Friday, August 31, 2012

Kittyboy playing at the mall

I had a homeschooling revelation today. There ARE social skills that are learned in school. But before you think I'm defending schools as necessary for social development, those skills are not exclusive to school. They're not learned in a classroom, hallway, or cafeteria. They are learned only in completely unstructured playtime - good old-fashioned recess. Yes, the part of school that is the first to get cut is the only place IN school where vital peer-to-peer social skills are really learned.
Kittyboy's social skills have been a tremendous concern of mine - mainly, I think, because mine were lacking (or, to be honest, nonexistent) until sometime in college. The older kids are, the more demanding, subtle, and instrutable they are, or such was my experience. To use a swimming analogy, I doggie-paddled along tolerably well until I changed schools in third grade, and sank like a stone. It was in college that I had friends solidly and consistently enough to suss out how that was supposed to work. I am living proof that just going to school does not teach social skills, or make you "normal".
And yet, you know that's everyone's first concern when you say you're homeschooling. And I would look at Kittyboy, who seemed to me to be immature for his age and just plain weird next to other kids, and I felt like I was showing off the stereotype of the weird, unsocialized homeschool kid who doesn't know how to play with others. I know he's only five, but I guess I just REALLY wanted to head off the socialization concerns at the pass. I know a family at church with five kids, homeschooling, and their kids are just the most well-socialized creatures on the face of the planet. It's an intimidating comparison.
So, we were at the Play Place in the mall today. It's a small area, ringed with benches, a playhouse, bridge, boat, car, and ambulance (it's sponsored by St. John's Children's Hospital), all made out of very dense foam, and with a wonderful springy foam floor. I have started TELLING Kittyboy things I would have expected him to intuit that he hasn't - such as, "And if someone tells you THEIR name, what do YOU say?" And the whole way to the bus today, I quizzed him. Exchanging names, asking someone to play, ideas for games to play, what to do when someone DOESN'T want to play with you... And, NOT to bring up imaginary friends when you are playing with real children. What is in your head, cannot be easily shared with others. It doesn't work. He and my five-year-old self both have rich and extensive imaginations. We play in our heads, and in our heads are contained whole universes requiring no one else. When I invited other girls to a birthday party - I think my seventh - my mother tells me I kept quietly asking her when they could leave, because I didn't know what to do with them. I only knew how to entertain myself, and that was all in my head. It was important to me that he not be trying to explain his "imaginary volcano friends", for example, to some kid who's never heard of Stromboli, at their first meeting. There's a time, and there's a place, you know?
To begin with, he ran about with his friend "Squeak", who is a year and a half, and then two moms with boys came. They were, I'm guessing, a year younger and some pounds lighter, and they were playing something that involved hitting and kicking - not hard, but Kittyboy is sturdy and strong and doesn't know when to quit, and I kept having to explain repeatedly that different mommies have different rules. THEIR mommies, who looked like sisters and I'm guessing the boys were cousins, were fine with that. I was not. And that is a really, really hard concept to grasp at the age of five. It's also a different thing, to me at least, cousins or very old friends playing, versus a stranger playing with them like that. I was SO relieved when they left.
Then Squeak's mom watched them while I went to nurse Bee, and when I came back, he was playing with some boys and girls, around his age, all playing hide and seek! And I actually got to watch MY KITTYBOY speaking intelligibly with the boys, taking turns in conversation, cooperating, negotiating, compromising! I was completely floored! THIS is what I was wanting. Holy cow, oh my gosh, he was DOING IT. I swear, I had never ever before seen him play like THAT. I usually feel like I'm directing a very large toddler! "Stop pulling - no, don't touch - play nicely - stop telling them what to do -" (In my head, pleading, "Stop making weird noises. Get out of their faces. No one else is playing whatever you are. You're just making them uncomfortable. Please, don't be That Weird Kid...") And only a few times from there on, did I have to call him over and explain that when someone is walking away from you, you leave them alone, when someone says stop, it means STOP, that kind of thing. We had a WONDERFUL DAY.
He got along especially well with the two boys - one redhead, one shaggy brunette whose mane reminded me of when Kittyboy refused haircuts. Eventually the redhead left, and Kittyboy played something with the shaggy one, it might have been tag. Kids came, kids left, we were there a total of five hours. At one point, Shaggy came back, and he and Kittyboy were DELIGHTED to see each other. Thus began a hilarious game of tag - at one point, they ran laps around the playhouse, six or seven laps or more, and then stopped and looked at each other, as if they'd forgotten who was supposed to be It. It was absolutely adorable. They were both energetic, running, laughing, crashing boys, and it was wonderful to see. Shaggy's parents and I were both enjoying it! I couldn't stop laughing! I yelled, to be heard over the ruckus, "You have a really awesome kid!" And it made my WEEK when Shaggy's mom yelled back, "Your boy is really great too!" The mother of another five-year-old LIKES MY KID PLAYING WITH HER KID. I will be on Cloud Nine for some time to come...
I think we'll be going to the mall about as often as we can! It's the perfect place to practice social skills. It's a small area, the kids will pretty much be 6 or 7 and younger, it's all close enough that I can keep close tabs on him without having to move, and call him over if I have a suggestion, but let it be HIM playing, and him learning how to play with the other kids.
And yeah, I know I worry WAY too much. I just don't want him to be ME, and I see so much of me IN him.
He'll be fine.
More tomorrow on his marvelous big-brother skills! But I spent a mindboggling amount of time being PEOPLE-Y today, not thinking about the fact that tomorrow and Sunday, I have signed up for the Ethnic Festival, and must go be people-y once more for mindboggling amounts of time. I must needs go to bed. Come Monday, I will be in DESPERATE need of solitude...

1 comment:

Tena said...

That is great! I will have to remember how you handled the imaginary friends thing, J loves to talk about his dinosaur friends all the time to everyone he sees and I know it confuses other kids sometimes.
I do love watching my boy interact with other kids like that, too! Go Kittyboy!