Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And we're off.

That's off as in on. You know, when a race starts and the announcers says, "And we're off..." I guess off to the finish line? Kind of funny that you say you are "off" when you are starting something. Hmmmm.

Today we started co-op. Our homeschool co-op is a group of about 10 families or so this year. People often ask about the "S" word---socialization. I laugh. Really, I try not to laugh, but I do. Seriously, do people think that if you homeschool you live in a cave? Truth is we learn more socialization & social skills than any school setting can teach. As adults, how many of you sit in rows of desks with people your exact same age all day? How many of you have the exact same set of skills and jobs as every other person on the block? In school kids have to be taught by a set of what the states deems necessary for the kids. Plus, having been a classroom teacher, there is no way to do with a class what you can do with kids at home: teach each one on his or her own level & develop a plan of action catering to your child's specific skills and talents. And if school is for socialization, then I missed the boat as a teacher. My goal was to keep kids from socializing. If you are speaking of socialization as interacting with people of different ethnic groups and economic levels, you have far less a chance of doing that in the neighborhood school than you do in the real world. Maybe the ethnic part can be done in school, but just in our neighborhood we lived in until 1 1/2 years ago we had neighbors who were FRIENDS who may have had different skin tones than we did, but my girls never thought twice about that. Most public schools are going to have students from ABOUT the same economic levels because typically a neighborhood or part of town will have similar economic levels. Plus, is the school where you REALLY want your kids to learn their social skills? It's been YEARS since I was a student in a public school, but I distinctly recall learning things from other kids that are NOT what I want my kids learning! At least not in the way we learned them!

Now, take those kids with you to the grocery store, the post office, the downtown library, and let them see street people, talk to people who are wearing different clothing and look totally different, and are not all the same age as your child, and THEN you can talk to me about socialization skills.

Really, though, that isn't why I'm writing this post. In our case, life is different. We have a daughter with mild autism so a huge part of our "curriculum" is teaching life skills. We've spent much of our schooling years teaching things like making eye contact when speaking, answering when being spoken to, learning to play and interact with others. These are things that, unless she were in a special ed classroom, would not likely be TAUGHT. She doesn't just "get" these things by example as your neuro-typical, N/T, ("normal") child would. So, again, if you want to address the "S" word, I will show you all about socialization & socializing.

We started attending our homeschool co-op when Bethany had just turned 7 & Natalie was about to be 5. Many people attend co-ops so their kids can learn things that may not be strong subjects for the parents. Parents teach classes which they feel comfortable teaching. For example, I have taught elementary math classes, middle school cooking classes, and classes based on the American Girl books. I have NOT taught science (apart from being forced to teach early elementary science---LOL), Spanish, or upper level math courses. One mom in our co-op is a huge history buff and a big reader, so she is teaching our high school kids. Another mom speaks Spanish so is teaching that. Yet another is working with the middle school kids on geometry & literature. Natalie is in those classes, which means we are not doing literature or math courses at home, but work on her homework from those classes during the week. Bethany is taking Spanish & art. I can't help much with either but they are things she enjoys & excels in.

As I said, MANY people join co-ops for those reasons. Some join as a means of support. It's hard to be "Lone Ranger" homeschooler. For us, it WAS the "S" word. I wanted Bethany to learn to work in groups (didn't care if they were her age or not) in a SAFE setting, in a SMALL group, with N/T kids. Natalie was picking up on Bethany's behavior, so I wanted her to be exposed to more N/T kids in a setting that would encourage good behavior (not school hallways or bathrooms). Natalie was a pretty mean little girl at times. She will tell you so! She would take toys from kids, hit kids, and just be mean to them! She did NOT need to learn any new "tricks" from kids at a school, but needed as much reinforcement of what we were teaching her from adults. She also needed to learn what "typical" behavior was. Recently she's told us that when she was little she always wanted to do what Bethany did because B. was her big sister & she just figured if Bethany was doing it then it must be the right thing to do. HA! HA! THAT was her first mistake!

Now, the girls are 14 & 12. Our co-op has gone through some changes. In fact, there are only two families that were there the first year we were, and 3 from the 2nd year. People move, goals in homeschooling change, things happen. Some of those girls from those first families have become my girls' best friends. Their moms have become my best friends. You've read about my friends Kathy and Linda and their battles with cancer. You know that Linda lost her battle and that Kathy is fighting hers. You've probably read the name Danette as the other "well" one (non-cancer) who has helped so much with Kathy and Linda. Kelly is another friend who has been helpful with taking care of Linda's dd during these days. The connection is that we all met through our co-op that first and 2nd year we were there. We are all Christians, but come from different churches, so we don't all have the same ways of doing things. We come from different families and backgrounds, so we aren't all "cookie-cutter homeschoolers." We don't even all use the same curriculum. But we have a bond because our our kids. Maybe the co-op wasn't just for social skills for my girls. Maybe it was for social time for me.

Now day 1 is finished. We only have 13 weeks to go! ha, ha! Now the fun begins with homework and schedules and planning. Along with that comes the fun of a house full of girls at any given time. Today is a "slow" day: we only brought one friend home. Some days I have a car full (4 girls) and another mom drops off a couple more! It's about the only way we can leave co-op. The girls love their time together while the moms are chatting, cleaning, etc. Well, the kids have to clean, too. Part of homeschooling is making sure the kids learn REAL life skills. Yes, it is sad, indeed, that these poor homeschool kids have no social skills and no socialization. ;-)

I always joke about not wanting to start co-op because it forces up to wake up early. Yet, once we are there and with our friends I know I am blessed to be part of such a group.

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