Thursday, May 29, 2014

The 'S' Word


Lately, while shopping with Toby on a weekday, I've been getting random people coming up and making a 'pleasant' remark about 'skipping school with mom today'.
I awkwardly laugh, while Toby pretends they don't exist, and say that we homeschool.
Surprisingly, over half the people I say that to think it's awesome and tell Toby how lucky he is (remember, these are random strangers who initially came across as being accusatory), and roll their eyes to me and say something along the lines of 'They make them start school too young anyways'.
The other half kind stand for a moment unsure of what to say and usually end up saying something along the lines of 'ooooh' and then 'Do you think you'll send him next year?' and then 'I guess, as long as he's getting enough socialization...'

I have to bite my tongue in front of Toby because I don't want to turn it into a big deal, or make him feel shamed, or embarrass myself. So I shrug and smile and just say we're having fun with it for now, and then leave quickly.

For one thing, I have no idea if I'll send him next year or not. It's kind of up to him. And asking a 5 year old to make up their mind 6 months in advance is a pointless burden. Yes, I'd like him to go. Yes, I'd like the time to myself. However, I wasn't really getting time to myself last fall anyway. I have to be up early, and at the school on time, and back home at a certain time, and it all flew by too quickly. Now we can stay home if we want, or spend the whole day in town if we want. I can work extra days or work late if someone's around to look after Toby, or because of the nature of my job, I can just take him with me for a few hours.

As far as the dreaded 'S' word...
My biggest fears going into this was socialization and math.
The math fear went away pretty quickly after reading some really re-assuring articles about primary math lessons (after that though, I'm still nervous), but the socialization worry comes and goes depending on how things are going. Some weeks I'm in knots over the fact that we haven't interacted with any kids in, like, forever. Other weeks I's fine.

Having one of the former-type weeks, I happened upon this blog on a website that has constantly been the soothing emotional back rub that I need on this journey.
If you're one of those people like me who aren't intending on clicking over to read the blog, It's on and it's a great eye roll at the notion that homeschool kids are missing out on being 'social'. Honestly I feel like writing more is redundant because that blog says everything I feel.

Anyway, I got thinking a lot about what socialization actually means, and why western civilization seems to think that the only way to get it is in a room of 30 kids your own age.


  [soh-shuh-luh-zey-shuhn]  Show IPA
a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values,behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

Hmm...Nothing about the necessity to be with 200+ peers while learning this.

I TOTALLY get how it can be good to be in situations like that for kids to get used to instruction and listening and dealing with chaos, etc. I know some kids crave being in a big group. And small parts of me still wishes Toby would just...go...but then I know how anxious he gets when confronted with chaos. I know That he takes his time eating good food, and can't finish his lunch in the 15 minutes they're allotted. I know he takes a LONG time to warm up to things.
Which, at the time, were all reasons I wanted him to be in school - to 'snap out of it'.
Now I see how happy he his daily and how much he's actually learned in the last year.

If socialization is about learning about identity, values, behavior and social skills....I think we're good.

Identity: Toby has started to be particular about what he wears, even down to his underwear matching his pajamas. He changes from 'play clothes' to 'town clothes' if we go somewhere in the middle of the day... a notion that used to make him kick and scream until mommy decided that we really didn't need that chicken for dinner after all, or finally gave in and dragged a dirty, barefoot, pajama-clad toddler to the grocery store.
He knows what he's in to and what he likes to eat. He has a favourite colour. He knows he's 5 and a half. He knows he's a boy and is drawn to very boyish things. He knows who everyone in his family is and who he is in relation to them.

Values: We talk frequently about acceptance and responsibility and the environment. It was Toby's idea to pick up litter on our road on Earth Day. He still comments (and has since he was two) whenever he sees garbage on the ground that he wishes people would just learn to put things in a garbage can. He's very helpful and caring. He knows the value of home-grown food. He's asked if we can plant a bee/butterfly garden to give a place for the bees to go that's not near where we play where they will be happy.

Behavior: I always said I'd never ever bring my kids to a restaurant until they were at least 6. I had witnessed too many meltdowns and embarrassing behaviors while out to dinner through my teens.
However Toby's first taste of 'eating out' began when he was about 9 months old. Yes, he crawled all over me, but then he nursed and settled down. Then I read him a book. Then the waitress brought him his own bowl of (free) cucumber slices to suck on. A few months after that he was introduced to the merriment of french fries. He's grown up knowing how to be patient and behave in a restaurant setting, without me ever having to raise my voice or threaten to never come back.
He frequently grocery shops with me and has always preferred sitting in the buggy to walking beside me because he can see things better from up high. Including him in this task has taught him to behave and be patient while things get done.
Behavior also isn't just about being quiet and patient. It can be about knowing when to run and be silly. He knows grass is for running. He knows slides are for racing and laughing. He knows that being among other kids means waiting his turn and not climbing up the slides or running in front of the swings.

Social Skills: While he still is hesitant to strike up a conversation with strangers (which is maybe a GOOD thing) he talks non-stop at home, using gestures, expressions, and eye-contact.
He has ALWAYS shied away from people in public, but as my mom keeps reminding me, I did too. I still do. But that doesn't make me anti-social and it doesn't mean Toby is doomed. He's only 5.
I admit I've been frustrated with him. Sometimes I want him to just acknowledge a friendly hello, or walk two feet away from me and play instead of insisting I be glued to him indefinitely. I think part of my reason for wanting him to go to school was so he would just not be touching me for a few hours.
The last two weeks, however, have been a pleasant surprise for me. After weeks of moodiness and clinginess and suspected growing pains, he's quietly transformed into this different person.

He gets himself dressed entirely on his own instead of flopping and whining on the couch that he needs me to do it. He goes and plays outside on his own which it a TOTALLY foreign concept in this house, and I love it. He spent the entire day with Anthony while I was at work and they even had a play date, in which Toby was allegedly polite and co-operative to the other kids/adults. Yesterday he walked away to find a table to eat at while I waited for our 'fast food'. He has never EVER walked more than a few feet from me in a restaurant, let alone wandered across a room of strangers without asking me to come. He did the same thing at a small grocery store we were in - he volunteered to put the buggy away, and wove through two lines of people to do so. He wanted to buy something at another shop we were in and used his own money and marched up to the cashier by himself to do so.
Like.... who is this kid? And can he stay around a while?

There's nothing in the definition of 'socialization' that implies you have to be in a giant group of your own age to learn any of these things. Yes, playing with other kids is fun and different than playing with your parents, but should that be a thing that's forced if they don't want to be in that situation?
Kids who end up homeschooling end up interacting with a more diverse age range of 'peers'. They learn early on about household responsibilities and how to carry them out. I think maybe they can end up having more respect for their elders and what they do, than you can ever learn in school.

I'm not at all criticizing those kids in school, or the parents who send them. I know there are certain things that you can't truly understand until you're faced with a situation. Up until last November I was adamantly against myself homeschooling. There was NO WAY it would work out.
There was also NO WAY I would ever co-sleep with my kids, before I had a kid...
There was also NO WAY I would nurse past age 2, before I had a two year old...

Different things work for different people.
This is what works right now.

And I think we're kicking 'socialization' in the butt.

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