Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Growing Places

Caleb is my child who struggles the most with traditional education methods and settings. He's the proverbial square peg that just doesn't fit in that round hole. He has a heart of gold, is very sensitive, and has been at the receiving end of more than his share of bullying. He tends to withdraw in those situations. But, let him witness another person or animal being tormented by bullies, and he does not hesitate to come to their defense. He has learned through trial and error at school to spend time alone. When others tell me that I am making a mistake homeschooling because kids needs socialization, I think of Caleb. Caleb's experience in public school, is that it exasperated any social awkwardness that he had. Forced association with 26 like-aged children is not socialization. It's more like a barnyard that brings out the pecking order. Caleb's not the kind to fight for his place. He would rather go hungry. And he has.

In the months since choosing to homeschool, I have seen Caleb relax. He has almost taken a deep breath of relief that he no longer has to survive a school day, week, year. He is excited about planning our lessons, visiting places of interest, and learning in an environment where he is a loved and valued team member. 

Yesterday, we visited the park again. We live in a very culturally diverse city. In fact, our family stands out as different when we are there. We are the minority at our favorite park. Our kids don't even seem to notice. They play side by side, and usually make fast friends. Caleb usually watches over his little brother, or stays to himself. I watched Caleb climbing the rope web among other children he didn't know. One of the kids said something to him, and I have to admit my stomach tightened just a wee bit hoping this situation wasn't going to take a hurtful turn. Within moments, Caleb and the other young man were having a conversation. Caleb rather proudly proclaimed, "I take martial arts".

The boy asked where, and before you know it, they were having a lengthy conversation about martial arts. The other boy knew Caleb's main instructor because she visits the schools to do an afterschool program. The two boys climbed and chatted for quite a while.

Later in the afternoon, Caleb was on the upper level when one of the older kids called out, "Who wants to play tag"?

Caleb didn't respond, and kept playing on his own. A few minutes later, one of the boys sat beside him and asked Caleb specifically to play. He agreed. Within a few moments, he was playing tag with a bunch of kids he didn't know. They were laughing and enjoying tactical planning to not get caught. I'm not sure Caleb would have been open to socializing with these kids a few months ago. 

He is feeling free from the confines of the pecking order, and he is opening up to making new friends. He is feeling free from the pressure and structure of worksheets and written tests, and he is opening up to reading and expressing what he has learned. 

Caleb will never be that round peg. Public school would never have changed that. I would never have wanted it to. Six years of public school just put the spotlight on how much he would never fit in that round hole. The sad thing to me is how many people insist that is all a part of learning about the real world. I would argue that this is a great big world with room enough for all of us. We do not have to believe one definition of real world. We do not have to accept living up to a core standard or being ostracized. We do not have to accept abusive bosses some day. We do not have to accept a job where we perform functions we hate. There is more to life than surviving. I want my son to discover that. I want him to thrive. I want him to become who he was created to be, and forge his own rewarding path.

Despite what some naysayers have insisted,  we are not running away from something bad. We are forging towards something amazing. I liken this to growing things. Not every plant needs the same soil. It doesn't mean the other soil is bad for all plants. It's just that different plants need different formulas for their roots to take hold and become the strong base to grow from. I believe Caleb is taking root and feeling secure enough to branch out in previously difficult directions. I know there will always be challenging days. But I do believe he is growing stronger in this new soil.

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