I get asked all sorts of questions about home schooling, but one which dominates is about socialisation. It implies that if children don't go to school, they won't have friends; they won't be capable of functioning in a group situation and they are possibly not going to manage to deal with life as adults, as they haven't been prepared for this "by school".
This demonstrates the way in which society has come to look on going to school as a vital part of growing up and integral to how individuals develop social skills. But when you consider what school experiences actually provide for children, the answers aren't all positive. Children can experience bullying; demands that they conform (from teachers and pupils); pressures to be part of the in-crowd; expectations to mix predominantly with only one age-group; snobbery; over-competitiveness; loneliness, fears and so on.
The "real lifers" put forward the argument that these "challenges" are necessary for our children to be able to deal with whatever they will face as adults. They perhaps fail to consider that, instead, these experiences can damage children and leave them with a legacy of lack of confidence and other negative issues which could play a part in their adult lives.
We have tried to ensure that Finlay and Isla have some positive, real-life, social experiences. They are engaged in various clubs and activities, which they enjoy. They have friends from a variety of settings: church, after-school activities, neighbourhood children and other home-schooling families. The children are not always the same age and we see that as a positive aspect of their socialising. They also relate well to adults and we are grateful to have found some fantastic role models.
Whatever the social context, surely providing positive experiences should be the ultimate goal of all adults working with children. School settings provide one particular slant on socialising but, having seen first-hand how our own and other home-schooled children can be positive, confident and relate well to all sorts of other people, I would not hesitate in recommending home schooling as an effective route to helping children to develop mature social skills.
Flora Dunnett is a trained primary, Rudolf Steiner and TEFL teacher. She home-schools her two children in the Borders.