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Socializaiton in the City

"...Oh, that's interesting.  What about socialization?"

"Wait, what?"

"Do they interact well with others?"

"OHHH! Oh.. yeah, yeah they do."

As a homeschooler, you hear a lot about socialization.  There are about as many different definitions of the term as there are concerns.  We hear it so much that I've come to think of it as the way that publicschoolers have been taught to break the ice with homeschoolers.

It's not that they want to be impolite, or even care about the issue, it's just a common ground with which to begin a discussion.  Prior to starting to home school, and subsequently meeting public school parents, I'd never even heard of 'socialization'.  Here's how my conversations with non-homeschoolers usually go;  stop me if you've heard this one.

"Why aren't they in school?"

"We homeschool."

"...Oh, that's interesting.  What about socialization?"

"Wait, what?"

"Do they interact well with others?"

"OHHH! Oh.. yeah, yeah they do."

Then the conversation tends toward more mundane issues like how long does it take the fog-dew to evaporate from the slides in Delores Park in the morning.

We unschool.  We use the entire city as our strew table, and in my experience, this has helped socialization immensely.  I can honestly say that all our kids, No. 1 age 5, No 2, age 4, and No. 3 age 1 are all better socialized than I was when I left home for college after 12 years of public schooling at the age of 18.

Here's what's worked for us socialization-wise:

We're baby wearers
We were grad students when each of our kids were born.  What's the significance you ask?  All our kids accompanied us to every physics department pub gathering, consequently all the kids have been around large groups of people in public venues since birth.  The kids saw us conversing with our friends. Conversely, our friends and LOTS of other people at the bar chatted with the kids.  Everybody loves a baby :)  Fortunately, we go to do all this before moving to California with it's somewhat regressive liquor laws, (if the place doesn't serve food, don't even think of going in if you're under 21).

We embrace the free-range
Again, we were really fortunate to be in grad school, and have college campuses available when we had our kids.  As each kid learned to crawl and then walk, they'd toddle off to explore while we ate lunch on the campus quadrangle.  As classes would end, the place would be flooded with students.  A few were slightly concerned about the slightly smaller person wandering around campus.  They heaved a sigh of relief when we waved.  Most, just grinned, said hi to the kid/kids, and giggled as they waved back.

Freedom breeds Freedom
The next step was coffee shops.  Having been given the reigns in regards to wandering around, the kids just assumed they were free to go anywhere.  Unless we stop them, they are.  Consequently, it was a no-brainer to send them back into coffee shops we were sitting outside of to get napkins, or cups of water, or to ask for various condiments.  Off they'd plow through the crowd of patrons.  Soon they'd return with whatever it was that they needed, and an even further buoyed sense of independence.  As an extra bonus we hadn't thought of ahead of time, they started building their own network.  They now know a variety of business owners in our neighborhood.  The kids take their relatives, friends, and each new nanny inside to introduce them.

Meeting Friends
Since our kids are home-schooled, If they're going to make friends, they're going to have to make them themselves.  Sure, we take them to playgroups, we take them to playgrounds, museums, and any of our 'adult' meetings that they can tolerate, or are interested in, but at the end of the day, if they're going to meet other people, it's up to them to walk-up, and make introductions.

We help, behind the scenes by role-playing with the kids.  Before we leave the house, I'll describe the event to them, and who's going to be there.  Then we'll practice making introductions.  If it's a kids' event I'll run them through the way I'd do it if I met a kid.  I play the part of someone meeting a kid, and they play the part of the kid being met:

"Hi, my name's Hamilton.  What's your name?  Wanna play?"

Then, we reverse everything.  I play the part of the random kid, and they introduce themselves.  We do this two or three times, and then off to the event we go.

The method has worked with all the kids, surprisingly, to me, even our one year old.  Occasionally I take the kids with me to my Masonic dinner meetings.  As any Mason will tell you, it takes us half an hour to get into a building, and half an hour to get out because we all shake hands, and greet everyone else there.  As the kids and I prepared for our most recent dinner, I ran No. 3, our one year-old, through the paces: saying hi, shaking hands, and grinning, (she doesn't talk yet).  I was as surprised as anyone when she broke ranks on our way out of the dinner, and sought out first one Mason, and then another, shaking their hands, and grinning at them until she'd said goodbye to everyone.

Pssshhht, yeah, they're socialized!
So, I hadn't realized it was an issue before I met public school parents, but yeah, our kids are socialized.  The proof's in the pudding.  Last night, as we trick-or-treated, I beamed with pride as I sent the kids 40 yards or more away to ask for candy at each house we passed.  The kids navigated crowds--crowds that would have stymied my 18 year old self--in the closed off streets of the neighborhood's Halloween festival.  No. 3, still just slightly less mobile than the other two, especially on steep stairs, navigated a big staircase (with me immediately behind her) none-the-less.  About halfway up, we were mobbed by a dozen 'big kids' rushing to the candy bowl.  No. 3 just stopped, took it all in, and waited for the flood of kids to ebb.  Then, happy as a clam she made it the rest of the way up the stairs, flashed her trick-or-treat grin, and claimed her candy!

Image credits:
All other images by Hamilton Carter


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