What Socialization Looks Like…The Unschooling Way
One of the most frequent questions I hear as an unschooler is, “What about socialization?”
It is right up there with, “How will they learn to read?” and “Can they go to university?” (yes, they will and yes they can).
The question of socialization and the fears behind it are popular currently with schools re-opening and parents trying to figure out the best solution for their families. One of the fears of not having kids in school is the kids will miss out on the peer socialization they need for healthy development.
It is a question when it comes to homeschooling in general, too, “How will my kids socialize if they aren’t grouped in with kids their own age?”
Socialization starts at home. Children learn to socialize first from their parents, siblings and extended family, they learn by watching and imitating by having loving secure attachments to the adults in their lives, just like everything, socialization sprouts from the inner circle to the outer.
When people ask me about socialization, I ponder what is at the heart of their question. Do they really believe their this-age-old needs to know all of the social cues to be a compassionate human being, right now? Or do they mean things like having good manners and getting along with the group? Maybe it’s the fear of not having friends or forming close relationships.
All our toddlers learn to stop throwing food at the table eventually and even the weird among us ends up with a friend or two.
Children learn as they grow and what they observe now and the behaviours they are exhibiting now will change next year.
I feel in real everyday unschooling life, socialization really isn’t as big a deal as the fears and conditioning makes it out to be. The “What about socialization?” is passed on from school-culture. We are taught that we have to be like our peers to be liked, to be successful. We are taught that we have to please the adults in our life with thank-you’s and by sitting still.
In reality, socialization isn’t a concern, because living life with kids naturally brings it about.
Our children are comfortable with who they are and are social beings, they are far more comfortable with being social than we are at times. For example, when playing at the park, they introduce themselves to other children by name and ask the other child their name, and then they say, “would you like to play with me?” and it is beautiful to see.
Here are five ways unschooling is a benefit to kids’ socialization:
1. They Know Their Value
Our unschooled kids know they are important, they know their ideas and thoughts matter and they expect other adults to take them seriously. In my observation, this has contributed to them having confidence in asking people they encounter questions. “Why are you fixing those wires?” “How does that tree cutter work?” “Can I help you paint?” and these questions come from being out in our neighbourhood, observing other people, socializing with a variety of people in our community.
The downside is these questions often make me feel uncomfortable because I couldn’t imagine being a child and asking a stranger about anything; I might have been hurried along or told that it was impolite to ask questions or I might have been brushed aside because I was just a kid.
We can see this at the grocery store, when we are looking for something, automatically set to find it on our own. Our kids will say, “Let’s ask the person who works here for help” and if we are in a rush and don’t catch ourselves, to pause and think, the reply right out of our mouths will be, “That’s okay, I can find it.”
Socialization isn’t the easiest for the adults and maybe the adults are hyper worried about it for that reason.
2. They Hang Out With People of Different Ages
Our unschoolers spend a lot of time with families in group settings and families have a variety of children of different ages and as a result, my children are often introduced to different kinds of play, language and activities.
3. Peer Pressure Doesn’t Exist
My children have never been told to stop doing something because someone in their age group doesn’t like it, or to alter their appearance, or to change their clothes. Our unschoolers know with every fibre of their beings that they can say “no” and they fully expect that “no” to be heard. They don’t have to play a game other kids are playing if they don’t want to or if it makes them uncomfortable.
4. No Exposure To Negative Socialization
This is the reason a lot of families make the decision to homeschool. By “negative socialization”, I mean, that our unschoolers do not come into contact with kids harassing other kids, or the socially acceptable term, “bullying”.
Our unschoolers are in social circles where adults are always present and these adults model kindness and cooperation.
5. They Get To Pick Who They Socialize With
My children are involved in a wide array of activities, that they have chosen and therefore they get to choose who they want to socialize with, they aren’t grouped by age but have at times, grouped themselves by interest.
Selective socialization is something most of us didn’t get to do until we were adults. We had to put up with the expected socializing and then we got to be where we wanted to be, with the people we wanted to be with and I don’t know about you, but socializing with people I didn’t want to socialize with, didn’t teach me how to socialize with the people I did want to be with, because the people I had to spend the majority time with are the ones I had to hide myself from. The people I wanted to be with, were the ones I could be free to be myself with and therefore, develop stronger social bonds that led to friendships.
I want to disappear into the ether as my five-year-old asks one more question to the tow-truck-driver as we watch them hitch the car to their tow truck and drive it away but at the same time, I admire their confidence and their self-assuredness.
The hardest part of unschooling is checking our own beliefs, I am okay with being uncomfortable as my children are comfortable in the social situations I am not.
I don’t worry about how my children are socializing, it is one of the tangibles of unschooling that can be seen through how they interact with the people they encounter, when it comes to socializing, the kids are alright.
To read further on unschooling/homeschooling and socialization, check out these great resources:
From the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, collected resources on socialization and homeschooling:
The Special Value of Children’s Age-Mixed Play; by Peter Gray
Socialization: It’s More Than Having Friends, by Judy Arnall