Tag Archives: socialization

Education is Not a Mystery

This is not socializing, apparently.

Did you see this post on Popsugar about homeschooling and socialization? It’s basically crap, but it made the rounds on a few online corners of homeschooling.

Obviously the arguments about socialization in there are absurd. I mean, there’s no way to teach those skills without a traditional classroom? I can think of dozens off the top of my head, most of which homeschool families I know use. My personal favorite, which you probably already know, is Destination Imagination, which is nothing like being in a traditional classroom. Or maybe it’s the small, kid-run learning co-op we’ve been a part of for eight years.

But I digress. Because as silly as the socialization arguments were in that piece, it wasn’t the thing that really bugged me.

The thing that really bugged me was the way in which professional educators try to justify themselves by making learning seem like it’s a secret, arcane mystery that only they can unlock. Socialization isn’t learning to play with, talk to, and interact with other people. Oh no. “Educational socialization is much more challenging than that,” the post claims. So much more challenging that only real teachers in real classrooms can really do it.

Remember in To Kill a Mockingbird when the teacher is angry that Scout learned to read at home because she couldn’t have done it the “right” way? Seen any of the viral images of Common Core math where parents talk about how they’re no longer “allowed” to help with their second grader’s math homework because they’ll explain it “wrong”? Ever heard an educator throw around half-nonsense jargon at an IEP meeting?

Educators seem to do this all the time, trying to make it sound like they guard complex knowledge that only they can get right.

Look, I’m the last person to undervalue educators and all they do. Educators take far too much crap all the time. It’s an actual expertise. I do think I got something out of my masters degree in education, after all. There is a lot of information out there about educational psychology, curriculum design, and educational philosophies, not to mention the nuts and bolts of how schools work on every level, all of which is specialized knowledge teachers have and much of which is useful in structuring a classroom program or working in education.

But none of it is as top secret or special as some educators would like people to believe. Nor is it necessarily complex. It’s especially not magic that only some people can practice. Teaching is more of a practiced art than anything else.

Don’t buy into the idea that education is somehow only possible when provided by the keepers of the school system. I think homeschoolers are often good at seeing through this rhetoric when it comes to socialization, but sometimes get caught when it’s about other topics, like early reading instruction or middle school essay writing or even preparing a high school transcript. I’ve seen people get intimidated by dense language in educational standards, where instead of saying straightforwardly that they want kindergartens to understand that there are four seasons, they weigh it down with verbiage about “use models to represent astronomical bodies” and “understand how natural systems and the designed world work together” and other things that make kindergarten information sound like rocket science.

Not only homeschoolers, but anyone can take charge of their own learning, in school, out of school, graduated or still young. Teaching others is a beautiful thing, but it’s not classified.

Destination Imagination Tournament Three

This year for their skit, Mushroom, BalletBoy and one of their teammates played evil villains.  The face paint makes them look very sinister, right?

I’ve sung the praises of our experience with Destination Imagination so many times that I won’t bother doing it in depth again.  DI and the similar organization Odyssey of the Mind are both “creativity competitions.”  Kids from kindergarten through college compete in various challenges at a tournament.  The cost isn’t too high (I believe, once divided up, our team was about $20 per kid).  The program encourages the kind of social and team skills that are hard to come by in other ways.

For the first time, I wasn’t the coach for our team.  That honor went to one of the other parents this year.  She did such a great job and I was so pleased to just show up at the tournament and see the amazing skit the kids put together.  Perfection.

Yearbook-Worthy!

One of our co-ops has done a little homemade yearbook for awhile now and I vowed to introduce the practice to our other one.  While the kids were around the fuzzball table at one house, one of the other parents nudged me and was like, they’re all together around that table, I think it needs a yearbook photo.

I don’t think I quite captured it (said as if my iPhone is some awesome action-capturing camera and I’m some serious photographer!).  But I like the concentrating look on BalletBoy’s face there, wearing his hilarious winter hat with the heart on it indoors.  Fuzzball!

Consensus for Kids

Our Destination Imagination team is in the thick of it now, making decisions about our team challenge.  Last year’s challenge tested our engineering skills with newspaper and tape.  This year’s challenge is really putting our collective decision making skills to the test as the kids have to imagine their own skit about a bug’s bad day.

After much consideration and some hearty debate, our "big bug" will be a bumblebee.

I’m not always perfect at consensus, but I like working with it.  Between working under Quaker process for many years and having been schooled in grassroots organizing as part of my master’s thesis research, I like to think I know at least a little about leadership and consensus building.  Of course, it’s one thing with adults and something else altogether with 5 and 6 year olds.

I think the same rules still apply, even if the kids need extra guidance.  When our DI team has a decision to make, I turn to consensus.  Here’s what I do:

  • I ask the kids to brainstorm and I put lots of ideas on the board, sometimes with doodles for the non readers.
  • OR… I ask them to begin with their best idea.  Adults often sift out their ideas for the “best idea” and advocate it, but younger children sometimes just want all the thoughts they have to be heard, without any consideration for which one they like the best or think will actually work well, so this question helps them focus their thinking.
  • I ask the group which ideas they could get behind.  They can vote for all the ideas, or just one, but it’s essentially a question of which options could you live with.  Sometimes this is a show of hands and it would need to be in a large group.  Sometimes it’s just a noise level vote as we go down the list and kids twitter or nod with yeses and no ways.
  • I erase the ideas that didn’t have any or much support.  This step always knocks out a large number of things the kids have mentioned – if only one kid, or even no kids – want to stand behind an idea, then it’s usually obvious even to them that it won’t work.
  • BUT…  Before I erase something or mark it as out, I always ask the group again.  “It sounds like this idea is out.  Is that right?”  Typically, the kids just nod.  Occasionally, there’s a sad noise emitted that someone’s idea has bit the dust, but the kid lets it go.  Every once in awhile, a kid insists that an idea stay in the running, so I leave it there.
  • If there are still a lot of ideas left, then I repeat the above, seeing what has the most support and what has very little, then knocking out those ideas.
  • I point out which ideas had the most support and may circle them or put a mark next to them.
  • I ask the kids to talk about the ideas with the most support or take a vote just between those.  Sometimes, the kids waiver.  They’re often pretty fickle about it at this stage.  I don’t let them discuss for more than a minute or two though.
  • I point to the idea that seems to have the most consensus by saying something like, “It sounds like this idea is one that most people like.”  Sometimes they agree and it’s chosen or they disagree and another idea is chosen.
  • BUT…  If they don’t agree, we talk some more about it.  Sometimes a compromise is suggested, such as a way to combine the ideas or another idea altogether.
  • If they’re not doing it already (they usually are), I get everyone to really listen to the objections of anyone holding out against the group.  If the kids don’t (they usually do), then I suggest ways that the hold out kid can pick something else.  There’s bargaining and discussion about what will work best for everyone.
  • We usually don’t stop until everyone agrees, even if it’s not their first choice.  I know that sounds nigh on impossible for such young kids, but I swear it works.  And the more often that I do it with them, the better they get at doing it with each other.

Overall, the most important thing I’ve found is to keep the process moving.  Deciding something, even something contentious, shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes at most, twenty if the group is new to the process of reaching consensus.  And once something is decided, unless there’s a reason, then I strongly encourage them to stick to their decision.

This is one of the skills that Destination Imagination really teaches if you let it.  In my mind, it’s far and away better than any type of social education they could ever get in most schools, which is why I think the program is perfect for homeschoolers.  It’s also one of those life skills that I hope one day (a long way down the road) will help them, whether they’re team teaching, working in an engineering group to fix a problem, arguing policy in a political office, or working in a hospital with colleagues to help a patient.

A Few Good Friends

For most outsiders to the homeschool world, the first question they have about homeschooling deals with what many homeschoolers call “the S word.”  Socialization, that is.  It’s not ever been something that I’ve worried about seriously.  However, now that we’ve been at this for a little while, I’ve started to get a little frustrated by some of the canned responses I see when people talk about that dreaded S word with nervous newcomers and curious outsiders.  The most common response is that there are many opportunities for kids to be with other kids: 4H, scouting, sports, classes, co-ops, churches, recreation centers, and just on the playground or out and about.

That’s true, to a point.  Especially if you live in an urban or suburban area, there’s plenty for kids to sign up for.  I keep paring back our schedule, but at various points in the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen different classes or sports that brought my kids into contact with other kids.  But is that really enough?  Is just being around other kids, even on a regular basis enough?

For me, the answer is no.  I think it’s the quality of the interactions that are the most important.  Neither school nor an active slate of activities necessarily provides a level of quality peer interaction.  At least at school you have a sustained group, which you might not even get in various activities.  By quality I mean I mean developing a friendship and an investment in another person as someone that you care about in your life.  Getting that isn’t necessarily as simple as just signing your kid up for stuff.  Like everything when you’re homeschooling, it usually takes forethought and effort.

When we first began our kindergarten co-op last year, the other three families and I agreed that the highest goal we had was to create a sense of community among the kids and to develop their friendships and ability to be together as a group.  We don’t sit around thinking about that and talking about how to do it.  The nuts and bolts of what we’re learning about and what time we’re meeting and who paid for the tickets to a certain show and so forth get a lot more conversation.  However, we all have an unspoken agreement to think about the group in these terms.  What activities are we doing that allow them to work together?  What are we doing that allows them to share?  Are they getting enough time together to just be kids with each other?  These are the sort of lenses through which we judge our time together.  For us, it has been really organic because we all come from the same sort of assumptions that this sort of socialization – the kind that’s about community and friendships – is the most important thing.

The simple truth is that it takes thinking about free time, especially free play, as time well spent and not time wasted.  Schools have forgotten this as they eliminate recess left and right, that they’re harming kids’ ability to learn to interact and work things out.  Doing things together – sharing a meal, going for a hike, taking a trip, or spending a long lazy day at the park – is time that kids need to build real friendships.  Obviously, some kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are lucky enough to have a neighborhood of friends and opportunities to hang out with them by just running down the street.  But I’ve found that most homeschoolers don’t and even many schooled kids don’t have that these days.  Our friends live all over the place so it takes me believing that it’s worth it to haul the kids across town “just” to play.

Seeing Mushroom and BalletBoy build those friendships and take such joy in their friends warms my heart.  They get giddy about seeing them, even though they spend time with their friends often.  They hug their friends.  They really know them and know their likes and dislikes.  So while it has taken some thinking and effort on our part, I think the dreaded S word is actually a benefit to homeschooling, especially because I trust they’ll have many of their friends for years to come.

Impromptu Co-op Conga Line!

Six Great Things About My Co-op

There are a lot of different kinds of co-ops in homeschooling.  I think most people immediately think of the kind that has an official space, a somewhat large price tag, and a wide array of class offerings for kids of various ages.  That’s not the kind we do.

We’re in a couple different small cooperative groups, but the one that’s probably the most important to us is our co-op that began last fall for kindergarten.  We have four families and eight kids…  oops, eight kids and one tiny new baby makes nine!  We meet once a week for a morning that usually stretches well into the afternoon as the kids run around and the mothers sit and talk.  We are so blessed to have this group of families we get along so well with.  I can’t imagine how we got so lucky.

Here are some of the amazing things that make that co-op tick:

1. We pick topics that can go in a million different directions.
We’ve had topics like water, food and tools, which have led us to art projects, show and tells, cooking, hiking, planting, storytelling, measuring and pretty much everything else you can imagine.  None of us are concerned with teaching some checklist of information so we let opportunity and inspiration guide us to find interesting experiences to have together.

2. We’re a community.
We’re not just a class that meets once a week.  Honestly, the things we study are secondary to the kind of socialization we want to encourage.  We’re friends.  We eat together.  We share our books, our food, our homes and our lives.  We don’t just want to share teaching the kids, we want to be a group of friends.

3. We think about the big picture.
It’s not that we’re against details.  Details are good.  We’ve worked out systems.  For example, for each topic we do, each mom teaches one morning about it at her house and provides a snack.  But we spend a lot more time talking about the things we think matter.  We planned to spend a week together up front each year just being together.  We also agreed to pick a place to explore several times a year so we could see it in different seasons.  We think about ways to encourage teamwork or heal friendships when the kids hit a rough patch.

4. We trust each other.
We trust each other with our kids.  We trust each other to iron out the details and make decisions.  We can make decisions together because of that trust.

5. We seize the moment.
It was hot out this week so instead of starting our first topic like we had originally planned, we went to the water park.  Last year, when there were performances or other opportunities, we changed our plans to take advantage of them.  If there are teachable moments, we all take advantage of them.

6. We put as much time into the grown-ups as we put into the kids.
Let’s face it, this co-op is as much for the grown-ups as it is for the kids.  If the moms didn’t get along, things wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work as well.  We make sure to have Mom’s Nights Out so we can hang out without the kids.  This year, we’re reading books on the topics we chose for the kids.  The first topic is “heroes” and the grown-ups are reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs…

10-11_RS_logo
The cool DI logo for our challenge!

I’ve sung the praises of our experience with Destination Imagination before, but I’m about to do it again.  We probably won’t start meeting with our team until November, but I just noticed the challenges have come out since I last checked so I got all excited!  Our team is a Rising Stars team so this year’s challenge revolves around learning all about bugs.  We’ll have to go to the Bug Zoo at the Natural History Museum and the Invertebrate House at the Zoo!  Who knows what else!  I think Destination Imagination (or the organization they spun off from – Odyssey of the Mind) is perfect for homeschoolers because it encourages the sort of socialization experiences that all kids need.  Last year, while I’m not saying they perfected this or anything, the kids on my team learned to work together, to negotiate with each other, to compromise, to brainstorm together and to generally have fun while doing it.  Plus, there is the creative component.  I’ve written a little about creativity here.  I think the way that Destination Imagination provides a structure and rigid rules while also opening the door for complete chaos within that framework is the perfect way to encourage creativity.