Busting the Myth of the Unsocialized Homeschooler: Part One
Imagine a future world where children are divided into factions by their age.
They are only allowed to spend time with kids their own age in groups of 25 to 30 children, sometimes more, for five days of the week. Leaving their age faction to socialize with younger or older children is frowned upon and children almost never learn in multi age settings. The age faction will stay with them for their entire school career.
In this future world, children sit at hard desks for long hours listening to lectures and filling out worksheets. They take home two to three hours of work after they spend all day in their age faction, so they have very little time to cuddle up with their mom, relax, hang out with friends or play with their siblings. Some children must sit at the family table filling out worksheets late into the evening, so they don’t always get enough sleep, but that doesn’t matter. Worksheets before family!
This article is ©2020 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.
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During the day with their same age faction, children are let outside for Superior Socializing Time. The Superior Socializing Time for most factions is 15 minutes. In that 15 minutes, children will eat a snack, go to the bathroom, wash their hands, drink water and then they may choose from an approved list of play activities for the last few minutes they have left. Hopefully the bathroom line is not very long, since that does take up some of their time.
Since resources are scarce, their allotted play time might be spent standing in a straight line waiting for equipment. Children are not allowed to run, except in approved soft covered areas, so many of them will sit with friends instead of exercising during Superior Socializing Time. In this way, children can gain an understanding of what it means to be a human child and experience childlike behaviors in a safe and controlled setting, without too much mind enhancing freedom. Controlled children are happy children! Children who run and play could get hurt, so the most restrictive environment and controlled play possible is optimal at all times.
Bathroom use during inside faction time is frowned upon. Sometimes children choose to use their Superior Socializing Time for play instead of relieving themselves in the restroom. If they make that choice, they will just have to suffer the consequences of discomfort when they go back into the classroom. Their fifteen minute allotted Superior Socialization Time has been determined by the Powers That Be to be sufficient for a human child to care for all bodily functions and emotional needs. A controlled child is a happy child!
During Midday Meal Time, children sit with their age faction. Ideally, they stay with their age faction peers that they share a classroom with. The Powers That Be have determined that age factions and same age social interaction is the best and only way to teach human children to interact with a wide array of people when they grow up and enter the workforce. Midday Meal Time is thirty minutes long. In that thirty minutes, children will wait patiently and quietly in line, not talking to their age faction peers around them. They will eat their meal, use the restroom, drink water and walk across the campus to the Controlled Play Area. The few minutes they have left after eating can be used for more recreational same age faction play, if they choose. Resources are limited. remember, so children will have to wait quietly for their turn, which may take most of the allotted time they have left. Controlled children are happy children!
Can you imagine a future like that? Wow, that future world sounds crazy doesn’t it?
Too bad this is not a future dystopian world I am describing. This is a dramatization of our world now. I am describing the typical socialization experience in American public schools.
For the younger folks, I'm here to tell you, it wasn’t always this way. When I was in school, we had lots of play time, lots of time outdoors and a long enough lunch to eat without gobblng our food and play outside with our friends. We were fit. Childhood obesity was rare. Cafeteria meals were cooked fresh by the lunch ladies. I loved the lunch ladies! They were so nice, as long as you didn't throw food or act up. We were not given soda and junk food. Sickly kids with health issues and chronic illness were rare. (I’m older than I look. I know some stuff about the old days.)
I was a public school teacher for twelve years. I taught lower elementary, upper elementary and middle school. Before the days of Common Core and the obsession with testing and test scores, teachers at least were encouraged to be creative, use cooperative grouping, centers,l literature based learning, art, music, thematic learning and hands-on learning. There was a lot of socializing inside the classroom, but there was never adequate socialization or relaxation for kids or teachers during recess or lunch when I taught school and things have not changed.
Before you get too literal on me and send me angry emails, my future school above is a dramatization. Of course, not all schools look like that… but some do. They do. Ask the parents. They will tell you.
Some teachers have managed to find a way to still make learning fun for their students, despite the pressures of standards and obsession with testing. To those teachers I say, “Bravo!” Not all teachers are able to keep that creative fire alive under the weight of the school system now. Many of us who are creatives and passionate people either leave the profession or do something else within education that does not involve the public school classroom. Teaching has a high turnover rate and it shouldn’t. Teachers are some of the finest, most creative, caring people in the world. They will take a paper clip, some paper and a string and turn it into a whole project for kids. They spend hours preparing and they go into debt buying for their classrooms.
My dystopian story is NOT a criticism of teachers. Many of them also feel the weight and burden of a system gone so terribly wrong. Some schools have fiery, passionate, creative principals who find ways to instill that passion in their teachers and to them I also say, “Bravo!” You’re doing amazing things and I applaud you but...
You’re still only giving kids 15 minutes for recess and 30 minutes for lunch aren’t you?
Your lunch lines still can take up to 10 or 15 minutes for kids to get food and sit down, leaving them only 15 minutes to wolf down their food like a starving dog, go the bathroom, wash their hands, make the long trek across campus to the playground and… oops! There goes the bell! Aren’t you?
It’s not your fault principals. This is handed to you by the school board and the superintendent, but it’s reality and it’s not a good thing for kids, or for your teachers. Teachers need time to eat, socialize and use the bathroom, too. Fight the good fight and fight for change. Often it only takes the power of one.
Now let’s talk about homeschool socialization! That mythical thing where kids are holed up in a room all day long with very little time outdoors with other children… oh wait! That’s not how homeschoolers operate at all!
I have been homeschooling and active in the homeschool community for about fourteen years.I have taught classes to homeschoolers, run homeschool play groups, run a homeschool group that met at Disneyland twice a month, organized homeschool field trips and volunteered in various ways for the co-op we were in for many years.
I got active in the community before my children were of school age, so I could learn and see what those crazy homeschoolers were all about. I really did think they were crazy… and maybe awkward, even a bit weird.
A friend of mine invited me to her homeschool co-op. I told her I was a public school teacher before I quit to be home with my kids and run my business. I wasn’t going to be homeschooling my children. Umm… yeah no thanks. She insisted and kept inviting me since my toddler was friends with toddler siblings of the homeschool co-op kids at church.
I finally relented and went to their weekly meeting. I had no idea what I was going to walk into. I was sure that whatever it was, it would not be for me!
They were doing a unit on medieval history. The moms had each planned an activity. There were children of all ages in the group. The older kids went off together with a mom who taught them a history lesson. Another mom sat the younger children in a circle in the living room and read picture books to them about castles and knights. They kids were comfortable, sitting wherever they wanted, some laying on the couch, some sitting huddled together, some on their backs listening to the book being read to them. They were all over the place, yet every single one of them was attentive and listening. The teacher/mom did not have to correct them or get them to pay attention. Not once.
Then they split up for projects. They made swords out of pool noodles, built popsicle stick castles, made sand castles in a kiddie pool filled with wet sand, and painted pictures. The older kids had a lesson in fencing with their pool noodle swords.
When all pf the structured activities were over, the kids played and the parents hung out. Everyone had brought food and drinks to share. The moms could not finish all of their sentences because of interruptions from their small kids, so they would stop and attend to their child and then pick right back up mid-sentence. There was an unspoken understanding among the moms and everyone patiently waited for the child to be tended to.
The children did not segregate themselves by ages. Siblings played together. Older kids helped smaller kids. Older kids taught younger kids how to play the games they were playing and helped them with their projects. The kids freely interacted with the adults and it was like a big family. In twelve years of teaching public school, working as a substitute teacher before that and as a preschool aide before that, I had never seen children so free to create and play. I had never seen children of all ages interacting so seamlessly with one another and with the adults around them. I had never seen children so happily expressive and engaged.
The play time lasted a couple of hours and the kids were engaged the entire time. Many of them just randomly got involved in educational play because there was a table with all sorts of art supplies and fun items, as well as books to look at. Some of them wanted to meet me and I was astounded at how well spoken, confident and articulate they were.
That was the day I decided to homeschool my kids. I wanted that creative fire for them. I wanted that love of learning, free expression, freedom to be friends with kids who are not their same age, freedom to engage with adults on an intellectual level beyond their years, freedom to play for hours and discover through play.
My goodness do you have ANY idea how much research there is about the benefits of open ended play? Have you read about schools in Finland waiting to introduce heavy academics until kids are seven years old, emphasizing lots of play and outdoor time and NOT testing? Finland is lauded for its incredible education achievements and they do it the way American homeschoolers do things! I’m not going to link studies here for you or articles. I want YOU to do your homework on the benefits of play, of waiting for formal academic instruction, of child readiness, child led learning, Finnish education and creativity in learning. While you’re at it, research the destructive powers of homework and how homework not only adds very little to student achievement, it can lower student achievement!
When I was taking a Mommy and Me type of class at the local community center with my toddler son and my baby girl, the teacher was a homeschooler who brought her really well behaved, articulate, helpful five year old to class. We talked about homeschooling a lot. I was curious. I was fighting my own biases that were fed to me by my education and my profession.
One thing she said to me that helped me make up my mind was this. “Heather, if you put your kids in school you will fight with them for an hour, two hours, even three hours to get their homework done. You will be homeschooling them even if they are in public school because there is too much homework and they can’t do it all by themselves. In the same amount of time that you fight with your exhausted kids to do the homework they hate, we have all of our schoolwork done and we are out playing, going on a field trip, or hanging with friends. Homeschooling gives your kids and you the gift of TIME. We also learn all the time. Our whole life is spent learning, Learning is not just about the time we sit down at a table with books and papers. We learn every minute of every day.”
Sign me up! I was in!
I will go into greater details about the incredible socialization that my own kids and others I have helped as a consultant experience in this community in Part Two of this post.
For now, I want to leave you with a few more thoughts.
“But what about those awkward kids? I met this one kid who homeschooled. He was so weird. He couldn’t interact with other kids. He was totally unsocialized and socially awkward.”
Can you feel my eyeroll from where you are? I roll them so hard it hurts when I hear this. My answer to that question is this.
“Yeah because in public school there are never any awkward kids right? All kids in public school are self confident, popular, have lots of friends, never bullied, never ostracized and never left all alone on the playground or in the cafeteria. Public school kids are always happy and have tons of friends all the time right?”
When I put it that way, the question seems silly doesn’t it? Let’s talk about school shooters who were bullied AT SCHOOL and driven to insanity. Need I say more? When I was in fifth grade I was sent to a new school. I was in an awkward, gawky phase. I had low self esteem and I wasn’t good at making new friends. Some popular girls took a disliking to me for being a “Brainiac.” That’s what the other kids called me when they bullied me because I was the smart kid. Smart kids always do great in public school right? Oh wait.. no they don’t. Sometimes the smart kids are bullied and forced to dumb themselves down to fit in or get called Brainiac and ostracized. That was me. Brainiac all alone everyday at lunch.
The popular girls told all the other kids not to play with me, and being afraid, the other kids obeyed the bullies who ran the school.
The bullying and ostracizing was so bad I wanted to kill myself. In fifth grade. I was suicidal in fifth grade because of that amazing socialization that the school was giving me.
So yeah, let’s bust that homeschool socialization myth. Is it a utopia? Nope. That only exists in fairy tales. Is every homeschooler happy as a lark? Nope. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is 100%.
Nothing is perfect, but done right, homeschooling is not an experiment in unsocialized children. It’s far superior socialization in a loving community where kids are free to be friends with all ages of kids and gasp… they even like their siblings! And that’s okay! The other kids like their siblings, too!
If the kids are bullies and they suck, the homeschool parents can find another group to hang out with and ditch those people. The families have CHOICE. Parents are there at the park days and playdates, so often they are able to mitigate and help with conflict resolution.
But wait.. You read a news article about that one weird homeschool family that locked kids in closets and beat them. Shouldn’t we prevent that from happening?
Yeah? Well, what about the news articles about teachers, coaches, principals and other school personnel molesting and sex trafficking kids? If we want to find the weird and scary outliers, we can go back and forth all day with that. Let us not forget the teacher who put his own semen into cookies and fed it to his students, or the child pornography ring run by a school principal and a police officer. Putting kids in school does not mean there will never be evil outliers.
There are always weird and scary outliers with anything! Do not google “teacher molests student” because you won’t sleep for a week when you see how many times this has happened. Does that mean that teachers are child molesters? ABSOLUTELY NOT! A few creepy evil criminals do not represent the entire teaching profession.
A few creepy evil homeschool parents do not represent the entire homeschool community either!
Let’s stop blaming entire communities for evil outliers because every community has them. Every profession has them. They are everywhere in every part of society. Let’s demand that our society handles the evil outliers everywhere, rather than vilifying communities like homeschoolers. In all my years of homeschooling, working with homeschoolers as a teacher doing classes for them, working as a consultant with homeschool families and being deeply involved in the homeschool community, not once have I come across any evil outliers locking their kids in closets. The homeschool community is vast, diverse and full of amazing people. Outliers happen everywhere.
Homeschool kids are socializing just fine, thank you very much.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this article, where I tell you all about the cool things we have done as homeschoolers for fun socializing.
By the way, you get 10,000 pretend geek points if you get my reference about the factions. You can pretend spend them on the imaginary geek collectibles of your choice! Then go read the Divergent series. Read it and then watch the movies second, because books are always better than movies!
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This article is ©2020 Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul. All rights reserved. See my copyright notice here.