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.