This is probably the most common question that home educators are asked, and the one associated with the most misunderstanding. If you home educate you will undoubtedly be asked this question by numerous family members, friends and strangers – perhaps because the enduring image of a home educating family is of children shut at home and isolated from society. Many people actually home educate because of the socialisation issue – they can ensure their children are better socialised than they would be if they attended school. Children are given opportunities to interact with a wider variety of people, in mixed-sized and mixed-age groups, and – perhaps most importantly – with real people doing real work in the real world.
Socialisation is the process of internalising the norms and ideologies of society. John Holt, a well-known author and educator, and a pioneer in youth rights, wrote “Forced association is not socialization.” Children are not socialised by being in an artificial environment like a school, with same-aged peers (who are, presumably, also there to be socialised). Children are socialised by adults and near-adults who are doing real work in their home and in the community. Rather than just learning to get along with peers alone, home educating allows children to encounter and engage with people of various abilities and ages in a way that more accurately mirrors the variety found in society. Even the Ministry of Education acknowledges “The research also indicates that homeschooled children tend to be well socialised …” (source: top of page 5 of the MOE Home Education Review Report).
There are many home educating families in New Zealand and there is no reason to be socially isolated. For most families the challenge is how to have some quiet time at home because there are so many opportunities for activities and experiences in the community. In school, most children interact with just a few select adults each week. These adults are always in positions of authority over the kids and the interactions are largely of an instructional nature. In home educating communities, children and adults interact on a more casual level. Kids are also able to watch the many adults in a home education group engage in friendly interactions with one another, thus modeling positive relationships.
Some people argue that experiencing conflict at school (such as bullying) “builds character” and teaches a child how to “deal with real life” – if this were true then parents would send their children to the school with the biggest bullying problem so that there was no risk their children would miss out on this valuable experience. The reality is that bullying is very damaging for a child and the consequences can be life-long. Children learn useful life lessons from working through minor conflicts with others, but these happen everywhere in life rather than just in schools.
At a glance …
- It’s worthwhile reflecting on what it is to be “socialised”
- Children are not socialised by being in an artificial environment like a school, they are socialised by adults and near-adults who are doing real work in their home and in the community
- Home educated children tend to have much better opportunities for socialisation than schooled children
- Connecting with other home educators, either online or via your local group, is very important
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – by L R Knost, home educating mother of six and best-selling author