Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where are all the children?

It was 10:30AM on a beautiful fall day in November.  I walk my children, 3 and 4 years old,  to our neighborhood playground to play and enjoy an unseasonably warm day.  We arrive at the playground to find it vacant.  Completely and utterly vacant.  This is a normal experience for us.  Even though our neighborhood is home to many families with young children, seeing a child during the day is a very rare site.   "Where are all the children?"  I wonder.

After coming home, we snuggle on the couch and read some books.  Marcus enjoys playing "I spy" with me lately.
"I spy with my little eye something that begins with F on this page," I say to him.
"I know...Fox!" Marcus shouts.

Later we head to the grocery stores.  I see many men and women there.  I see no children over the age of 6 months.  We live in a community where early academics is thought of as a necessity.  A child is sent away to school at a young age and that is the norm.  It is rare for a 3 and 4 year old not to be enrolled in some type of formal schooling.  

A lady shopping for her family pushes her cart next to mine.  We are both pricing cereals.  She comments about how brave I am to "come shopping with children." 

"I never go to the grocery store with my children if I don't have to!" She tells me. 

I smile.  But to be honest with you, I am thinking that shopping with children isn't bravery at all.  It is normal and natural for me.  My children go where I go.  The more regularly and consistently a child is brought into circumstances like that, the quicker they learn what is socially acceptable to do and not to do.  

On another day I take my kids to a local science program for homeschoolers.  Today we are learning about density.  The children try to guess whether an object will sink or float and record their predictions in their science notebooks.  Finally, they test their hypotheses by placing the objects in water.  

Like most homeschool programs there is a wide range of people in this room.  There are babies.  There are school aged children.  There are toddlers.  There are parents.  There are even some grandparents who have come to see the fun.  The people in this room all converse and interact easily.  A first grader bends down to play peak-a-boo with a baby.   Another girl who is probably in third grade invites Sophie over.  "Don't you want to do the experiment too?" She asks.  Sophie nods.    "Here," she says.  "I will help you.  I used to do this same experiment when I was little."   Sophie smiles.  She enjoys getting the special attention.

One of the grandmothers comes over to the table where the kids are doing their experiment.  She picks up a penny from the table.  (One of the objects that the children are testing to see if it will sink or float.)  She says aloud, "Oh, this is a copper penny."
"How can you tell?" asks another boy.
The lady explains how to tell if the penny is made from mostly copper or zinc.  The boy listens fascinated about his "special" penny. 

This type of behavior is a common thing to see at these programs.  And yet, it still gives me a happy surprise.   I do have to admit that before I had spent much time around homeschoolers, I had this crazy notion that they were all strange, basement-dwelling-creatures who were "weird" and "unsocial".  I had this visual in my head of a bunch of girls wearing long denim jumpers with permed hair that never were around other kids or people.   I had read enough to know that children who are homeschooled out perform their public schooled peers academically.  However, I just assumed that they were all awkward and strange creatures lacking any type of social skills.  After all, they weren't in a classroom with 30 other kids all day...right?   My impressions were changed drastically after spending some time with homeschoolers.
Most homeschoolers are used to interacting and socializing with a wide variety of ages.   Not just people their exact same age.  They are used to being patient with a younger children because they are around them all day.  They enjoy hearing stories from an older generation.  They can play with children their age or younger or older.   To them, this is natural.  And you know what?  It is.

We often send our children away to be socialized.  However, perhaps being around thirty children your exact same age isn't the way we are meant to be socialized.  That isn't how real life works.  Children naturally and instinctively model their behavior after others.  Perhaps modeling their behavior off of 30 other immature beings isn't the best way to teach children how to act in life.   And research supports this.  In fact, there are numerous reports that show that the more time a child is separated from their direct care giver, the more aggressive and noncomplying they become.  Perhaps because they are modeling their behavior off of so many other immature beings.  (example)

In real life you interact with people from many different ages.  You learn to share knowledge with those younger than yourself.  You learn to listen to and learn from those who have more experience.   In fact, the last time I ever was in a group of people my exact same age was when I was in school.  Since then, whether in college, working at a career, or making friends as an adult, life has required that I interact and socialize with people from many different age groups. 

I start to think that perhaps separating children from our adult world is not the key to socialization.   Perhaps children need this interaction with the older generation.  Perhaps it is beneficial to have adult interaction and experiences modeled from them.

And you know what?  I start to realize how creepy it is to live in a world where children are so absent and separated from the adult world.  And I am not the only one coming to this realization.   

I am not saying that children in a traditional classroom environment are incapable of interacting with people who are a different age.  Please don't misunderstand.   I am just saying that the being "socialized" in a wide group of ages is not a hindrance to children.  In fact, quite the opposite, the added practice helps them to be more social and capable beings.


’You are very much older than I am,’ said Winston. ’You must have been a grown man before I was born. You can remember what it was like in the old days, before the Revolution. People of my age don’t really know anything about those times. We can only read about them in books, and what it says in the books may not be true. I should like your opinion on that....
From 1984, by George Orwell. 


Kelly said...

I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do this. Homeschooling is a great choice for parents and caregivers who want to be with their children that much. I could not take that much togetherness. :-) So I am happy to send my kiddos off to daycare and elementary school, where they interact with children their own age, older and younger children, and adults of various ages and levels of authority.

Julie said...

I don't think Cathy was saying that her way is the right way. One of the criticisms that home educators get is that their children are not socialized or weird. The way I took this article is that this is just plain 'ole not true. :) There is socialization in meeting and interacting with different ages, yes, and you can get this with homeschooling. It's just everyday life.


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