Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Answer to an FAQ: Socialization in Home Education

My kids aren't always alone on a beach, I promise.

The question I get asked about homeschool more than any other is regarding socialization. I think most homeschool families would tell you the same. (Second in line is, "What about physics and chemistry?" but we can get to that later.) This seems to be the focus of most homeschool critics, and in some cases for good reason. (This article provides what I consider to be a balanced view.) Not all homeschoolers get socialization right. However, not all homeschoolers get academics right either, and we could say the same thing of schools. That socialization comes up more often than other questions baffles me a bit, but I am happy to give an answer as to what we do in our family and what our priorities are.

First, I want to point out that we consider socialization to have equal standing with other developmental and educational needs. As a homeschooling family, we need to be purposeful about everything we do in regards to raising our children to be part of their community and to contribute to the society in which they find themselves as adults. I will sometimes say that I am  not worried about a particular subject or need, but that doesn't mean that I'm not attending to it. It means that the method we are using is working, and I am confident in our abilities to change course if necessary.

I find that people hold up school as "normal" socialization, and this is for the obvious reason that it is what is available to most children. However, is what is the cultural norm truly the best for children? In some cases, it works fine, but in other cases, it does not. I value norms that lead to healthy development, but if that is not the case, then I am happy to do things differently. I don't believe that being in a group of similarly aged children five days a week, six hours a day, is necessarily supportive of healthy development for all children. It really depends on what other supports are in place, as well as on the child's individual needs.

When it comes to socialization, as with most other things, I ask the question, "When could my children use support, and when is it better for them to figure it out on their own?" There is certainly value in learning to resolve conflict, but that doesn't come naturally to everyone. One of my children is very good at it with very little support, whereas my other child has needed additional help in reading others' cues and figuring out solutions that work for everyone. I prefer situations in which there is a supportive, trusted adult available to assist my children when they are struggling. I also think it is important that we adults make note of ways in which our children may be approaching situations in a way that is inappropriate or unkind and help them make better choices. The idea isn't to hover and micromanage, but to be available and to use observation in order to make sure that guidance is given when necessary.

I also ask the question, "What is working for my children in terms of their desires for socialization?" In our family, we have one introvert and one extravert. This certainly presents challenges, and I will be honest that it can be hard work to make sure that what we are doing works for everybody. At school, there is a one-size-fits-most method, and this is geared to those who are extraverted. For us, we have a fits-for-our-family method, geared toward both introvert and extravert needs, and I am constantly observing and adjusting to make sure that it continues to work.

Beyond just knowing how to interact with various people they will encounter in their lives, I also want my children to be comfortable in situations in which their socialization preferences are not possible. For my introverted child, this means figuring out how to navigate being in large groups of people. For my extraverted child, this means becoming comfortable with sometimes doing things alone. I don't want either of my children to grow up only recognizing their own needs and point of view, and we talk about this a lot in regards to socialization, then give opportunities to practice. I want each of my children to have time in their own comfort zone as well as opportunities to grow and expand their skills.

Right now, we are able to balance both girls' needs with a combination of activities. I sign E up for group activities that also meet her needs for sensory input. Currently she is in a ballet class and is on a wait list for tumbling. I am supplementing with extra playground time until she gets into the tumbling class. We have a playground around the corner where she quickly finds a friend and will happily play for hours. (Z often brings a book for this.) Z is in a small group violin lesson and a larger group theatre course. These are the classes we do weekly, which are not homeschool specific. We also attend a semi-weekly home education group that I now organize, as I found it so beneficial to both of my children that when the original group leader had a baby and decided not to continue organizing, I was happy to step in. Through this group, we have met many families with whom we meet up regularly. There are also myriad one-off group activities organized throughout London for home educators, and we frequently sign up for those as well.

For both of my children, I find that familiarity is a good thing. I think this is where school makes things easy, as children get to see the same group of kids each day. However, there are certainly ways to ensure familiarity for my children. Obviously the regularly scheduled classes they attend provide this. In addition, we arrange to meet up at parks with other families that we've met in various activities, and we visit each other in our homes. My children ask to see particular friends, and I make arrangements. We also attend church two to three times per month and do additional social activities with church friends. We are truly not lacking in opportunities to socialize, and sometimes even my extraverted child finds it to be too much and wants to stay home.

Really, there is a ton more I could write about this, but I fear it would become incredibly boring if I droned on. If you have questions about what we do and why, please feel free to ask them in the comments. I know there are some holes in what I've written that may need to be filled, and I am happy to clarify, whether just in the comments or within another blog post. I've got it in mind that I want to write a bit more about family life, which may cover some things that are socialization-related. For now, let me know if there is anything that you would like to know. Perhaps if homeschool socialization is less shrouded in mystery, and if those of us who home educate can answer less defensively and more straightforwardly, there will be enough information available that we can put this question to rest.

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