Thursday, June 27, 2013

Re-Thinking Socialization

Questioning Socialization
Addie is now the age of our youngest campers. 
We are letting her be more independent at camp and participate in some activities. 
This week Addie joined in a "skills class" at camp... Drama.
(Like we need any more of that, haha). 

This week I watched on as Addie asked a 9 year old camper "Will you play with me at rec time?"
A few decades ago that would be a totally normal conversation for an 8 and 9 year old to have. Sadly, it seems it isn't any more.

The camper looked at Addie and gave her a face that communicated, "I don't play any more..."
She turned and started talking to another girl and avoided answering Addie.
Addie easily went back to work on her craft and seemed content being ignored. 

It was awkward... mainly for me. 
I felt shame and rejection on her behalf. 

As I viewed this exchange I started to doubt my resolve in how we've under-emphasised "socialization"... and that "Maybe we were dropping the ball with the socialization thing???"

Realistic Socialization 
This is the big topic about schooling at home. Come on... Admit it...
Homeschooler, or not, every one's first and sometimes only concern about homeschool is the apparent social, anti-social, non-social aspect of it.

I will even admit it, homeschooled kids do seem "different."

This isn't really a "how to" kind of post. How one family chooses to "socialize" their children is a personal, life style, kind of matter. We live at a place where for 3 months out of the year our children daily socialize with kids from the inner-city, foster care, broken homes, refugees and of different ethnic groups. Additionally, our college-aged staff members are some of their favorite playmates... then for 9 months we are "on our own". We also live in a sort of isolating place (when camp isn't in session), so what we do/need naturally would look very different in comparison to other people.

Our kids have done social things like soccer, church events, MOPS and we continue to do "play dates" with homeschooled, traditional schooled and adoption community friends. This summer our 3 oldest are doing what I consider to be their first big, alone, social activity... a sports camp! So, it isn't like we are complete hermits, even if it isn't a big emphasis of mine.

I love that homeschool allows our children a more realistic social atmosphere. They have friends of all ages and find common bonds with them around connective thing or similar interests. It is more similar to adulthood relationships.

Our 14 homeschooled children, from 3 families, ranging from 3 months
to 14 years playing happily TOGETHER at our  "school's" social outing!

The biggest reason we school at home is not to avoid things we don't want our kids being taught... but to ensure they learn what we want them TO be taught.

The same is true for socialization.

I am sure my kids could learn a lot from being socialized and educated in a traditional school, but I am way more concerned with what they naturally WON'T learn at a school.


Having taught in all (public, private and homeschool) arenas I am convinced that really only one forum  has the potential to naturally teach a child social and spiritual qualities like the above.

It is the family.

Now, a family can definitely teach a traditionally schooled child these qualities, too!
However, the family does it in opposition to whatever may be taught/allowed in the daily social atmosphere in schools and classrooms... most notably the common social framework of self-preservation and self-centeredness.

Not all socialization is good (or realistic) social knowledge.

Re-Thinking Socialization
One time, during my pre-homeschooling days, this topic came up in a group of moms. One mom asked a homeschooling mom, "Don't you worry that your children won't learn how to deal with difficult people or bullies if they aren't in school?"

The other mom graciously said, "Yeah, I guess it might be a concern, but quite honestly, I have never in my life dealt with the meanness and cruelty that I dealt with my first 12 years of education. In my experience, people don't treat each other like that in the real world, at least I never have dealt with in since then. Plus, I am pretty sure my children can learn how to deal with difficult people in our own family. Their siblings give them plenty of opportunities to do that."

Just think about it. In a given classroom there are the children who are desperately trying to preserve themselves socially and those who are promoting the social climate to be around themselves. This natural system drives the social network in most homogeneous environments. Most often "social success" for children is considered to be the ability to fit in.

Honestly, I want a whole lot more for my kids.

I am working on not caring if my kids "fit in" to social norms.
I don't want to care if they look/act like other kids their age.
I just want them to know God and themselves well.

Addie, 8 playing Itsy Bitsy Spider with Thea, 2.

One of our independent homeschool group friends is an 11 year old girl. She is intensely loved by others, mainly because she has a sweet disposition that is always willing to "play" with little kids and to make them feel happy and loved. However, she is also able to relate in a more mature way with bigger kids. She can be herself because she isn't worried about preserving herself socially.

I wonder if the "socialization" in traditional schools tends to rob some kids of self-knowledge through the compromises that self-preservation requires.

Perhaps, that is why some homeschooled kids seem "different."

They are different.

They are themselves.


Melissa said...

Great post. Sadly, it is true that kids don't "play" a lot any more and are worried about how they appear socially. We send our kids to public school, but thankfully we've been able to avoid a lot of the mess and all three of my girls love to play and use their imaginations. My oldest does not always "fit in" because like the girl you described, she just likes to be herself... play with little kids, talk with adults and teenagers. I used to worry about it, but now I'm realizing it is a gift that she can be at peace with herself.

Marci said...

It is really nice to know that mom's of traditionally schooled kids struggle with socialization issues too... it isn't like it isn't an issue on either side of the spectrum... perhaps different issues, but issues all the same. And you are right, there are those kids who really don't give a pail of beans what others think of them or what is socially the norm for their age. I remember one girl in particular who was literally nice to everyone and everyone's friend. It is too bad there isn't a hand book about how to raise that kid. :-D

JRTbull said...

One comment that we often get about the kids at the Bible Camp I often help with is how good it is to see kids actually playing. No personal electronics are allowed so they do without all their games, their own music, cell phones, etc. for an entire week. They learn how to work and study together as well as play together. People are really impressed when we take some of the teens on Wilderness Camp. No electricity or frills for an entire week and they love it. More than one set of Grandparents have commented that they wish their grandchildren would play and have good, clean fun like that. I have several friends who home school their children and I would say that their kids have a big advantage over the ones who go to the public school.

Cindi C said...

I love this!! Absolutely beautiful.

Asia Wall said...

The story in the beginning reminds me so much of my daughter, there have been so many times I've watched her go up to kids at the pool or somewhere and ask them to play or be friends (she's 7), and they just ignore her or give her funny looks and walk away. It makes me sad, but I'm also thankful that she's still childlike and innocent, and I want to preserve that openness as long as possible, hopefully forever! :)

Launa, mom, honey....depends on who you ask said...

I've struggled for years to try to explain this concept, but didn't have the words. I've watched my children be "ignored" and even treated cruelly by other children. It broke my heart, but my own children hardly noticed being ignored or spoken to in that manner. They are simply happy. They are full of joy. My oldest is grown, but my littles have hit that point where they are distinctly different from many of their contemporaries. They haven't noticed it themselves, though. You are so very right in the statement that the socialization in the school system isn't realistic. It doesn't prepare people to develop true and lasting friendships or to be secure in being alone.

Cyndy said...

Marci, What a lovely and well-spoken post...I especially loved what your friend in response to the "dealing with mean people" question. I sat one day having my toes done while the pedicurist insisted my kids would not be able to deal with mean people because they are not going to public school. Nothing I said convinced her otherwise. It was a bit disheartening.
But last night I sat watching my girls 12 yr old and my now 9 yr old. They played! They played tether ball, they played on the see saw, they played on the swings and they chased chickens out of the garden, which is just another form of play for them. And I saw in both of them that they are themselves.
That, to me, is pure joy.