I can't tell you how many times I heard this in 19 years I home educated our children.
The fact is that schools started a few hundred years ago in the industrial era. At the time, the aim of schools was to prepare children to work in factories. Basic skills of reading, writing and maths, and basic dispositions like obedience and conformity were important. Who would want factory workers who thought outside the square or couldn’t be an obedient, hard working part of the ‘industrial machine’? Who would want employees with a sense of personal boundaries and individual creativity or ability to work collaboratively?
Unskilled teachers standing at the front of children sitting in rows made a limited kind of education manageable for learners and for teachers. Parents and children were glad that children could be learning in a way that would set them up for success in the world that was.
But things have changed.
The world that our children are going into requires children to be ‘socialised’. This is part of a school’s job. However, the biggest impact on your children’s personal emotional and social development always happens in the home.
The home is the place in which children (should) feel most known, attached, unconditionally loved, and able to be fully themselves. Through interactions and conflicts at home with siblings and learning how to deal with emotions at home children are most able to robustly face the world outside.
I vividly recall the first time this was strongly impressed on me as a parent. Ben, aged 3, was merrily bouncing on the trampoline. Zoe, aged 18 months, decided to try to climb up the ladder to the trampoline to join her brother. She fell and lay on the ground crying. Ben continued bouncing as if nothing had happened. I was furious. Why? Because, as I said to Ben, the fact that he was not showing a loving, caring attitude to his sister when she was crying was a huge violation of trust and responsibility. It short, if it wasn't loving, it wasn't good enough.
“How dare you bounce as if nothing is wrong!?! “Don’t you ever let me see you stand by and not demonstrate care if your sister is hurting or I will consider it as bad as if you had hurt her yourself!!”
A second story for you… Before I had children of my own, and because my only family of origin had included a lot of conflict and stress, I was a keen observer of families who seemed to have solid healthy families, and one such family demonstrated for me the importance of teaching our children to actively love their siblings.
Inspired by this family, I would give the older children specific ‘jobs’ periodically.
“Zoe, as an older sister, you have a big influence on your little sisters, whether you like it or not. The way you treat them will help shape them into the people they ultimately become, that’s how significant your role is as an older sister. Your job this afternoon, Zoe, is to give Rebecca a really nice time for twenty minutes. Find out what she would like to do and play it with her.”
“Ben, I am going to give you $2 (a very special treat in our home). You don’t need to tell her you got it from me. But I want you to take her for a bike ride and buy her some lollies with the money, share them together and give her a really happy time. She already looks up to you because you are bigger than her and because you are her only brother. But this will make her feel really special inside.”
These kinds of interactions have been formative in our family, and now, with children aged between 15 and 24, they would all say they are each other’s best friends.
Socialisation starts at home.
Having said that, we are embarking again in the senior school in Term 3 on a programme designed by a Christian psychologist, aimed at developing strong positive relationships, and keys for managing our own emotions and those of our peers when relationships are difficult.
In a family, there are so many opportunities for conflict because we each know each other so well and know exactly how to wind each other up.
In a small school, it is the same. The children, in many ways, are just like siblings. They know each other much more closely than they would in a larger school where they can run off to play with someone else when the going gets tough. Just as in a family, the niggles are intensified. But, just as in a family, it is rich soil for facing up-close-and-personal the issues that will occur throughout life.
Just as in a family, our small school, with intentional teaching and coaching, has the opportunity to, in the middle of the ‘sticky stuff’ of close relationships, learn skills that will last them for life.
Come along to the parent meeting next term to hear how you can reinforce this at home!