LET'S START OFF BY DEBUNKING THE MYTH: HOME EDUCATORS ARE NOT SOCIALISED
It's simply not true that every home educated kid is poorly socialised. Many home educated children, especially those with proactive, sociable parents, siblings and lively home education scenes are really well socialised, despite many having come out of very dark experiences of bullying at school. I have watched lots of ex-school children socially blossom after 6 months or so of home educating. Most home educated kids I see around me are better than average at accommodating new, SEN or different aged children, and are remarkably multi-generational in their social approach. The ones I meet are generally more articulate than their school peers.
I love that my children see me making the effort to bring people together, without any support of an institution. Several of the key "social gatherers" in my life, the people who bring friendship groups together, have been home-schooled for some of their lives. I wonder if this early training in independently maintaining social groups helped build their skills.
However, I have met now-grown home educated kids of extremely introverted parents who have moaned that they still feel socially awkward and counter-cultural, who blame their upbringing.
There are lots of home educators around and lots of avenues to meet them regularly. However, I do need to be pro-active and prioritise regular socialisation with friends in order for my children to keep on seeing the same children (not just different children every day) on a regular basis.
THINGS THAT HAVE HELPED ME SOCIALISE
There are loads of them. Ask home educators near you what groups they are on.
Comparing timetables with other Mums
I've been home educating in the same location for 6 years and I'm still constantly discovering new local groups.
Booking weekly social time
Many home educators have a packed timetable, I've learnt not to expect people to fit me into their busy lives at the last minute for one off play sessions. Weekly social gatherings are much less effort to organise and far more reliable.
Being intentional about getting my kids to meet other kids
My Monday-Friday aim is 90 minutes completely free, unguided play with other children at least 4 times a week. For me, if I don't plan the social time in it just wouldn't happen. We need to prioritise it. In case you're interested, I got 90 minutes from studies reviewed in Brain Rules For Baby, which showed executive function benefits (the planning, organisational and social rules part of the brain) for kids who engaged in free role play for at least 90 minutes.
Setting social group targets for myself
The home educating community is in constant flux. The huge choice of possible gatherings means that the chance of someone having an identical timetable to me are pretty near zero. So, my second aim is for there to be at least 3 special children that we see at least 3 times a week. This takes a lot of sharing timetables and comparing notes with other mums.
Being careful about to which groups I commit
Home education groups also come and go very quickly. I look out for groups that have had some longevity and try to regularly attend the groups that we commit to so that local groups have a greater chance of surviving. Invitation-only playdates and social gatherings immediately after a termly-paid club are much more likely to survive than a unpaid or open-to-all activities. This frustrates me because I really want to support free and open-to-all gatherings to help new home educators.
Reminding myself that I am socialising for my kids and not for me
If a mum doesn't seem that keen on me, that doesn't mean my kid shouldn't play with her kid. Maybe it makes it more important for my kid to get a chance to play with their kid - we're more likely to come from differing backgrounds and have grown up with different worldviews. I just need to let go of my pride, let go of my popularity and let the kids play. This can be really hard and draining - chatting to other mums is a major source of respite from childcare for me. Every so often, on a bad day, I feel like I've gone back to school, but rather than my own self-worth being at stake in the school popularity contest of Mums, it's my own kids' social skills!
Making friends across the divides
Being intentional about making friends with families from different class backgrounds, home education styles and ethnicities. It is really easy in the home education world to form a clique of 5 families that are similar to each other and never leave that bubble. I've seen so many Chinese and black families being ignored by other home educators. It's unlikely I'll meet more than one new family of colour on any given day, it's not hard for us to introduce ourselves to every new Home Ed poc we meet.
Understanding and coping with age dynamics
Home educating parents instinctively want their kids to play with kids their age or older. When deciding whether to join a home educating group, parents seem to try and make sure that there is at least one kid the same age or older than their oldest child, otherwise they are unlikely to attend. If you're a young home educator trying to get playdates and failing, don't worry, it'll get much easier when they're older. A friend of mine got around this problem by offering lifts to older children whose families didn't have a car and providing fun activities like kite flying. I got around this problem by organising popular events like cheap horse riding and role play/junk modelling groups. When my oldest daughter turned 5 I no longer needed to put in the same kind of effort.
Giving welcome and support to newbies
We should all be extending a welcoming hand to newbie home educators, but how often is it us who are blessed when we make that kind of effort! How many really lovely people our family have fallen in love with even just this year who we could have just ignored because we already have our friendship circles! It is very easy to get tired of the weekly stream of new faces to the local home education scene. Keep on welcoming!
Telling my kids off if they hit or bully
Seriously. Kids who don't hit and kids whose parents intervene when they hit or bully get more playdates.
When we have a playdate or a social gathering, my kids aren't even thinking about playing on an ipad instead. When they go to someone else's house they're not asking for TV because it's not on their radar. This makes their valuable social time much better quality.
Demonstrating socialisation in my private life
Keeping up with my own friends and family, running a choir in our house, being active in church, having a 6-monthly holiday away with old friends - all of this has really helped give my kids a sense of how you sustain friendships over years of time. Similarly, I try (and fail) to speak to my kids, husband and family how I would like my kids to behave with others. It is just one more way of modelling to my kids how I hope they act.