Why do I homeschool? One word: socialization.
That may seem like a bizarre reason, since the first protest that I always hear against homeschooling is that schools provide socialization. There is something to the way homeschoolers socialize with each other that warms my heart, and in the end, it was the reason that drove me to homeschooling in the first place.
Being True to Yourself
When my oldest was two, I was at the park with a friend of mine, Lori, who homeschooled her eight kids. Jeff and I had recently started discussing homeschooling as a possibility, and so I asked her why she homeschooled. I expected something like academics, cost, or religious reasons, so what she said surprised me.
Lori pointed to her son, who was currently occupied with his toddler little brother -- the baby was sitting on a skateboard, and the older boy was pushing him around gently, making car noises.
"Look at him" she said. "He LOVES his little brother. And he isn't ashamed of it. He could care less what anyone else thinks about it. He is active in sports and he goes to Scouts, and when the boys there cuss or get into mischief, Zack doesn't feel like he has to follow along because he doesn't spend most of his waking hours with those kids. He doesn't need their approval because he spends most of his days with his family -- people who love him unconditionally for who he is."
This warmed my heart. I had an emotional, easily over-stimulated little boy who had one of the most loving, tender hearts I had ever seen. When I thought of him at school, all I could see was misery. He didn't develop the ability to tune out stimulation as early as others. He didn't adapt to change easily. Sometimes he just needed to be alone, and who knows when that that need would rear its immediate, urgent head. School would be hard for a boy who could detect the flash in flourescent lights and hear them hum and who responded to stress with strong emotionality. I could see him being teased and labeled. I take that back -- I knew he would be teased and labeled. And this little boy who started reading at the age of three -- who was incredibly intelligent, might very easily face a boring and frustrating environment. In my heart of hearts, I knew school wasn't right for Chris. I knew he needed to have more time than a mere three or even five years to get that under control, and as his parent -- it was my job to give him that space. I had no doubt he'd get there (okay, I had some doubt), but there was no functional purpose in demanding that he do it by kindergarten -- when I knew he couldn't.
I didn't think about it in these terms, but I remember a father who visited our homeschool Tiger Cub Scout pack -- his wife was trying to convince him to homeschool. "I get it now. These are the geeks. These are the kids who would be beaten up in school, but because they are homeschooled, they are free to be who they are and to be safe." Okay, started off kind of offensive -- probably true, but he went on. "My son has the tenderest heart, and I don't want to see that destroyed. This is GREAT!"
My family spent a few days this last week at the Wisdom and Eloquence Conference at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne this week (always the first week in August -- HIGHLY recommend it). While not just for homeschooling families, there were a lot of us, and it was so amazing to see the way the kids related to each other..and also pursued their interests. I expected parents to be interested in the "Courtship and Marriage" seminar by Pastor Foy -- but it was largely attended by teens -- raised in families, and valuing families, they were already looking at "how do I go about forming my own family?" They attended lots of different presentations on theology and life...because they wanted to, they were interested, and no one was going to tease them about it. And if they did, I doubt they would've cared.
When Jeff and I were talking about this, he commented "Girl Scouts and other organizations can talk about focusing on making girls strong or talk about kids being true to themselves -- but they are fighting a losing battle when most kids go to school each day focused on wearing the right thing, behaving the right way, and making other people happy so that they don't get teased and can fit in."
I remember that pressure. I don't remember it weighing so much when I was in school, but it certainly feels heavy when I think about it now.
Going back to my friend Lori's boy who was playing with his little brother -- that is something I have seen OVER and OVER again. The first day we attended a homeschool park group, there were a group of teens sitting at a table playing Yu-Gi-Oh together, but they didn't shoo the littler kids away. I would see teenage boys picking up preschoolers and holding them on their laps while they played, without missing a beat. They would also scoot over so that six or seven year-olds could squeeze in and then they would explain what they were doing. Sixteen year-olds had no problem with playing with twelve year-olds.
When we were leaving the Wisdom and Eloquence Conference, I walked into the narthex to get my kids, and my son was standing around talking with other teenage boys. One was casually holding his toddler little brother on his hip. My son Chris, at park days, has felt comfortable going and picking up my friends' babies and playing with them. When he starts to feel like he needs a break socially, he'll even take one and go sit in the swing, rocking back and forth until the baby falls asleep. Now that's self-regulation! I also love seeing how the "tween girls" with their natural, God-given fascination with babies and toddlers are free to follow them around, learn about them, play with them. Kids of every age generally are helping their parents with their siblings...and not even realizing they are learning to be good parents. That is something that I am convinced that our age-segregated society has diminished. I don't know how many people I know who have never held a baby until they hold their own.
Another friend of mine commented on the way kids were playing when they got together. They were creative, they were all over the place, they organized some games, and free-played at other times. She had grown up in Liberia, but the same is true here. "That's how kids used to play. They don't play like that anymore. Everything needs to be structured."
These kids are free to be themselves -- and rather than needing to be grouped by grade or age range, they could very easily relate to the youngest and oldest in the group, and make the needed allowances.
I could go into the closeness of family members -- and there is a lot there. My kids aren't perfect, but they do get along most of the time. I'll write about that another time, because it really is a beautiful aspect to homeschooling as well. But every time my family interacts with a group of homeschoolers, I am amazed at the difference and the peace and joy that is there in how the kids relate to each other.