What social skills do we want our children to learn? I want my children to learn to take turns and share. I want them to learn to give sincere compliments and say please and thank you without reminders. I want them to learn to listen at the proper times and learn to be a polite member of an audience. I want them to learn to make eye contact with people when they are speaking, shake hands, and make proper introductions. I want them to learn about body language and use it appropriately. I want them to develop self-control. I want them to learn ways to make new friends. I want them to empathize with others and help those in need.
Through our field trip club and our own efforts, we have taken tours of three farms, including the historic Kelley Living History Farm in Elk River, a hobby farm, and a thousand-acre Century Farm; the movie theatre; a bakery where bakers grind their own flour each morning; a pet store; the local newspaper facility; a pizza restaurant; an apple orchard and pumpkin patch; a berry-picking farm; and a saltwater aquarium. We have also toured Niagara Cave in Harmony and Mystery Cave in Forestville State Park.
We have visited several museums with friends and family, including the Children's Museum of Chicago, the American Museum of Natural History, the Minneosta Science Museum, the Minnesota Children's Museum, the Children's Museum of La Crosse, the Children's Museum of San Francisco, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. What perfect experiences for hands-on, real-world learning!
I remember our most recent visit to the Children's Museum, to explore the Curious George exhibit. In the Waterworks area, his favorite part of the museum, Max figured out how to move a ping-pong ball through a maze of clear plastic pipes by manipulating a series of valves to adjust the water flow. Several adults and other children couldn't solve the puzzle, so Max patiently and gently showed them which valves to open or close at just the right time, just like a little teacher. That was a real-world assessment of his social skills, and I feel good about what he is learning as a homeschooler.
My children have participated in community education activities, including gym classes, science classes, art classes, and just-for-fun classes. Max has enjoyed tennis lessons and swimming lessons. With friends, we have taken many trips to area parks and the local Quarry Hill Nature Center, and Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo in nearby Byron. Often we have so many opportunities to socialize, we have to say "not this time" so we can stay home and do other important kinds of learning!
In Rochester, there are many other opportunities for homeschoolers to socialize that we have not yet explored, activities that help young people learn a new skill and make friends in the community. There are speech classes and teams, an orchestra for homeschoolers, a vocal choir, a handbell choir, a basketball league, a 4-H club, book clubs, and the aforementioned field trip clubs. Some families join together and hire qualified instructors to teach their children art or chess.
One of the unexpected benefits of homeschooling is the close relationship that brothers Max and Mitchell share. They are each others' best friend, and if Max were spending eight hours or more each day away from his little brother, neither of them would be able to play games together, read books together, and share meals together the way they do today, experiences that have molded their special friendship. In addition, Max and Mitchell have been able to experience many of those special school memories that I cherished -- the field trips, the birthday celebrations, the little clubs with playmates. They have those moments at places other than school.
I am not sharing our experiences for mere bragging rights. Rather, I hope to educate and inform others what the homeschooling experience is really like for many families today. If you are thinking about homeschooling, perhaps our experiences will help you feel confident in your decision to help your child learn at home ... at least, when you are not out socializing.
The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling