Let’s chat about how Rachel Gathercole informs my homeschool through her book, “The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling.”
So how does her book help me understand socialization in my homeschool?
This is how Rachel Gathercole informs my homeschool: she explores all the possible areas of socialization, helps clarify what I really believe, and helps me be clear on why I don’t have to live defensively as a homeschool mama.
Rachel Gathercole informs my homeschool in these 5 ways:
1. She writes, “Once upon a time, all children were homeschooled. They were not sent away from home each day to a place just for children but lived, learned, worked, and played in the real world, alongside adults and other children of all ages.”
We assume that kids must go to schools to learn. That they need a teacher to learn stuff from. That they must have lectures, lessons, testing, and grading in order to build an education.
And somewhere along the way, we have been told that schools are the best place to socialize too!
What is up with that thought anyway?
When our kids spend their days in brick & mortar schools, they do get to sit alongside their peers for fifteen minutes eating their bagged lunches, and they do get to play on the soccer field with their peers for a rousing game of soccer (if they so choose for half an hour), but when they’re in the classroom, they are told to sit quietly, face forward, listen to watch the schoolteacher expects, and address her by her formal name.
There is no one building an attachment and connection with my child, there is no one directing my child to address his big emotions, allowing boredom to compost into healthy creative curiosity, facilitating play-based learning, or even free play with her classmates at all.
We can learn from John Taylor-Gatto how schools came to exist (ironically, he was a schoolteacher who didn’t think schools were the ideal place for kids to learn and grow, you’ll learn more about his compelling thoughts in his book Dumbing Us Down).
Socialization and social opportunity aren’t the same things.
My children, and most homeschooled kids I know, attend youth groups, hang out with friends, travel to new cities or countries, attend guitar and piano lessons, homeschool co-ops, college classes, dance classes, gymnastics, choir, swim lessons, and soccer camps…
I could go on and on.
We’ve got more time to be with other people now that we’re educating at home.
Socialization opportunities also abound and are an ongoing effort.
Teaching kindness, patience, consideration, and a sharing spirit: these get taught every single day.
My children have siblings; therefore, constant opportunities abound.
2. “On a certain level, homeschooling is all about socialization. Whatever the teaching methods used in school or homeschool, it is ultimately the social environment itself that distinguishes homeschooling from conventional school. This social environment includes the nature and quantity of peer interaction; parental proximity; solitude; relationships with adults, siblings, older children, younger children, and the larger community; the ways in which the children are disciplined and by whom; and even the student-teacher ratio and the overall environment where the children spend their time,” Rachel admonishes.
The school experience is normal.
In our culture, it is the norm.
Most people go to school. (I did it myself for twelve years, plus six years of post-secondary school.)
But normal=healthy, I’m not convinced.
Attachment theory, you can learn more about through Gordon Neufeld’s thoughts, has cemented my belief that when kids hang around kids for long periods, they become dependent on their peers.
Dependent to ask them:
- what should I wear?
- how should I act?
- what should I do?
- what should I value?
- who should I be friends with?
- how should I think?
- how should I see the world?
And that’s not normal. Not human history normal, anyway.
I’m not against my kids hanging out with other kids, of course.
They love their friends, love meeting new friends, and love to chitter-chatter with people of all ages, from babies to seniors.
But when their little hearts look to other kids to determine whether something is a good thing to do, whether something they do is valuable, whether they themselves are a person of value, then, nope, I don’t support that kind of social structure (a social structure, by the way, that will never be repeated in their life again).
Kids don’t need school socialization.
I believe that kids were meant to primarily look to their parents as guides, affirmers, and leaders in their developing lives.
The ideal place for kids is alongside their parents.
3. Rachel Gathercole encourages us, “There is no standardized test at the end of high school rendering a socialization score, no common objectives for socialization over the course of schooling.”
A. Forced association is not socialization.
- Why are people worried about my children being socialized?
- Do my children have routine opportunities to spend seven hours with twenty-four other children?
- Would I be happy hanging out with another twenty-five people every day if I could choose it?
B. Yes, I have to put an effort into connecting with others outside my home.
But I get to decide who those others are and how they influence my family.
C. My kids have learned a whole lot about connecting with others.
But this might have happened in or out of school.
- One of my kiddos has learned how to come out of her shell.
- Other kids never owned a shell.
- A couple of my kids have learned to give other kids a chance that they might not instinctively connected with.
- My kids are learning to be kind to others that aren’t always kind to them.
- Some of my kids are learning to curb their sharp tongues with the assistance of their mama (but probably also learning sharp quips from her too).
D. My kids have been learning to consider their siblings and that has most definitely socialized them.
They’re learning not to bicker, but instead, talk things through, and listen to each other’s perspectives and feelings. And they’re learning to share their own feelings too.
They regularly interact with…
- kids of all ages
- parents of other kids
- service strangers (post office, grocer, café)
- their music, dance, and curling teachers
And they talk to them as comfortably as they’re talking to me.
F. We’re doing things differently, but we aren’t lone social islands.
My kids might not be in the confines of a cement building with a few hundred other children for six hours a day, switching from class to class, being told to be quiet in class, and told to hush cause the teacher’s talking, but my kids have a whole lot going on.
And along the way, we created all kinds of social opportunities and connections.
4. Rachel says, “When we deal with society, we can see it either as a cold, lonely mass of nameless, meaningless faces, or we can approach each person as an individual. When we want into a company office to work, for example, it matters not whether we have ever set foot in a classroom full of children our own age, but whether we have the skills and compassion to do our jobs and to interact and resolve issues with other individuals with creativity, understanding, and integrity Homeschooling offers children the opportunity to learn these skills through years of guidance and practice in living and resolving conflicts with people they love, care about, and must continue to live with every day for many years.”
If there were any other skills we parents might learn before we begin this parenting trek, it would be this one…how to kindly, authentically, and diplomatically deal with our little people: because we will have to learn counseling 101, a homeschool parent’s most important skill.
Really. Tough. Work. Trying to figure out how to co-exist in the world with other people.
But we weren’t put in this world alone, so we better figure out how to empathetically engage in our social sphere.
Our kids learn to navigate these relationships by watching us.
The sibling relationship, especially in a homeschooled home, where continuous contact is ever-present, requires an energetic, proactive parental approach.
Who says bullying, or at least, mistreatment, doesn’t happen in the homeschool? Teaching kids that they have relational power and can use that power to build up or tear down doesn’t happen overnight.
Some days it feels like no matter how many directions we give them, they still resort to headbanging, hairpulling, tattletaling, and bugging one another. And you get to hear the full transcript…
“And mom, then she said…”
“But first she pinched, or hit, or told me what to do, or grabbed that thing away, or…”
On my best days, when they were younger, I had them talk out their problem in front of me; occasionally, I suggested they do it independently.
Me: “So, both of you are now cooled off, sitting in front of me. Why don’t you take turns sharing with each other what you’re feeling, or what your main issue is? Then when one of you has shared, the other is going to repeat back what they’ve heard— matter of factly–no unkind tone, no contempt, no rolls of the eyes, just repeat back what you’ve heard, so you know that you’ve been heard and that she has been heard”.
Kid #1: “So this is what I thought you said: you think I’m a purple elephant riding a green tiger that poops on a figure eight on the sidewalk…”
(As long as she’s not lecturing, making “you did wrong” statements, or “I can’t stand it when you…” statements, kid #1 has the freedom to tell kid #2 what she thought she heard.)
Kid #2 then has a turn: “No that’s not what I said! I said you can be the purple elephant riding a green tiger that loops around the figure eight on the sidewalk!”
And though it takes a few go-arounds to figure out WHY they were even talking about purple elephants riding on green tigers that loop around anything, they might come to some understanding of one another and live happily ever after. Mwahahaha.
Though this conflict approach is not magic, no tricks, no bullets, no wands, this process enables siblings to understand one another, being quick to listen and slow to speak.
Hopefully even learning to engage with less conflict and more understanding, eventually.
So if you’re someone who is thinking: this takes WAY too long, I do not have time for this, just deal with it yourself kids: well, I feel ya.
I understand entirely how annoying it is to have to interrupt your activities for yet another squirmish.
But, I suggest that teaching your kids these skills is more valuable than any skill under your homeschool roof.
There isn’t a bigger gift that you’re going to give your kid than the gift of empathy or emotional self-regulation.
Understanding someone else’s perspective is a tool your kids will use for the rest of their lives, enabling internal peace, mental freedom, and deeper, more connected relationships.
And if they don’t learn it when they’re young, they might just have to do it under the auspices of an expensive overseer, a paid therapist.
Teaching empathy and emotional self-regulation isn’t a lesson learned in a one-hour block — it’ll be a lifelong classroom–and it’s one of life’s most essential skills.
5. “I think we should say that our relationships with our children are most important. Some people choose to homeschool because they feel that their children will be a better-quality education at home. I agree that happens, but I think that is a side effect of the good relationships we have with our children. I think that building that relationship is the foundation for all other relationships, activities, learning, and work in their lives.”
Having mothered four kids throughout the “parenting” era, I recognize now that my goal was never to parent them.
But all those parenting books!
They were purchased, they were read, and they were part of my mothering rite of passage.
But when I focused my relationship with each of my kids on an outcome, or see them through the parenting grid, our children are a product, making sure their behaviour reflects my values and their education reflects my efforts, I miss the point of mothering.
I was missing the point of mothering altogether??
Alison Gopnik says, “The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive.”
Who knew!? that THIS was the entire point of mothering.
Part of the reason I couldn’t see it, besides being influenced by my culture, was that I have learned that I can’t do for others what I am not doing for myself. And I was definitely not doing it for myself.
But as I’ve grown myself, and see myself as a separate human being with separate needs, I am able to listen to each of my kids and offer to give them what they need. And allow them to be who they are.
Homeschool Mama Self-Care: Nurturing the Nurturer…
“My homeschooling journey has included a growing pile of books that I have read, browsed, or barely got past the first chapter. This book is just delightful and a gem! It’s not only helpful and inspiring but also funny. The author is like that no-nonsense brave friend who is looking out for you and your well-being as a homeschooling mama. We all need that friend and I am taking my time as I work my way through the chapters and enjoying it all. I love the section on overcoming overwhelm, grappling with perfectionism, and minding and working through our emotions. This book is worth its weight in gold. Find a quiet place to read, bring a warm cup of tea, and enjoy!”–Sonia in S. Jersey
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Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod