Play Dates

Note: This column was published on November 13, 2013 in the Barrow Journal.

I don’t remember going on “play dates” when I was a little kid. When we lived in Oklahoma, I ran across the street to play with a friend who lived there, and when we lived in Colorado, I had a friend down the street and other friends from school that I might visit on the weekends. But we didn’t call it a date, and I don’t think my mom scheduled these play times weeks in advance.

Now play dates dominate my calendar. Our homeschool revolves around them, and calling them dates is appropriate because some of them are planned a month in advance. Others are ongoing, bi-weekly play dates.  They are exactly what they are called: it’s a date to play with friends.

I make them a priority for my homeschooled children, but they are also for me. I just can’t stay cooped up in my house with my kids all week.  We don’t know many of the neighborhood kids who are different ages and on a traditional school schedule, so I have to drive my children to parks or other people’s houses, usually 20-30 minutes away.

While I would love to say that I get to have nice conversations with other moms during these play dates, they are usually a lot of work.  Younger children don’t always like to see Mama preoccupied with someone else, so they can make more work for her. I’ve experienced entire 3 or 4-hour play dates when all I achieved was a five-minute conversation because either the other mom or I were dealing with one of our children.

Very small children don’t interact with each other very much, but fortunately, my four-year-old is beginning to get more independent, and he wants to run off with the bigger kids. My seven-year-old rarely needs me during a play date. So I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and in the past few months, I’ve finally experienced a few face-to-face conversations with another adult besides my husband!

When we first decided to homeschool, I was worried about finding friends for my children. Though there are many homeschool families looking for friends, and local homeschool e-mail lists coordinate play dates, classes, field trips and other social get-togethers, my eldest son is introverted, so joining a big group of kids he didn’t know was difficult for him. He also needed to be with kids his own age or younger, so potential friends with older siblings weren’t the right fit, at least when he was four and five-years-old.

I kept my eyes and ears open for other families with children the same age who were also new to homeschooling, and now, in our second year, our calendar is full. My son has bonded with these friends over long, regular play dates. Sometimes we get together in big groups, and since he has already met them one-on-one, joining group play is no longer a problem. This is in addition to all the classes and camps he participates in.

Critics of homeschooling say that homeschooled kids won’t be socialized properly, but now I’m in the thick of homeschooling and see plenty of opportunities for socializing with people of various beliefs and backgrounds. If a parent is willing to find friends for their children, they have the opportunity to socialize for long periods of time when real interaction and old-fashioned play can happen.  My son’s friends are polite and inclusive, and he encounters new children in his classes, camps and whenever new homeschoolers come on the scene.

I’ve noticed that the new homeschooling moms have the same concerned look on their faces as I did just a year or two ago. I want to tell them that there’s nothing to fear. Get out there in the homeschooling community, and in a year or two, you’ll be wishing your calendar weren’t so full either.

What does your calendar look like these days?

My Homeschooling Rant for the Year

What irritates me is that if my kids are shy around strangers or don’t want to try something new, people will blame it on homeschooling despite the fact that our schools are full of quirky, sometimes socially awkward, unmotivated and terribly misbehaved kids! I remember plenty of misfits, mean kids and bad kids in my high school. I also remember some very nice peers and outstanding students.

Please take note: In the homeschool activities and classes I have attended so far, the kids all have different personalities. Some are quiet, some are very outgoing, some are attentive, some are not.  Most are polite, but not always. They chatter and want to play just like all kids. They group together with friends, find one friend or go it alone. Basically, homeschooled kids are the same as their traditionally schooled peers: it’s a mixed bag. Please don’t assume that a child’s personality is only the result of homeschooling.

All children are unique. They have individual needs, and not all of them hit the milestones at the same time. Every kid deserves to have someone who notices their unique style of learning and interests. They deserve to have a loving and emotionally stable adult to help them navigate a course that’s best suited for them.

The goal of education and child-rearing should be to create competent, confident, compassionate, creative, problem-solving and honorable adults.  Let the kids get there at their own pace.

Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts

pink columbinesI have already written about my thoughts on introverts in my post, “Introverts and Coffeeshops.”  In that post, I reviewed Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, which is a great book on this subject. I am introverted, my husband is introverted, and I know that at least my eldest son is probably introverted.  But it’s sometimes hard to be introverted in our culture. I think those who worry too much about a homeschooler’s so-called socialization is not considering the different needs that children can have.

As Helgoe wrote:

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.”

After I read Helgoe’s book, I noticed that Susan’s Cain book, Quiet, was making its way through the media.  I have not read her book, although I’m sure I’d enjoy it.  But I finally watched her TED talk the other night, and I loved it.  If you have any interest in this subject, I suggest you watch it. You won’t be sorry!

Homeschooling and Socialization

my boys playing with their cousins during a trip to Chicago

Note: This column was printed the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, September 19, 2012.

The biggest criticism against homeschooling is what many people feel is its “lack of socialization.”  Critics believe children ought to spend their whole day in a classroom of peers, and they give no thought to the opportunities homeschooled children have to meet many people of various ages.  Perhaps they are afraid homeschooling parents won’t take advantage of these opportunities.  This, of course, is possible, though most homeschooling families I’ve met make “socialization” a priority.

Some homeschoolers don’t give socialization much thought because they don’t need to.  They have plenty of friends, or they may belong to a homeschooling co-op or a large church.  They might have a big family too.  More seasoned homeschoolers who are past the stage I’m in – that of meeting and creating a community for their youngsters – feel this is not a topic worth discussing anymore.

I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought, though, mostly because my eldest son’s personality didn’t make meeting other kids easy at first.  And he’s a lot like me –introverted – so perhaps it’s because of my personality too.

When my son was younger, he was reserved and cautious, and he didn’t jump into playtime with large groups of kids.  Going to park days or joining a homeschool group never worked for us.  The other kids would play together, and my son – the little biologist – would explore the wood chips or other natural environment.

While I, too, think socializing with people of various ages is a plus for children, I had to find friends that played well with my child.  Finally, in this past year, I’ve met some families with kids who love my kids – How did I do this?  I kept my eyes focused on local homeschooling e-mail lists, and I responded to those infrequent requests from other homeschoolers looking for friends.  I also let it be known online that we’re looking for friends, and I’ve had some people contact me.  It’s not easy finding people within driving distance, but now we have regular playdates, and I couldn’t be happier.

My second priority was thinking outside the box and considering different ways my children could be socialized.  I’m still doing this, but these are some ideas I’ve pursued.

  • Community Classes – My son blossomed after a year attending the knee-high naturalist class and homeschool science classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.  He seems to enjoy following the lead of the teacher without the pressure of having to “play” with all the other children. Now he’s more at ease with large groups of kids, and he even enjoyed attending some summer mini-camps there by himself.
  • Lost but not forgotten friends – After these last grueling few years of rearing infants and toddlers, I’m coming up for breath and remembering all the friends I had before my marriage.  Many of them are older than me and without children of their own.  I called one couple and took my boys to visit them.  My son fell right in step with the wife, who is a gardener.  Now we’re committing ourselves to monthly visits, and my friend has been teaching my boy about gardening and plants!
  • Family – I don’t think anyone should discount family when it comes to socializing children.  Indeed, these are relationships that will last the longest.  I’m grateful that our family is large and diverse, and my boys will be exposed to different cultures and belief systems within it.  Unfortunately, I also feel disconnected from some of my family. Busy lives and distance can do that to you. But I’m hoping that somehow we’ll stay connected through Skype and e-mail and occasional visits.

For homeschoolers who need other ideas on how to build a community or who live in remote areas, I would suggest the following:

  • Be sure to join local, state, and even national homeschooling e-mail lists (do a search for Yahoo groups in your area).  In the subject line of your introduction e-mail, put your county or town and state and ask if anyone knows of other homeschoolers or groups in your area.
  • Check Facebook for groups in your area.
  • Contact your local library and see if there’s a homeschool group using the facilities.  If not, try asking the librarians to help you get the word out that you’re homeschooling, and you’d like to start a group of your own.
  • Is there a community center in your area?  Nature center?  Art center? Check to see if they offer any classes for children, and if they don’t, see if you can help them start one.
  • If it’s hard to find homeschoolers in your area, become friends with school children.  You’ll have to work around their school schedule, but it’s better than not having any friends at all.  (I know this can be hard though – kids who go to school and especially kids who have both parents working just don’t need the same kind of community.  Their weekends may be family time.  Still, it’s worth a try.)
  • If religion plays a part in your homeschool, check local churches for homeschooling groups.  Even if religion doesn’t play a part of your homeschool, ask if you would be welcomed into their group.  (And see my previous column about homeschooling and religion.)

Whether children are homeschooled or not, parents must think about building a community of support for their children as they grow up.  Parents can’t do it all, and every child eventually turns to other people for role models. Parents need to make sure that they trust the people whom their children turn to.  Homeschooling parents have the opportunity to be more involved in cultivating their child’s social outlets.  

My lists certainly aren’t exhaustive.  What would you suggest to new homeschoolers seeking to build a community? Thank you!

On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on September 12, 2012.  It was also posted on the newspaper’s website, which you can view by clicking here.

I’ve had a number of people ask me advice on how to meet other homeschoolers.  To be frank, these parents were discouraged at their efforts to meet other homeschoolers because all they found were Christian homeschooling groups who required a “statement of faith.”

I don’t mean to insult anyone by bringing up such issues, but these are topics potential homeschoolers have to deal with.  People who chose to build an exclusive community have an easier time banding together and standing up for their beliefs because they’re all on the same page. Their families are making a profound statement to the rest of the world.  As someone who doesn’t want to exclude on the basis of belief, I can’t do anything about them, but I want to speak for those who are more open and tolerant. We, too, need to make a statement despite our varied and diverse belief systems.

There are many homeschoolers who want to belong to a religious co-op, and if that suits your needs, then you’ll probably have luck finding a group.  But homeschooling is becoming more mainstream, and many parents are embracing this alternative form of education.  They may not necessarily be homeschooling for religious reasons, and they seek a diverse community for their children to socialize with.

I’ve noticed that a lot of secular homeschooling groups have been popping up, and as I’ve noted before, there’s been a lot of talk about “liberal” homeschooling in the media.  But I think it should be noted that “secular homeschooling” does not necessarily mean “secular families.”  These families may or may not be religious.  They may be Christian too, but they don’t want to limit their social life to one group of people.

My advice to these people is to keep looking and don’t give up.  It’s been a slow road these past two years for me to find people we connect with, and by that I’m not talking about religion.  I’m talking about finding families with similar needs – children of the same approximate age, children who like to play one-on-one like my son, a family who doesn’t live too far away and whose schedule and social calendar isn’t already full.

I found these people by making my needs known on the Internet and paying attention to queries from other families on local homeschooling e-mail lists.  You never know when someone new might join.

I encourage homeschoolers who are seeking a more diverse community to not be afraid of religious homeschoolers.  Yes, there may be families who do not want you in their co-op.  They may not be interested in befriending you unless you hold certain beliefs and live a certain lifestyle.  Fine, let them. We don’t have to agree with someone’s philosophy, but we do have to respect his or her rights.  If we don’t, how can we expect our rights to be respected?

But if you’re like me, you may have been terribly hurt in the past by strident, religious people. I know this can make you angry and hesitant to meet new people – I have been there more times than I care to count.  But I got tired of feeling that way, and I started to remember my life before I understood the impact – both positive and negative – that religion plays in our lives.  I started to think like a child.

When I was a child and young adult, I had a lot of friends from many different backgrounds, but none of that kept us from being friends.  That stuff was just interesting side notes.  What kept or unkept our friendship was how we treated each other.  Was she nice, or did she stab me in the back by liking the same boy as me?  Sounds silly, but it was about kindness and respect.

After remembering the good friends I had who didn’t care what I believed – only whether I was a nice, loyal friend, I decided that surely in this complicated adult world there must be people – even religious people – who won’t hate me because I’m not a strict “insert-your-religion-of-choice.” I decided to stop being scared of meeting new people and whether our beliefs would cripple our friendship.

Guess what?  My best homeschooling buddy is a conservative Christian, but she welcomes other people into her home because “It’s the loving thing to do.”  We have plenty to talk and laugh about without arguing theology.

Another homeschooling parent from a different religion told me that he and his wife wanted to meet people whose first priority was educating their children. They considered their religion something private that they could teach at home.

In my next column, I’ll write more specifically about how I’ve been finding social outlets for my son and suggestions for those who are still looking for a homeschooling community. Meanwhile, remember that there are people out there who will welcome you no matter who you are, though sometimes you may have to search harder to find them.

What has your experience been meeting other homeschoolers?  Have you encountered intolerance?  What are your strategies for creating a welcoming community for yourself and children?

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.