Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Socializing

I always think of summer as a time of retreat; at the end of the academic year after intense engagement with students and colleagues I want time for quiet reflection, research and writing.  For N, however, summer offers more opportunities for interactive, social learning than are sometimes available to him during the school year.  He's in activities throughout the year with other kids, but they maybe last an hour or two at a time.  He looks forward to summer when friends are more free to play all day and when he participates in full-day summer programs with other kids.  

This summer he attended an intensive 1-week chamber music day camp, a 1-week ballet intensive, and he and I went together to a Suzuki music camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He learned tons of music and ballet, of course, but just as valuable was the practice he got in parsing social groups, navigating cliques at meal times, making friends.  Last summer, as the only boy in the ballet program, he ate lunch at a table by himself.  This summer I peeked in to the lunch room (near my office on campus) on the first day of ballet camp to see him enjoying his sandwich in the center of a group of girls.  Later I asked him if the girls were nicer this year, more willing to hang out with a boy? "Well," he replied, "I think I'm just better at going up and talking to people this year."

At the music camp in the mountains, there was a group of boys around N.'s age who were fun but who tended to go a little wild.  I was interested to observe from a distance how N. skirted this group with an instinctive wariness, playing with them but peeling off just before they crossed the line into inappropriate behavior.

We took our annual road trip to the Midwest, and I saw evidence of his growing social skills there as well.  Visiting his half-sister and her children, who are 3 1/2 and almost 6, N. was much more patient and playful with his adoring but inevitably (to a 10-year-old) sometimes irritating niece and nephew than he had been the previous summer.  Visiting adult friends and relatives, I noticed with pride many moments when he joined in the conversation with apposite anecdotes, and especially praised him when he did so without interrupting, a particular challenge for him (growing up in a family of prodigious talkers as he is, interrupting is almost a necessary skill).

Homeschooling parents get annoyed by "the socialization question": people worry that homeschooled kids will be weird and unsocialized.  We have many ready answers to this concern: that weird is cool, that some forms of socialization are soul-killing, that outside of age-segreated conventional school settings, homeschoolers are comfortable with older and younger kids, etc.  But it is true that homeschool kids may have less experience of the complex dynamics of groups of kids interacting over the course of a day, day after day.  I've realized that summer programs and camps offer this experience to N. and I'm enjoying seeing him develop in this area.

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