Friends. I have begun to realise this is what ‘everyone else’ worries about for my children. ‘FAQ number 1’ in Free Range Education is ‘How do they socialise?’ The answer in the book is pretty short and punchy, the kind I would love to offer the inquiring lady on the Tube, but know that I can’t bring off without being rude. Almost everyone I speak to about Home Ed asks this question in some form or other: How do they make friends? Where will they learn to mix with children their own age? and other variations on the theme. Other people ask out of a desire to learn more about a new idea, disagreement, curiosity. I have to admit that I am afraid of what other people think, I am quick to perceive criticism, and part of my desire for the children to have relationships is so that I have a defence against other people’s questions.
On reflection, it is obvious that, for most, it is simply the first question that comes to mind about a subject which they may never have come across before. To me, it feels like a constant battery, weight and import increased by repetition. I have absorbed this worry, this questioning, and it undermines my peace and confidence. So I have decided to re-frame the question: What evidence do I have, about my own children, that they lack friends or have trouble making friends?
‘Exhibit 1’ On our last two camping holidays, all three of the children have made friends with whom they have cycled, played in the playground, hung out in the tents with, and continued a pen-pal relationship with when we’ve come home. Clearly, they have the necessary skills to get to know other children, to interact with them, to build a relationship with them and to have fun together.
‘Exhibit 2’ All three belong to, and have belonged to, ‘extra-curricular’ groups: Cubs, Rainbows, Climbing, Gym, Film Club. While they have not always enjoyed every club they have been a part of, they have all been a member of some kind of activity group with children their own age for a number of years. Clearly, they are able to fit in to, and function within, a group setting.
‘Exhibit 3’ My eldest went on a group holiday this year, a week away from home, not knowing anyone else that would be there. He had a fantastic time, enjoyed every part of it (except the cold swimming pool!) and came home with increased self-confidence and a handful of friends’ addresses to write to. Clearly, he is able to make new friends and cope well without my constant presence, guidance and protection.
‘Exhibit 4’ In the last couple of weeks, all three of my children have had a local friend to our house or been to play at a friend’s house in our neighbourhood. Clearly, they have friends and the opportunity to play with these friends.
So, I will practice my answer to the question, “How do they make friends?” : “Very well, thank you.” And I will re-read this post when I feel wobbly!