Thursday, May 07, 2009

Socialisation - Why it is easy to over do it when homeschooling

Over-stimulation through homeschool activities is one of the things I try to warn new homeschooling families about. We all do it – mostly because we’re worried about the socialisation factor. We feel guilty because we think we are depriving our children of friends because they aren’t at school. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the years and a LOT of looking at and observing children’s behaviour, mostly to work out in my own head why we feel this pressure to be so busy socially.

In tribal village life, which is what I think humans are best suited to, children play with each other when there is nothing else to do. Mostly children are engaged in activity that supports the survival of the family, tribe and village. They are involved in creating shelter, sourcing and preparing food and water, taking care of siblings and younger children while adults are busy and playing. They have relatively free access to a range of adults and children and naturally seek out what they need in order to develop holistically.

The way we live – in a nuclear family arrangement – means we don’t have the contact with a range of adults and children we need to learn the social rules of society naturally. We’re a couple of hundred years – 8 or 9 generations – removed from this experience in our society. Plus, the practice of schooling has effectively and deliberately removed any skills we may have had. Parenting is much harder for us because school interferes with the development of our parenting skills. Ever since the advent of mass compulsory schooling, teachers have had to gradually pick up more and more of the workload of parents as each successive generation ‘forgets’ natural social skills. As a result we’re confused and end up over compensating, or delegating the responsibility to people who probably have less skill than us (at least parenting skills develop over time, for decades most teachers and educators were childless spinsters or bachelors!)

We’ve been brainwashed into believing children need full on contact with other children to develop properly. We’ve been told this is best handled by trained adults during the hours of 9am to 3pm five days a week, or under adult supervision in controlled situations. We grow up believing this and nearly everyone around us – including homeschoolers – are convinced. Before school hammers this indoctrination into our heads with addictive socialisation. Around the fire tribal and family story telling that is personal and reflects village life has been replaced by story books, television programs and movies where fictionalized characters build a idealized version of socialisation. These stories are written not by the whole community, but by a tiny minority. Sometimes the agenda for the stories we grow up with was nothing more than profit or income, at other times it is a deliberate attempt at social engineering on a massive scale…

Add to that the inhuman pace of life we suffer from in our technological societies and it no wonder we crave a more simple, peaceful existence! And the immense loneliness that is a result of the effects of the first half of last century, where world wars, genocide and pandemics had a devastating effect on the way people live, scattering refugees across the planet, breaking bonds with land, culture and family, the very things that naturally socialize us.

Those of us brave enough to turn our back on this insane need to be with others every day, to be busy, to fill our lives with doing something to affirm our worth, and to carve out a different existence based on our instinctive needs, will find it unsettling and hard. My own experience has shown me that it doesn’t get any easier – even as the children grow into adults. Are we doing the right thing? It feels right in the right places in our hearts, minds and souls, but our conditioned intellect can’t help by worry.

We are right to try and resist the pressure but it is hard finding a balance that suits not only your social needs but also the social needs individual children in your family. Children need lots of time alone, lots of time with siblings, lots of time with parents and access to others in as many natural situations as possible. Too many homeschoolers try to replicate school without seriously questioning the reasoning behind why schools operate the way they do or considering the long term social outcomes of such an unnatural education. We fall back on our conditioning to create social opportunities for our children rather than thinking through what our children really need to thrive. By observing children, by taking my cue from them, from their needs, I’ve learned that they prefer to set the pace of their socialisation development in less contrived social situations, generally within family or extended family sized mixed gender and aged groups.

We need to go with what your instincts are telling us and shut out the nagging doubts or peer pressure to do otherwise!


© Beverley Paine

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