Monday, August 26, 2013

Homeschooled kids are allowed to be weird

Homeschooled kids are allowed to be weird == Hobo Mama
"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away." — Thoreau

Last year I took Mikko and Alrik to a German enrichment program. The big kids played board games and did sports activities while the babies and mamas did clapping games and bebopped to German tunes.

I was hesitant about signing us up, and did a lot beforehand of that weird, shelter-y stuff some people hate about parents to elicit promises that Mikko could either stay with the baby and me, or the baby and I could stay with Mikko in his class, at least until he got situated.

Because Mikko is not big on separation. That's putting it hilariously mildly.

Since he'd had so much trouble with separation anxiety in his German immersion preschool, I knew there might be a double whammy here: separation combined with German immersion. So I needed to make sure he'd be comfortable.

I was assured beforehand that, yes, we could be the odd ducks and I could be the hovering helicopter parent Mikko needed me to be.

(Lest you think that's my druthers, I can and do behave differently with Alrik — since he's an entirely different kid. He's doesn't see the harm in occasional separations, whereas for Mikko they're an all-out trauma.)

There were three figures involved here who needed to acquiesce to my scheme: the facilitator of the program, the teacher of the big kids, and the teacher of the babies. The two I most needed on board were so wholeheartedly; the teacher of the babies was a little gruffer about having Mikko make occasional appearances in her room and banished him outside the baby-and-mama circle. But that's ok — I nabbed him some hedgehog printouts to color, and he was content.

The program went … all right. Alrik and I had a good time. I was, as always, self-conscious about using German around actual German speakers (even though half of them were non-native speakers like me — seriously, what is my problem?), so I was mostly quiet. Mikko enjoyed the board games and the sports when he did them, but he refused to speak or understand (!) any German. Fortunately, his teacher was super patient with him. Anyway, it ended up being a little awkward overall, just because I wish it had been a straight line something like: Week 1: Mikko is hesitant about new environment and people, so we stay in his room for awhile together and then all three of us move to the baby time. Week 2 on: I start in Mikko's room, but he warms up within 15 minutes and then Alrik and I can leave with his blessing. Instead, it went in fits and starts, with sometimes Mikko refusing to even enter his classroom with me, or with him sneaking out of his class to get to the baby room, and then refusing to leave the babies with me to go back to his class. And meanwhile, we've disrupted both classes, and I feel like a doofus. Plus, he'd complain about it all the way over and drag his feet in the parking lot. There were times where we'd all just end up in the hallway, and I'd wonder why I'd paid money to frustrate myself.

So: anyway. That was just the setup to tell you my story of one of my last encounters with his teacher, really a sweet person who was just kind of trying to figure out my son.

Alrik and I went to meet Mikko after sports, and his teacher told me he'd just sat on the sidelines the whole class today. She said he usually loves the ball games they play, but today he'd refused to do anything, and she couldn't get him to explain why.

She knew we homeschool, because she'd asked me before what school he attended. "It must be because you homeschool," she told me. "He just needs more interaction with other children, and then he'll be fine."

It was a valiant stab at diagnosing his problem. But it kind of made me laugh.

As soon as she stopped talking to us, Mikko pulled at my sleeve and whispered urgently to me, "I need to go to the bathroom."

Turned out he'd needed to pee rather desperately the whole class period, but didn't want to say. He's private about things like that. Particularly when there's pressure to make the announcement in German.

So we ran to the restroom together, and I contemplated the teacher's words.

See, he'd come out of two full years of preschool only a year before. He was used to other kids. He was used to teachers. He was used to a classroom setting. He just didn't like them.

He was the strange one there, too. He was the one who cried at drop-off every time for two years straight even though they assured me he would get over it soon. (When's "soon"??) He was the one who stood on the side while the other kids did messy art projects so he wouldn't get dirty. He was the one kid looking the wrong way in the class pictures. He was the one ignoring the teachers' instructions for playing games and making projects and heading off on his own to a corner to read a book.

Yes, he's awkward. Yes, he's a little weird. But you know? It's not because of homeschooling. He just is, bless his heart.

Because here's the thing: Remember how I said I wouldn't talk to any of the other moms? Remember up there where I was fretting about how awkward I felt? I am the gawky and graceless product of 2 years of preschool, 13 years of public school, and 4 years of private college. I am plenty socialized. I just don't act like it.

So, here, let me be the one to say it: If a homeschooled kid is weird, it might just be that she's a weird kid. And that's ok.

Or it might be that she's being homeschooled because she's weird. Because something about school is a little much to handle — whether socially, physically, mentally, developmentally, whatever. (Just think what sort of bullying a kid like Mikko might endure in the halls of junior high. Yeesh.)

If someone comes out of public school a little weird, we don't generally chalk it up to the schooling. It happens, though. I'm living proof. Think about the weird people you know (c'mon, you've got some in mind, right? Is one of them an uncle? I bet one's an uncle), and then consider how many of them were homeschooled. The weirdest people I know went to public or private schools, but that's not why they're weird.

So here's what I propose: Homeschooled kids are allowed to be weird, and we don't have to put it down to homeschooling. Traditionally schooled kids are allowed to be weird — or not. Homeschooling kids are also allowed to pass for normal. Homeschooling is allowed to make some kids a little weirder, or be a haven for those who already are. And we can enjoy each other and ourselves for what we are.

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Heather in Oregon said...

Yes, so much yes. I have one child who is very slow to warm up to new situations (5yrs old) and one who can't sit still for 5min most of the time (7yrs old). We were always considering homeschooling but once we began to realize how hard it would be for our daughter to function in a traditional classroom and that there was no way we could afford a private school that would be a better match, homeschooling became an absolute necessity. I can't even count anymore how many times we've been told that our son will "come out of his shell if he was just in school with other kids" (as if he somehow has no exposure to other kids)and that my daughter would learn to sit still if she was in a classroom. She might learn to sit still but I suspect that is all that she would be learning because all her energy would be put into sitting still. When she is allowed to move, tap, have something in her hands, and to have some physical activity during or between each more structured activity she does very well. Not to mention I'm not much of a fan of busy/seat work. I feel pretty strongly that kids learn best by experience and manipulation rather than rote activities. People do seem sure that they're going to grow up from being weird kids to being weird and dysfunctional adults.

tanya said...

I had to smile at your post today, so timely for me. I have one child, a daughter who is just about the same age as Alrik - her birthday is May 17th, 2011. She loves music and dance, so I enrolled her in ballet class (though using the term "ballet" to describe what a bunch of 2 year-olds do in a dance class is definitely stretching it, to say the least). This is her second week and I am the mom who goes in and sits on the sidelines. In Ella's class of 4, 2 mamas do a "drop and go" and another, though she stays, seems more concerned with having her daughter do everything perfectly. Her teacher is lovely and very welcoming to me, but I feel like the odd mama out. Ella mostly participates and seems to really enjoy herself, but occasionally looks to me, just checking in. She has never been to preschool, daycare, or a mom's day out program, and I have gotten a lot of "Oh, but surely you're going to put her in some sort of program now she's two..." talk, suggesting that she'll never learn to socialize if I don't (Hello, we don't live in a cave, we do see other people on a daily basis) and that because she's two, I can no longer teach her what she needs to learn (Really? She's two!). I love how you are respecting your boys personalities and providing them experiences in the best way for them.

Inder-ific said...

When I saw your post title, I admit I felt a teensy bit defensive, thinking it was going to be a pro-homeschooling post (which you are entitled to write of course!) that suggested that homeschooling is the better approach for "weird" kids. I reacted that way because my kid is totally "weird" and I am hoping to get him through the school system, and there's a part of me that does feel a little guilty that homeschooling is not an option for us, cuz, yeah, he's a bit weird.

But that wasn't your post at all! Your post was delightful! And YES, as a "weird" product of lots of schooling, I can say YES.

Pretty sure Joe has some, er, sensory issues, er, or something, and it's going to be a challenge to school him. He's not like that because of any schooling choices, though - he's just like that. And all schooling options have their pros and cons, but I definitely don't know that extra socialization *helps* naturally introverted, shy children. Indeed, many shy children remain shy all the way through school and into adulthood. Because basically, schooling can't trump basic personality.

Anyway, thought-provoking indeed.

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