Thursday, May 15, 2014

Homeschooling and Socialization

Our kids spend a lot of time just playing in small groups: as a sibling pair, with a friend or two, and even alone. The benefit of this is that they have a lot of focused time to develop social skills and to grow true to their own moral convictions. Because they live and grow in the community as a whole instead of in large age-based groupings, there is a lot more adult input, which helps them navigate their changing world with a little more understanding.

Socialization, as defined by Dr. John Baldwin, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, is "the process by which children and adults learn from others" (online document for his soc142 class). Well... it seems obvious to me from our experience that the socialization my kids gain from living life in the world is more to our liking than an imposed pre-ordained sort of socialization provided by schools. And as unschoolers, we're not alone.

In his report on an unschooling survey he conducted, Dr Peter Gray states that
"...their children were happier, less stressed, more self-confident, more agreeable, or more socially outgoing than they would be if they were in school or being schooled at home. Many in this category referred to the social advantages; their children interacted regularly with people of all ages in the community, not just with kids their own age as they would if they were in school."*
*Read the full report on Psychology Today:

So that all sounds just lovely, doesn't it?

Ask any homeschooling family about the most common question they get from non-homeschoolers, and they will likely answer "What about socialization?"

[Yes we're still unschooling, but I write 'homeschoolers' here because the socialization issue comes up first for homeschoolers as a general group.] As unschoolers we more often are asked "How do they learn anything? How will they compete? How will they enter back into society?". (Though I would argue that unschoolers are already more in society than schooled kids are, so there is no entering needed...) The socialization question only comes up after these are satisfied, and I think it's interesting to look at the progression of fears and how easy it is to ride the fear-train from one question to the next... and end up at a projection of a lonely life as a social outcast.

Whoah. Social outcast? Yeah. That's us. We're the only unschooling family in our community with a 12-year-old boy who's interested in physics. By some twist of fate it happens that he's pretty much alone in his niche of our community. Our daughter doesn't have that issue. She's invited to all kinds of lovely events. But our son has been an outcast since he first split from the mainstream and didn't go to kindergarten. There was never a group of similarly-aged kids for him to adhere to. We keep trying, but we always feel like intruders on somebody else's social scene. This is the potential downside of home/unschooling, but it isn't actually a problem of circumstances, so much as
it's my problem.
 (Hm... have I said this before...?)

I am so upset to see the other kids his age going off on great adventures without him; so sad for him; so lonely for him. Yes, I am. Not he. He's not sad and lonely. I am sad and lonely for him. Does that sound insane? Well, I can't find any research to support this, but I feel confident that this is normal. We want the best for our children, and our greatest parental fears come from our greatest childhood fears. Those are the things we're afraid will happen again. As parents, we have to confront those fears.

The greatest unresolved issue I have, personally, is a feeling of being unwanted. I felt unwanted throughout my schooling journey, in every group I've been a part of - even in my own close relationships and family, and still, to this day, struggle with these feelings. My greatest fear, therefore, is that my children will feel the same way.

This is something I have to resolve within myself, and on the long road to that resolution, I have to keep reminding myself that this is my journey; not my children's. I am sad that my children are not invited on cool field trips. But they don't care nearly as much as I do. And in fact, I may be passing on my greatest fear simply in not dealing with it within myself. It's actually quite possible that I got it from my own mother, and she from hers. Time to put an end to it!

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of homeschooling parents chose this route to protect their children from things they feared, but unschooling ourselves - with compassion and honest acknowledgement of our own fears - is at least part of the solution. The fact that home/unschooling creates so many situations for my fear to manifest also means it creates so many opportunities for me to confront my fear. And in confronting it, I teach my children to do the same.

Maybe being outcasts from a system we don't thrive in isn't such a bad thing!
Maybe having to confront that word is actually quite a good thing.

Please comment! What are your fears? How do they contribute to your parenting choices?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I am a mother.

This is a repost from my MAMAproject blog...

There is nothing particularly special about me. 
I am like billions of other people in the world: I am a mother.

And yet,

I am a mother.

I hold the lives of my children in my hands, on my breath I validate their dreams, and my intentions and mistakes determine their futures and their children’s futures. Retail, investment and service industries market to me; my interest is a hot commodity. And yet I have very few real resources, because those industries don’t benefit from my triumphs; they benefit from my needs.

You know who benefits from my triumphs? My children. Your children. Our children’s children. Every single generation to come benefits from every single time I get it right. And that makes it imperative that I take my job seriously and get it right.

We need to take responsibility for our children! As our children soak up every word we say; every hand-gesture, every movement of eyes and facial expression, are we living the life we want them to emulate? How many of us just sit back and allow our kids to play games (online and otherwise) without engaging them in conversation about what they are playing, and the ramifications of it? When my children asked me what rape was, I told them. We talk about wars, and politics, and sex and drugs and mental illness. We pause movies and games when things need to be explained, and my kids soak up the explanations (and questions) sometimes with more enthusiasm than the media itself. I can't stop them from participating in what is now popular culture, and if I did, they'd only want it more. But I can lead by example, and so can you. We all can. We have to. It's our responsibility. We didn't bear our children out of necessity; we chose this path because we love children. And children grow to be adults, to inherit our world, and to have more children, themselves. So it's our responsibility to raise them with integrity and awareness, that they go into the world full of questions and willing to look around, but also with a conviction to find their own truths and their own right paths.

There is no time to waste. And the smallest things make a difference; the random comments from my children remind me of this. My daughter once said, "I can't wait until I grow up so I can have pimples and wear cover-up, too!" My son said "I hope my wife doesn't think I want her to shave herself. That wouldn't be nice of me." Once my daughter reprimanded her father for some grammatical mistake and then turned to me with pride in her eyes. Oh no - did I teach her that? Of course I did! And it will take a lifetime to undo. Not everything we pass on is what we hope for. It matters very much not only that we lead by example, but also that we teach our children - from birth - that their own opinions and questions matter; that any question is valid, but that we also don‘t have all the answers. It's important that we reach for the best possible version of ourselves, because that will be the standard our children measure themselves against, and it will effect every single generation to come.

It is not OK for us to condemn violent video games but to watch violent movies, ourselves, or to wish death on politicians, talk trash and laugh about the emotional trauma of celebrities. It's not OK for us to practice attachment parenting but escape our children for a night at the bar. When they find us in the morning and discover that sour old booze smell on our breath they will learn that that is the smell of being with friends, and all the threats in the world won't take that lesson away from them when they're 14 and their friends are offering them cheap vodka under a bridge. It's not OK for us to tell them to be nice to each other, but to put our own community members down, to gossip, and to blame. Our children will learn more from our acknowledgement of our mistakes, and the lessons they’ve watched us learn than they will from the threats and consequences we’ve doled out to them.

We are mothers, and our demonstrated values and behaviour are the greatest teachers our children will ever have. We are mothers! We must take the importance of this incredible occupation very seriously, because there is nobody who can make a bigger change than we can, in choosing how we raise each new generation. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

beltaine for atheists

Happy May!

building the fire
Tali's wild salad
Rhiannon's May Cakes
...aaand... look who joined in the maypole dance this year!!