By far, this is the most common question we have been met with over the years of our homeschooling journey.
Homeschooling and the word 'socialisation' have almost become synonymous.
I'm not actually sure why or how that happened to be honest. I don't really understand it because in short...I am not worried about socialisation and I'll explain why.
(Zeeki and Keithy were besties with an 82 year age gap)
What is healthy socialisation?
When we say the word 'socialisation' we have to understand what 'healthy socialisation' looks like. I think most people would agree that healthy socialisation looks something like this: being able to communicate with all kinds of people: people from all walks of life, from different cultures and faiths; people of different ages; people who have different ideas. Healthy socialisation looks like being able to act appropriately in various settings (knowing when to be respectful, knowing when to ask questions, knowing when to listen to others, how to be a good sport and knowing how to wait patiently for your turn). It also means knowing how to be kind, present, compassionate and empathetic and knowing when and how to stand up for oneself or for others. Healthy socialisation means looking after the property of others because you value people and what is important to them. It means having a strong sense of self and not being someone they are not just because they feel pressure from others.
These are all signs of healthy socialisation and ways in which we hope our children act in our home and in the wider community.
(Photos above: practicing social skills by learning to sit and eat in a café, listening to instructions and co-operating in gardening, practicing how to be a good sport)
School (mostly) groups children together by age. When else does this happen in life?
Outside of school, people are not grouped together by age: not in a workplace situation, nor at a tertiary education institution, nor in a social setting.
In a workplace, we are grouped with others based on our abilities and our qualifications or on how well we can do our job. In a tertiary education setting, we are grouped with others based on the common ground of our course rather than our common age. In our social groups, we tend to make friends with people who share the same kinds of interests as us or who we can appreciate for various personal reasons (they are kind, attentive, giving, etc).
Homeschooling presents our children with CONSTANT opportunities to practice the skills required for healthy socialisation.
Our children are with us all the time and have to learn how to relate in various social settings. They learn how to wait for a doctor's appointment for a sibling, or how to politely order a hot chocolate in a café. They learn how to play with children of all ages in our cross-age homeschooling groups. They learn how to speak well on the phone and how to ask questions of others. They learn the art of conversation. They practice holding their hands behind their backs when walking in an art gallery and admiring the work from a distance (this one took some time for some of my more kinaesthetic learners ;) ) They know appropriate ways to greet people when they meet and how to be respectful at something solemn like a Dawn Service on ANZAC Day.
(Practicing social skills in a grocery store setting each fortnight. We have done this so often that I can now drop off my 16 year old and he can do the entire fortnightly family shopping by himself if we need especially when I am unwell.)
These things don't naturally happen just *because* they are homeschooled. It happens because as they are homeschooled and because we spend so much time together, we get LOTS of time to practice how to speak appropriately, how to treat others, how to be respectful, and as parents, we get the chance to correct and encourage a different way if necessary.
Sometimes they need a gentle reminder, sometimes we've had to leave a place if they couldn't cope. Sometimes it has meant taking fidget toys with us to have in our pockets so we can be respectful (and still move quietly!) Sometimes it has meant taking a big deep breath and tackling something tricky that we find naturally hard (like speaking up to ask for a haircut in a certain style) but we are there to support them through that and eventually all of our kids have gotten to the point that they find they CAN do these things themselves. All opportunities help them learn ways to cope, connecting more with themselves and others, giving them a chance to learn how to self-regulate.
(More social skills practice: going to museums or art galleries and interacting well with displays, practicing public speaking and attending plays or performances)
Social opportunities come in a variety of settings.
My older teens have represented the local area in Parliament House, have flown independently on planes, have stayed overnight in hotels, know how to communicate with a variety of people in their workplaces (of various ages/cultural backgrounds/worldviews etc). They have spoken in public to small and large groups. They have participated in a community play working with others and helping set up and pack down for many different events. Even our younger kiddos have laid wreaths at services, have written to penfriends (ages 75-9) and have participated in activities they've been interested in. My kids are often the ones looking to include the child on the outer edge and this makes my heart happy to see their sensitivity towards others.
(Photos above: Zeeki watching a symphony for the first time; playing team sports with older and younger children; Stass as a youngster enjoying a tea time treat out)
My kiddos have all learned how to work well with others, have played team sports (and had plenty of practice at conflict resolution skills with siblings!) They understand the value of working on collaborative projects like the time we worked on the Desert Pea Media song and clip or when they have worked on the local Youth Council working towards a common goal or helped decorating floats for a local parade.
(Respectfully viewing artworks at a local exhibition)
Our kids learn to play with kids their own age of course too through play dates, parties, clubs and other social situations that organically arise.
The kids practice things like opening doors for others, offering a chair to someone who may need it or gently pushing someone in a wheelchair. They learn how to stand up for themselves and others, how to fight for causes they are passionate about and that it's ok to be yourself.
Is encouraging healthy socialisation limited just to homeschooled families?
Of course not. Anyone can encourage their children in these ways and most people I know, do! Homeschoolers are not exempt from wanting their children to be well-rounded individuals, if anything, it's just that we have more time to spend encouraging them in this area. Does it mean our kids always want to be with others or never have conflict in relationships? Of course not. Some who are naturally more introverted have struggled at times in social settings and we have sought ways to honour their needs whilst also being able to attend a certain function, party or event if necessary. Sometimes it has been fairly easy and other times it has been a challenge. I would never want to paint an unrealistic picture of our life. We are all works in progress aren't we?!
(Photos above: Being respectful at the Australian War Memorial; Zeeki wearing Keithy's replica miniature medals on ANZAC Day; the three eldest working together on a banner for a community parade)
So am I worried about our kiddos socialising? Nope! Not at all.
And the next time you hear the word 'homeschooling', instead of thinking that homeschooled kiddos are somehow disadvantaged with socialisation (if you've ever thought that), I hope you might think instead of what you have read here and think about the amazing examples of healthy socialisation that can occur just by living a homeschooled life.
(My gorgeous fam bam enjoying a movie night out)
Thanks for reading.
Happy learning, living and loving, Lusi x