The Child and the Community
Here is an article by Christopherus forum moderator, workshop presenter and consultant Barbara Benson about her experience as a homeschooler encouraging her older children to expand their horizons into the larger community, something that anyone homeschooling older children must do. While over scheduling and endangering the steadinesss of the home is never a good idea, it is certainly imperative that older children – from about 11 or 12 and up – also take classes in the larger community, volunteer, have jobs and generally learn to regard education as something that comes from a rich variety of experiences in the world (though not all at the same time!!). This is one of the best things about homeschooling!
As our children grow, they naturally begin to reach beyond the family and into the world around them. It begins with friendships and social outings and gradually the child expands out into the greater community. Children eventually get involved in sports, art/music lessons or organizations like 4 H or Scouts. Sometimes it can be hard on parents when their new 12 year old seems restless and impatient for more independent relationships outside the home, but it is a natural occurrence. It is important that parents gently support and assist their children in testing their “flight feathers” in the community at large. Here are some tips from my experiences with my three sons who have now left the nest.
In my opinion volunteer service in the community is one of the best ways for children in late middle school ( 8th or 9th grade) to begin connect with the world around them. Two of my sons worked as volunteers in the Children’s Department of our local library in grade 8. One of them also had the fun job of making the art display shelves outside the library preschool play room. One of my sons who enjoyed history worked in the office and then at the front desk at our local history museum. He was their youngest volunteer and all those ladies in the office loved him. I think that the median volunteer age there was 65! As my sons got into their high school years they volunteered at places like Habitat for Humanity, a local music store , Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and a local music club for teens. Each of them earned a Presidential Service Award and one of them went on to volunteer a lot and earned the gold medal level of the Congressional Award. Obviously these things looked good on a resume for college, but more important, each of the boys learned how to serve the community, appreciate the differences and similarities in life situations of people, and learned skills that helped them prepare for later paid employment.
Another thing that I highly recommend is that homeschoolers network with others to form academic and social co-ops for learning and fun. My sons enjoyed a Teen Book Club and took part in two musicals, both of which were written entirely by the students. One of my sons made a huge backdrop for the musical and helped run the lights, another was a lead actor and the oldest was the pianist/composer. I taught several academic coops and when my boys were high school age they took several classes at the local high school and eventually at the local university. The homeschooled teens’ parents networked with each other to create fun field trips and support worthwhile social opportunities. One of my sons decided to go to high school full time for a semester in order to win a varsity letter in Tennis which he did.
As children grow into young teens, it is important that they develop real skills so that they can feel more confident in the world around them. One of my sons was a skilled outdoorsman and hiker. Another learned to build his own computer with a college tutor and another took on tennis lessons and a weight lifting program with a personal trainer in order to reach certain goals. Help your children identify their interests and then get them out there in the community, honing their skills- things like First Aid certification, baby sitting certification, 4H participation are just a few examples. Sometimes it takes patience and attention to help “draw out” of children what they seem to be looking for in the way of community involvement but it is always worth the effort. As we as parents learn to let our children “fly” out beyond the home we begin to see the real meaning of what it means to educate our children to be both free and responsible human beings.