Yesterday I had a conversation about socialization (really, the lack thereof) and home schooling.
Since JI is only a preschooler, my credibility will only speak to that age – so below are my thoughts on the socialization factor that preschool brings. Actually, this is a reconfigured email I wrote to a friend in November.
When thinking about socialization, I would ask that you consider a few things:
1. When did you grow in your social skills?
2. From whom do you want your child to learn these skills?
When I answer those questions, I *think* I began to learn social skills as a child, but it really wasn't until middle school or even high school that I was actively thinking about my choices in social circles. Before adolescence, I think I was mimicking those around me.
Which brings me to the second question: From whom do you want your child to learn social skills? Do you want him to learn how to be self-centered, greedy, using words like stupid, damn, and fart head (like JI has learned from other children!) Or, would you prefer that your child learn how to share, be kind, use self-control, and other Biblical principles from you?
It's silly that I would even ask. You would him to learn mature, Christ-like responses to others.
When children are in preschool, they are learning from the (at least) 10 other children they’re around. Yes, there is a teacher in the room - but have you had to watch 10 children at once? How much personal interaction does each child receive?
About every 5th Sunday, John and I teach the preschool class during “big church.” We’re responsible for entertaining them for 45 minutes, max. Even though we plan a bunch of activities, Bible lesson, songs, etc. it’s usually nothing less than chaos. After one particular Sunday (with only 4 children in the class), I was again so thankful that the Lord has made provisions for me to stay at home with JI full time.
Children learn so much before age 5. That knowledge puts a bit of pressure on us mommas! I take comfort from other mothers (that I respect and who home school) who say, "So much of the learning thru kindergarten is active play."
This is what makes the Montessori method so appealing to me right now - it seems like play to JI. He has the rest of his life to work (the consequence for Adam's sin). I want him to enjoy "playing" as long as he can. It’s my goal to make learning fun for him.
Have you had a chance to read much about Montessori? Specifically about what skills they learn in preschool? Much of the Montessori preschool (3-6) practical life skills seem so simple to me. But, JI loves to practice (or play!) them. Here's a site for abunch of things you could do at home. Most of the activities don't take much preparation - but they do take some time for you to prepare.
If it is strictly social skills that you’re concerned about, consider having a friend (or two) over to your house once a week - or, go to the zoo - or other place. Some children even have the grand benefit of having siblings! And cousins! What a help they are for social skills! :)
It has been my experience though, with my socialite, that even when we get together with other children, after 2 hrs, trouble brews. You can set your watch to it, I'm not kidding. It's almost scary. JI can only take so much interaction then he needs time to debrief. He needs time to be alone. Consequently, I don't watch my friends' children for more than 2 hours.
I've also heard another friend (who specialized in child development in college) that children can't conceptualize "sharing" or other adult social skills until they're 5 which is about kindergarten age. Sure, JI can regurgitate what it means to share and he knows when someone else is not sharing, but he doesn't share on his own (without adult intervention.) This is a skill we work on when we are with friends.
We talk about "thinking of others" and "being kind" and "would you want them to do that to you?" I have him practice using a kind tone of voice = "How could you say that with kind words?" (Yelling angry venomous words are not allowed.) Sometimes I set a timer when he's fighting over a toy so that the timer is the peacekeeper; the children each have equal amounts of time with the beloved toy. I don't think he would get this kind of verbal interaction from a teacher who's putting out fires with 10 other children.
When he's with me he's learning how I would respond to others. Not just when he's with children (which is mostly correction), but we talk throughout the day about my/our interactions with others (at the grocery, gym, neighbors, etc.) I try to point out (hopefully not in a prideful way) why I respond the way that I do.
Like one super crazy day at the grocery store, we had 2 items and were behind a woman with a full cart. The lady let us go in front of her (there was a verbal interaction between me & the woman). Right away I was able to talk to JI about how kind it was for the woman to let us go in front of her that she wasn't thinking of herself, but others. I told him that it would cost the other lady more precious time but she was treating us the way she would want to be treated, etc.
Another example: once I picked up a plastic bottle in the parking lot to bring home to recycle. He asked, "Why are you doing that?" so I went into a rather lengthy diatribe about my actions...focusing on Christ and the golden rule.
Granted, your child may not be the kind of kid that wants all this discussion from you - but JI LOVES it. He would have me talk to him all day and explain the ways of the world...if I would just do it. Some days I do better at this than others. Some days I tire of explaining the same story over and over and OVER again. Some days I try to make a game of my explanation and use the biggest words I know to explain the very same thing. It's my hope that some of the words will sink in his thick skull (or at least he's becoming familiar with their sounds in context...My dad was so good about using big words with us.)
So – what can a parent do to help build the social skills of a preschooler?
Here’s a list of things we do to build social skills at our house –
Friends come over (adult friends and child friends)
We go to friends’ houses
Play at park with kids we don’t know
He goes to Child Care when I exercise
Good News Club – volunteer at elementary school
Gymnastics with other 3-4 year olds
Sammy Seedlings – Desert Botanical Gardens