Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why Am I Doing This? Part II--Socialization

I'm finally getting around to blogging on socialization. I'll start by sharing something that a friend emailed me over a year ago.
Apparently, the problem with homeschooling is the socialization of children. In the Kolbe Little Home Journal (Fall 2005), there is a brief item called "Homeschooling Family Finds Ways to Adapt to a Public School 'Socialization' Program." Here it is:
"When my wife and I mention we are strongly considering homeschooling our children, we are without fail asked, 'But what about socialization?' Fortunately, we found a way our kids can receive the same socialization that government schools provide. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will personally corner my son in the bathroom, give him a wedgie and take his lunch money. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my wife will make sure to tease our children for not being in the 'in' crowd, taking special care to poke fun at any physical abnormalities. Fridays will be 'Fad and Peer Pressure Day.' We will all compete to see who has the coolest toys, the most expensive clothes, and the loudest, fastest, and most dangerous car. Every day, my wife and I will adhere to a routine of cursing and swearing in the hall and mentioning our weekend exploits with alcohol and immorality.... And we have asked them to report us to the authorities in the event we mention faith, religion, or try to bring up morals and values."

It's tongue-in-cheek, but there is an element of truth here. This helps to illustrate a few of the issues I have with public school socialization.

My personal opinion is that socialization is a skill that is taught and learned the same as any other skill, such as math or English. Some people have an aptitude for socializing and do so with ease, just as with math or English. Some people do not; they need extra help and practice in these subjects. What sort of teacher would write some math problems or a few sentences on the board, say "here's what you do…", and then leave the students alone to figure things out? That's what happens when we expect the public school system to teach our children to socialize. The kids who are naturally good at it will do well. The rest will flounder around trying to figure things out. And then there are the ones who haven't a clue what it is they are supposed to be doing. They will be the "misfits" who are invisible if they are lucky and targets if they are unlucky. I don't believe that throwing my children into a large group of other children is the most effective way to teach the skill of socialization. I also believe that if I have a child who naturally is a 'loner', then no amount of forced socialization is going to change that. We will learn to work with that personality rather than try to change it into what it is not.
I have heard it said that it's good for children to be exposed to bullies (including bully teachers), that it prepares them for the 'real world'. I strongly disagree. Children do not have the emotional maturity, the tools, or the skills to stand up to those stronger than themselves; they are at the mercy of their bullies or dependent upon adults to help them out of these situations. I see nothing good that can come from being teased, taunted, and physically abused day after day until their attackers get tired of them or until an adult steps in to rescue them. How does the standard advice to "ignore" the bullies translate into dealing with abusive spouses or bosses when they are adults? Children are not sheltered from all negative interactions with people just because they are homeschooled; chances are that they'll be able to observe how Mama handles the rude lady at the store. Somewhere along the way there'll be a child at playgroup who pushes them out of the way. There will be plenty of opportunities for learning to deal with unpleasant people. No child should have to deal with bullying.

I also disagree that socializing only with other children of the same age (or even gender) for 7.5 hours a day is likely to prepare my children for socializing in the real world. I have never worked a job with only other people of my age. When I go to work at my outside job, I have to be able to relate to the elderly at times and teenagers at times. I have friendships with people 30 years older than me, and I have friendships with people who are 15 years younger than me. We see people of all races, sizes, and abilities in the real world. My children would not think of pointing, laughing, or calling names someone who is different from them. I do not want them to be taught to do so by other children with whom they are socializing. Nor do I want them to be taught that their clothes, their hair, their toys, their friends aren't cool enough. All the other 'social lessons' taught in public school with which I disagree would be too lengthy of a subject to approach here. Maybe another blog.

Besides, I don't believe that the classroom is the best place for socializing. Shouldn't the children be paying attention to the teacher and learning something? That's what I keep telling my oldest daughter anyway. Two fifteen minute recess breaks and lunch (if they are allowed to talk in the lunchroom) are really the only times set aside for socializing at school. We get more socialization than that at home.

We have an insane amount of socialization around here. I am an organizational nerd, and our calendar is color-coded--green for Reese, orange for Sunshine, purple for Mojo, blue for Caveman, and pink for Gem (although Gem is mostly content to socialize with Mama at this age.) You should see my calendar—it's psychedelic with socialization. My children get along with other children, and they have friends. We are socialized just fine, thank you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Barely Functioning Today

Last night was another one of those nights where Gem woke up every hour crying and wanting to nurse. She just cut 4 teeth at once a few weeks ago, and I think I can see a few more wanting to poke through? Not sure. But she's killing me. I've read that lack of sleep impairs you just as much as alcohol, and today I'm sure feeling it.  Thank goodness Bear was home today. 
So I'm re-reading The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.  You can imagine how many times I've heard the advice "just leave her in her crib and let her cry, and she'll eventually learn to sleep."  I tried that with my first child, and she didn't really cry all that much.  Within three nights, she was sleeping through the night.  "Piece of cake!" I thought.  With my first child, I thought I had the parenting thing figured out and was doing a pretty awesome job.
Then my second child came along.  I tried to parent her the same way I parented the first child.  I learned lots of valuable lessons from that girl.  First and foremost, I've learned to always trust my instinct over "the experts".  I've learned that each child is different and there is no "one-size-fits-all" way to parent.  I've learned to not give a rat's behind about what other people think...if it works for us and fits into our values, we stick with it.  I've learned that I wasn't given children for my own enjoyment (all though I do enjoy them very much most of the time);  I've been entrusted with an important job here.  It's work.  It's supposed to be work.  And I've learned that leaving a child alone to cry does not always insure that they will eventually sleep through the night.  Sometimes it destroys the trust they have in you, and sometimes it makes them fearful, whiney, and clingy children.  At least I had enough sense to realize that Mojo needed more than what I was giving her, and I put "me" aside to give it to her.  What Mojo needed was lots of closeness.  We began co-sleeping, we all got more sleep, and Mojo's attitude during daytime hours remarkably improved. 
Co-sleeping with my other children has probably given me less sleep than what I had with my first child...I could lay her down at 9pm and not hear a peep out of her until 7am.  But I also believe that she was just a fluke and not the "norm."  I also have come to realize that these days with little ones in my bed are so short-lived.  It seems like just last week that I was sleep-deprived with Caveman, wondering when he would ever let me rest.  I blinked my eyes, and now he sleeps all night in a room with his sister.  I still have naptime with him, though, for just a little while longer.  I cherish lying beside him and stroking his hair, listening to his breathing.  And when Gem wakes up at night, though one part of me is groaning and just about to cry from exhaustion, I still take a moment to stroke her silky hair and try to memorize the way her eyelashes flutter against her chubby cheek.
So I'm not panicking that Gem has quit sleeping at night.  I'm tired as all-get-out, but I've realized that in the big scheme of things, this is just a moment. I'll adapt, change some priorities, temporarily lower some standards, and do the best I can until it passes (we're only doing "basics" in our school today, starting after naptime).  Following the suggestions in The Co-Cry Sleep Solution, my goal is to have Gem sleeping through the night before Thanksgiving. Without crying her precious little self to sleep.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Remembering My Dad

My Dad wasn't perfect. In fact, he drove me positively crazy at times. He had diabetes, high blood pressure, and bi-polar disorder. Sometimes he took his medications religiously, ate a proper diet, and tried to take care of himself. And sometimes he decided that he didn't need to do any of that. I was always nagging him about his health, which I think secretly pleased him. No one else in our family had attended college, and he was so proud that his daughter was a registered nurse. He also enjoyed the attention he got when I was nagging him.

My Dad was like a big ol' kid in a lot of ways. He liked to have fun. He was a trusting, loving person. There was no such thing as a stranger to him; within minutes of meeting anyone, they would have an invitation to drop by his house anytime (and they would). He was generous and liked to help people. He was a big talker, both in person and on the phone.
He was a simple, genuine person. What you saw was what you got. He didn't hide it when he was happy, he didn't hide it when he was discouraged. He didn't put on airs. He was just Mike, Daddy, Papaw.

I've never seen a person who enjoyed his grandchildren as much as my Dad. He loved playing with them, and they loved his silliness. Some of the best memories I have of him is watching him play with his grandchildren. I'm blessed to have videos of him playing with them that I can watch when I am especially missing him. I can still see so clearly him bounding down his porch steps, arms wide open, and the delight on his face when we would pull into his drive and unload the kids. Caveman would run across his yard yelling "Paaaapaaaaaaaw!" and dive into his arms.

Next to his grandchildren, one of the things that brought him joy was music. He loved to sing, especially at church, and he always wanted to learn to play piano and guitar. He would go through periods where he would practice in earnest, but he never stuck with it. Instead, he contented himself to listen to his daughter and son play. It pleased him to no end that I taught myself to play piano and my brother taught himself guitar.

He loved motorcycles. I'll never forget when he first bought a motorcycle. He had talked about it for years, but I never thought he'd do it. I thought it was SO cool! I immediately got him to teach me to ride, and he was as proud of that as he was anything else I had done. He prompted me to buy a motorcycle of my own. The pride on his face was obvious as he introduced me to the old bikers that he hung around with, especially when I was the only woman in the group riding solo.

He loved trains, especially old steam engines. He was delighted that his son-in-law and grandson shared his fascination with trains, and they took many excursions to see old steam engines that were passing through.

He loved cold weather. He loved woodstoves, especially the old cast-iron kind. Wintertime at his house always smelled of freshly chopped wood and a wood fire in the stove. He didn't want anything to do with central heat. He always nagged me to turn mine off and use my fireplaces, and he would drop everything to come build me a fire. For some reason, I can never keep mine burning. I've had him show me dozens of times how to get a fire going, but I just don't have "the touch." Thankfully, Bear does.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of him and wish that he had been given a little longer to stay here with us. My phone is too quiet. I can still hear his voice saying…"I was just checkin' on ya." I don't have a place to drop the kids off for a few hours when they have me pulling my hair out. There's no one to come help me move a heavy piece of furniture or figure out "what's making that noise" while Bear is working long hours. I miss him terribly in the fall; the cold weather brought out the little kid in him. He and Sunshine have birthdays a day apart, and we always celebrated their birthdays together. He looked forward to meeting his newest granddaughter, Gem, and he would have enjoyed her sharing a birthday with them (the three of their birthdays are within three days of each other.) Although I didn't get to see him fussing over her, I am certain he is tickled that she inherited his chin dimple. He's probably pointed it out to everyone in heaven by now. Numerous times.
He loved Thanksgiving and would ask "Are you going to make me a pumpkin pie?" Of course I would. I would always scold him "Now Daddy, you really don't need a second piece." He would get a sheepish look on his face and ignore my fussing.

My sorrow is selfish; he wants for nothing now that he is HOME. Everyone who knew him knew that he loved the Lord. He did his best to serve Him. I am confident that I know where he is today. I am confident that he loves us just as he always has, and that he knows how much we love and miss him. He is praying for us just as he always has, he is cheering us on as we finish our race, and he will be waiting for us at the finish line. I look forward to the day when I will see him again.

Here's a picture of Gem alongside a picture of her Papaw as a baby...

See the chin dimple? It was one of the first things I noticed when I first saw her. Neither my brother or I inherited it, and she is the first of my children to inherit it. Nobody in Greg's family has one, either.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Why Am I Doing This?

This week has been one of those weeks where I was ready to throw in the towel.
"Why am I doing this? What on earth was I thinking when I agreed to this?"

The day just started wrong. I have a teething baby who isn't sleeping well at night, and I was still exhausted after two cups of coffee. I had also worked the day before (I left the house at 5:30am and didn't get home until 8pm), so I was still recovering from that. The house was a mess from my husband being in charge the day before. I sincerely appreciate him being willing and able to manage the kids and house while I'm gone. It's just that he is not quite as skilled in multi-tasking, and I'm always trying to catch up the next day. Some days, I just feel overwhelmed.

I did some assessment tests on my 11th grade niece, whom I'm homeschooling this year. She's at about a 5th grade level in language/vocabulary/spelling, she is at about a 5/6th grade level in math, and I have less than two years to get her college ready. Do you want to know what really bothers me? Last year, at the public school she attended, her math and English teachers told me she was doing "just fine". I knew that she was not doing just fine. Her 20-something year old English teacher said that based on the standardized tests she took, she had no problem with reading comprehension. I begged to differ. I listened to her read at night, and I read her writings. I helped her study for Biology and World History, and I knew that she didn't understand what she was reading. I explained to her what simple vocabulary words meant. I helped her spell words like "president". She passed English with a 'C'. Average. Is this really what public schools expect from an average 16 year old?
She had already failed algebra 1 twice. They put her in a 2-hour block class, and this was "the magic cure" for her. She finally passed algebra with a 'B'. Too bad she couldn't show me how to work an algebra problem. When I gave her a pre-algebra assessment test, she was not able to correctly complete a single problem.
She requested to be homeschooled because of all the distractions and "drama" at school. From the way she described her school days to me, I agreed that it certainly didn't sound like an environment conducive to learning. I really believe it's what's best for her. I believe it's what's best for my younger kids. That's why I'm doing it. I guess I just need to sit down and write out my reasons for homeschooling so that on weeks like this week, I can give myself a pep talk.

For anyone out there who thinks that parents homeschool their kids because they are too lazy to send them to school (and yes, someone actually had the gall to say that to me)…What do you think homeschooling is? Do I sit around watching soaps while the kids play quietly in their rooms? Hahahahaha…not even close. It is giving up that nice break that I would have everyday while the kids are in school. It is putting in hours of research on learning styles, teaching philosophies/methods, curricula, lesson plans, and THEN actually putting in the time to teach the kids. Not to mention having to pay out of my own pocket for the textbooks, materials, and extra support and transcripts for the kid(s) who need them.
Do you think I homeschool the kids so that I will have more help around the house/free babysitting? Do you not realize that kids create more messes than they clean up? My house might actually be clean sometimes if there were less children there during the day. I even heard one woman suggest that homeschooling was done by stay-at-home moms who have to do something to feel "needed", to validate continuing to stay at home when the kids are school age. Does she not realize the number of mamas who put their careers on hold so that they can devote time to their children's educational needs? Or that some women juggle an outside job in addition to educating their children (which is itself a full-time job)? Personally, the other day while I was at work, I said goodbye to a very rewarding position. It wasn't an easy decision for me to make. No matter how noble my career and how much good I can do, it cannot compare to the importance of educating the next generation of leaders.

There are many reasons why I prefer to educate my children myself rather than relying on strangers to educate them. I know them better. I know their strengths. I know their weaknesses. I know their talents, abilities, and interests. I know their learning styles. I can give them one-on-one customized learning. We can progress as quickly or as slowly as they learn. I have discovered that even after a year of taking our own sweet time and making sure that one skill was mastered before moving to the next skill that my 6-year-old is still slightly ahead of her public school peers. Given the time that it takes her to grasp concepts and the amount of repetition we must do, I believe that in a public school environment, she would be lagging behind.
But I believe that this is because of all the wasted time in public schools. How much time is spent just sitting idly at their desks? How much time during the day are they lining up, waiting in line, going from one place to another? How much time is spent on watching movies? We can work more efficiently at home. I've even heard it said that it's important for children to learn to stand in line. I do not share that vision for my children. We get sufficient practice standing in line at the grocery store or at the library; I'd rather spend more time on reading.
If you are a parent who is taking an active role in your children's learning, if you make yourself familiar with the curriculum they are being taught, if you schedule regular visits with the teacher(s) to check their progress so that you can give them extra help in weak areas, if you help with homework every night, and if you practice at home what they've learned in school to make sure they really understand it even when they don't have homework…you'll be spending as much time as you would just doing it yourself at home.
Some days, yes, it can seem overwhelming…obviously. But then there are the days where you say to yourself "YES, THIS is why I'm doing this." It balances out.

In every conversation I've ever had on homeschooling, the issue of "socialization" has always come up. I have a great deal to say about socialization; I could devote a whole blog to it. In fact, I will…be looking for it. But I'll touch on it a little here. A friend who worked for a public school once told me "I know a family who at my church who homeschools, and those kids are just weird." My response was, "yeah, I guess you don't see any 'weird' kids in public schools."
Socialization is a significant factor in my decision to homeschool. We have no problems stemming from socializing or lack thereof. The homeschool group I belong to has approximately 1000 kids, with activities like basketball and cheerleaders (they play against private schools), a music academy, drama, 4-H, coop classes, Jr./Sr. Banquet, a yearbook, graduation…I could go on, but you get the idea. I would love to invite you to attend a homeschoolers' function and then attend a public school function, and tell me which group of children you believe are better socialized. I'm not implying that homeschooled children are all perfect while public-schooled kids are all hooligans. I'm just saying that there is a noticeable difference.

Another person knew of a homeschooled family who "finally put those kids in public school, and they were way behind the others." Well, I'm sure that happens, just as there are children in public school who lag way behind the others. One of my close homeschooling friends has a 14-year-old who just clepped out of college literature. My niece, who has been public schooled her whole life, is atrociously unprepared for college. I'm not going to use those two examples to say that all homeschooled children are geniuses and all public schooled children are unprepared for adulthood. Besides, most of us who homeschool are not concerned about the public school timetable. There are many different approaches and methods out there, and our children will get it all eventually…just not necessarily in the same order. And that's OK. In my state, our children must take the same standardized tests as the public school children, beginning in the third grade. I make it a point to look up and compare the standardized test scores each year in my state. During the elementary years, the homeschooled children are generally slightly ahead in the language arts and slightly behind in mathematics. By the time they reach 9th grade level, the homeschoolers are ahead in every area, and the gap has widened considerably. The reasons for that could depend on many different variables, but at least we know that what we are doing is working. I know that it is personally working for my family, and I see that it works as a whole.

Finally, I admit it…I enjoy spending time with my children. I like to be the one to see the lightbulb come on over their heads when they learn something new. I like to know exactly what it is they are being taught. I like having the flexibility to schedule more fun things, to be able to switch gears when I discover that something isn't working for us, or even to scrap the lesson plans and chase butterflies when they/I/we need it. I just like being with them. Is that really so odd?

Please don't think that I am slamming public schools, teachers, or parents who choose to send their children there. My 13-year-old is currently attending public school, and she's happy there. Trust me, I believe that teachers have a noble and thankless job. For some families, public schools are the best option; for some they are the only option. I am just thankful that we have different options. I just want to shed some light on why we choose something different. And I needed to remind myself on days/weeks like this week that this is indeed the best choice for us. It's not easy, but I guess I'm up for the task. The rewards are worth it to me. Time for me to suck it up and get back to work.(By the way, it has taken me more than one day to finish this post...and I'm feeling much better today. I'm confident that next week will be better. )

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I Don't Fit In

This is not a vent or whine, just an observation. Whatever group of people I am with, no matter how much we have in common, I never feel like I truly fit in. I may enjoy the company of the people I'm with, I may even feel pretty comfortable around them, but there will always be something that reminds me "I don't really fit in here."

In my Catholic homeschooling group, we share many of the same interests. The women there are wonderful, faith-filled mamas. Many of us have larger families, and many of us are into natural childbirth (or even homebirth!), wearing our babies, cloth diapering, health food, natural remedies. Many of us choose to not circumcise our sons, many of us delay vaccinating our children. But I'll bet I'm the only one with a tattoo, who loves motorcycles, who has had body piercing (it's gone now, just the scar left), and who would hang out at Juanita's on Blues Night. The other mamas are accepting; no one has ever made me feel judged for being a little "different". I just notice it sometimes. I don't quite fit in.
Amongst my hippie/musician/artist friends, I am the "religious nut."
Amongst my coworker friends…holy cow, don't get me started. Let's just say that among mainstream medical personnel, particularly in the areas I work, my views on things like unmedicated/intervention-free childbirth, vaccinations, contraception, and circumcision aren't...well, mainstream. I don't go looking for debates, but I don't exactly keep my opinions to myself when the subjects come up, either.
My goal is always to be laid-back and easygoing rather than "in your face", and I do my best not to offend. But I can't let myself be bothered by the folks who are going to be offended regardless.

Sometimes it feels kind of lonely being the outsider. Sometimes I'm glad that I'm not like everyone else. Sometimes I think that I'm probably not really so different from anyone else. I wonder if I'm not the only one out there who doesn't feel like they really belong anywhere.