Monday, 22 September 2014

But what about his social skills

This is the response I have gotten from pretty much everyone when I have mentioned that I am not sending my son to pre-school, but am going to homeschool him instead.

It interests me in two ways.

1. No one at all expressed a concern about the educational aspect, only about the social aspect of school
2. This used to be my response - that's what you says isn't it? That's what everybody says. But then I thought about it...

Things I thought.

What do we actually mean by social skills?

I think we are talking about being accepted and getting on well in our society, about behaving and speaking appropriately for the situation, about knowing that different situations require a different approach. Maybe we are talking about learning manners, and being polite. Perhaps its about being a smooth talker, being persuasive, going about asking or doing in a way that enables you to achieve what you want. Or about being kind, selfless, caring for others, and knowing when and how to help people. Maybe there is also those skills we want preschoolers to have, like the ability to share, and to interact and play together. Perhaps we want them to learn to self organise and do things together - as a team. Perhaps there is something in there about knowing the different roles in society, relationships, family, social dynamics. Maybe we just want them to have friends.

If this is what people really mean, then the answer is clear - do you think being placed in a room with a load of other three year olds is going to help children develop the above skill set? Clearly the answer is no. Even the part about learning to play together is hindered, teachers manage the situation, not the children. Schools don't allow much space for self organising at all - an example as a science teacher - "work in groups of three, get your safety glasses on, person 1 fetch the bunsen, person 2 fetch the chemicals, person 3 copy the results table from the board... "

My conclusion was that social skills are best learned in context, in real situations, where different people with different roles and positions in families and societies go about their real business. Where social skills actually matter and there isn't someone there to moderate their behaviour, or discipline them, or organise them. From people that have actually had the opportunity to develop social skills already, not from other pre-schoolers.

As for the ability to play with others, self organise, work as a team, then I personally think this is all learned best through free play. An example that comes to mind immediately is from watching a group of kids aged from about 3 to 5 play in the park last week. They were on a slide, which goes down a hill.  No one told them to take turns on the slide, no one suggested to them that rolling a ball down the slide would be fun, no one assigned roles to them, no one made them take turns. Yet they had a game going. This involved getting the ball to the top of the hill, rolling it down the slide, catching it at the bottom,  and getting it back up again. They used everyone's skills appropriately - my son was one of the younger ones and he couldn't carry the ball and climb the hill at the same time, so someone else did that while he scrambled to the top. He was good at catching it or running after it at the bottom though. Some of the bigger kids straddled the slide to make a tunnel for the ball and the smaller kids to go through. They all had a go at different things, kids came and went from the game as they felt like it. They were all happy, socialising (there was quite a long period of time where 4 of them, including my son, all stood at the top of the slide, chatting) no one got hurt, no one got marginalised, no adult intervention was required. They were learning to self organise and do things together as a team, to problem solve, to get on, to use peoples strengths. My conclusion then is that that free play with other kids is important, but this doesn't have to take place at school (and in fact might be hindered at school by rules and intervention).

I am starting a course on the Importance of Play next week so I may have a more informed view on this soon.  Meantime I think I have reassured myself that my child's social skills will not suffer, and will more likely benefit from learning in the real world rather than at school.