How do Homeschoolers Socialise? Home Education & Friendship

How do homeschoolers socialise? This is one of the first questions people will ask you if you home educate. It’s probably a question you’ll have asked yourself in the past if you are already home educating or considering it. The idea that home education isolates children is a common misconception and there are actually many social benefits to homeschooling.

A note on language:┬áIn my posts, I refer to “homeschooling”. In the UK, the correct term for educating your child at home is “home Educating”, with homeschooling referring to a child doing work at home that has been set by school. I use the the term homeschooling in my posts because many people who are new to home educating will use the term homeschooling when searching online and I want to make sure they can find the information.

What is Socialising?

There are really two aspects to the concerns around socialising for home educated children; developing the social skills to operate in the world and having friends so that they don’t become lonely. The concern is usually that, without attending school, children will miss out on both of these.

If we start with the social skills aspect, it’s quite easy to see that home educated children have some great opportunities to practice these skills. In a school, children interact with authority figures (teachers) and children who were born within a year of them. Home educated children are living in their community, with lots of opportunities to interact with range of people, as well as the opportunity to observe adult interactions and learn from them.

In terms of making friends, the internet and social media has provided a way for home educating families to connect with each other, arrange meet ups and set up organised activities. These things usually allow children to spend time with other children, both of their own age, and those who are older or younger. Organised activities also give them the chance to experience authority figures, in terms of activity leaders.

Social Opportunities for Home Educated Children

If you are concerned about how your child can socialise while home educating, here are some of the ways it can happen.

Local Home Education Meet Ups

Home education meet ups take place everyday, all over the country. The best way to find out about these is by joining your local home education group on Facebook. To find it, search Facebook for “home education” (not homeschooling as that isn’t the right term in the UK) and the name of your county or town. If you live in a rural area, you might have to try nearby towns to find a relevant group.

While a few groups will ask that you are already home educating before you join, many will be happy for you to join as part of your research and welcome you along to meet ups to get a feel for things before you commit.

Meet ups often take place in local parks or cafes. They are usually free but some take place in community halls or youth centres and have a small charge to cover costs. For most meet ups, there is no requirement to commit in advance. Some meet ups are for all ages and some focus of a particular age group, for example, younger children or teens. Most will welcome older or younger siblings too.

Many home educators have children with special needs and so understand that, while your child might want to come, actually doing so can be hard. No one will judge you if say you’re coming but don’t show up or arrive only to leave again after 5 minutes.

Activities for Home Educated Children

As social media has provided a way for home educators to connect, many parents and local businesses have set up activities specifically for home educated children. In my immediate area we have tennis, crafts, science lessons, ice skating, kick boxing, karate, STEM lessons, gymnastics, art lessons, drama, sewing, athletics and forest school. If we’re willing to travel for 30 minutes there’s even more.

Attending a structured activity can be easier than an informal meet up for some children. The focus is on the activity so the social side feels less pressured. They are also great for developing the broader social skills we need to get along in the world.

As with meet ups, the best way to find out about these is through your local home education Facebook group.

Home Education Days Out

Sometimes home educating parents will organise days out for groups of home educated children. This will usually allow them to access the group rate or visit in the same way a school would and take advantage of workshops and talks.

In some areas these days out happen occasionally, run by different parents on an ad hoc basis. In others a particular parent enjoys running these and sets up a dedicated group to organise regular days out. We’re lucky to have two such groups in our area. Sometimes they charge a small admin fee or cover the cost of their own children’s places within what they charge.

These days out can be a great way to socialise with other home educated families as well as practising wider social skills like meeting new people and navigating new situations.

Online Socialising

For some children, in person socialising can be difficult, for others, they just prefer to interact online. Realistically, many of our interactions as adults will be online and so online socialising is still a valuable skill.

While your child might already have some people they socialise with online, there are ways to support them to safely make friends online if they don’t.

As there are no geographic boundaries for online socialising you can use National Facebook groups to try and find parents of other children, who have similar interests to yours, who would like to socialise online. Often they will play particular games together online but could also just chat on WhatsApp.

If your child thinks they might like an online friendship that could eventually move into the real world, you could make your request for online friends in a local Facebook group rather than a national one.

As with anything online, there is always a risk that people aren’t who they say they are, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your children’s online communications.

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After “School” Clubs

Your home educated child doesn’t have to socialise exclusively with other home educated children. After “school” clubs are open to everyone so if there’s an activity your child likes there’s no reason they can’t attend clubs that run in the evenings or at the weekend.

Uniformed clubs like Scouting, Girls Guides or Cadets can be great options if you’d like your child to experience something quite structured and get some great opportunities to do outdoor activities at a reasonable price.

Old School Friends

If your child has previously attended school, there is no reason why they can’t stay in touch with their old school friends. I think this works better for older children who can stay in touch through their phones or online gaming. For younger children, it relies more on the parents be willing to make the effort and that can be hit and miss.

My son left school early in year 8 and while he didn’t stay in touch with anyone from that school, he rekindled friendships with children from his primary school who went to other secondary schools.

Friends and Family

Social skills can be practised with pretty much anyone and family members who don’t live with you and friends of the family can be great for this.

Cousins can be great play mates and “practice” with them can build confidence for developing other friendships. We have a family friend who comes to stay a few times a year with her son and we have both always found that our children take developmental leaps after those visits.

You can also use your own friendships with other adults to role model social skills for your children.

Out and About

Just going about your daily business with your children in tow will help them develop their social skills. Talking to the librarian about a book, asking for help in a shop, chatting with an old lady at the check out, explaining a problem to a receptionist. All of these things are modelling social skills for your child and as they get older you can encourage them to start doing these things for themselves.

If your Child Doesn’t Want to Socialise

This can be really tricky for parents. When you home educate, you feel under a lot of pressure to make sure your child has a “Social Life”. It’s important to listen to your child and understand their social needs.

Some children love company and will want to have time with other children everyday. Others are happy just seeing one friend, once week, some enjoy the superficial friendships they develop at activities but don’t want to take those any further. If your child is happy with their current level of socialising, then you’re doing fine.

The real challenge comes when your child is lonely but struggling to socialise. This might be because of past trauma or SEN. All you can do is start where your child is and try and take small steps forward. For some children, one to one will be easier, for others, an activity with less pressure to socialise might work best. You could also consider online friendships if that appeals to them.

If you are worried about the local authority and their opinion on how much your child is socialising, try to demonstrate that you and your child are aware of opportunities for socialising and are working towards them at your child’s pace.

School Socialising Vs Home Education Socialising

I think that the social side of home education does require more “work” than when you just send your child to school. You need to put in effort to help them. I also think the quality of the social interactions they will experience through home education are often higher than they experience in school.

It’s ironic that people worry so much about home educated children socialising, when school so often reminds young people that they “aren’t there to chat”. Indeed during a recent visit to a high school open day I was told that lunch was only thirty minutes long as if it was longer there was time for bullying to happen. For me this says it all about the opportunities available for socialising in school.

three home educated children together in a wooden shelter, text reads "how can homeschoolers socialise?"

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