What did I learn this week?

Socialization 101

I know that it is ALWAYS the first question, but what are people actually asking when they say to me, “If your kids are being homeschooled, how will they ever get socialized?”  I don’t know about anyone else, but before I started telling people that I planned to homeschool, I only ever heard people speak of socialization in terms of puppies, feral cats, and animals being returned to the wild.  Granted, my children have been known to act like all of these things at times, but, generally speaking, they can pass as age appropriately semi-civilized humans.

But seriously.  I have been giving some real thought to what people are truly concerned about when it comes to the question of how children who are homeschooled become “socialized.”  I have said before how much I liked Rachel Gathercole’s book, The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, and how useful Corey has found it in providing some thoughtful responses.  The immediate concern for most people appears to be along the lines of how will my children learn to get along with others if they are not forced to be part of a group at school?

Good question.  Luckily for me, my children live in a happy and secure family group.  For anyone who thinks, well, that’s easy, learning to get along with your family doesn’t count, I suggest you take a moment.  Learning to live in close quarters with other people who all have their own personalities, foibles, strengths, weaknesses, irritating and endearing qualities, is in fact probably the BEST way to learn to get along with other people.  Families, in an ideal sense, provide a safe environment for working out appropriate responses in a variety of situations and for learning to contribute to the well-being of others.  As members of a family, children learn to enjoy the happiness life can bring, and also how to cope with adversity.  In short, they provide a backdrop in which children can safely practice the art of being human and the skill of living as positive member of human society. That, of course, is the ideal, but in the case of my family and my children, I believe it applies.

Beyond the experience of the family, however, there is of course the experience of interaction on a daily basis with the rest of the people who live around us.  It has been said that a person who lives in a literate household in a literate society is bound to become literate themselves simply by exposure.  I would say the same thinking certainly applies to children who live and interact with other people day in and day out, that is, there is simply no way that they would NOT learn how to get along with others.  In fact, as many others have pointed out, the social environment of a school is not only unique and unrealistic when compared to everyday life outside of school, it is not by any means the best environment in which to learn and practice the some of the most desirable of qualities in any “socialized” person: empathy, kindness, and compassion toward others.

Do I believe that homeschooling will help my children develop these qualities? Of course I do. Why else would I be doing all of this?

Freedom to read…everything

I have been thinking lately about how much control (or not) we as parents choose to exercise over our children’s reading material.  I come from a very literate household, and we read all kinds of things to C in particular.  She makes it clear what she is interested in having us read to her, and we give her wide latitude in her choices.

We stocked the house early on with a huge assortment of fantastic children’s books, and I find her taste for the most part reflects an appreciation for good writing and creative illustration.  I do not make hard and fast rules about what I will or will not read to her.  I do not say that I won’t read any Disney books to her, although I will not buy them, and I do point out that they are not original in content and reflect only a particular aesthetic style.  I happily read versions of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs which (claiming to reflect accurately the original German tale) end with the Queen having to wear red hot iron shoes and dance around until she falls down dead.  Another favourite of C’s is The Wizard of Oz, which includes some graphic descriptions like the story of how the tin woodsman became what he is — his axe was enchanted so that he ended up cutting off each of his limbs and then his head in succession so that they needed to be replaced by tin versions.  Gee, I wonder why that part never made it into the movie!  My point is not that every story I read to C has graphic descriptions, but that I do not shy away from classic stories that include them.

However, my approach apparently differs from that of many other parents.  A couple of recent incidents brought this to my attention.  The first happened a month or so ago while visiting a friend’s house.  She has a copy of  a Disney storybook of Peter Pan.  Clearly, this is quite far removed from J.M. Barrie’s original, but for the purposes of this story, that part does not matter.  In the story, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys want to help rescue the Indian Chief’s daughter, Tiger Lily, who has been kidnapped by Captain Hook.  Can you see the issue coming?  I didn’t until I listened to my friend read the story out loud to the children.  Every time the word “indian” was used in the story, she replaced it by saying “First Nations” instead.  My problem with this is twofold.  Firstly, the term “First Nations” is what we use here, it is not a term generally used to describe American Indians, which is what J.M. Barrie had in mind when he wrote Peter Pan.  Secondly, I do not believe in changing the words of a story like that, I believe the words should be read as written, and then, if need be, there can be an age appropriate discussion about the author’s choice of language.

The second incident occurred a few days ago when another friend was visiting and telling me the latest news about her Kindle.  She told me that she had downloaded a copy of Heidi, and was now “pre-reading it for objectionable content.”  Ever the diplomat, my immediate response was, “Objectionable content!  Oh my goodness, you’re one of those people.  Next thing you know, you’ll be burning copies of Catcher in the Rye in your barbecue!”  Well, luckily this friend is someone who wouldn’t take my little outburst personally, although not surprisingly she did not go on to tell me what that “objectionable content” might be.

While I definitely believe that it is important to introduce stories to children that reflect core values like equality and kindness, at the same time, I do not believe this requires parents to prevent children from accessing classic literature.  All stories reflect the cultural, economic, and political placement of the author and his or her time in history.  If you look hard enough, you can always find “objectionable content.”  As a parent, you don’t want any stories where women are not treated with equality?  Say goodbye to Edith Wharton and Jane Austen.  You don’t want anything that might raise issues of racism?  There goes Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling.  This is not an argument about the fringes of free expression, this is classic, dare I say mainstream, literature we are talking about.

Children are smarter than most adults, including their well-meaning parents, give them credit for.  They have a right to an open mind, which means giving them access to all kinds of literary content.  I wholeheartedly agree that parents should stay involved with their children’s choices of reading material, but if there is something about the content that bothers the parent, it should be discussed instead of hidden.  This takes more work on the part of the parent, but it is absolutely necessary in order for children to develop the ability and desire to read a variety of literature both appreciatively and critically.  I already find C to be an interesting, thoughtful and inquisitive person.  I suppose what I am really trying to do by giving her such freedom in her reading material is to make sure she stays that way.

My family is my career

This post was reprinted on Home Learning Victoria.

I remember when I first told someone that I was quitting my job to stay at home and raise my children, their response was, “Why?  I mean, it’s not like you don’t have an education and no other options?”  This person honestly could not understand why on earth I would give up being a lawyer to become a full time mother.  This experience came back to me after reading Jeff Sabo’s post, I Quit my Job to Provide for my Family, where he relates that clearly there was some similar disbelief expressed by his colleagues as to the “actual” reason he was leaving his job.

I know that many much more intelligent people than I have delved into the question about why mothering is not considered a “career” in our society, but the intellectual answers to that question do not really help me to truly understand it.  I mean, do people honestly believe that hired caregivers and teachers can do a better job of parenting their kids than they can?  They must, that is the only answer.  I remember reading Dr. Sears’ Baby Book before my first child was born, and something he and his wife wrote really stuck with me.  They said that it is very easy for new parents to come to believe that some expert knows their child better and can do a better job of raising the children than the parents.  Don’t be fooled, they wrote, no one can do a better job than you as the mother and father, YOU are the experts!

I really do believe that many people lack confidence and self-esteem, and this is part of why they feel that being a stay at home parent isn’t “good enough” for them.  Case in point.  Several years ago, I went to a dinner party with a friend and her husband at the home of one of my husband’s very good friends.  After dinner, the conversation turned to being a stay at home mother versus working outside the home.  My friend (an electrical engineer) had just told our hostess that she had decided to postpone her return to work indefinitely, and the response was, “Well, I have to work.  I mean, if someone asks me, I want to be able to tell them that I actually DO something.”  Excuse me?  I would say this was the most ignorant thing I had ever heard this person say, but unfortunately, it isn’t true.

Fast forward several years.  I no longer have any of the same friends, and in fact, I don’t tell people that I am a lawyer unless they ask.  Which they almost never do.  People now see me as a stay at home mother, and rarely ask if I ever did anything else.  Interesting.  When I decided to give up my career as a lawyer in favour of a career as a mother, I did wonder if I would feel the loss of what can only be described as privilege and prestige — because, much to my surprise at the time, I did find that being a lawyer meant that people did treat me with a certain respect and deference — but it really hasn’t.  However, I can see how making the transition would be very hard for someone who really identifies who they are with what job they hold and the relative level of esteem accorded to that job by society.  I suppose I should credit my mom and dad with making sure I grew up knowing who I am, so I did not have to try to piece together an identity for myself as an adult.  That, more than anything else, is something I really hope home schooling will help my children achieve — a true sense of self.

Do I miss anything about my job?  Sure, the paycheque!  Everything else, I feel comfortable having left behind.  One of my friends who also left behind her fulltime career to stay at home recently told me that she had been rereading the comic “For Better of For Worse” online because she had really liked it when she was growing up.  She still thought it was funny, she said, “but I can’t stand all the complaining about being a stay at home mother!  I mean, I had to work for 10 years for the privilege of being a stay at home mom.”  OK, so maybe things are changing.  Slightly.  Or maybe it is just my circle of friends.  Either way, I never feel anything but pride in the fact that my family is my career.  This is not to say that I will never “do” anything else.  The time when I am needed full time to raise my children is a season within my life, just as my job as a lawyer was.  I am not in a rush for the season to pass or to end it before my children are fully ready.  When it does, well, I’ll have to wait and see what life next brings my way.

Reliving the past

Since I had children, I spend MUCH less time on the computer, reading the paper, watching the news on TV, or renting movies.  In fact, it has become so bad, that I actually feel paralyzed if I do go to rent a movie, because I have no idea what has been released in the last five years or what they are about.  One thing I haven’t given up is reading books, however, I certainly no longer have the time to go trolling for new releases from my favourite sci-fi/fantasy authors.  So, I must admit that it came as a bit of a surprise to me to find out that Stephen Donaldson has started a new (and apparently final this time) series of Thomas Covenant books.  I guess I can be forgiven for not expecting this, since the first two trilogies were published between 1977 and 1983, and then all of a sudden, the first in a series of four books was published in 2004.

Now, these books are really complex, so after I found out about the new books, I thought that I should probably re-read the old books given that 20 years or so has passed since I last looked at them.  I am REALLY glad I did this, because I would have been absolutely and completely lost in the new book if I had not.  It did get me thinking though about how tempting it is to return to books (or movies) that we know we will enjoy spending our time on.  I mean, I really do not have a lot of free time, and I would not want to waste it on a book I did not enjoy.  I know there are many, many great books out there that I would probably love, I just do not have the time to find them right now.  My friends certainly are not much help; their typical response being either that they don’t have time to read right now, or, if they do, they don’t “do” sci-fi/fantasy.   At least I still have my sister to give me recommendations…hopefully she won’t run out of ideas when it comes to books until I have more time to think up my own.

Burning with questions…

Summer is here and C’s 5th birthday approaches.  Along with this is the usual question, “What school will C be going to?”  Most people do not react negatively when I tell them that my kids are going to be home schooled.  However, I did have one neighborhood dad who I see fairly regularly at the park react with complete shock: ” What?  Why?  For how long?”  I did my best to try and give him the short answer, but thinking back on it and relating the story to my family that night I actually found the whole thing quite funny.  He reacted to my announcement as if he had been fooled into thinking I was “normal” and then had suddenly and abruptly found out I was not!

To his credit, and my further amusement, the next time I saw him in the park he approached me and said, “Since you told me you were going to home school, I have been simply burning with questions.”  Wow.  I caused someone to think enough to have burning questions.  I feel pretty good about that.  We had a nice talk, and I told him a bit more about my ideas about why I believe home schooling is the right choice for our family, so it all worked out.

Corey tells me that sometimes at work the same question comes up.  When he says the words “home schooling” the invariable follow up question is, “But how will she get socialized?”  (I always think people are talking about puppies or something when they say this.)  Thinking ahead on behalf of my dear husband, months ago I asked  him read Rachel Gathercole’s book, The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling.  Corey has therefore been able to respond quite quickly to this question by saying, “Well, I think its actually the kids in school that we should be concerned about when it comes to socialization” and then going on to give the questioner a few things to think about themselves.  He says it works quite handily!

Wow, I love this…and this

I  know this doesn’t really count as updating my own blog (WHICH I WILL…SOON) but I just loved this post, “Fears and the Fathering Paradigm”, by Jeff Sabo so much that I had to link to it.  I think a lot of men can identify with what Jeff says, and he writes about it so eloquently.

Then there is this fantastic essay by Zenmomma on the unschooling journey, which really does a good job of explaining WHY someone would ever want to do such a thing!

Yeah, yeah, I’m getting there…!

Thanks to Zenmomma for this one.

Celebrating a new year

Light Garden

Light Garden

Tonight we celebrated the fire festival Brigit or Imbolc to mark the impending return of the light and first stirrings of spring.   Today is the midpoint between winter solstice and the spring equinox.  If you look around you, it is clear that the season is changing, and that winter is receding.  When we ate dinner tonight at 5pm, it was actually still a little bit light outside, which I personally found very exciting!  It is not that I do not like the winter, but I do admit that I find it a tiny bit more difficult to get through with small children who do better if they can spend as much time as possible outside.  Yes, they do spend many hours daily outside even in winter, but, no, it isn’t the same as when it is a little bit warmer (and less rainy).  I will be glad to be done with bundling up, packing raingear, boots, and extra changes of clothes everywhere.

To mark the coming year, we made a light garden out using soil, sunflower seeds, and candles.  We all wrote down something that we hope to accomplish in the coming year, and then placed the paper in the soil with the seeds and candles.   Tomorrow we will take the soil, seeds, and our pledges to ourselves, and put them into the garden, where many things will soon be growing.

I don’t even know what to say about that…

So apparently medical students in Canada are routinely performing pelvic exams on unconscious women during surgery, without any consent, as part of their medical training.  I won`t bother saying more, since there is already LOTS to read from many other rightfully livid bloggers out there like this one.  There is also a petition you can sign here.

At least I know people doing exciting things…

My sister and her husband are doing the Tour D’Afrique this year.  Kind of makes aspirations to do the Times Colonist 10K a little tame…