I am often asked "But what about socialisation....?" when people hear that we home-educate.
In the same breath I almost always hear "Are you a teacher then? What about exams? Do you have to follow a curriculum? Oh you are very brave..."
But it is the first that makes me smile (and grimace) the most.
Take this week for example. As it stands, this is the plan...
Monday - Home-Ed group. What does this mean? This means spending time with a group of families, from a wide-range of backgrounds, with different views and ways of living - all with (at least) one thing in common - an interest in home-education.
Our group does not restrict membership to those people we 'like' or choose. We don't ensure that everyone has a certain income level, is employed, is vegetarian (or not), married, has a particular belief or anything else. All we ask of our members is that respect is given to all, everyone is welcome, and any sort of bullying or prejudice will not be tolerated. We welcome all, from all religions and ethnic backgrounds, of all ages.
With this is mind, isn't this the socialisation that is so desperately sought and worried about?
Yesterday at our local group there were 8 adults and 16 children = 24 bodies.
The children ranged in ages from 1 through to 16, the adults up to (I'm guessing) around 48 ish.
Numbers and ages vary from week to week, families leave, new families join us, some families come most weeks, others come as and when they want or feel the need to connect.
Yesterday the children walked together, talked together, and played games together. They discussed everything from music tastes to TV programmes and their hobbies. They shared past experiences, holiday adventures, their pets at home, and so much more.
Because they wanted to.
Because they were allowed to.
Because (probably the most important to remember) they had time to.
As a home-educating parent, I facilitated this interaction but didn't make it happen.
I took my children along to the venue where I knew the group were meeting (as I do almost every Monday - although the older ones can choose whether they want to attend or not). I walked up to the group with my children and we made ourselves known. The children went off to see their friends, and I went to stand with and speak to mine. I didn't hover over my children, I didn't listen in on their conversations, I didn't sit on their shoulder and ensure good behaviour. I trust them. I was aware of their general location but I didn't spy on them (we aren't talking of the 1 year old bubba here, of course I was watching her - pretty much like a hawk - as any parent in a public place should be doing).
A new family joined us and they were introduced and their needs met. The daughter was welcomed into the group readily, in fact looking on as an outsider you would never have known that she was a "newbie". Likewise her mother.
This week we were out and about in the beautiful setting of Cockington - a real-life chocolate box village full of thatched cottages, horse and carriage rides, and manor houses - complete with cricket field and pavilion. Beautiful. We strolled around the manor house grounds, played tag on the lawn, sat and chatted, drank hot-chocolate in the sunshine, visited the church, admired the organic garden, watched the bees and hives, patted the horses, played with friends in the playpark, viewed glass being blown, the list goes on and on. We also followed a trail - clues had to be read, answers found, and by process of elimination the result formed.
Somewhere amongst all of that activity, the wheel of learning was in full spin.
We weren't sat at desks with paper in hand. We weren't watching the clock in anticipation for the next lesson. We weren't thinking about who we were going to sit with at lunch or what game we wanted to play in the playground.
We were just out living life and enjoying the company of friends.
But still there was learning occurring.
Rather abso-bloomin-marvellous I think.
Now today, Tuesday, we had friends visiting. Today, in my home, there were ourselves and two other families = 3 adults and 9 children. The children have played outside, jumped on the trampoline, played the guitar, enjoyed hide and seek, had various and wide-ranging conversations, and generally enjoyed each others company. Again, parents didn't interfere. We didn't tell the children what to play or how to be around each other. They were free to be within our sight or out of it. We didn't want to know what they were talking about. They were given the opportunity to enjoy being around friends, just as you or I are as an adult.
Tomorrow, being Wednesday, is again home-ed group day. This time the meeting is at a park in Exeter, with use of a hut and kitchen facilities. Again the age range of children will be between 1 and 16, and there will be a diverse bunch of peoples meeting together to facilitate the 'socialisation' of their children.
On Thursday we are going to visit friends. Yes, we shall be actually leaving the safety of our home AGAIN, AND conversing with other beings for the third time in a week!
We shall be doing likewise on Friday.
So, from Monday to Friday, we have had or will be having the privilege of the company of others.
We shall be communicating with other people, of various ages, in various places, about various things. At times we shall be sitting in the same room as them. We may choose to share food with them, walk with them, play with them, have a joke with them, pass on a skill to them, recommend a book to them or.... the list goes on and on. These people may be older than us, younger than us, or of the opposite sex. They may live in big posh houses or in council owned, they may drive an executive high-spec car or an old banger, they may holiday abroad in five star hotels or in a tent down the road.
I'm guessing this could be called socialising. Better than that, it's real life socialising.
At no time will we be told to shut up and remember the no talking in lessons rule.
At no point will we be placed in a room of people because we share the same birth year.
At no point will we be forced to sit next to someone who has a habit of making our life a misery as he or she takes joy in bullying us - whilst still being expected to learn.
At no point will we be told what to talk about (only on-topic discussion in lessons please!), or told when to talk about the work, when not to talk about it, or who to talk to (turn to the person next to you or discuss with those at your table) about it.
My children have a choice of who they want to talk to, who they want to spend time with, who they want to go and visit, and (not often the case) but who they want to stay away from. Just sometimes somebody might be at the group that the children don't get on with so well, or that they feel uncomfortable around. In this case my children will learn strategies of how to deal with this, knowing that it is part of life. They are fully aware that life isn't all happy smiles and blissful-ness, and sometimes they have to have interactions with people they wouldn't choose to. That's ok. Life is a big lesson and you learn as you go. We meet new people all of the time and form new friendships - getting closer to some than we choose to with others. Just as in life.
On top of all the home-ed and friendship interactions I facilitate for us all, there are those friendships and relationships that form elsewhere - Brownies, Youth Club, and Church for quick examples, as well as continuously being introduced to friends of friends - just as in the 'real world'. I have no control over who attends Brownies, nor do I have any influence as to who my teens talk to when they attend youth club or meet up with (school attending) friends in town at a weekend. But I trust them and I trust their judgements. We have the sort of relationship which allows this trust. I hear of their antics. I also hear of the antics of their friends. I hear all about my 16 year old daughter being invited out clubbing with her 18 year old male friend (which she declined because she is 16, despite being told by said friend that I, her mother, wouldn't find out).
What this 18 year old friend didn't know is that I, her mother, would find out - as the said daughter would choose to tell me, as she shares things with me and we chatted about it and actually laughed about it being a 'secret'. She didn't hide it from me and sneak off, she didn't lie to me about where she was going, she didn't think it would be a big exciting adventure to deceive me and go off out to go clubbing and (possibly) get drunk and suffer for it in the morning. She didn't want to do it. She didn't feel ready, and in her words "Quite frankly mum, I don't feel the need to".
She doesn't feel the need to because she doesn't feel the need to fit in. She doesn't feel the need to be accepted by a certain group of people or the 'in' crowd. She doesn't feel the need to be associated with those that are out drinking and clubbing. She doesn't feel the need to be part of that culture. She is happy being who she is NOW and doesn't feel the need to grow up beyond her years. She doesn't have a point to prove, nor does she have anyone she feels the need to impress.
She is who she is. She is who she wants to be. She is her own person, not someone her friends want to her to be.
If that's what our sort of socialisation gives us, I'm happy with that.