Saturday, May 13, 2006

Teacher, Can You Help Me?

We had a blast the other day. Forty-two of us homeschoolers from our local group took the train to Portland and enjoyed a day there (BTW, Amtrak gives discounts for school groups that are quite substantial, and homeschooling groups can qualify). My kids and I went to the science center, OMSI, with a bunch of our friends. At one point, all of the older kids were in one of the big experiment rooms and I took my youngest (6) up to the "Science Playground" for littler kids. It reminded me a lot of the days I took my oldest (now 9.5) before his little sister was born and he played with the water and sand rooms and the playdough and such.

They have one room in the Science Playground that is used for arts, crafts, and messy stuff, and they had a whole slime table with bunches of that Borax goo and all kinds of things to chop, squeeze, roll, and cut it. We sat at the table for quite a while and made snakes, pizzas, and "cookies" out of slime. I stood up and tried to see how long I could stretch it (about 6 feet) before it would break. All of the other kids at the table were joining in and we had a great time.

A funny thing happened though. The other kids at the table started calling me "teacher". I guess it was because I was sitting at the table and interacting with them. The other moms were sitting around various benches at the edge of the room. One on a cell phone, one with a book, one with some knitting, another nursing a baby. Other than the one with the baby (understandably not interacting with her oldest at the moment), none of the other moms were engaging with their kids. I found it monumentally sad that the kids would make the immediate assumption that anyone interacting with them was hired to do so.

After one little boy said "Teacher, can you help me make a snake?" and I did, I told him that I wasn't a teacher. "Well, what are you then?" he asked. "I'm her mom", I said, pointing to my daughter. His face lit up and he ran over and tugged on his mom's arm. "Mom, can you come sit with me and make snakes?". "After I make these phone calls," was the answer. When we left a half hour later, I was still helping him with his snakes and pancakes.

I think one of the dangers of the early childhood push into preschools (don't let me get started on my rant about how many of the parents call them "schools" as in "Johnny did so well at school today!" when little Johnny is 3 years old) is this phenomenon. When one pays professionals to interact with their children, it can lead to a detachment and inability to connect and interact during the times that the parents are with their children. Children start to assume that an adult sitting with them and interacting with them is a paid professional. And before anyone comes shouting at me, I know that every mom has her moments where she is not 1-1 with the kids. I've been the mom at the playground with my cel phone out, pushing the swing with one hand. But it's when it becomes prevalent to the point where the kids don't even expect their parents to take an interest in what they're doing that it makes me sad.

I was sorry to walk away from that table of kids who were having so much fun with me. I was sorry that their parents had more important things to do (seemingly on a regular basis) than to get down and make slime pizzas with their kids. I think that our society would benefit from anything that encourages parents and children to interact more, not less.

I used to not understand why people would say they were "homeschooling" when their kids were only 3 or 4 years old. Now with the overwhelming numbers of kids this age going to "school", I get why it can be necessary.


harvestmoon said...

Boy, it is going to be hard for me not to get defensive on this comment, so read it with that in mind. I'm not sure why my hackles were raised so, but I reacted really strongly "how judgemental!" immediately and then took a day to think it over.

First, I can't imagine you're basing this lack of interaction on the museum visit. So there must be so much more you see. Perhaps that's why I'm feeling defensive. I vascillate between being engaged and taking an opportunity for "me" time.

I don't know why I feel such a need to defend these parents you describe and perhaps I should stop until I figure it out.

If nothing else, you've given me immense fodder... :)

Toni said...

Our homeschool group has taken the train to Portland for the last three years. I haven't been able to go yet (youngest has to be five for the discount rate) but I am so hoping to go next year! Maybe we can get together at OMSI when we go :-). I've never been! It sounds so cool.

StrangeDelight said...

You are absolutely right about the lack of involvement that parents today seem to have with their children. It's disturning to say the least.

In my area I am always amazed how parents will ignore their children or sit back and "watch" them play with other kids and sometime other adults.

I enjoy my kids so much that interacting with them on a daily basis is fun and even allows me time to unwind and relax from stressful things. My kids teach me to slow down and remember that even as adults we need to play.

I enjoy your blog a great deal!