Sunday, February 07, 2010

Social skills

As unschoolers, we hear the occasional question about how our kids have enough social outlets and opportunities without going to school. I'm sure we'd hear them more often if we didn't have such a busy social schedule hanging out with our unschooling friends! I think many people hear 'homeschooled' and picture terribly shy, inept kids with no idea how to navigate the larger world. I've not blogged or talked much about it before, but I will today.

Part of why I don't often talk about social exposure for kid is that it's not something I worry overly about. I was a very shy child for reasons too myriad to blog about. Will was very shy around adults as a child, tho he did well with kids. He and I shared the same caution around others, and eventually became more confident in social settings. Andy's never been shy, never met a stranger in his life; Dan's more cautious and quiet. I'm confident we'll all find our own way socially.

Dan, having just turned 9 and with very outgoing older brother, has only recently begun to navigate the bigger world more independently. There have been a few social incidents in Dan's life in recent weeks, which have led to conversations about social convention and responses to taunting, and why people behave as they do towards others.

A few weeks ago Dan was out in our driveway, playing catch with a good friend who lives two doors down. This friend, J, is a nice boy a couple of years older than Dan, and attends public school nearby, tho for the past few years he was homeschooled. Gary and I heard banging on the carport gate and loud yelling, so we ran outside. Dan was trying to scramble over the gate, shirtless. The kids scattered as Gary showed up and Dan & J were upset and shaken. Turns out a group of several neighbor boys from farther down the street had come by, started chasing our boys around the front yard, pulled Dan's shirt off him and were spitting bb's at them. We talked with Dan about what he could do next time to feel safe, and we've kept an closer eye since then on neighborhood goings-on.

This past Monday, a playmate lobbed a parting shot at Dan, calling him an obscenity. I only learned of it later when he asked me why this child had said that to him. I asked him if he'd done anything to warrant the insult, and he assured me he hadn't. Andy corroborated his account. I told him that since he'd done nothing wrong, he needn't take it personally. The other child was likely just having a difficult time and it was much more about that child than about Dan. Andy, who thinks of himself as a peacemaker and mediator, wanted very much to talk with the other child about what happened, why the remark was made and smooth things over. Dan was adamant about leaving it lie. I explained to Andy that, while I understood his desire to sort it all out, I'd prefer he respect his brother's wishes to say nothing. He agreed he could do that. Dan was bewildered by what was said, and likely won't forget the incident, but felt no need to push the issue. Maybe if the child involved were a closer friend, it would matter more to him. It was more like just one more bit of info about human behavior to file away and ponder a bit.

Last evening Dan told me that earlier in the afternoon, while he was standing in the driveway, as Gary walked over to talk with a neighbor, after playing catch together the boys had come back again. This time, no bb-spitting occurred (they're too sneaky for that) but taunting was dished out. G, the talker for the group, said "you suck at baseball." Dan shrugged. Then he asked Dan, "why do you wear the same clothes every day? How come your jeans have holes in them? Can't your Mom afford to buy you new ones? Your family must be poor." When Gary started back across the street, they headed down the street.

Gary, Dan & I talked about it. We commented on some interesting things to Dan. Does the other boy play baseball? How does he know Dan sucks at it? And the clothes -- those kids go to the local public school, where they wear uniforms. The same clothes every day. And last night, Dan wasn't wearing the same clothes as the day before. Did this kid even know what he was talking about?

We talked about reasons why sometimes kids feel a need to insult other kids. They don't feel powerful or 'good enough' and making fun of someone else makes them feel bigger or better. Gary said, "Hey, you GET to wear the same clothes every day. You're home so you're allowed to wear your comfortable, torn jeans." We talked about how powerless those kids might feel in their lives -- they're told what to wear, where to spend their days (at school), likely not allowed to have long hair, and so on. Everyday at 7am, while Dan is waking up at his own pace to a warm bed and leisurely breakfast, those kids are walking to school in the cold, wearing clothes someone else told them they have to wear. No wonder they're unhappy and unkind.

I pointed out that I've found that people, kids too, are more likely to be mean when we're unhappy, or have unmet needs. This brought things around to the earlier playmate incident, and the one a few weeks ago. Dan wanted to come up with responses, so we talked thru those.

Dan said he might borrow a line from his buddy, Forest, who once told a taunting kid "thank you!" and "I know -- isn't it cool?" when called a name and told he was 'stupid'. Said with a big grin I can just see on Forest (who, for the record, is one cool kid and also homeschooled).

I don't know that Dan really needs a reply, or if he'll use one. I was very happy to find he felt no need to get back at those kids, and he wasn't angry or hurt, just perplexed. It's completely unnatural for Dan to see insulting and threatening people as a desirable way to treat others.

What I do know is, if the behavior of our neighborhood kids is an example of social skills learned at school, we'll pass.

More pix

We spent Friday afternoon at the Aquarium and Botanic gardens. It was a spectacular day and the kid who came out had a great time.

One of the few shots I got with Dan looking at the camera

Andy using his new headphones to enjoy music and a moment alone at the Japanese Garden.

Inside the aquarium, which for some reason is usually first toured at
warp speed, making for a challenging photo shoot!

Last's weeks snow wasn't big by Mid-Atlantic standards, but the boys had a great time playing out in it. From the looks of the yard around them, virtually all the snow that fell in the neighbor's backyard was used to make that snowman. What I love are those laughing faces around the snowman.

The time machine

A couple of weeks, Dan had his buddy Scotty over for the night. Dan and Scotty go back years -- Scotty was the only guest at Dan's 4th birthday; Dan was the only guest at Scotty's 5th party a few months later. In many ways Dan & Scotty are opposites -- together they are a truly inspired team.

On this night they built a time machine. I don't know if they really traveled back in time (or maybe forward), then again I doubt we'd know if they'd actually changed time, would we?

I don't know the full design of the time machine, but I do know it required the combination of parts from a humidifier, a big plastic pretzel jar, the remote control from a toy car, a big cardboard box, cf light bulb, and I'm sure more small details I've missed.

Xmas & New Years photos

I finally got around to downloading my camera pix onto the hard drive, so I'll post a few pics here for anyone who's wondered what the boys look like now.

We made Christmas cookies

Andy had a great time with the cookie dough.

Christmas was small this year, but the boys each got gifts they really wanted.

Dan opening his Ripstik, which he mastered riding within an hour or so. He spent most of the next few days riding it around the kitchen.

Andy wanted a Dance Dance Revolution game and his own PS-2. He is really enjoying them.

We also found a drum set during December. He spends time every day banging on his drums. Between the drums and the DDR game, his room is a musical place.

New Year's Eve we enjoyed a small party with friends.