jueves, 29 de agosto de 2013

How do Unschooled Children Socialise?

If you homeschool or unschool your children, the whole world worries that they are not getting properly socialised. I did too (very briefly) in the beginning. But I soon realised there was nothing to worry about. All I had to do was carry on as I usually did. So we went shopping when we had to, and out to playgrounds, the library or the beach. There I met other mums and dads (lots of dads on the dole in Spain) and the kids would play and make new friends easily.

Now that they're older (5 and 7), playgrounds are not so much fun, so we do other things we all enjoy, and wherever we go, we interact with other people all the time. During school holidays, we pass among the population as 'normal' people. It's only when all the other kids are at school, that people start raising eyebrows and asking questions.

We just spent two months in Spain, during the summer school holidays, so nobody noticed we were different. My family and friends already know, of course, and they call me (affectionately) 'freaky', a very popular term in Spain. The day we went to the drawing competition though, one of the organisers, to make conversation with the kids, asked them which school they went to.

'I don't go to school,' said Dave.

'Well, not now because you're on holidays. But of course you go to school!'

'No, I don't,' Dave insisted. 'I've never been to school and never will.'

'You're lying to me!' she exclaimed in a teasing tone.

Dave looked up at her as if to say 'why would I do that?' I was trying hard not to laugh, but I had to intervene before the lady suggested that it's not right to tell lies. I told her that indeed, my kids don't go to school, I'm a home educator (I say this sometimes for clarity's sake, although more often than not, the kids educate me.) Some of the conversations around us started to dwindle. The lady asked me whether there was some sort of impediment for us that I couldn't take the kids to school.

'No, it's by choice,' I said nonchalantly.

Now I had successfully managed to get everyone's attention. This always makes me a bit uneasy, so I was quick to add that we live in Australia, where homeschooling is widely accepted. In retrospect, I shouldn't have said that. It was an easy way out and everyone around seemed to breathe out as if to say, 'oh, okay, you're almost a foreigner, so we'll let you get away with it.' They all started asking me curious questions, like whether we lived in a remote place, and soon enough the inevitable: What about socialisation? 

Before answering the question I cast a meaningful look at the kids. Dave, Alex and Mar (my niece) had brought along their own crayons and markers. Before attending the competition the four of us together had read the rules (yes, we know what rules are!); one of them was: Bring your own material, except for paper, which will be provided. Apparently, some of the other participants hadn't read the rules, so they came empty-handed. One of the parents, no doubt thinking that the crayons were for everyone to share, said to Alex, 'Can you please place the crayons in the middle so all the kids can have access to them?' Alex looked up at her in surprise, because the crayons were his so it was up to him to want to share them or not (the only times I ask the kids to share their things is when they have playdates at home, and whatever they don't want to share they must put away so it's out of sight.) But she had been nice enough, so Alex did as he was asked. Later the mum realised her mistake and said, 'Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know they were yours. Can my son borrow them? We didn't bring any.' Neither Dave, Alex or Mar went as far as to say, 'But of course you can all have our crayons!' but they did share them gladly and whenever they needed a certain colour that another kid was using, they waited patiently for their turn.

This is just one example of socialisation that they didn't learn at school. I don't know why some people still get this idea that because they don't go to school and I work from home (mostly), we don't socialise or have social skills. I guess it's because an alarming great amount of people only socialise when they're at work. Also, I see a lot of people with very confused ideas about what it means to be sociable. Being an extrovert doesn't mean being sociable. In fact, I have met more than one extroverted psycopath in my life. And being an introvert doesn't mean you are unsociable. I hear a lot of adults who say 'I'm unsociable.' I always laugh when I hear this. It's their way of saying, 'Look, I'm not going to go around trying to get along with everyone, ok? I'm an adult now, so I don't have to do it.' Yet, this is what is expected of children and even forced on them.

I also don't feel like being sociable all the time and with everyone, even people I might not like. I think that is being fake. But I am sociable (and also an introvert.) I have good quality friendships, some lasting decades, and I make new friends easily. So do the kids. The most important thing is: we choose who we want to socialise with. We are not stuck in an office or a classroom where we have to put up with bullies. I did, both as a child and as an adult, and I can say (I speak for myself) that being bullied didn't make me a stronger person, or more humble or anything, except maybe withdrawn and wanting to escape.

It amazes me that some people actually think that some amount of bullying both at school and at home is good for children. I reckon it must be the same people who disrespect their children. Yes, I think bullying starts at home. We all do it, often unconsciously, some more than others, and the kids take that to school and are left there with the teachers to deal with it. And then they take it back home and the vicious cycle goes on and on.

And that is another aspect of socialisation that I'll talk about next time because this post is already getting too long!