by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
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THE PROBLEM: My 9-year-old son has always hated going to school. He’s awkward in a group, and he pretty much keeps to himself when he can. He LOVED the pandemic. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but when I heard about kids getting depressed because they couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t help but think how much I would love my kid to feel that way. He was thrilled to stay home, glued to his laptop all day. He’s an outstanding student, and he really excelled in an online learning environment. He’s just so introverted around other kids, and he keeps begging me to let him go to online school permanently. I’m not quite sure what to do, except I feel strongly he needs to go to school so he can learn to be around other kids.
MARY SAYS: Your son has spent the last 18 months experiencing a new way to live. He’s been working largely on his own and doesn’t have to get out of bed every morning before dark. He’s had no commute, doesn’t need to worry if he’s dressed ‘cool’ enough, can socialize when he wants to, and stay home when he doesn’t. He’s got no interest in going back to the way things used to be
Isn’t it interesting that Moms, Dads, and kids are all going through the same thing?
The pandemic has many of us rethinking how we live. Companies are more open to telecommuting employees—at least partially—and some schools have adopted hybrid schedules that allow children to work from home on given days.
If your school system has reverted to a traditional schedule, you might want to consider some creative ways you can offer your son new options. Is it possible for him to enroll in an online school? Do you have the bandwidth for homeschooling? Can you negotiate something with the school he is attending now? Are there other parents who might be interested in setting up a shared learning environment?
Your concern about socialization is valid, but you might be surprised to find that your community is teeming with activities during the school day, since many homeschooling families have joined forces to create a social network for the kids. If your son balks at this, I would consider making a minimum number of group activities a non-negotiable part of the deal.
I have often wondered about the wisdom of creating an environment where children of the exact same age spend the entire day together in a classroom. Through volunteer opportunities, extracurricular events, and other homeschooling family get-togethers, your son could have the opportunity to socialize with toddlers, teens, and seniors. What you might find is that his shyness is less about spending time around other people and more about a self-consciousness that arises when kids are subjected daily to the all-consuming judgement of their peers, which at his age can be pretty harsh.
Companies, institutions, and families have all had to rethink how they operate, which may be one silver lining in the pandemic. Perhaps it’s time to think more creatively about your son’s learning environment and take advantage of resources available to you, many of which have cropped up in the past year.
Teaching your child to read? Try our easy online phonics program!
KRISTI SAYS: Every child learns differently and excels in different environments. It sounds like your son found a great way to learn and was thriving without experiencing the parts of school he didn’t like. That said, I understand your concern about making sure he is around other children, so let’s look at the issue from a different perspective.
I’ve been homeschooling my children now for 3 years. My oldest went to a daycare/preschool and a charter school before we homeschooled him. He experienced good and bad things in each environment. When it comes to schooling, it is an unfortunate misunderstanding that the school environment is the only way for kids to learn social interactions. In fact, for many kids, it is exactly the opposite.
In school, children who are quiet are often perceived as weird, which can lead to bullying. Unfortunately, when a teacher has a classroom of 30 or so kids, it’s hard to monitor and mitigate these hurtful interactions. For introverted kids, experiences like these make them close themselves off even more, which can lead to social anxieties and other mental health challenges as they grow up.
In school, kids can pick up bad behaviors. Because they are in an environment with a lot of kids and only one adult, this makes them more susceptible to peer pressure and emulating their peers’ behavior. Unfortunately, they often choose the negative behaviors instead of the positive ones. Kids naturally want to fit in, and this might mean they make poor choices with how they treat other kids or how they behave in class.
This is not to say that all kids have negative experiences in school. Some kids thrive in the classroom, but schooling from home either via remote learning through your school district or one of countless homeschooling programs can be an incredible option for a child who struggles in the classroom.
Now let’s talk about the social issue. What could you do to help your son socialize if he’s no longer attending school?
Here are some options:
Activities Around Interests
When I started homeschooling, I got my kids involved in a Lego club. We got together once a week and the kids just played Legos. There were around 12 kids total. They would build their own creations and had a lot of fun with each other. Sometimes they would come up with an idea as a group and build something together. It was exciting to see their interests give them opportunity to showcase their individual talent and work together. My youngsters learned how to interact with kids older and younger than they.
Is your son interested in playing a sport? There are community sports such as soccer, karate, baseball, and even things like swim teams that could be an option. Sports build physical strength, but also help kids learn how to work hard toward goals and work as a team.
Open Gym Time
Plenty of local places have open gym time for kids. Parkour, gymnastics, and the trampoline places are just a few examples of activities where your son can mix with other kids.
Play Dates with Friends
Get together with friends every week. Help coordinate time for your son to hang out with only one or two friends at a time. Sometimes large group settings can be overwhelming for introverted kids, but spending time with a small group of friends can help them develop socially without feeling burned out.
Playing With Neighborhood Kids After School Time
When the kids all come home from school, your child will benefit so much from free play time. Whether he goes out on his bike, plays a game of soccer in a cul-de-sac, or sits and plays a game on a friend’s front porch, these social interactions are important for your son.
It sounds like your son has found a way he can learn and not be distracted by all the other things at school, which is amazing. Your concern about social interactions with other children can easily be overcome. Look at this issue from a different perspective and see if you can’t arrive at a more workable solution for your son.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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