The tears trickled down from Haley’s sad brown eyes to her rosy cheeks. “I just hope to be able to go to school this year and make friends,” she said. “I don’t want to be learning from home anymore. I can’t stand the isolation. I hope I can go to school with kids my own age.”
It sounds like a message uttered after the strange school year of 2020-21 ended. However, those words were delivered to me a decade ago by a sweet young girl who was home-schooled. Haley, a friend of my daughter Jillian, was starving for socialization.
Not long after Haley rendered her desperate plea, I ran into her mother and asked if her daughter would be attending school with Jillian. “Not a chance,” she said. “She has no idea that she is studying two levels ahead of her age. This will benefit her in the long run. I’ll never let her know what children her age are studying.”
Haley recently graduated from an Ivy League University. Mission accomplished for her parents, who never let their children set foot in a conventional school before college. I have nothing against parents who home-school. It blows me away that any family can provide in-house education while earning enough to pay bills and deal with extracurricular activities.
However, socialization for children is integral for development for so many reasons. Kids learn how to collaborate and make decisions. A decade ago, my wife asked Haley, who was 12 at the time, if she would like a chocolate chip cookie. A quiet panic was palpable. Haley froze. “I have to ask my mother if I’m allowed,” she said.
“If you have to ask your mother, you can’t have a cookie,” my wife said. Socialization enables children to learn how to act in various situations with peers. When we invited Haley’s family to our swim club. Haley’s brother Jacob, who was home-schooled as well, shocked us by his inability to deal with horseplay. While in the pool, my son Milo, then 6, jumped on Jacob’s back. It was just good, clean, normal fun that’s commonplace every summer anywhere in the country.
However, Jacob, then 9, violently grabbed Milo, pulled him under the water and attempted to drown him. I’m not being hyperbolic. My wife screamed. The lifeguard dove into a crowded pool and extricated my son from a kid exhibiting aberrant behavior.
While Milo was spitting up water, gasping for air, I asked Jacob’s mother, who offered no apology, to explain. “Well, Milo did jump on my son. What did you expect my son to do?”
I told her that even Iranian Principlists would say that her son might have gone too far. In Tehran, it’s off with your hand if you’re caught stealing, but to receive the death penalty for horseplay, well, that’s kind of extreme even for Ayatollah Khamenei.
Yes, Jacob had some issues, but the kid clearly was impacted by the lack of interaction outside his family unit. It’s not easy to quantify, but our children suffered due to lack of interaction caused by the pandemic. According to Brainly, the world’s largest online learning platform, children have been impacted by the isolation.
Brainly recently surveyed more than 2,300 students to gauge how they felt about remote/hybrid learning in the 2021-22 school year and their opinions on the format of education going forward. Seventy percent of middle and high school students reported that their social skills were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
“It shows there is more to school than just having anxiety over education,” said Brainly education expert Patrick Quinn. “It’s pretty important to be around other people. It helps you learn to cope.”
Considering how many children spend countless hours in isolation playing video games, Quinn believes parents should make an effort to bring children together, particularly those attending the same grade in the same school.
“I think it’s a good idea if parents can get kids in the same place who are in the same grade to go shopping for school clothes,” Quinn said. “Kids love shopping, and they can take ownership of what they will wear for the next school year.”
Quinn also encourages parents to sign up their children for youth sports before the start of the next school year. “Sports are a great way to interact,” Quinn said. “You are literally working together on a team.”
I’ve always believed that playing on a team is beneficial, which takes me back to the aforementioned home-schooled family. With the exception of rec league soccer, sports were verboten in that family. On one occasion, Milo couldn’t find his glove just minutes before departure for a Little League game. Since Milo had lost his prior mitt, I told him that I wasn’t going to buy another one.
“You better find your glove, or you’ll be like the kids in the Dominican Republic playing without a glove,” I said. “Your play will improve dramatically due to the degree of difficulty.” I was joking, but I was frustrated by how often his athletic equipment would disappear.
It was as if his gear fell into an abyss. Milo ran to the home-school house and asked to borrow a glove. He returned with a glove that looked awfully familiar. His name was scratched out, and the moniker of the kid who tried to drown him was scrawled across the fading brown leather.
I was incredulous. I asked the mother to explain, and she said that it wasn’t her responsibility to return my glove if Milo left it on their lawn. “How much more effort is it to take the glove, scratch out his name and place your son’s name on the glove than walking it over and tossing it on my lawn?” I asked.
Neighborhood basketballs, rip sticks and skateboards were disappearing, and the word among kids was that those items somehow ended up in the home-school house. Apparently, if the home-school kids couldn’t play sports, then nobody could engage in such activities. Deprivation is never good.
Interaction, cooperation and friendship are invaluable. Thankfully, the new school year will smack of normalcy. Your children should spend the summer connecting with peers – and it’s not a bad idea for adults to do the same.
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