I’ve started thinking perhaps my kids will be put back in school when they are of Secondary age. Maybe not all of them will be, but maybe at least one will.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think there is a lot of good about home education, and in particular, the unschooling philosophy, but there is pretty little going on in my local home education group where older kids (I.e. teens) are concerned. Really little. It’s not a question of starting my own club/group for teens when the time comes, so that there will be more going on for teenagers who are home educated here locally, but that home ed in my part of the woods is not big at all. And amongst the ones who do home educate, their kids are all really young and won’t be a teen for a good 6 years more at least. Is it any wonder that most of the homeschool families I know locally have ended up putting their kids in school once their kids reach their teens?
And this is my problem. I have a daughter who is turning 11 in a month or so. She is now almost nearly my height and wears the same shoe size as me. Mentally, she has been evolving and becoming quite a different kettle of fish compared to my 2 younger children who are not older than 7 as yet. She is starting to think some of the things she used to enjoy as “babyish” even though her little siblings think they’re fun. She is starting to go online a lot just to socialise – a surprise for me given that she used to be quite an insular person who is content just to have the company of her family. Unlike my 6 year old, who goes online just to play games or watch silly videos, my eldest goes online specifically to socialise these days. There are days when she would bicker and not play well with the younger two and then look really upset and frustrated. And I’d explain to her that of course she can’t expect them to play with her on her level. She is after all, a near-teenager now. She’s now at a developmental stage that my other 2 won’t be anywhere near for a good few years from now. So of course, she feels a little lonely, from time to time.
Our home is always full of people. That’s not the reason for her loneliness. Her loneliness stems from not having anyone on her wavelength, on her developmental trajectory, to socialise with – nobody in our home feels the same way as she does about music, people, life, etc. We love her and spend a lot of time with her and she knows that, but she seems to be wanting something more. She loves spending her time watching Fred videos. Oh yes. She is now getting quite interested into what happens in teen life. High-school life. The dramas. The cliques. The semi-adult life, so to speak.
I realise my previous thoughts on homeschooling have changed. I used to believe that “normal” schools create an artificial environment in which kids are forced to socialise with only others of the same age group. And that in homeschooling, we are exposing kids to people of all age groups. And that “normal” schools don’t teach us about real life. In real life, people of all ages mix and learn to get along.
I still do believe that. That hasn’t changed. But my views on what benefits school can offer in terms of socialization has definitely changed somewhat.
My past 3 years of homeschooling have shown that opportunities to socialise in my circumstances are lacking in ways which cannot adequately substitute that found in “normal” schools. Like I mentioned earlier, home ed is not a big thing at all where I live, and we have struggled to meet anyone in these groups “special” enough to foster a close enough relationship with for my kids and their kids to socialise as good friends do. To make really good friends, people have to spend a lot of time together, ideally a few days a week together. People need to have a shared existence and go through the same joys and pains in order to develop solidarity and trust. We have failed to be able to find such relationships in the groups we go to. Whenever I have tried reaching out to others, I receive just a lukewarm response and no follow-up. I suppose fair enough, I can’t expect the parents to be enthused about it if they do not feel a “connection” with me. But this homeschool socialization premise relies heavily on parents being willing to work together to make things happen for their children’s budding friendship. If one side wants to, and the other side doesn’t, it all fails.
On the other hand, I personally have friends who also happen to be parents, who are happy to meet up and socialise. I would take my kids to meet my friends’ kids (who are schooled), but our kids don’t exactly gel that well. After all, just because people gel doesn’t mean their kids will. So why should I expect my kids to gel with my friends’ kids just because I get along well with my friends?
My kids go to quite a number of afterschool extracurricular activities like sports, Brownies, that sort of thing. I don’t know if it’s because home ed is not big around here, but it always seems to be the case that once other parents find out we are a home educating family, they aren’t interested in taking the friendship further. In fact I had the same reaction from parents of my daughter’s friends in the school she went to – it was almost like the moment they realised I’ve decided to home ed, they started avoiding us. So we’ve been quite unsuccessful at inviting other kids and their parents over to play with our kids, even though they go to the same activities.
Also I live in a place where people I’ve met have been quite narrow minded in the sense that if you have no family links with this part of town, then they’ll always consider you an “outsider”. Me and my husband’s suspicions have been verified in all the conversations we’ve had locally with other people who can be classed as an “outsider” status informally, like we are, and with the locals. Not to mention my eldest experienced racial harassment when she used to go to school – at 8 years of age. And it was quite disappointing to see that her teacher did little to rectify that sort of thinking amongst some of her classmates.
Despite all that, it was far more easy for my daughter to make good friends in school than to make good friends in a homeschool group. That is because when children make friends in school, their parents don’t really need to be involved in the socialization aspect and their parents don’t even need to like each other very much.
When kids make friends in homeschool groups though, their parents need to like each other to an extent, because otherwise you just won’t get both sets of parents willing to undertake the work involved in arranging, transporting and meeting up so that the children can develop their budding friendship further. And that is if my kids even manage to make a friendship meaningful enough at a homeschool group. In my experience, they haven’t. I think it could be due mainly also to the fact that my kids are pretty shy and cautious naturally, so it’s kind of a disadvantage for them in homeschool group meetups, as these meetups only happen once fortnightly or so and only for 3 hours at best. For my kids to open up to someone new and come out of their shell, they would need to get used to someone first. In a school setting, that is achieved by being forced to go to school day in day out, being forced to sit in the same class day in day out, with the same bunch of kids. In homeschool group meetings that takes place once fortnightly or even much less frequent than that, there is absolutely no way for my kids to get used to those kids at the meetups. And when you add in the other parents’ pickiness and reluctance to put the effort in to allow our kids to meet up more often to socialise and “get used to each other”, my kids end up getting zero chance at making good friends with anybody in the groups.
So basically I’ve come to the conclusion that for kids to be able to develop close friendships in homeschool settings, the following conditions must be met :
A) kids must be extroverted and able to open up to others easily
B) sustained effort from parents on both sides to ensure kids get enough opportunities to play with each other and get to know each other better
Heck, my kids have a better friendship with our neighbour’s child than any of these home educated kids they meet at the meetups.
When I think of how my eldest at least had one rather good friend at school when she used to go to school, I wonder if by opting for the more peaceful path of home educating (I.e. she wouldn’t have to deal with bullies and the like) that in return she would also lose the opportunity to develop a close friendship with someone special. Of course, we are aware that if we put her back in school in this same area, then she might very well get picked on again for being an “outsider”. But we hold hope that things will be better if she goes to school in another area. An area more suitable for us. More open minded. Even if we eventually choose to stay here rather than leave, she might still have a chance of making a good friend in school since she used to be able to when she used to go to Primary school. Her best friends at that time by the way, were a Jewish girl and a mixed race girl. That was nice.
My eldest understands all this. She says there are some things she likes about school – and these are all school activities where she gets to socialise with her best friends. Like “play time” or “Golden time”. But she tells me that, all things considered, she still prefers to be home educated. She says she can still socialise online, and the online socialization she gets is adequate (though not the same as real life interaction). And she’s very glad to be free from the shackles of “normal” school life where she had to spend so much time each day doing what she considered are dreadful wastes of time – such as lessons. Oh yes, my eldest. Never a fan of academic school lessons ever. She’s got a point though. Even when we do semi-structured homeschool, she could still cover all the subjects that “normal” school covers in just a fraction of the time.
It’s not that she hates learning, but she hates long-winded learning. To be fair, she’s never been very much into academics. She’s more of an artsy person although she can certainly pick up academics if pushed. At home, learning happens way faster than in school. So for instance, she could cover a week’s worth of Maths in just 2 hours. And that is truly one of the beauties of homeschooling. Not to mention the other beauty of homeschooling – the freedom to pursue whatever interests she has in her free time.
But maybe school does not need to be about academics and grades. I’m looking at this from another standpoint. That it’s about optimising the chances of someone where finding good lifelong friendships are concerned. Let’s face it. There’s not much of this happening in adult life. The way the world is set up is just not conducive to this. People living hectic lives, trying to make ends meet, and having a very limited amount of time each day to devote to their loved ones. Developing kindling friendships is often last on the list. Friendships developed in adult life often are based on a rewards system – what perks are involved, and so forth.
When I look back at my own life, I realise that I made most of my lifelong friends when I was in high-school and tertiary education. These are people I could count on. People I consider my family even though we’re not related by blood.
I suppose all things considered, I want to allow my daughter a chance at finding these lifelong friendships. Looking at our home ed situation now here where we live, I know the chances of her finding such friendships are virtually nil. Yes, even if she goes to high school, it might not work out for her socially either. But at least we tried. Gave it a shot. If we didn’t even try it at all, then there would be zero chance.
And she does get what I’m saying. She knows those friends of mine I’ve just mentioned here. She knows how we connect.
That’s real friendship.
Perhaps the artificial environment of school and it’s tortuousness helps deeper friendships develop because these friendships have gone through the test of time and through the thick and thin of school life. I know that certainly was the case with me and my lifelong friendships. My daughter wants something like this. A reciprocal friendship based on trust and a shared, deep connection with each other that money and status will never affect.
Maybe she’ll be lucky as me. Maybe she will meet some lifelong friends this way, when she tries out high-school in maybe 2 or 3 years’ time.
If not, then the knowledge and experience I’ve gained so far in my years of homeschooling will prove invaluable because I will know exactly how to withdraw her from school, how to homeschool her again, what other avenues she could take to further herself and her career prospects, and how to deal with officialdom, should they try to make things difficult for us.
So in short, everything we’ve learnt from the decisions we make in life will come in handy some day.