Happy Birthday Six-year-old

a little wet after playing in the fountain at the Chicago Botanical Garden

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on August 22, 2012.

In a few days TODAY the “five-year-old” becomes the “six-year-old.”  In a flash he has grown taller, more able-bodied, and smarter.  And if those first two sentences sound familiar, that means you read my column last week. (Thanks!)  Yes, my two boys birthdays are one week apart.

I didn’t plan it, and when I first learned it would be this way, I was a little disappointed.  Would it be birthday overload, I wondered?  Fortunately, it hasn’t been a problem at all, and it’s actually been convenient.  For one thing, my younger son was able to inherit a lot of his older brother’s clothes – they were weather appropriate.

It’s fun to have them close together because it makes for a joyful time of year.  Having them right before September makes a nice end to the summer and mark of a new school year.

The first year we had a dual birthday party, but ever since, we’ve had a low-key, family celebration for each on their respective special days.  I don’t want them to feel like they have to share their day, and it is not much problem since I only have to decorate once and leave it up for a week!

This is the first year I’m having a bigger party for the six-year-old.  Six seems like a good age, and I couldn’t resist letting him have a party at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia.  They do a 45-minute program of our choice, and of course, we picked “snakes,” which is his current passion.  He can’t wait.

Speaking of the Nature Center, I give the staff there credit for helping my five-year-old blossom this past year.  This time last year we began taking their various classes (some for homeschoolers and others not), and he started off a bit reluctant and shy.

But nature and animals are his passion, and seeing them up close, especially snakes, opened him up.  Whenever the class took him on a hike through the woods, he would stay right next to the instructor, wanting to see and hear everything she had to say.  Now at the end of the year, he doesn’t even need me anymore.  He willingly participated in their summer camps and had a blast.

I can’t thank “Miss Sarah” enough.  On one of those first days of the knee-high naturalist class, my son asked her about the rattlesnake that he didn’t see in the center anymore.  She explained he was feeling poorly, so the staff moved him to the inner offices.  But she brought my son and I back there to see him, and she spent twenty minutes with my son, answering his four-year-old questions about the snake.

Over the year, I have watched my son become confident and outspoken in the classes.  Outside of those classes, we have made friends in the homeschooling community, and when he meets them, he runs off to play.  Like I said, he doesn’t need mama anymore.

Five-years-old has been a truly wonderful age.  No more temper tantrums, no more clinging, but plenty of hugs, questions, and an expanding mind that is soaking up all the new things his world has to offer.  I’d be lying if I said it was always easy with him.  He has his whiny moments, and he can battle with is younger brother at any moment, but at five-going-on-six, he’s easy to reason with and explain things too.

He is usually helpful, kind and his imagination knows no bounds.  Just today he showed me a “habitat” he made inside his Frisbee for a toy ant.  He filled it with soft dirt, grass and moss.  When I see him walking or sitting in our yard by himself, I’m happy that he has the free time to develop his creativity.

It must be this age that so many veteran parents tout as the opportunity to relive our childhoods, though I’m quite sure my son is teaching me more about the world than I ever learned growing up.  I can barely wait to see how he’ll blossom this coming year and what wondrous things he’ll invent and learn.

Introverts and Coffeeshops

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 4, 2012.

It can only be divine intervention that has brought me to this café/coffeeshop this morning to write a column.  Alone.  Sans Children.  Actually, it’s because my five-year-old is in camp, and my wonderful husband volunteered to take the two-year-old to the park.

It has always been a dream of mine to be able to sit alone and write in a coffeeshop, and I know you are probably laughing at me for that.  But for these past six years of child rearing, any time alone is a dream.  I can hardly believe I’m sitting on this hard seat, listening to dishes clink, the murmurs of other coffeeshop goers and soft jazz in the background.

I used to think my penchant for being alone was unique, but after reading Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, I’ve realized that I’m not “alone.”  Nearly half our population is introverted.

She writes, “What constitutes an introvert is quite simple. We are a vastly diverse group of people who prefer to look at life from the inside out. We gain energy and power through inner reflection, and get more excited by ideas than by external activities. When we converse, we listen well and expect others to do the same. We think first and talk later. Writing appeals to us because we can express ourselves without intrusion, and we prefer communicating this way.  Even our brains look different than those of extroverts.”

Although I’ve always known that I’m introverted, and I thought I knew what an introvert was, I learned much more about myself after reading this book.  She explains how introverts prefer one-on-one interactions with people, and they appreciate deeper conversation.  She thinks coffeehouses have popped up everywhere because introverts need places to “read, write, draw or just chill.”

When I read the book, I thought some of Helgoe’s comments about our culture being extroverted was far-fetched, but after I thought about it, I realized she was right.  When I was younger, I never felt comfortable telling my friends I didn’t want to join the crowd.  When I worked in an office environment, it was difficult to get out of going to lunch with the work gang.  Our culture assumes that you’re being rude if you just want to have some time to yourself.

Now that I’m home with my children, I’m much happier, and I think this is due in part to not having to socialize in large group settings anymore.  While I desperately need social interaction, I am more able to pick and chose when and with whom.

The book has given me a new resolve to cease worrying about the “socialization” of my homeschooled children too.  This doesn’t mean I won’t give them plenty of opportunities to socialize with other children, but it does alter what most people think “socialization” should look like.

It’s pretty clear that my eldest son is an introvert.  Some people may say “shy,” but over this past year, he’s proven that he isn’t shy. He can talk a stranger’s ear off – as long as he’s talking about what matters most to him.  He doesn’t like to jump into playtime with large groups of kids, but he loves to play with one or two good buddies, and he can spend ample time by himself in his own make-believe world.

Helgoe writes, “As a psychologist, I have yet to see a child brought in for therapy because he is too social and his parents are concerned that he seems to have little access to his inner life.  Yet, child after child is brought in for not talking enough, only having a few friends, and enjoying time alone—for being introverted.”

So I am going to stop apologizing for wanting to be alone, for needing breaks, and for indulging in a couple of hours in a coffeeshop.  “You think it’s the coffee?” Helgoe writes about the coffeehouses.  “Half.  More than half of us now have a place to be publicly introverted.”

Concerns About Homeschooling: Socialization

Note: Since writing this post, I have written two, updated posts about issues concerning socialization: On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion Part 1 and Homeschooling and Socialization Part 2.

This post was written on April 5, 2009.

I know that skeptics probably have many concerns about homeschooling, but these are my biggest concerns: socialization, financial considerations, and what other people (specifically some of my family members) are going to think.  I’m going to split this post into two because I have a lot to say about my first topic, socialization.

After doing some research, and reading The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, I have learned that socialization is one of the top concerns for almost all new homeschoolers or those who oppose it.  However, for seasoned homeschoolers, socialization seems to be a non-issue.  I especially like what Renee of FIMBY said in her video presentation about homeschooling (and I’m paraphrasing because I watched it some time ago): she said that she never worried about socialization.  Her children socialize together, and they are very active in their community.  They meet people of all ages, and they have no trouble speaking or relating to other people.

In The Homeschooling Handbook, which I’ll talk about more in another post, there were quotes from many different homeschooling families, and some of them felt that the socialization homeschoolers get – with children and adults of all ages – is much healthier than putting the children in a classroom all day with kids of the same age – the blind leading the blind so to speak.  Furthermore, I get the feeling that if you, as parents, are active and make an effort to take your children to activities around the community, there will be ample opportunity for socialization.  I know that around Athens, there are many places that offer classes and fun activities for children.  The Homeschooling Handbook even mentioned that some schools let homeschoolers participate in certain classes or extracurricular activities.  I have not yet looked into this.  It would depend on how flexible the schools were.

Right now there are so many homeschooling groups across the United States that any homeschooler should not have a hard time finding a support group.  I did a quick search for groups in my area, and I found several.  I have signed up for two listservs.  One is for homeschoolers in Athens, and one is for a neighboring county.  I posted “newcomer” questions to both lists.  No one in Athens answered my query, which was disappointing, so I know I’ll have to dig a little deeper, if I want to do things there.  [Update: Since writing this post, I have found the Athens listserv to be very welcoming and helpful.]  The other list seems much more active, and two people responded to me.  Coincidently, I found a woman who lives within walking distance to me, and she homeschools two children.  She assured me that I should have no worries about finding activities with other kids.  We live out in the country, and she said that she participates in many different groups’ activities.  She picks and chooses, depending on what sounds good.  She said her children are also active at the YWCA, and she said there they have the opportunity to meet non-homeschooled children.  And, of course, for families who attend church, that is another social outlet.

I also have had some homeschoolers say that if you cannot find a group you like, you can always start your own!  Whether you want your kids to have park time with other children, or whether you want to start a specific study group, you can always post a notice at the library and see who bites!  I am fortunate in that my step-mother’s niece lives nearby, and she is planning to homeschool her three boys.  I’m sure that together, we could find a couple more homeschooling families to start a small group with.

So socialization is not a big worry for me anymore.  I tend to be shy, and my son is very shy, but I don’t think going to school will necessarily make him un-shy, just like it didn’t make me un-shy.  I know that it will be up to me to find activities for him to participate in, and fortunately, we live in an area where I don’t think that will be a big problem.

Click here to go to Part 2 in this series, which touches on financial concerns and what other family members might say about it.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  I also write about concerns and issues regarding homeschooling on my FAQ page.  There is an update to our socialization concerns there too.