Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Social butterflies . . .

I thought I'd tackle one of the most common questions about home educating -

Do they have friends?

Do they socialise? 

Aren't they isolated?

It doesn't matter how the question is asked, the worry behind it is always the same - without the framework of daily interaction how will children form connections with other human beings. 

It's a bit of a daft question, really.  If a child wants to find friends, they will - be that at the shops, over the fence, at the park, at group meetings, or at clubs.

My children are so different from one another that I've had the luxury (again) of seeing things with a little more perspective than most - also as we've been home educating for more than ten years now I've had time to see just how things developed for each of them.

A is a very sociable child - at six she is accomplished at most sorts of socialising.  She can deal with family gatherings - nattering with adults she barely knows, playing with children she sees at most three times a year.  She loves the park, and will find a playmate more or less every time we go - whether that is someone we went to the park with, or to meet, or just a random child.  She has an understanding that if she plays with a random child they are friends for that moment, not friends for life and she's fine with that.  At the groups she does - Beavers, Girls Brigade and Junior Church - she has formed firm friendships with other children, and relationships with the leaders.  This summer she went to a friends house to play for the day without any of the rest of the family.  Right now she is out playing with a Lithuanian lad who lives two doors away.  When it comes to making connections, there's no holding her back.  Within the family, too, she is happy to play with any of her brothers with only a small amount of bickering.

J, on the other hand, is an unsettling mix of sociable and isolationist.  He likes new people, new places, new groups.  When we first moved here he was chattering away to our new neighbours happily within days.  He has no reticence about approaching strangers, or telling them *everything*.  When we go to parks he will find a random child and play happily for a while.  Often he breaks the ice then M joins in and they play together - less often M breaks the ice and J joins in.  It's a different story when we go places with other people though.  J has friends - but sometimes we can be in the same place and he will totally ignore them.  Other times they will play together for a while then J will drift off for some "alone time" as he calls it.  If we go to organised events J can (now) cope with the structure and activities - but for years he'd be OK for a short time then need to get some space. In the past five or so years he has stretched the time he is OK within a group from 5 minutes to maybe an hour if he is enjoying the activity.  After activities he can cope with one or two children being with him now, as long as there is space.  J goes to Cubs, a church youth club, and a multi sports group.  It is hard to work out if he is happy because often just before a group he will start to resist going. He has just stopped going to a weekly rugby session because he just wasn't joining in or enjoying it.  With J we feel that we need to prod him a little to get him to go to regular groups - if he really isn't enjoying it then we are happy to let him stop, if we left him to his own devices he would stay at home all the time, yet once we get him out of the house he generally enjoys being out and seeing people.  J very rarely ever asks to see particular children, or even to go out.  Family gatherings can be difficult.  J gets bored, doesn't like talking to people he knows but doesn't see a lot, and is often hard work. That causes tension, which makes J worse. There is one particular uncle who is an exception to this - the uncle comes on holiday with us, comes up to stay, Skypes the kids once a week *every* week, and has an awesome relationship with them.  If he is about the J (and M) will be glued to his side and everything will stay calm :)

M, yet again, is another kettle of fish altogether.  M loves regular, structured activities.  He goes to a weekly chess club, a weekly games club, rugby, Scouts, multi sports - he'd go to the church youth group too if it didn't clash with chess . . .  M loves to see other people, when we go to parks he will recruit as many other children as he can for a long rambling game where he is in charge. If he meets a random child, they are (in his mind) instantly friends, and M wants me to exchange contact details with the other parent so they can keep in touch.  Part of the trouble comes from M being . . . persistent.  He isn't happy when someone wants to end a game, or an activity stops - he will try everything he can to extend it, even though it's not appropriate to do so.  He often carries games just a step too far, is just a bit too directive (bossy!), only wants his ideas in the game etc.  As with J family gatherings can be hard work - boredom, lack of understanding, and some peoples unwillingness to engage with him mean M is hard work.  If there's stuff to do he is usually fine and self contained.  If the favourite uncle is about they will sit for hours talking and playing games. 

L . . . Hmmmm, well L is a teenager now - both in actual age and in attitude too.  He has a small but select group of friends, and is really unwilling to move beyond that.  As an individual L is perfectly capable in most social settings - though he's not very talkative until he is comfortable - he can cope well with family gatherings (but he gets embarrassed by M and J ), he tends to get bored in parks unless there is someone there he knows and likes, but if we go to an activity (that is suitable for his age) he'll engage with it and the others there.  He goes to a friends house once a week for role playing, goes to a weekly games club, and is looking for a sport to take part in.  Other than that his meet ups are much more ad hoc - going to a friends house, or them coming over.

Each of the children have had the same opportunities, but they have all reacted in different ways.  They all approach making friends differently but seem happy with the level of interaction they get.

We're at the stage now that we don't actively seek out activities based on "will the children meet new friends" - although we have done that in the past.  Now friends are a happy side effect of going places, not the reason at all.

So, to answer the dreaded S question - there is no magic number of friends that is "enough", no amount of time spent socialising that is "the right amount", all you should really be concerned with are two questions:

Is my child happy with the amount of friends they have?

Are they happy with the amount of time we spend with those friends?

As home educating parents if the answer to either of those is no, we have a bit of work to do - new opportunities to find, more facilitating to do - but then as a child in school I felt isolated - I didn't see most my friends outside of school and holidays were so long!

Really though I feel that all a parent can do is offer opportunities - opportunities to go out, to have fun, to learn and experience new things.  If you do that, your child will make friends along the way - in their own way, at their own pace, and those friendships will be stronger for it.


  1. This is the sort of post I mean about your kids' unk. ;) Pity not all family members are the same but he seems to fill most of the gaps. :) xx