Socialization is the process by which human infants begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as a functioning member of their society, and is the most influential learning process one can experience. (source)
I believe the real definition of socialization and its pertinence to life gets blurry because of the establishment of compulsory (public) schooling. (Don’t worry, this post has nothing to do with public schooling.) Before the invention of compulsory schooling in America in the late 1800s, socialization of a child happened naturally among families, neighbors, friends, and its community. Socialization of a child has existed this way for thousands of years. A child was born and began to observe every detail of that particular child’s society: language, behavior, customs, etc. Through meaningful interaction with parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family, the child learned the foundation of socialization. Through social play with others, a child would imitate (based on what she’d observed) how to react in situations, how to compromise, how to make others happy. The child, with hundreds of experiences cataloged in her mind a day, would gain more understanding of how to function in her society.
Socialization for the whole human race happened this way.
It happened with children observing, learning, and working along side their parents, helping younger siblings, imitating older siblings, playing with other children–and more importantly–children of a variety of ages, learning negotiation (among a million other skills) in play, observing and interacting with adults in the community, and almost as importantly, having much solitude.
All of the important people you’ve read about from history books all the way to the hunter-gatherer tribes of the world gained their social skills this way. “Some had tutors!” you might be thinking. That’s great–but their “socialization” was based on real life interaction in their family, extended family, friends, and community. Even the later generations that might have sent their children to the town’s one room schoolhouse for a few hours–their children spent most of their day playing outside with siblings or neighbors down by the pond, learning through observation and real life social experiences how to get along, observing interactions parents and other farmers, helping with chores around the house, and maybe feeding the chickens.
“Humans need social experiences to learn their culture and to survive. Although cultural variability manifests in the actions, customs, and behaviors of whole social groups (societies), the most fundamental expression of culture is found at the individual level. This expression can only occur after an individual has been socialized by his or her parents, family, extended family, and extended social networks. This reflexive process of both learning and teaching is how cultural and social characteristics attain continuity. Many scientists say socialization essentially represents the whole process of learning throughout the life course and is a central influence on the behavior, beliefs, and actions of adults as well as of children.” (source: definition of socialization)
The book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life has dramatically changed my way of homeschooling and the way I parent, even recently. (Read it, read it, read it.) Developmental psychologist Peter Gray opened my eyes to what is really going on in my children’s social interactions.
I get it now. I get how socialization naturally occurs in us humans and at the youngest age. I get how a simple afternoon of my four girls (and one son) making mud pies in the sandbox is much more than the surface “play” going on:
- My oldest attempts to take charge over the mud pie making by assuming the leadership
- This works until the twins resist because they want to help get the water too
- Twins threaten to leave the activity
- My oldest, not wanting to lose the group gives up the control over the water fetching
- Rowan, not even 2, stands by totally amazed, just observing
- All the girls work to make mud pies, problem solving happening throughout the conversations: size, materials, who will do what, etc.
- Rowan finally steps in with a spade imitating as best as possible what he’s watched for 5 minutes
- Mud pie planning/making turns into two kids remaining in the sandbox and working on them with the others moving on to new, risky tricks on the see-saw
- The see saw kids now are giggling (the two on the see-saw) while the older child makes up a challenging game for them–pushing them all them all to their limits, knowing what each child can handle and how to keep her customers happy
- The remaining mud-piers, a child and a toddler now, are working together with the elder older sibling taking the time to show the toddler how to do what he is capable of to feel fulfilled while she can imitate playing mommy
Socialization happens beautifully and seamlessly the more we step out of the way. Back in the day the only kids baseball was pick-up baseball games. Kids would meet up at the sandlot for a game. The kids themselves would have to decide captains, teams, with strong and weak players in mind, come up with bases, and so on. If someone wasn’t playing fairly, any player was free to leave the game. And so, the leaders of the game would give and take, carefully negotiate, and do whatever it took to keep players happy and satisfied. And with no adults to jump in to monitor, keep things fair, and organize the teams, the kids were on their own to work it out themselves.
Compare that to modern day adult-run teams. (No, I’m not putting down team sports–just hear me out.)
Team sports are run by the adults. Adults decide teams, where, when, how often. The games are played on perfectly manicured lots. There may be uniforms that the adults order to be worn. Adults call fouls. Adults decide batting order. Adults run the show. And adults–parents–are there to watch all of the practices and games.
In comparing the two baseball experiences, in which situation would children learn the most about how to social?
See what I mean? Our idea of socialization should not be based on if children that homeschool are socialized or not but the question should be if children in general have the opportunity for free play of their own choosing, to grow, develop, observe, try out, make mistakes, be alone, be with others, and understand their world by practicing controlling their world.
That is socialization–the way it has been learned for the existence of the human population.
Yes, we play a lot. And we also love to explore the world around us (through our community, culture and society). We live in a modern era that offers so much in terms of activities and programs. We as a family try to keep a careful balance between organized social experiences (that the kids are interested in) and free play and independent exploring.
Here’s a random sampling of what we do in a week:
Ballet classes. Classes that interest the girls (usually art and music). And clubs. And park dates. Play dates. Museum visits. Tours of places my kids are interested in. Field trips. Walks through town. Walks through the neighborhood. Playing in neighbor’s yards and homes. Road trips. Science museums. Nature walks. Swimming. Visiting cousins. Visiting grandparents. Visiting new born babies. Visiting elderly. Visiting historical sites and activities. Volunteering locally. Bake sales in the front yard. Lemonade stands. Church. Church activities. Summer camps. Parties. Gathering. Scootering with friends. Scootering with siblings…
And now you can see how complex and yet how simple socialization really is. Many more posts could be dedicated to the topic with so much more I could say. But I’ll end here:
“All I am saying… can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” ~John Holt
A great source on socialization:
A great source for looking at childhood, play, socialization, and learning differently:
Excellent article by Peter Gray:
More on the homeschooling series:
the sleepy time gal