Homeschooling Harry: social skills

A jar of oil was his only friend…

When I first started telling people about homeschooling, they would inevitably ask, “What about friends?” And I always wanted to say, well, what about them? Harry has friends at school, but he’s never really wanted to socialise with them outside of school. Much in the way that, in many of the jobs I did over the years, I didn’t want to socialise with my colleagues. (When I quit a job, no one ever asked me ‘What about your friends?’ although when I told Harry the other day that David is moving to a new office, he asked, ‘Will he miss his mates?’)

The thing about school is a lot of the time you’re only really socialising with people of the same age, backgrounds and interests. Harry pretty much stuck with the same two friends for the past four years. I remember once asking him if he ever played with a particular kid and Harry said, “No. He’s into football.” The boys who liked football all played together all the time. (I recently did a school visit and was really shocked to be faced with a table of Asian girls, a table of “clever” white girls, a table of “not so clever” white girls and a table of boys. Because I live in a pretty mixed town – albeit one of the most segregated in the country – I asked friends about it and they said it was exactly the same when they went to school.) With homeschooling, we’ll be out and about meeting different people of different ages and interests. I say we will be because for now Harry’s still pretty shy, so while I’m meeting different people, he’s mostly observing me meeting them.

The other thing I’ve noticed when my friends with school-age children have asked ‘what about friends’ and we start discussing it, it’s not long before they’re telling me about the children their child is scared of or doesn’t like or has a problem with or has been bullied by. So maybe the answer to ‘what about friends?’ is ‘what about bullying?’ (Do people assume I took Harry out of school because he was being bullied? It’s the first thing a couple of family members have asked. He wasn’t.)

Also, don’t we all know plenty of people with poor social skills who went to traditional school? It didn’t do David any good (sorry, David). It didn’t do me any good either. Primary school was fine, as far as I remember, but some of my strongest memories from secondary school are of being “blanked” or being scared of one particular girl (who later went to prison, apparently), of pretending to be someone I wasn’t to try to fit in, of never quite knowing what the cool thing was that it was acceptable to like. The other night I told David about how a girl in my class had seen me in a record shop and asked me what I’d bought. I’d bought Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill on white vinyl and in a gatefold sleeve so I wasn’t worried. That had to be cool, right? (At the time, I mean, not now, obviously.) (Although it totally still is.) She laughed her head off and asked why I hadn’t bought Suddenly by Billy Ocean. I really hadn’t seen that coming.

And, yes, I know I’m projecting. It was one of the things I worried about the most when we were making this decision. But I don’t know that there’s any way around that. Of course our own experiences are going to influence us when we make decisions, aren’t they?

Although David agrees with me about the above (possibly not about my assessment of his own social skills, but come on, love, you didn’t speak to me at all for the first year we knew each other and you had to get drunk to get off with me!) (Wait. I don’t come out of that very well either.), I had to assure him that I would try really hard to arrange “play dates” for Harry once he’d finished school. And I have. His best friend comes for tea every Tuesday and whenever Harry’s mentioned another kid, I’ve invited them round too. I’ve started to feel a little bit weird about it – like Harry’s sitting at home like a prince and various children are being brought in to entertain him. I wonder if he thinks it’s a bit weird too since this morning he said he didn’t want any friends coming round anymore. He’s since changed his mind (for now), but it worried me. I’m trying to trust that Harry knows what he wants and will tell me if he’s lonely or feels like he’s missing out or whatever (I have asked him if he wants to go back to school – he doesn’t), but if he does decide he really doesn’t want to see any friends anymore, could I be okay with that? I really don’t know.

(Penelope Trunk is characteristically down to earth about it – not everyone wants to be social and isn’t that okay?)

I’ve added a ‘recommended reading‘ page under ‘Unschooling‘ on the menu, if anyone’s interested in the books I’ve read so far and whatever I’m currently reading on the subject.


10 thoughts on “Homeschooling Harry: social skills

  1. The homeschoolers in my area are relentless organizers. Park days, classes, fieldtrips… it never stops. We seldom attend any of them… partly because we’re busy, and partly because, well, my children have excellent social skills and many of the homeschooled children don’t. They get tired of trying to pry a conversation out of them. But we always know the resource is there, if we need it. 🙂

    1. Ha! Yes, I’ve got a friend who homeschools in America and it’s just the same for her. We don’t seem to have as many resources for homeschooling here (yet! As homeschooling increases in popularity, I’m sure they’ll come), but even if we didn’t I wouldn’t want to use them just yet. We need to find our own feet first, before becoming part of a community.

      So why do you think it is that your children have good social skills and the other homeschooled children don’t? Is it just individual to each child?

      1. Um, there are lots of resources here for home education. Likely to be a local email list and probably activities going on somewhere near you, be very surprised if there isn’t. We vary. Sometimes we go on activities. Sometimes we don’t. My closest friends are ppl I met via a home education list, and though we’re spread around the country we go on holiday together, meet up regularly, and communicate online daily. The kids are much the same.

  2. I’m sure you’re right, Jax. I had a look when we were first thinking about it and didn’t find very much at all, but of course it’s different in different parts of the country, you’re right.

  3. I was bullied on an off throughout my school life. And when I wasn’t being bullied, I was almost always having the piss taken one way or another. I’m not sure I’d be entirely comfortable to look back at those experiences and think “life would be so much better if I’d been able to avoid all of that”. I don’t know if it would or not, but I do think that I would be a different person. Learning to deal with bullying and piss-taking honed my sense of humour and my sense of self (I think). And one of my strongest memories is of the day I stood up to the worst bully, and won.

    There’s more, but maybe I can sum up my other main point in a single anecdote. Just call me Aesop 😉
    When I was Harry’s age, I didn’t like strawberries. No-one tried to persuade me to eat them. I was 15 before I tried a strawberry. Loved it, obviously. But because I’d been left to not eat “what I didn’t like”, I missed out on almost ten years of lovely strawbs.

    1. Hi Aesop 😉

      I’m very sorry to hear that you were bullied and glad you think it was positive *and* that you got to stand up to the worst bully. I wasn’t bullied at school – it was just general mean girl stuff – but given the chance I absolutely would allow myself to skip it. No hesitation.

      The main (and most memorable) thing I learned at school was the myriad ways I wasn’t good enough. I’d say I’ve really only started getting over that in the past five years, so that’s 20+ years of my life damaged by socialisation and I know my life would have been better if I could have avoided it because I could tell you many stories of where believing I wasn’t good enough led to missed opportunities. But I won’t. 🙂

      I think we tell ourselves that experiencing bullying is “character building” as a way to avoid actually dealing with bullying.

      I hope at least your strawberry experience taught you to try new things / not judge things without trying them, which is a valuable life lesson in itself 🙂

  4. Of course, there are also children who go to school who don’t have a busy social life. Children develop and mature at different ages, academically and socially. At school, some children are left behind while some gallop ahead. None are happy. School can be the source of terrible anxiety and worry for some children throughout. The most important question is “are my children happy?” – and yours are. Seems to me you are intuitively doing what is right for your own children, and you listen to them. That’s a rare thing, and they’re very lucky boys. (IMO!) 🙂 xx
    P.S. Lovely to see you again last week!! xx

    1. Thanks, Maz. Yes, that’s true too. As if you can just absorb socialisation by being in a school environment! And, yes, lovely to see you too! x

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