Oh these past few weeks have been difficult, and I promised myself I wouldn't make this blog all about how great it is to be homelearners. I promised myself I'd be real about it, no matter how much criticism may come my way for the choices we've made.
My kids are being ostracized because we're homelearners.
Yes. It's true. It's the number one concern most people have when they find out we're homelearners: "Well how will they develop any social skills?" Some say it with alarm in their faces; others say it with a tone of gentle warning, others imply a deep emotional concern. All of them mean well. And I always assure people that my kids are doing just fine; that they participate in a weekly class for homelearners on the island, and also a few classes with their peers. And of course they have many play dates. Some people tell me they spend too much time together; it's not natural, or they'll grow to hate each other, or they'll resent me for it, etc.
So now, here we are, feeling like the last ones picked for the team. The team is running away and we don't qualify.
Our local homelearning support program has two options: the half-time program (2.5 days per week of classroom activity, to be supplemented at home), or the distance-education program, which offers us enough money to cover a couple of class-registrations for the year, if we're careful about what we choose, and 2 hours of classroom (art and play) experience with their distance-ed peers. This would be great, except that my two kids happen to have no peers in the distance-ed group. My oldest is 1.5 years younger than the youngest of the other distance-ed kids, and the gap just increases from there. What that means is that my kids have little contact with the other distance-ed kids. They visit mostly with the kids in the classroom program, because those kids are of similar ages. And in small groups, some of these kids are very close and friendly with mine. They've maintained some precious relationships with kids in both the regular public school, here, and with the classroom homelearners.
But it's with groups that the problems begin. These days, the play with groups of those kids seems to be becoming more and more adversarial. It's natural that those children will adhere to their school-group when it's available, but I would have liked for my kids to be included. Instead, they seem to be a separate little 2-person unit that cannot mix with the others. Even if they understand the game that's being played, the other kids often behave as if they're not there. At worst, we have experiences like yesterday, when my two kids were taken to the centre of a labyrinth by the others, labeled "the bad team", and shot at with "invisible arrows", while they were encouraged to defend themselves by throwing sticks back. My kids played along, came home totally wound up and ready to fight (they fought each other viciously and angrily all evening, which is extremely unusual). My kids had never experienced anything like this before, and it was a pretty difficult issue for us to deal with, partly because they don't understand that it was wrong. They told me they felt OK about being "the bad team"... but the emotional consequences of it were impossible to miss. It's just not OK with me, as a parent, to see any children villianized or victimized in that way.
Of course, we can't really expect 6-8-year-olds to understand about inclusion, so it's up to us parents to help out. I have been trying to find a way for my kids to join for an hour or two of the classroom kids' program, so that they can have that shared experience and take it with them into the rest of their lives, hopefully helping them to mesh with the group a little better. Unfortunately, some parents (I emphasize the some because I am aware that it is only a small number of the whole) would rather we didn't join. The biggest reason, as I understand it, is that parents do not want a class-size increase. It seems unfortunate, to me, since it's not a big deal to have two friends there for an hour or two, but I can understand how some might fear it's a slippery slope to having more homelearners want to join, if one day there were more homelearners of this age.
But this is what really irks me: Suddenly people go out of their way to remind me on a regular basis that we are not part of the group. Shortly after the labyrinth incident, yesterday, I stood with some friends (parents from our centre) watching our children at gym class. Most of the kids in the class are from the classroom program. And one parent - a friend and mother of kids who attend the classroom program - mentioned that the kids in the gym class were mostly kids from our centre, but there were also a few kids from the regular school, and a couple of homelearners. Are my kids not part of that centre, too? They think they are! I felt the way I think my kids might have felt in the middle of that labyrinth, and I stood frozen to the spot, unwilling to pick up sticks and throw them back. Then I just walked away into the forest.
In my heart I know that these comments come from a different perception about what our learning centre is: I think it's a resource and support centre for homeschoolers; others seem to increasingly see it as a sort of part-time alternative school. The word school would never describe what I see as the benefit of the centre. These people don't mean to be hurtful, but the ostracizing, as well as my perceived loss of what once was an ideal social support centre for our unschooled children does hurt.
I decided to look for mushrooms. I walked and walked and walked through the forest behind the mainstream public school that I attended as a child, remembering my childhood, and allowing myself to just feel. Feel without fighting. At last I came to the Alder grove, where I found a Jones bottle cap on the ground. I picked it up. It said "solutions will come to you while you are walking". Since no solution presented itself, I continued walking.
Through the Alder grove there is a little path onto a secluded bluff. This is where I spent most of my grade 5 and 6 lunch hours, hiding. I hid on this bluff, and nobody ever came. I often wondered if I just wandered away and never went back to school, would anybody think to look here? I picked huckleberries and salal, there, and considered them my private garden. I wrote poems in my head, and made sculptures out of sticks, rocks, and moss. The bluff is hardly changed, today. As I explored it, I found a few bits of lunch garbage, and a structure built of logs. Kids are still using this special place - maybe in groups or maybe alone; I don't know and it doesn't matter. No solutions came to me, but somehow the pieces of my feelings fell into place.
I've been agonizing over this for a long time, now. Teachers and some other parents have worked very hard to help me find ways to include my kids. I've thought of endless possible solutions, but all of them have flaws. It wasn't until tonight, when I emailed the message from the bottle cap to a friend, that I found my solution. In reply to my bottle cap story, she sent me this:
11-year-old Birke Baehr talks about "What's Wrong with our Food System" (just over 5 minutes long):
Thank you, Birke, for your wonderful speech. Thank you for having the guts to present it, and to decide to be a farmer - yes, we need farmers, but mostly we need children who have been allowed to follow their passions. Thank you for the person who cheered when Birke said he was homeschooled. Thank you for reminding me that sometimes parents follow our hearts because we just have to. And sometimes it is right for our children. What I realized when I watched this video was that I have forgotten to listen to my children. They are not telling me they're unhappy! It's me who's afraid that they'll end up on the bluff. I'm not afraid for them; I'm afraid for 10-year-old me. And sometime, I have to let that go.
This is not a me vs. the other parents situation. It's just part of my journey. We all do what's right for our kids. My friend has her kids in the classroom program, and I have mine in the distance ed program, and we both know that, for now, we're doing what's right for our families.
We came back today from an adults' ballet class, (which my kids are allowed to join for the barre segment), and from Tali's first private music mentoring session with our local violin-maker. We felt wonderful! Yesterday was really very difficult. Today was redeeming. This is where we are meant to be. Oh, of course we'll continue to try integrating the kids, more; I still think it's important. And hopefully in November the kids will be able to do a little bit of classroom activity with the program's excellent science teacher and some of their friends. That will be nice, if it works out. These difficulties with my kids being ostracized are not great, but I know they'll sort themselves out, over time. That's just what happens.
And if my kids do end up on the proverbial bluff? OK! It's part of who I am, and better for being acknowledged. We'll cross that bridge if we get to it. And solutions will come with walking. :--) (See previous post: Wandering Learning.)