Monday, January 28, 2013

About that whole socialization thing

This post is several years old. I posted it on my regular blog. But I felt the need to revisit it here. Additions will be made in color.

The company you keep

This post has been rattling around in my brain for months. It was finally shaken loose by some things Gatto said about school and family, and some conversations with friends.

First: My kids are far from perfect. Those of us who are Lutherans understand this, but I felt like it was a necessary disclaimer given what is coming. This post is a response. It is a response to questions I have been asked many times, by different people. (And continue to be asked; thus the revisiting.) It is difficult to write, because I know the imperfections of my kids and our family. I don't have all of the answers. But these are the answers I have.

The question has been some variation of,"Your kids are so nice/helpful/polite/well-spoken. You all get along so well. They all get along so well. They read all kinds of good books. How have you done it?" (My kids are also opinionated and argumentative. Stubborn. And sometimes lazy. So there.)

My first answer is, I've had a lot of help. In fact, in many ways that is my answer. (YES!) The other is that I have resisted two urges that I have seen in the homeschool community, both of which are--in a way--reactions to the larger society. The first of these is the urge to control. The second is the urge to mimic school socialization.

The urge to control comes out most frequently as limits on time spent doing various activities: Watching TV, playing with toys, playing with video games or on the computer, reading for pleasure, playing musical instruments, or just laying in the back yard daydreaming. The other form is limitation of content. We did this to a very, very small extent, mostly vetoing kids TV shows full of snotty attitudes. (Can I just reiterate how glad I am we did this?)

The urge to control comes in large part from the checklist idea of education as tasks to be completed. It places higher value on some activities than others in a way that is often arbitrary, based on some outside idea of worthwhile activity.

My kids didn't have time limits. So one day they might have done nothing but play legos while watching musicals. On Monday Bethany might have reread Anne of Green Gables for the 15th time and played the piano for four hours. On Tuesday she might have spent all day playing Zoombinis and playing in the back yard. There were days on end where none of us left the Oregon Trail. In later years the boys might have spent six hours playing Age of Empires and then turned on the news. This post isn't about what they've managed to learn. That one is still to come. This is about why I believe they've become who they are. (And it really was like that. Exactly.)

But, here is, I believe, a huge part of the key. We didn't "do" "socialization." The s-word is the big bugaboo in the homeschool community. Everyone knows that homeschooled kids overall do well on tests, etc., but "WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?!" We've all heard it. Generally the answer is, "We have groups. We get together. Etc., etc., etc."

We didn't. We didn't do homeschool groups. Or scouts. Or 4-H. Patrick's sensory issues made large groups of kids torture. Part of the time we lived where there were no groups that we were compatible with, when there were groups at all.

Of course the kids have had friends. They played one-on-one with neighbor kids, were on soccer teams, and made friends at church. As they've gotten older they've developed friendships with other homeschoolers, often those who live elsewhere that they met through Higher Things or other church-related functions. But the social activities that they've been a part of have been family-oriented. They have been socialized by our family and friends. They have been socialized by adults who we like and admire and have chosen to spend time with. I firmly believe that one of the worst aspects of conventional schooling is the division by age and the imposition of barriers between child and family.

This part is important: As a result of our not being group-oriented, I think we have missed out on some of the attitudes and behaviors that come from kids socializing each other. They grew up socializing freely with those older and younger than them. They didn't learn that their parents are uncool know-nothings and that younger siblings were pests to be avoided.

(Andrew has had more group time with other kids than the others combined. He's taken more group classes. And his extroversion demands people time. But there have been times that we have needed to pull back from certain activities or relationships because we could see negative effects. It has been hard, but it has proven to be for the best.)

As I said above, we've had help. Our older kids have helped socialize the younger ones. I love seeing Patrick's civilizing influence on his younger brothers. Their grandparents and other relatives have had their parts. The hours that the kids have spent in the company of various pastors, both formally and informally, has had a tremendous influence on their thinking. Being a part of the life of the church, trained and useful, as acolytes has helped the boys to deal with the forced uselessness of that time that society calls adolescence. The women who are my friends have had a profound impact on my kids. I love it when I see a glimpse of Susan, or Lora, or Lori, or Jacqui--and these are just the glimpses I see the most--in something one of the kids says.

So that's my answer, I'm not saying other choices are wrong, but I've been asked what we've done. And this is it.

Addendum: One could get the idea from part of this that I was a permissive parent. Not really. I've always been pretty much of the "you behave or else" school of parenting. My kids had chores and did them. They learned that there are places where you need to sit still and be quiet, like church and the symphony. They learned that restaurants are awesome places to get yummy food, but you have to sit in your chair and behave like a big boy if you want to stay and eat the yummy food. Freedom to make many choices didn't mean freedom to be selfish pigs. As Patrick points out, I taught them to make wise decisions.


Susan said...

You mean (??) ... a mother can be permissive when it comes to stuff like controlling the kids' scope-&-sequence (when they'll learn cursive, when they'll learn the multiplication table, whether they'll study anatomy or astronomy) and NOT be permissive about manners and chores and eating and thank-you notes and church-attendance?

Well! Who'da thunk???

Jane said...

LOL, Susan!
Crazy, isn't it? :)

Elephantschild said...

I may need to write a whole post myself on the control of time/activities thing.

Don't you think that it's one of the probably Big Five Things that hang up new homeschoolers? Or that keep people from homeschooling entirely or make people give up after just a few months? "All he does is play Minecraft and write on his blog! He needs to do ALGEBRA!"

Jane said...

I do know that after being active on several homeschooling lists for 17 years, some variation of that question--more often than not about a child of 6-11 or a teen that is newly homeschooling--has always been one of the biggies.