This blog's mission is simple--to encourage moms who are married to non-Catholics and raising their children in the Faith. If you know a mom who needs a little encouragement in continuing her efforts, I would be delighted if you would share Kathleen's Catholic with her. Thank you!
Friday, June 25, 2010
"Your Kids are Stuck in the House All Day." Really? Socialization is Homeschooling's High Point!
by Kathleen Blease
We had just finished dinner and the dishes were in the dishwasher when there was a knock at the front door. It was our neighbor from down the street, chaperoning his daughter who was selling cookies. As usual, the little girl handed me the order form in a shy manner, looking down at the floor. A sweet and quiet girl. Dad did all the talking. As I filled out the form, I heard him blurt out, "Your kids are stuck in the house all day." It was truly out of context, and I could only guess that it was something very much on his mind. Perhaps he really intended to ask me if my children were confined to the house, or if they were involved in various programs, for which I would have gladly explained. But in his embarrassment, he quickly took our order and left.
This Fall, we will begin our seventh year of home schooling. As the years have gone by, to tell you the truth, I've found that this dad is not unusual in his concerns. Here are a few questions and comments I've volleyed, with my responses in parentheses:
"I don't know how you do it. I would kill my kid after the first day."
(Homeschoolers get frustrated, too. But wouldn't you like to give your child the best? Why do you want to work with a third party? You can solve problems on a one-to-one basis., and there is no question as to whom your child views as the authority in his life.)
"You spend only a few hours on lessons? How can you get away with that?"
(If you would spend three hours one-on-one with your child everyday, wouldn't you get a lot done? Most parents nod their heads in agreement, with a wry smile. Add time for independent work and homework, and you have a very full school day--one that is productive at that. Imagine having productive school days each and every day. Some more so than others, but productive in any case. There's quite a bit of learning going on!)
"I can barely get through homework, much less homeschooling."
(Homeschooling is nothing like homework. You plan the lesson, so you know exactly what your child needs to do. When your child brings an assignment home from school, you have to guess at what objective the teacher is aiming, and this is frustrating for both child and parent. When my boys were in school, I found that very little instruction for the parent (from the teacher) came home with the work. Even a first grader was expected to remember the objective. Good luck.)
"Your kids are stuck in the house all day."
(Really? When my kids were little, I took them to the Y to swim. While I swam laps, the retired folks who paddled about in the shallow end enjoyed chatting with my boys. How many grade-schoolers are comfortable talking with the elderly? Today, they belong to Scouts and have earned umpteen advancements. And they belong to a homeschooling group where they take core classes every week with more than one hundred children of all ages. No friends? When we hosted a pool party last year, twenty-five children attended and they had a great time. I'd say they have friends.)
"But what about socialization? Do your kids see other kids? How do they learn to get along?"
(See above...and add this: Those twenty-five kids were the best behaved and happiest youngsters I ever met. Older children were very attentive to younger children. In addition, at the end of the party, each one personally approached me and thanked me for the wonderful day. They didn't leave the thank-yous for mom and dad to deliver.)
"They have to get out into the real world sometime."
(When's the last time a 25-year-old man worked with only 25-year-old men? When was the last time you worked with only people your own age? Schools, out of necessity and common sense, need to create an artificial environment by grouping children by their ages. Homeschooling does not require this in order for learning to take place. The real world is much better represented in the homeschooling environment.)
Well now, if you don't mind, and if you can stick with me, I'd like to address more accurately socialization, the one area of concern that seems to strike the heart of parents most.. It does indeed seem to the biggest stumbling block, the one that keeps parents from considering homeschooling. (Interestingly, few parents ask me about academics, or address the sad state of the public (and even private and parochial) schools and the experimental and modern methods of education. And if one is Catholic, one would think our faith would be of greatest concern to parents. Yet, I don't hear these expressed very often.)
There is a fear among parents that a child who spends all or most of his day with his folks will become ill suited and backwardly prepared for the real world, which apparently rears its ugly head only after one's education has ended. Parents need to keep in mind that the real world is not something that mystically appears upon one's graduation. The truth is, the real world is here and now, and we must educate our children to live in it without being of it. As a homeschooler, a parent can make apparent the difference between the two and keep at bay the materialism and relativism kids receive in heavy doses at school. In fact, this is job #1 for all parents, according to Pope John Paul II, who made it clear that the parents are the primary educators. In the end, parents really cannot blame peer pressure or school environment for problems in rearing their children. It is a responsibility they must personal grasp themselves.
When I'm asked about the social opportunity in homeschooling, I say, "I like it!" and begin to outline the various activities (which have led to friendships) available to my sons. Their scope is much broader, since they don't sit in a classroom with the same teachers and the same children everyday, and they approach opportunities with a different outlook. This summer my sons will be attending Boy Scout Camp. One scout's father is dead-set against homeschooling because of the "socialization issue." Ironically, his little boy approached my younger son and asked if he already earned a certain merit badge he was interested in. When my son told him he already earned the badge, the boy asked him to consider repeating the program so there would be someone in the class who he knew. My son assured him, "At first you won't know anyone, but you will get to know the kids. You'll do fine!" My children are accustomed to meeting strangers and working in a group of children they do not know. They are not forward nor do they walk into a new situation and try to take charge. They are quiet and observant, and my younger son has been described as "living in a shell" by non-homeschoolers. Yet, he has learned how to assess a situation before jumping in, and (surprise!) he is the youngest member of the leadership corpse in our scout troop, a troop of an unbelievable 105 boys.
Maybe it would do us some good right now to define exactly what "socialization" is. To get to the crux of the matter, perhaps it would be easier to first state what it is not:
Socialization is NOT compiling a list of friends on Facebook. It is NOT spending all day, every day in a classroom with the same teachers and the same children who are the same age. Just when will this ever happen again in your child's lifetime? Socialization is NOT having girlfriends at the age of 12, and a long list of buds to chat with on the cell phone. It is NOT video games, the latest movies, the hippest jeans, or the right color shirt. When children limit themselves by thinking that this is what socialization IS, their world shrinks significantly. This indeed is a shallow and lonely existence, yet peer pressures in school can raise these litmus tests to the top of a child's priority list, even for the kindest and most gentle child. In the end, a child who appears to be socialized in school just might grow into an adult who will testify that his greatest time in life was high school; from there, it was all down hill for him. Go to a high school reunion and you'll meet many of these "kids."
Now let's give a broad brush to what socialization IS. Socialization IS the ability and willingness to work with others, regardless of gender, age, creed, or social standing. Importantly, this does not overshadow one's personality. If a child is more outgoing and enjoys being the center of attention, this can be to his advantage, if he learns to temper it well. If a child is more introverted and carefully assesses each situation before jumping in, this can be an advantage, too, and a parent can spend time in coaching and ensuring her child one-on-one. A well socialized child uses his own nature and uses it well.
Socialization IS also the use of proper manners and conduct at all times under all circumstances. When a child spends six hours a day with other children, it only comes to reason that his instruction in this area would come from other children. Peer pressure surely is the most significant tool youngsters apply throughout the day. And parents desperately try to combat these "lessons" in the few hours their youngster spends at home. If your child is in school, I'm sure you know what I mean. When my boys attended school, correcting what had been taught to them all day by other boys was a very difficult task indeed.
Still, above all these concerns is the very essence of socialization.
To be truly socialized IS to have the ability to live and work among family and friends as God created you! If a child is socialized, then he will know the value of his soul, his talents, and his treasures, and he will recognize this value in others. Parents often struggle to shovel away all the un-Godly debris a child brings home from school. In homeschooling, socialization is provided by parents who have life experience, guidance from prayer and contemplation, and their number one adviser and coach is Christ himself.
Is it an easy road to pave in homeschooling? I can tell you hands-down it certainly is not. It is rough and curvy, but it is also directly in the hands of the parents, not the peers, or the educators who struggle to manage so many children on a daily basis. Socialization is a challenging job under all circumstances, but homeschooling parents have hope and opportunity in living out their role as the singular loving authority. Unfortunately, the parent of a school-attending child will most likely be fighting to be merely heard and respected as the authority in the home.
This morning, I had a long conversation with my son about attending Boy Scout camp, just two weeks away. He is counting the days. Last year, he enjoyed repelling and rock climbing. This year, he has decided to try something brand new--small boat sailing. He also outlined for me how he would like to spend his summers in years ahead. My builder, inventor, mechanic, pilot, talker, reader, introvert of a son has a mission in mind, and I can see his excitement in planning new adventures that will bring out his natural talents. No one ever told him he couldn't, or that he was geeky, or that he wasn't cool. In a word, he's socialized!
(photo source: http://www.jjjump.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Swing-dude.jpg)