A sibling hug last summer in New Brunswick. (Totally staged of course.)
This week I have covered the questions of why we chose to homeschool, how we chose a curriculum/method, what our day looks like right now, what some of my challenges are in terms of homeschooling, and today, on my last post of “Our Homeschool Story” series, I want to answer a few more questions I receive and also talk about what I have learned from my children.
Disclaimer: It is our story. Every family has a story and a way of life that works for them whether your children are in school or at home. Homeschooling works for our family. The way I homeschool and the curriculum I choose also works for our family (and sometimes it doesn’t and I am often the last to realize it). I am also very grateful that we are able to survive on one income so that I am able to stay home with the kids. This will be like a QnA period where I will answer questions that I get most from family, friends, grocery cashiers, and old ladies on the street.
1. What about socialization? Ah yes, the big ‘S’ word. It was a big concern for our parents, some friends, and almost every passer-by. Let’s begin with the definition of the word: a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behaviour, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position. Now let’s take a closer look at our homeschooling story.
We live our life in a neighbourhood and in various communities – our physical/local community, our family community – within our home and within our extended family, our homeschool community, and our city. When the children were little, their sphere of social interaction mostly included their siblings and us, their parents. We are the front line. I want to be the front line. I want to be the primary model for values and social skills that we feel are appropriate especially when they are little and are in the stage of imitation.
Their sphere expanded to their local community – our neighbourhood, more specifically our street. They chat with the neighbours freely, often calling across and down the street when they spot one. A neighbour told our kids a story about the red-tailed hawk and the smashed robin’s egg in her backyard, engaging them in a lively conversation. (We have fantastic and interesting neighbours.)
In the spring, when our local market opens, we walk and spend the morning there. I sit on the bench and give them a list. They take the list, even without #1, and shop from their favourite stalls, talking to the farmers. This was a slow process for some of my kids. During that first year of homeschooling, the kids hesitated (except one) and I wondered why. Well, I told them never to speak to strangers a long, long, time ago and that stuck. Oh right. I had to re-word what I meant and use phrases like “listen to that funny feeling in you stomach” and “it’s ok to be friendly.” We went every week – same day, same time. We still do. I make it a priority. Why? Because I want them to feel comfortable interacting with people in our neighbourhood. I have a child who had trouble speaking without her sister at her side, but now she chats with the honey lady for a few minutes each time we go. At first there were questions from strangers about why they weren’t in school, etc., but after a few weeks, my crew became a regular staple at the market. They would recognize the kids, smile , and then chat. Regular people from our neighbourhood.
This was a few years ago on market day…
We also spend a lot of time with our homeschooling community. We have known some families for almost 4 years. Because the siblings all play together, play involves children ages 1 to 12 on a regular basis (more like 4-12 but the toddlers get in there sometimes). When #1 comes out to our gatherings, she hangs out with the moms or reads on her own if she wants alone time. The kids take care of each other in a familial way – you will often find the 12 year old hanging back with the 4 and 5 year old and the 6 year olds with the 8-10 year olds. Boys and girls mixed together. There is absolutely no division based on age or sex. It often comes down to play content and interest level that divides the kids. Kids run to other moms for help or to interact with and moms take walks or take time to sit with different children. We have all grown together and with that, a comfort level has grown.
#1 has expanded her sphere even further. You can read all about that in this post. But it really began the year she turned 10 – taking her bike out into the neighbourhood. At 12, she took public transit on her own across the city. Last summer, she was going out to plays and events with her Shakespeare group. She traveled abroad and is planning to do more of that in the coming year. She is completely comfortable interacting with people of all ages and she intentionally joins activities that involve people from all ages like when she volunteered to do an art installation for an upcoming art show. Since returning from her trip, we have had many thoughtful discussions on her life and she has been able to share her trip stories with some of the other homeschooling moms.
My dad has a great story of when he took the kids out to shop for a birthday present last year. They went to a bookstore and #3 went right up to the salesperson and asked if they could look up a book for her. My dad watched from afar in amazement. She spoke confidently with a smile. She couldn’t remember the author’s name or the complete title of the book so the salesperson patiently looked up all the books and they scrolled through them on the computer screen together. #3 spotted it and asked if it was “in stock.” Then after receiving the book from the salesperson, she promptly paid for it and thanked the woman for all her help. She was 7. My dad had absolutely nothing to do with this exchange.
Now to be honest, #3 has a natural talent for social interaction but the changes I have seen in #2 have been mind-blowing. She is not as comfortable speaking freely but yesterday she went right up to a security guard at an art gallery and asked if she could take pictures of the art in a clear and confident voice. #5, who also isn’t the most extroverted child, answered a stranger’s question about his favourite painting in the gallery – he looked her in the eye and said, “The blue one.” She was surprised and told me that normally, kids don’t “talk to strangers.”
The kids have extra-curricular activities too. They are part of a Scouts troop and an outdoor program where there is a pretty solid community of families too. They play volleyball and dance ballet. Some kids enjoy large group activities while others are slowly testing the waters.
For us, socialization takes time. And I want to go back to that bit about “personal identity” in that definition of socialization. They are all different. We are all different. I want them to go at their own pace and wade out into the outer spheres of interaction when they are ready but always knowing Ever-Patient and I are at the centre of it all if they need support or advice. There are days when I am not in the mood to make small talk with strangers. They have those moods too. There are days when I don’t feel like being with a large group. Some of my kids feel that way too. This is a process of finding their comfort zones and safely testing the edges of them and understanding who they are and what they are capable of.
2. What about university?
University Admissions is a great Canadian website that addresses how homeschoolers are able to get into university without a high school diploma. I’d like to address the general question above. University/college/post-secondary is not our primary goal. Our goal is for the children to have time to develop their interests and passions and to provide them guidance in later years to continue to do that. University and college may fulfill that need. Travel may fulfill that need. Starting their own business may fulfill that need. Working right away in their preferred industry may fulfill that need.
#1 has been interested in a variety of things – from working with children, in the arts, in medicine, in service work abroad with volunteer organization. She has chosen to continue working on her high school diploma but we, as parents, never made that a requirement. All we have told her is that she has time. There is plenty of time to expose herself to as much as she can. This is not a race. Work. Travel. Volunteer. Study. Play. Don’t feel pressured to decide RIGHT NOW.
One of the kids is thinking about starting her own business. Another wants to play professional volleyball in Italy at age 18. (Why Italy? It has one of the world’s best professional women’s volleyball leagues and she likes pasta. Win-win.) One wants to travel and has been urging us to sell the house for the last two years so we can do it. One would like to live at home forever. (Nice try, buddy.) Their plans will change. Their interests will shift. Again, they are all different and post-secondary just may not be the right fit.
P.S. A benefit of homeschooling: going to the playground when it’s not busy so that all the siblings can swing in a row 🙂
Phew. The one thing I really wanted to convey in all these posts is that homeschooling is a very personal choice and we homeschool based on the fact that each of our children are individuals that develop and grow uniquely. Each homeschooling family is different because each family is different just as every schooling family is different and makes school choices that fits their family’s needs. My children are surrounded by family and friends that go to school AND that homeschool. We respect each other’s choices just as we respect others’ religious and political choices. If you love my family and make choices based on what you feel is right for you and your family, I don’t care where you’re from – we will love you right back! I wanted to talk about our family’s story in order to answer questions all in one place and that although our story may be different (or the same) as yours, we continuously trying our best to figure out what works for our family of 7.
I was going to write more about what my kids have taught me over the last few years but this post ran a bit long. Tomorrow will be the LAST post. I promise.
What does your family identity look like?