I was just reading the Un-Schooled blog, written by a young lady who never went to school, and I came across a phrase that really struck me. She said:
My non-schooled friends have pretty much always been friends with their siblings. And I’ve been friends with their siblings, too. People came in families, not alone.
This pretty much sums up our homeschooling experience (in two separate cities now) and motivated me to write about it. When you’ve been outside the school system with your kids long enough you begin to see school as this weird kind of social experiment where we institutionalize our children and society ends up segregated. The kids are not only segregated by age, but their contact with adults is limited relative to their same-age peers. They are segregated from retirees, who tend to be out in the mornings and home early in the day. They are segregated from the stay-home mums with kids under school-age, the babies and toddlers at the playgrounds and parks.
The consequences of this are many, but two apply to today’s topic. First, kids in school tend not to think of children in other age groups as potential friends, and that tends to apply to their siblings (and especially their friends’ siblings). Second, when they make friends, the parents and siblings are often not around.
Consequently a “playdate”, in mainstream jargon, is when you send your kid over to someone’s house, or they send their kid over to yours, because the kids have met and formed a friendship and the visiting child’s mother has ascertained to their satisfaction that the house they are sending their children to is safe and guided over by responsible adults. It would likely be considered unusual to send all your kids over, unless the host family had kids of the same ages, or to show up yourself and expect tea and great conversation while the kids play. Only the host parent is present; in fact it seems that a main point of playdates is buying the visiting child’s parent some down time.
Homeschool playdates are a different kettle of fish. First of all, when we meet at homeschool events and activities, one parent and most (if not all) kids are present (“most” usually applying to families with lots of kids, some of whom are old enough to be doing things independently). The kids don’t pay much attention to age; you’ll find kids of all sorts of age combinations playing happily together.
Homeschooled kids don’t get the memo that it’s uncool to play with kids who aren’t the same age as you -siblings are considered as potential playmates as well. So when your kid clicks with another kid, chances are they are also clicking with the siblings, and your other kids are doing so as well.
But there’s more…when we are getting to know families, it matters not just whether the kids click, but whether the adults click. The idea of “playdate” is rather foreign to us, in terms of an isolated appointment with a single child. When we have playdates, it’s with the mum and the siblings, and it usually means that not only are our kids a good match in terms of temperament and interests, but that I’ve really clicked with the mum too. The great part about this is that playdates are just as fun for me as they are for the kids, because I’m getting to spend time with someone I like too! So we’re all having a playdate together.
You might ask what would happen if I didn’t click with the parent but my kids really wanted to hang with them. Well, that situation really hasn’t happened to us. My kids aren’t highly social in the first place, so they aren’t always begging to have friends over. We do get out often enough that they get to see their homeschool friends fairly regularly. Playdates are generally arranged by the mums after observing that the kids get on well and that, heck, I like that mama and would love to chat with her more.
There have been a few occasions where I’ve met a mum that I would like to get to know better, but our kids don’t click. In this case I can still find opportunities to get to know the mums better by attending homeschool events and activities, and there’s nothing like starting a “mum’s night out” knitting group for more opportunities to get together!
I find it so strange when people suggest that, because my kids aren’t in school, they aren’t being prepared for the Real World. From our perspective, school is not the Real World. In the Real World, people come in families!