“What about socialisation?” It is the burning question asked by family and friends when you choose this life. And for many it is the number one worry that becomes a road block to taking the leap into homeschooling or unschooling. It shouldn’t be. Really and truly, it should be the least of your worries.
Unschooling is choosing life. We live life. There are endless opportunities to socialise in everyday life. Children socialise from the moment they are born, with their parents, siblings and extended family. Just as you socialise with your friends, neighbours, acquaintances and the shop assistant, your kids do too. Social interactions occur naturally in everyday life. You do not need to fabricate them.
“But how will they form their own friendships?” Unfortunately, not all of us live in neighbourhoods where our kids can have the freedom to just run over to a friend’s house. And if we do, most of the kids who are nearby are stuck in school all day. While we are more physically disconnected then ever, we are fortunate enough to live in the internet age. We have the ability to instantly connect with like minded people. Most of us have at least one local homeschooling group. There are groups offering activities, field trips, fairs and classes. But I think it’s important that you pick such activities not because they emulate what socialisation looks like in school but because they are something your child is seeking. If they want to take a class with peers, that’s great, there are opportunities for that, but don’t enrol them just to ease your fears about socialisation. It does not have to look like school. On the contrary, socialisation for unschooled kids is far richer. They control how they socialise and with whom. They create more authentic connections with kids of all ages as well as adults while creating deeper sibling bonds. Read more here.
“What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.” John Holt
“But they will miss out on… ” What is it about school that makes you think your kids will be better off socially? Are you worried they’re going to miss out on something that you believe only school can offer? Read this from someone who grew up being unschooled. When we chose unschooling, I was happy that our kids would “miss out”.
“I do not want them socialized to conform, fit in, gossip, bully, compete, and lose their compassion and individuality.” Happiness is Here
What was your experience at school? I felt extremely shy as a kid. Thrown into the chaos that is school I was overwhelmed. I didn’t fit in. I felt pressure to make friends and was ashamed of my awkwardness. And then there was bullying about the way I looked. Starting high school was the worst. The friends I had finally made in the last years of primary school all went to different schools. I had to start again. Unschooled kids don’t have to worry about that. They may have to farewell friends along the way, as families may move or travel, but generally they are not forcibly separated from their friends purely for “educational” reasons. Unschooling places more value in social connections than school does.
I spent most of my first year in high school as a loner, for want of a better word. I spent my lunch hour in the locker room doing homework and walking to the bathrooms more times then was necessary just to pass the time. My parents gave me the option to change schools but what would that solve? I would just face the same problem and worse, be the new kid.
At the end of year 8 I tried to fit in with a group of girls. I copied them, from the way they acted to the way they dressed, I wasn’t being me. Finally at 15 years old I decided to be true to myself and left the group. I found friends that I could relate to. From a social perspective, I was definitely happier in my final two years of school. That makes just four years out of twelve where I had a generally positive social experience. I want better for my kids.
I’ve come to realise that my daughter is very much like I was as a child. She can feel shy and apprehensive, especially in new company. I’ve actually been asked “what are you doing about that?” Nothing. There is nothing to be done. Shyness does not define her. It is a feeling like any other. She wants to be a part of the group, she wants to socialize, but as she describes it “her body won’t let her”. I remember the feeling well. The difference for her is that she has never been pressured to be anything other than her true self. There is no forced socialisation when you unschool.
We go to regular unschool meets but that doesn’t mean there’s an expectation to socialise. Some days Miss 5 feels shy and needs some time before she’s ready to play, other days she is more talkative and playful. Her friends, who are also respectfully parented, treat her with patience and kindness. She will often reflect on her day saying something like “I had fun. I felt a little shy, but I won’t when I’m bigger.” She says this with self awareness and acceptance that I never had the fortune of experiencing at her age. As her confidence has grown, she more often excitedly says “I wasn’t shy today, Mama!”
She may have been lucky and also made caring friends in school, but who else would she have to face? She has never dealt with a bully. She may have to at some point in her life, but I don’t see the benefit in forcing her into an environment where she cannot escape them. In real life you have the choice to put up with a bully or not. You don’t need to learn how to deal with them at the age of five or ten or even fifteen.
That’s the difference with unschooling. It’s not preparing for life. It is life.