One of the greatest homeschooling myths is that our children will not be able to socialise. There is a continuous sense of fear suggesting that children can only “socialise” and form lasting relationships within the confines of the school environment. Most seasoned homeschoolers roll their eyes when the ‘S’ word is mentioned because we see our children mix and converse with all sorts of people organically in the natural surroundings of their everyday life.
But here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic, after weeks of a national lockdown that has seen us all endure forced separation from our loved ones. After the subsequent easing of these restrictions, we are now facing further periods of isolation with this continuous threat of the “second wave” and all that comes along with it.
As parents we are wading through the murky waters, trying to make sense of the questionable government guidelines and in the meantime, our children simply want to play with their friends, a right which has been denied to them for long enough already. Humans, and especially children are inherently social creatures. The Social groups we form help our children develop an important part of their identity, teaching them vital life skills- it’s madness not to acknowledge that meeting for social purposes IS EDUCATION!
So whilst schooled children are ushered into their social bubbles, albeit in controlled and restricted conditions, homeschooled children seem to be paying the price. With ever changing mixed messages from the powers that be and a clear ‘anti- homeschool’ rhetoric playing out- we may now actually have a reason to reassess the socialisation of our children.
Let’s be honest, we can’t really rely on zoom meetings, online classes and engineered virtual spaces. If your children are anything like mine, they will be utterly fed up with such interactions and who can blame them? In a world where we are depending on digital engagement to form the basis of our relationships, we need human connection more than ever. In fact, connecting socially with others can lower anxiety and depression and help us to regulate our emotions thus improving our self esteem and ability to have empathy towards others.
WiFi isn’t going to fulfil our social needs and it certainly won’t fulfil our children’s. As home educators we already give so much to our children, providing them with the best conditions we can to be themselves and to develop and learn on their own terms. We also know that the best learning happens through REAL and authentic interactions with others.
So how can we help our children navigate social connection during this time? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve had:
Help them develop inner connections
Firstly it’s important to gently remind them, that whilst connecting with others has many benefits, we cannot rely on it as a dominant source of our health and happiness. It may be a deep concept for children to grasp but don’t underestimate them. This is an opportunity for them to really get to know themselves away from the influence of their peers- what they like/dislike and how they place themselves in the world. This can be done by truly engaging in deep conversations with them, guiding reflections, encouraging them to journal, paint, create and express who they are and what they feel right now. Let them experiment with yoga, meditation, mindfulness, poetry and drama. Let them explore with curiosity their inner world, without the need to seek validation and simply for their own pleasure.
Reconnect to their sense of home
Help them to regain or increase connection with their home and personal spaces. With the fast paced life that we are so used to living, we forget that home can be a haven and a place of deep connection, let them see that by allowing some ownership over it. Decluttering, making space for the things that they love, brightening up their room and letting them choose meaningful artwork to refresh and inspire are just some ideas. Show them how people across the world live and how lucky they are to have such comforts.
Connect with your neighbours and local community
Community starts at home and what better opportunity to build relationships with our neighbours than now. Seek out what people need, see how you can support them and most importantly, get the kids involved. Those little chats over the garden fence, delivery of food packages or random acts of kindness all help to remind them that they are part of a wider community. They may not be able to hang with their regular crew but there are people everywhere in need of a smile and a bit of care, even on your own doorstep.
Deepen the relationships with those in your home
One of the biggest reasons we embarked upon homeschooling is because we wanted to put family time as a priority. But the truth is that being together 24/7 is hard work and especially when your other social interactions are stripped away. We end up left with each other and the harsh reality of the state our most intimate relationships are in. It won’t be perfect but we do have a real chance here to help our children develop more empathy, patience and tolerance for those that they live with. We are forced to work through conflict and explore how we can truly enjoy being in one another’s company.
Whether it be games nights, group activities, team building projects, cooking together or even family movie nights – there are so many ways that we can strengthen the connections we already have and perhaps even make them better.
Embrace the outdoors
I don’t need to remind you of the benefits of copious amounts of time outdoors- but this summer we have focused on discovering new places to venture and that has brought a renewed love of outdoor time. Forest walks, empty open fields, adventure playgrounds, spots of natural beauty where they can ground themselves and so can I. Nature is healing, so allow the time, don’t be in a rush and if they make a new friend along the way, afford them the time to enjoy that connection, let them lean into it, rather than ushering them away.
Give them unstructured FaceTime
Let them have space to video chat with friends that’s not under your gaze. They can’t relax into their personal relationships through organised and monitored zoom meet ups. So when my eldest wants to chat to her friends, I leave her be. If that’s as close to unstructured play as we will get then I’m happy to support it because there is so much value in that freedom.
Expose to inspire
I’ve borrowed this phrase from a good friend of mine (thank you Ola) but it’s a great reminder. Whilst formal activities and play dates might be on pause, take advantage of arts and cultural spaces whilst we still can. Museums, galleries, farms whatever it may be, let them connect and be inspired and hey, if coincidently you bump into someone you know, then bonus!!
And finally …… don’t give up and don’t give in!
Now I’m not about to launch into all my personal feelings about the times we are currently living in BUT I will say this; people need people, it’s in our nature to be connected, so don’t give up. See people whenever you can – be safe and responsible but continue to make the effort to have real time social interactions. It’s also important to think about quality over quantity. Having isolated during lockdown I’m sure you and your children will know who they truly missed and who they didn’t. Be intentional about who you spend your time with and how.
If we aren’t careful, in the blink of an eye we will find ourselves living a life of solitary confinement. We don’t have to accept everything that is spun to us, it’s good to challenge, think for ourselves and interrogate decisions that are being made, decisions that will have a direct impact on the wellbeing of our families and our children. If we want to raise free thinkers, critical thinkers, self directed learners, children who are confident to speak out, to question and to walk the road less travelled- then they also need to see this modelled, they need to see that being “sociable” is also about standing up, standing out and making noise.