Widen Your Perception of Socialisation
by Beverley Paine, July 2008
Home education is often criticised for its apparent lack of social opportunities for children. There is no doubt that socialisation, the process by which children learn the cultural rules of the society, is best learned in the community. For young children this community is first of all the home, and gradually expands to include the homes of trusted friends and relatives.
As children grow and become more confident and competent, their social world grows to include activities outside of these homes. Often these new activities revolve around specific interests, and usually involve interaction with other children or adults.
However, even this understanding of socialisation takes a narrow view...
Wherever your children are they can't help but learn about how people socialise - how they relate to one another and have differing attitudes and ideas. Children generally learn this by quiet observation. This process is often missed by adults who don't realise that although a child may be playing nearby they are listening and noticing the behaviour of others until the child mimics the behaviour and language! Until children feel skilled and confident they rarely demonstrate or voice their own thoughts outside of the arena of the play. This is a natural process. These children are not shy or under-socialised, they are moving along a continuum of social learning at a pace which suits their temperament and personalities and is in tune with their developmental growth. Encouraging children to participate in cooperative play or conversation with others requires the creation of a safe and affirming social environment, where risks don't result in embarrassment and the children feel a measure of control and confidence over the outcome.
This confidence is encouraged by allowing children to regulate the pace of their own social development. 'Shy' children will gradually and naturally become assertive when they feel comfortable or have acquired the skills to do so. If you are worried about your children's social development allow them increased opportunities to be in comfortable situations with familiar others, to practice and consolidate their existing social skills. Look at their overall behaviour, and not just isolated incidents, even if these seem to have greater impact. Prefer to trust your own inner voice rather than that of a close friend, family member, or teacher. And most of all trust your children.
Taking your cue from your children is the easiest and less stressful method of assisting their social development. It also helps to recognise the many different ways in which children learn social and cultural rules. Children do not need to be in physical contact with other people in order to develop social skills. Books, both fictional and factual, television, films and videos, all offer important social information and models for your children. People have learned social skills from stories since the dawn of history!
Socialising with a range of people is a very important part of social growth, but do not underestimate the effect of other socialising agents. For millennia people have learned important social rules through the power of story, particularly religious texts.
Practicing new ideas in a safe, supportive environment and allowing your children to challenge their social growth at a pace which suits their individual development will result in well socialised young adults.
As a parent it is your responsibility to continue to protect your children from harmful images, information and situations wherever possible, and discuss with respect, honesty and openness those you cannot.
Take advantage of all social learning opportunities, whatever they may be. The opportunity to be with other children is only a small facet of children's social learning, albeit an important one from their point of view. Remember when people express their concern that your children aren't being 'socialised' that being with other children every day, or access to people other than family members, isn't the only to learn social skills and how to belong and be part of community life.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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