

    But I don't think there's any need to do it, is there? We can trust our children to make their own friends if we attend meetings and gatherings with them. None of mine have ever struggled to do so and I can't see why a child would.

    Over the two decades I've been home educating, my family has attended lots of different sorts of home ed meetings and gatherings and it's always seemed to me that most of the children attending were friendly and approachable to my children.

    "The only times I've noticed socialisation to be a problem for HE'd kids was, very occasionally, when a parent expected the HE community to completely replace school and do all the work for her in that regard, not appreciating that the parent would need to be hands on and pro-active for the first few years. And those kids always ended up back in school."

    I agree with Mrs Anon.

  3. Depends what you mean by 'socialisation'. I think HE parents mean meeting other people outside the family, making friends with other kids. Social scientists mean the complex networks of social interaction that take place at different levels and in different ways. Teachers often mean mastery of behaviours that enable the child to engage with school without causing disruption.

    I don't understand why it is such a big issue. I can understand HEing parents wanting their child to meet people outside the family, but what is it about school socialisation that is so important? How did people manage before mass education was invented?

  4. I think that socialiation is being able to get along in the world with the people you meet. This is different to having friends. I'm going to address having friends. This is a constant worry for me. Do they have enough friends? Are they happy? Would they rather go back to school? I ask them often enough, and they say that they don't want to go back to school.

    As it turns out, my son has 4 very good friends, unfortunately, one lives a 3 hour drive away, and the other an hour drive away. But with the telephone and sleepovers, they stay in contact. They are true friends that he has made by himself in the HE community and he really misses them if we go too long without seeing them. The other two are local and we see frequently. We are very good friends with the parents and the mum has become one of my best friends.

    My daughter has a number of friends but attends MANY extra curriculum things and has made friends at those. Not the sort that would come back to our house, but friends enough to get involved in gossip and texting and general hanging out between her turn on the bow and arrow, or changing in the changing rooms.

    A recent bonus is a similar aged girl has just moved in next door, and they appear to get on very well.

    MSN seems to have widened her net and she is somehow in contact with a load of children she left at school 5 years ago via the one friend she did stay in contact with. So we're getting the beginnings of that boyfriend/girlfriend thing going on, more gossip and typical 11 year old things.

    I would say, that at the beginning of Home Ed, it takes a lot of effort from the parent to make sure our children have access to other children, and there were some relationships that were started because I got on with some list mums and we got together in person and found that the children really clicked.

    Over time, my role seems to be more of a chauffeur rather than conspirator.

  5. Ah !! topic very much in the front of my "worry zone" at the moment.

    Frankie has an activity every evening, plus matches at the weekends. Originally Mario took him and I stayed at home and did housework (read as - lie on the sofa, watching the box, eating chocolate) but for the last couple of weeks or so I have been going too and made some interesting, but not delightful, discoveries.

    The only one he actively socialized in (i.e. lots of yakking and free play in down time) was at mini-basket which was full of kids from his class at school and this is his 2nd year on the team so his bonds are well established.

    At volleyball he spoke to nobody for the first few weeks, until a friend from his first school (not the one we left this summer, but the one before that which put HE on the table in the first place) turned up. Now it is all fun and games and through his old mate R he has "linked in" with the other kids. However if R doesn't show up Frankie is back in the cold again, the tenuous connections he has formed with R's mates seem to be dependant on R's presence at that moment. Martial Arts, only hellos and goodbyes to the other kids, but his best friend from school plus little brother are coming with us to give it a try this coming week so maybe that will change.

    He loves the activities but the opportunity to socialise that I thought it would be just doesn't seem to have been as automatic or as reliable as I had assumed. I should have known better. I went to boarding school and my mum thought she could slot me into a local small person social life by sending me to activities during holidays. I don't know why I failed to recall the failure of that strategy when it was used on me and just blithely repeated the same adult misconceptions with my kid. (pause for self flagellation)

    TBC - post too long

  6. cont from above

    It's not just the kids who have resistance to letting in a new face with whom they don't have day to day familiarity. It's the mums too. By nine most of their kids have a well established group of mates and many of my overtures for a chance for our kids to play outside of a structured activity have been rebuffed on the grounds that the time they have available for such things is already taken up by the kids that are already firm friends with their child. I have some sympathy with the mums, the workload at year 4 really does take the biscuit and between homework, activities and family commitments .... free time is in short supply. The bad news is that Frankie has stopped asking kids to come and play, because he just assumes he will be told no. Nobody likes putting themselves out there and risking rejection constantly. I need to engineer successful opportunities for invitations to get his confidence back. I managed one on Saturday, took some convincing to get him to take the plunge but he was over the moon when he got a positive response (I already knew it would be, it was pre-organized on the adult level unbeknown to the children)

    Although it was a real stress having to send him to school against my better judgment and fighting to HE for 3 years there has been a silver lining because if he didn't have the connections he formed there from a social POV we would be a bit stuffed I think. At least in the short term.

    I have plenty of opportunities for him to be with other kids, but once or twice a week for an hour a pop doesn't seem to give them the familiarity they need to get past the "I don't know you so I won't really include you/include myself" barrier.

    We are still very new to this so hopefully things will get better and settle down, but to be honest so far the education side has been a joy and a real success whereas the social side is entirely responsible for me not sleeping much for just over two weeks.

    I have spammed my blog all over the net (which I really must update - ironically the last post was joyfully describing how wonderfully I had organsied his social life) to try and find other HEing parents in Italy, am prepared to travel to meet them and I am looking at things organized for HEing families in the UK that we can attend when we come over, but they are not options which will offer immediate or regular opportunities for us, so am just going to have to work very much harder at a local level.

    Had to LOL at your description of your wife at your "overtures". I can just imagine Mario's apoplexy if I was having to smooze dads rather than mums.

  7. The young child who wants to be with peer group for many hours a day will clearly present a challenge to the home educating parent. Though this will of course change as the child or young person matures and gains more independence. I'm not clear whether we are dealing with the child's actual wishes or whether this day in day out social contact is in some way deemed to be For Their Own Good.


  8. The parent who asked me about this via email, said that she was concerned that although her daughter would have opportunities to socialise, she might be restricted in the ability to build relationships. I am guessing that this is because a lot of "socialisation" activities are only for an hour or two.

  9. I'd have thought most areas in the UK have various sessions throughout the week now that are primarily for home ed socialising and a 'free association' context, which last for a lot longer than an hour or two. Ours certainly does. The increase in home educators makes for more activities being arranged and the arranged events being better attended than was the case 10+ years ago.

  10. Our daughter (12) sees the same home educated children three or four times a week - at least. This is at a mixture of organised groups/events and social settings. I guess this is an advantage of living in a city with a large HE population. Her social life is very much her business these days - she gets about by bus and organises her own time.

    Our son (9)is part of a HE group that he goes to for two mornings a week for two hours - playworker facilitated and with a rota for parent helper. This means he sees the same children regularly and has done for several years now. It isn't a 'drop-in' group so the children do make friends and also learn to deal with the presence of people they don't necessarily get on with.

    None of this happens by magic, of course. If the parents don't organise, fundraise and so on then the groups fold.

    Of course, there is no one way to manage these matters. Children want and need very different things when it comes to friendships - just as adults do.

  11. Agreeing with most of the posters above

    1) It is easier for a mother; my dh was a househusband for a couple of years when our 2 eldest were small, and found it difficult to cope with toddler groups type settings etc

    2) Although I do think home educators have to work hard at facilitating contacts for their children, ultimately you don't have much control over how friendships work out.

    3) It can be a particularly hard for teenagers who have just come out of school. Inevitably they have had some sort of difficult experience in school ( either because of bullying/special need) and parenst contact us because theyw ant tos et up some sort of social contact for them; yet this can be hard to engineer. Funnily enough we have found that the best way is for them to join some sort of formal study group - because that is what they are actually used to - ie making friends in a lesson type situation; sad to say that in a less formal setting they just don't know what to do! Under 12's though can intermingle quite happily with newcomers in a much freer social setting.

  12. Hi,
    I'm the mum that asked the question to Simon in the first place. Reading through all your replies has been very helpful, thank you.

    I asked mainly because whenever anyone asks about socialisation, a lot is said about going out more in the real world and meeting lots of different people but I've never seen how people get the chance to build up more than passing aquaintances.

    My daughter's only a toddler so at the moment our lives are filled with toddler groups and such. We have a couple of friends with children a similar age that we see about once a week but they are both boys and both will be going to school.

    I grew up on a small cul-de-sac where everyone knew everyone else and there was another boy about the same age plus my sister. Most nights we'd play together after school or round at each others houses. As I got a bit older, I made a few friends at school but my friends were always within walking distance so we'd see each other a lot.

    I just think that my daughter will miss out on this kind of play, we live on a big long street (part of a large council estate) that is mostly just adults and the children that are around are a lot older (teenagers mostly).
    I have no other children in my family.

    I did wonder whether to send her to nursery just to meet a few children in the area but I feel that school makes it very difficult to socialise with people in other year groups. Even now I find it difficult as we were kept so seperate at school (not even mixing really with people a year older or younger)

  13. Mam'Goudig writes: I've just seen this, and wanted to comment about an aspect of HE that very few seem ready to talk about. It can be easy for children to make and keep friendships if they have access to HE groups, or just other HE families. Perhaps just families with similar-age children in them.

    There are many families for whom this is simply not the case. Either they don't live close enough to attend a group, or they don't have the means to attend the groups. They rarely lack motivation to do their best for their children, but maintaining friendships, or just finding other children for their own to play with has been problematic.

    Those who insist that HE children don't have a problem making and maintaining friendships with other children are generally those who have access to groups and other activities, or just other friendly children within the home neighbourhood.

    Fiona: many children we've met in other HE families have just wanted to play with other children. Some have attended large group sessions, others haven't been able to do so, and those parents have struggled to give their children the opportunity to make and develop friendships. Socialisation in terms of developing friendships can be a huge problem for HE children, and isn't one that parents are always able to help solve.

  14. Yes I wouldn't want to minimise the difficulty faced by parents of children who want to play with other children.

    My son Theo wasn't that sort of child.


  15. To the mum who asked: join HE-UK or Education Otherwise and find out about home ed groups in your area. There are lots of social groups with children of all ages; hopefully there will be one that you can get to.
    In haste; sorry!