Catechesis and Assessment: Volume 2 of My Many Thoughts

I know we’ve moved on as a nation from the Great Religious Education Blogger Symposium, but like Pacino:

So here’s another post in the grand tradition of maybe by the time I’m done writing, I’ll know what I actually think.

Classrooms are not the problem.

It’s not that religious education shouldn’t be like (or at) school, it’s that we are measuring our success like we do everything else. We don’t really understand how to gather kids in a classroom and teach them about Jesus without then testing them about Jesus. Or maybe we don’t like those nasty old tests, so we craft about Jesus.

Testing - Do Not Disturb

*THESE FONTS MEAN BUSINESS.*
Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com

I will cop to becoming more and more loosey-goosey about things like tests and homework since I dropped out of the SYSTEM, man, and tuned in to homeschooling. At the same time, I, personally, adore the taking of tests. The scent of a freshly sharpened #2, the countdown of the schoolroom clock — how these little joys of childhood can warm one’s heart when faced with the cold reality of adulthood, and its absence of gold stars. My pulse quickens at the thought of a scan-tron.

But this is mostly not about me.

There are different reasons to assess a child.

First, to determine whether the child has mastered a group of concepts, information, etc., in order to move onto the next stage – or the next chapter.

Second, to evaluate whether you, the educator, have succeeded in conveying to said child the concepts, information, etc.

Third, to (educare means to draw out, not to shove the brain full of facts, okay, that is not education, man, expand your horizons, okay) help the child recognize what he knows and how he can build upon said knowledge.

Fourth, to make sure we don’t get in trouble for passing the kid on to the next grade/sacrament/quiz round, because we need to make sure we at least taught the kid this much.

And then there’s the long-range goal of catechesis, which is: getting the kid to Heaven.

Carpool to that other shore
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com

But no pressure!

Religious Education that “Sticks”

“Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.”

- Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

Whenever I get one of those Teaching Company catalogs, I dream of an alternate reality in which I learn ALL the things! There’s no limit to what I could know, if I just spent enough time watching DVDs! Then I wonder, “did I already learn all of this in college, but just forgot?” and despair.

It seems to me that the danger of assuming we’re doing a great job with religious ed. because the kids’ scores on the ACRE test were up three points from last year is that the kids might not remember any of the answers on the multiple-choice section six months from now. At the same time, without any sort of assessment, there lurks the spectre of FELT BANNERS, which have apparently become the go-to symbol for namby-pamby catechesis. (I’m kind of tempted to develop a super-rigorous theological curriculum based entirely on felt, just to redeem this humble fabric.)

It’s the biggest challenge for the Group 3 Kids – those who are only there for the bare minimum of classes in order to receive First Communion/Confirmation. They’re the most likely to do poorly on whatever assessment they’re given, because there’s no reinforcement at home of what we’re talking about in class. And their attendance is usually compulsory, due to the need to make sure they understand what the sacraments even are before they receive them. (Which is why one of the questions we’ve asked before in pre-First Communion interviews was “Is Jesus God?”)

So we make those kids come to classes, so as to be sure they’re as prepared as possible to receive the Sacrament. But if they do poorly on the quizzes, then we…

That’s all the time we have for now! Tune in next time when we collaboratively figure out the answer to that question!

Changing the Paradigm of Inside-the-Box Thinking re: Assessment-Based Measurement of Catechetical Learners

It is possible to teach children about Jesus in such a way that they actually grow in faith, and to assess how well you have done so without the assessment getting in the way of the teaching. I truly believe this. Whether I succeed at doing so – well, my mom had this friend who wanted her headstone to read “SHE MEANT WELL” and that’s about what I aim for.

I think you can do this and still have review games and the occasional quiz. The key is to approach catechesis as (gulp) relationship, maybe? And I might have some ideas about how to do that, I think? And a vague intention of writing more about this? Because Jennifer says we all have to post every day this week and last time I  only made it through one post before I dropped out.

On Catechesis, Volume 1 of My Many Thoughts

So far, all I’ve been able to do in the big discussion-o-rama of Catechesis is follow Christian LeBlanc around Patheos, clicking “like” under all of his comments. Here is a semi-coherent catalogue of my first round of thoughts on the matter. (I hate it that I have to be a person who doesn’t figure out what she actually thinks until she’s processed it out loud, but perhaps writing this down will be better than just frowning at screens.)

Disclaimer: I’m not the greatest teacher who ever held chalk. But I consider myself reasonably non-terrible, and I have experience as a teacher in various environments. And as a catechist in various types of parishes.

I remember asking a question of a our professor in one of my Education classes – something along the lines of whether the method being discussed was a good fit for gifted kids. The professor smirked and said “those kids? You could train dogs to sit in front of the classroom and supervise them, and they’d still be successful.” At the time, I was ticked off. Now, as an avid user of hyperbole myself, I get what he was saying. (I don’t agree, but I get it.)

As a teacher, I’d go to district professional development workshops at the really really nice middle school on the north side of town, the one where the parents pooled together resources to build a patio with a grill off the faculty lounge so that there could be…actually, I still can’t figure out why there needed to be a grill outside the faculty lounge. But there was.

Anyway, we’d go hear these sessions about parental involvement and how to guide kids in creating a really great Living History project, how to draw up an appropriate rubric, how to manage parental participation in these projects so that the work was genuinely the children’s and not the parents’, that kind of thing. Good stuff, really, because that IS a problem at some schools.

Then we’d go back to our school, where the kids were basically…their own parents. Not a big problem with PTO infighting when you can only get four parents/grandparents from the entire school to attend a meeting. The strategies that worked great in a nice middle-class school with a supportive principal and volunteers who would make copies for you were not going to cut it.

And yet, both of those were public schools, in the same district, with the same expectations upon teachers as to their students’ performance. We’d talk about What Teachers Should Do as though these were the same environments and the same kids.

At my school, with my students, I learned that sometimes your goal for a student isn’t going to be getting into college; it’s going to be staying out of juvie. And that, if you helped accomplish that, you could maybe feel good about how you had helped that student.

It’s hard to silence the voice that says “how could you lower your standards so much?! If you aren’t going to believe in these kids, who is?!” But setting a more achievable goal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumbing things down or abandoning your standards; it just means that you aren’t kicking yourself at the end of the year because your students aren’t getting the red-carpet treatment from college recruiters.


Can we stop acting like the problems with religious education are Parents and Kids? Because these are not the correct demographics.

We have parents who talk to their children about what you did at R.E. around the dinner table that night after lighting the Advent wreath and saying the blessing.

We have parents who try to get to Mass once or twice a month and who tell their kids to behave themselves at R.E. or else, I don’t want to get a call from the teacher, but don’t pray with their children (or, at least, near their children.)

And we have parents who don’t come to Mass except for at Christmas/Easter if Grandma’s in town, but who for whatever reason still want their children to receive First Communion. (And sometimes Confirmation, but I think this happens more frequently with First Communion.) We will see those kids in second grade, and then again in eighth grade (or whenever Confirmation is administered).

With Group 1, pretty much any approach you try is going to be successful. Whole-family catechesis, grouped-by-age catechesis, potluck-and-guest-speakers catechesis, whatever. Which is great!

With Group 2, grouped-by-age catechesis gets the kids up to the Church, and offering programs for the parents as well can be a great way of empowering parents to act as the primary catechists.

With Group 3 – the people who are only there because they want their child (or grandchild) to receive that Sacrament at the end of the year – now we should eliminate the one thing that’s getting their kids in the door at all? Keep in mind that some (not all) of these parents will actively and deliberately undermine what the kids are taught in class.

I sometimes think that with Group 3, we should be dancing in the streets if we see that family at Mass once in the next 52 weeks. And if those children were in my Sacrament Prep class, you can bet I’d going to go all Crazy Church Lady because I really would be so happy to see them. Would I be happier if the parents came every Sunday and then had their marriage convalidated and then got Confirmed, finally, because they dropped out of the program as teenagers, and then were on fire with the Holy Spirit and brought five more families back to Church and were enthusiastic, raise-the-roof disciples?

Well, yeah. But I’m not going to brand our year together a failure if that doesn’t happen.

Teaching/Catechesis/Evangelizing/Disciple-izing/Whatever-word-we’re-using is about sowing seeds and the long, long view. With some of the places I’ve taught, if I start thinking about where those kids are now, I get really down. But I also don’t know where those kids will be in ten years, when they have children of their own. Maybe, for my CCE kiddos, having had a non-terrible teacher will be enough to make them think about giving Church a try again.

(Gosh, this is dark. Maybe I should just let Christian speak for me.)

So I guess that’s where I am coming from when I see a great deal of this Catechesis Reconsidered talk as piling on, as saying “gosh, let’s ditch all this dumb stuff we’ve been doing that clearly hasn’t worked whatsoever! What wasted years these have been! What were those DREs thinking! Down with crafts!”

I would hate for a new catechist, one who took pity on the DRE and finally signed up to volunteer, to internalize this discussion as “you know how sometimes you worry that what you’re doing is all a big waste of time? It is.”

Here are some other random thoughts I have, upon which I may or may not expand in a later post because it’s been a battle for the ages just to get myself to stop not-blogging again:

  • Textbooks are almost always boring, and religion textbooks are almost always the worst of all. Yes, I, condemner of blanket statements about catechesis, have just made a blanket statement about catechesis.
  • Textbooks are the thing that allows you to feel reasonably secure that the teacher isn’t going to go completely off the rails (whether we’re talking about religious education or regular old education), because the textbook has the correct information. Therefore, we use textbooks.
  • I cannot conceive of a reason to assign grades or homework in a CCE/PSR/CCD class. Okay, we need to know that Little Johnny understands what the Eucharist is before First Communion, but we can figure that out without a metric. “Johnny has a 57 in Faith Knowledge and a 62 in Piety. Please work with him at home.”
  • In theory, I believe that if a child presents himself for a discussion with Fr. Pastor about Confirmation and clearly indicates an understanding of and desire to receive the Sacrament, the child should not have to do anything else but show up and receive the Sacrament.
  • In reality, I know that if we started applying that approach, Fr. Pastor would be besieged with calls from angry parents asking why Ambrose gets to be confirmed next weekend but Julius has to go on a retreat and four service projects and two semesters of classes.
  • And/or, you’d have parents coaching Julius-es to say the right things to get a dispensation for just going ahead and being Confirmed.
  • And/or, the retreats and service projects and semesters are worthwhile and purposeful, but the requirement thereof often undermines the kids’ receptiveness to seeing any value in attending them.
  • So I basically have no clue what should be done about Confirmation prep, and I understand why we do it the way we do. I’m sure glad I took the time to type that out.
  • Kids really like – or, at least, don’t mind – being in class if they are actually learning something, and they really like reading the Bible if it’s presented to them in a way such that they understand what it’s saying.
  • When reading the Bible in class with the kids, you need to have a plan for what to do when Penelope reads ahead to, say, the story of Onan.

I just went around and re-read all of the posts in the Carnival of Catechesis Reconsidered, and now I have decided I misrepresented what some folks have been saying, but my head hurts and I need to mop. So I’m going to click “publish,” take an Excedrin, and reserve the right to completely change my mind.

7 Quick Takes: Where’d the blog go?

SO. It’s been a bit quiet around here. Where have I been?

1. I decided early this summer that I needed to cut back on voluntary Internet commitments, since my web design work requires me to spend a good chunk of most days online. Online, or at least in front of a screen. I figured the kids needed to see me spending less time staring at a screen and more time being a human. And while I could explain to them the difference between “frivolous screen time” and “work screen time,” I’m not sure it makes much difference when the result is “please wait 15 minutes to ask me about multiplying fractions and move on to a different subject if you can’t figure it out, because I need to finish this one thing.”

2. I’m slowly clawing my way out from underneath a pile of work-related commitments, fearing that I am making nobody happy and everyone impatient with me because various constant changes in our family’s schedule, etc., have made it more difficult for me to do the things I said I’d do. I’m starting to feel human again but it’s been several weeks since I felt like I could take a break from working to do something non-productive, non-mom, non-house, and just relax for a bit. Which is dumb, because then I’m overtired and stressed and not effective at anything I’m doing, but there you have it.

3. We have had a lot going on; my husband has transitioned to a new job that he enjoys quite a bit and that I think will be a good fit for him, but will also put him perhaps a bit more in the public eye. Not, like, cameos in the Avengers movies, just – you know. I have an unusual name. If Googled, I worry that my online reputation as “wacky juggler of messes and mayhem” might reflect poorly on him. It could be argued that posting this on the Internet might also be problematic, but – well, whatevers.

4. So then I have switched into “observer mode” on almost all social media, not commenting, not Tweeting, not Facebooking, except checking those things when I need a quick break. It’s funny how it’s totally not rejuvenating in any way to check in on what everyone else is thinking. Because the thing is: everyone, at least everyone I imagine on the Internet, has extremely strong opinions about every aspect of my life. They just haven’t told me to my face, because they don’t know that I think (insert stance on controversial issue) or that I do (insert innocuous activity reflective of my tastes) or that I watch (insert every stupid police procedural or spy show on television, because it is good late-night company while working). But they’re expressing those opinions, all the time, on the computerwebs.

I’m not any better. I go around thinking I’m some ball of even-temperedness and light, and then someone tweets about watching Love Actually again and I feel it surging through me, the overwhelming desire to respond “oh, I just can’t stand that movie. UGH.” 

5. Also, when you go a long time without posting anything on, say, your blog, you start to worry that you need to post something that would be worth people’s wait, the two people still reading said blog. That can be stressful.

6. You know, like – you can’t even come up with a total of seven takes.

7. So, I’m going to try something even more dumb, which is to turn off comments and just write when I feel like it, and try not to care what people might think of me and whatever choices I’m making. That sounds ominous. Right? Really, I just mean that I want to be able to sort out my thoughts about things like:

  • being a working mom and owning a business
  • interacting with people as a business owner versus as a mom versus as a general human
  • being open to having more kids but it just hasn’t really worked out that way
  • being Catholic, like so super-Catholic, y’all
  • intrigue behind the scenes at the Vatican JUST KIDDING REALLY if I never read another speculative piece about what the Pope is signaling and where the world is going it will be too soon
  • ranking the top police procedurals and spy shows from the past five years
  • not my kids, because they’re getting old enough that I don’t think it’s right for me to be trotting out their lives onto the Internet, frankly

UGH see what I mean?! Every single statement on that list could make someone feel really super-offended, like my choices are a comment on their values. I need to stop trying to anticipate every possible reaction to what I might write and just…write stuff.

OR, and I don’t mean this as goodbye-cruel-world, but maybe I should just shut it down for a while and focus on writing, not blogging CRAP I JUST OFFENDED BLOGGERS THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT I JUST MEANT FOR ME NOT FOR YOU. YOU’RE TERRIFIC.

 

Seven Quick Takes: Airing My Laundry

“Fine,” I told myself. “If I go check my blog, and the last post is more than four weeks ago, I will post something.” Plus, it was getting awkward leaving CommentLuv comments all over the place that linked back to “Yes, I Worry About Socialization.” I mean, I do worry. But not that much.

Thus:

— 1 —

Like our hostess, I, too, am taken with Harvard Homemaker’s site. I really like that she is up front about her level of education and looks at it as preparation for the vocation of motherhood.

I also like all of the tips, although…I can’t read too many tips. I have to limit myself. The needle is quick to flip from “this might be a helpful modification to the way I do things” to “I CANNOT LIVE INDEPENDENTLY WITHOUT INTERNET IDEAS SO I MIGHT AS WELL JOIN THE CIRCUS OF BROKEN TOYS.” I probably need to check in with my imaginary life coach about some of these issues.

— 2 —

So, I read Harvard Homemaker’s post about laundry and was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only do I already understand laundry, but I also do something that was not on the list. I thought “hey, I should write about that. Need something to blog about.”

Then I thought “well, hey, what should I call this tip. It could be ‘Lazy Mom’s Guide to Laundry with Kids.’”

Then I got real mad. Reallllll mad. Hey, self, and hypothetical Internet judgy types who might happen upon my blog if they ever actually existed: look. I am not lazy. I should not have to characterize myself as lazy just because I am not that focused on household maintenance.

I can do it, but I frequently forget OR decide something else is a priority.

What is with me? Why is that my first thought, that I should present myself as lazy/inept instead of just being all, “hey, here’s a laundry thing.”

GOSH.

— 3 —

Is it just me? It’s not just me, right? I feel like there’s a dichotomy in how we  gals are supposed to present ourselves on the Internet, if we’re talking about family life:

  • Wacky, madcap adventures in juggling life with kids and dirty dishes and never getting things quite right but we ain’t we got fun! Gosh, I wish I could get it together! – OR
  • Lifestyle expertise from the queen of systems, she who shall be a light to the nations

SPOILERS: I frequently feel this way about how moms talk about themselves in real life. You know, we can’t take a compliment without saying “this old thing?” or pointing out the opportunity cost – “oh, but I’m terrible at such-and-such” as though it’s somehow related to being good at so-and-so.

Am I being too vague? Too grumpy? This is why I should blog more often so I’ll be less scattered.

— 4 —

Well. Anyway: here’s my exciting tip that has no picture because my laundry room is cramped and non-photogenic.

I have a set of shelves in the laundry room and a basket for each family member, along with one for linens. I let the kids make labels for their baskets to add an element of “fun” that lasted for 47 seconds. (Remember, kids: Mom believes that work IS fun!)

When I take a load of laundry out of the dryer, I put each item into the appropriate person’s basket. I do not fold the items.

Once a day, each child is supposed to put away his/her clothes from said basket and return the empty basket to the shelf.

— 5 —

“How do I handle folding the kids’ clothes?”

Gentle Reader: I do not care.

Why do I need to care if my daughter has folded her shirts in the most efficient manner possible?

Okay, I guess I could care. You could argue that I should leave the children an inheritance of understanding how to make the best use of storage space so that they will not buy  bigger furniture than they need someday, all because they don’t know how to fold their shirts. You could say that the clothes will last longer if they are folded perpendicular to the Equator in groups of three instead of folded however-they-want. You could say Flylady (NEVER SAY FLYLADY TO ME) and make vague prononuncements about how it would be even better if our morning routine included Mom inspecting the contents of the dresser to see if the clothes are sorted and stored correctly. You could point out that The Container Store offers various plastic items to assist in folding (the only argument on this list that would convince me.)

And I would say: your world, and you are welcome to it. I choose to occasionally look the child straight in the eyes, intone “DID YOU PUT YOUR CLOTHES AWAY CORRECTLY WHERE THEY GO?” and be done with it, after a cursory consideration of microexpressions that might indicate said child is straight-up lying to me and those clothes are in a pile in the back of the closet instead of somehow organized in the drawers.

— 6 —

Now. The system does break down in times of Mom Distraction or Mom Stress. Mom decides to be all freeeeee and in the wiiiind, and to do ten loads of laundry with nary a thought to its ultimate destination. Mom cannibalizes the baskets. “I’ll just fill up all eight baskets with random clean laundry and stick them in my room for now. Just for a minute.” And then, after about two weeks of We Can’t Use Our Baskets Mom Well Hey Go Look In My Room I Know You Have Socks In One of the Baskets We Are Already Late, I dump the entire pile onto the bed, cue up Netflix, and re-sort everything into the appropriate baskets. Still without folding the children’s laundry. It is already wrinkled (see: two weeks of W.C.U.O.B.M.W.H.G.L.I.M.R.I.K.Y.H.S.I.O.O.T.B.W.A.A.L.) and they are just going to wear it and put it in the hamper so I can start fresh. Besides, they are so grateful for clothing by that point that they fold each item as though it were the precious lost handkerchief of Imhotep the Ninth.

— 7 —

WAIT I JUST THOUGHT OF ANOTHER TIP. My beloved, already-mentioned Container Store has color-coded mesh laundry bags. I mostly just use white mesh bags to line our hampers but this has made it easier: I bought a black one and a red one for the set of hampers that the kids use. Now it’s easy to tell which hamper  is for darks, which is for reds and burnt orange (hook’em), and which one is for light colors.

SEE? Look at that. A whole housekeeping-related post with almost no self-deprecation.

Just don’t ask me how our schoolroom looks. (foreshadowing music) (of doom) (srsly it is bad u guyz)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Yes, I Worry About Socialization

I am going to violate the sacred, unspoken trust that exists among all homeschoolers, everywhere, at least the imaginary ones who populate my Internet. I am going to admit to something so profoundly unsettling that it will rock homeschool-vs.-not-homeschool dialogue to its core. I am risking it ALL, man. This is RAW HONEST BLOGGING.

I am just going to SAY IT.

I’m just…I’m just gonna PUT IT OUT THERE, okay. Just LAY MY CARDS DOWN.

Just TELL IT LIKE IT IS.

(breathes)

(stretches)

(enjoys medicinal brownie)

YES, I WORRY ABOUT SOCIALIZATION oh, wait, I guess I already said that in the title.

Okay, well – yeah. I do. I worry about socialization. We homeschool, and we occasionally ask ourselves, “are the kids learning how to interact with other people? And can we send them places to go learn more about it? For at least an afternoon, once a week? Do we have to sign up or can we just send them? Do we need to prepare a healthy snack, or will there be treats provided? Is there curbside pickup? Do we have to schedule this ahead of time? Is a car wash extra?”

We socialize well with our imaginary friends

Recess for the Socially Awkward.
Photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com

Now, I think the answer I am supposed to give, when asked The S Question, is as follows.

Gosh, no! Why would I ever worry about that, when there are opportunities to socialize outside of artificially created peer groups by age, which isn’t realistic, right, I mean, are all your friends the same age as you, of course not, so why do we have this expectation of our children, and also socializing can mean socializing with bullies, or mean girls, or drug dealers, and besides, we are constantly socializing when we go to museums, and performances, and science demonstrations, and church, which isn’t to say there aren’t secular homeschoolers, you’d be amazed at how diverse the homeschooling world has become, in fact I think my children interact with a MORE diverse slate of people BECAUSE we homeschool, it’s amazing ANYONE thinks we would EVER worry about THIS! Let me tell you about our latest spelling bee scores!”

In reality, not only do I worry about socialization, but I also don’t think it’s a horrible, ignorant question to ask of a homeschooler. Maybe it’s because I grew up Catholic in a part of the country without a whole lot of Catholics, but I’m used to people thinking my lifestyle/beliefs/decisions are kind of…off. Not necessarily bad, but – what’s up with that? Why do I do things the way I do?

This parrot photo has nothing to do with homeschooling.

I worry my children won’t understand how to blend in with the crowd in social settings.
Photo credit: xandert from morguefile.com

So, as long as the person isn’t being completely rude about it, I don’t take offense when asked about socialization. I also, truth be told, have the perfect “out” for any questions about the weirdness of homeschooling. I say, “well, I was a teacher, so…” and then scootch away from the actual question. It gets me out of a lot of jams, the former-classroom-teacher thing. Sometimes people read too much into that and think I’m saying “…I saw all of the problems and got the heck outta Dodge.” Really, that’s not why we homeschool (more about just having more time, in general, to do the things we want to do.)

Anyway. But I worry. For those of you who do not worry about socialization, I applaud you. As a member of the Fear-Based Community, I do worry. Of course, then I tell myself I’d worry no matter how perfect the school setting:

  • If they went to Earth Blessings Hopeful Montessori school, I’d worry they wouldn’t be equipped for our high-tech society.
  • If they went to Phaser Stun Technology, Science, and Magnetism Magnet School, I’d worry that they would lack appreciation for the natural world and the generations who came before them.
  • If they went to Every Class Is Pre-Ap Preschool Prep, I’d worry they saw themselves as an intellectual elite and couldn’t relate to “regular” kids.
  • If they went to Regular Kiddos, Regular Classes – a Holistic Learning Environment, I’d worry they weren’t being challenged enough.
  • If they went to Serious Reform-Based Agenda Charter School An Hour From Our House, I’d worry that they’d make no friends in our neighborhood.
  • If they went to Global Visions International Academy for the Study of Languages and Unusual Foods, I’d worry that they’d move halfway around the world after graduation and never come home to visit.
  • If they went to La Sorbonne du Houston Ecole des Beaux Arts That’s French-ish for Art, I’d worry that they would never be able to make small talk about sports.
  • If they went to Super Sports Slammin’ Jammin’ Rammin’ School, I’d worry about head injuries.

I believe I have made my point, and these are not even my top-tier worries when it comes to my children. I just came up with this off the top of my head. Imagine how profoundly worried I could be if you gave me a good six months to work up a proper anxiety complex. I mean, does anyone seriously think there’s an option available to you for educating your children that is 100% without drawbacks?

So yes, I am concerned about socialization, and I’m not even going to say it’s been an easy thing to navigate. We have accepted that this particular concern is a potential downside of the way we currently choose to educate our children, and we have taken measures to overcome this.

At times, it’s meant signing up the kids for things they didn’t necessarily want to be signed up for. That’s fun. Being asked The Socialization Question while your child lurks on the sidelines, glaring at you, muttering about not knowing anybody. And then, after a few weeks, the child does know people, and it gets better, and we’ve overcome that hurdle for the time being.

I watch the child who glares, who hates being signed up, and I remember exactly how that felt. New to the group, didn’t know what I was doing, having to make friends. Feeling like I would rather be swallowed up inside the earth than try to fit in.

And I wasn’t homeschooled. I was just kind of this intense, talks-better-to-grownups kid. But you know, every once in a while, my parents threw me into the deep end – signed me up for summer camp, sent me off to visit my grandmother in another state for a few weeks, made me talk to the saleslady when buying clothes*. And I got better. It was not the end of the world.

You can find things to worry about no matter what decisions you’ve made. And the worrying doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. So join me  in answering The Socialization Question not with “NO, that is ridiculous!” but rather with “yeah, sometimes, but we do (insert strategy) and I feel happy with how the kids are doing. I mean, nobody’s perfect.”

Then, if they keep badgering you, whip out “Well, I was a teacher, so…”

* (I still get nervous talking to salesladies.)

So Much For Stickball Why I Changed My Mind About Kids' Sports

You hear a lot of crazy stories about kids’ sports. Parents who are living out their own dreams through their kids, elite leagues for the super-gifted-tee-ballers, grandmas arrested for noise violations at the soccer championships.

It’s not that I really bought into any of that, but I was decidedly ambivalent about my own children’s participation in organized sports. I figured if my kids asked to play sports, I’d let them, but I wasn’t going to force anyone to sign up.

They did martial arts for a few years, and then we moved again and I just wasn’t thrilled with starting up at a new studio again. So I signed them up for a homeschool P.E. class at the YMCA, let them spend time every day riding bikes and climbing trees, and figured they were good as far as physical activity. (I still think that.)

I also had this dream that my children would enjoy a childhood like my own, which consisted of roaming the neighborhood, building forts, playing board games on top of neighbors’ roofs. (Well, maybe not that last part.) But I visualized a suburban utopia in which every afternoon a Sesame-Street-esque rainbow of children would meet up at the field for a pickup game of stickball or Calvinball or what-have-you. Making up their own rules, figuring out what was fair, running around constantly and perhaps an enterprising youth setting up a lemonade wagon. I maybe listened to a little too much “Free to be You and Me” as a child.

One of the primary reasons we homeschool is my feeling that kids’ lives today are far too overscheduled. There’s very little space to read, dig up the back yard, rummage through parents’ art supplies, and other formative experiences I look back on from my own upbringing.

My parents were pretty hands-off. In response to an achievement of some sort, my mom used to say “I’m so proud of you, although I’m not sure what I had to do with it” and she was exactly wrong, because it was the fact that I grew up among my parents’ books and conversations that let me flourish in school and remain eager to learn. I was also eager to win ALL THE THINGS, which is a topic for another post, but mainly, I had my afternoons and weekends free to do whatever crazy thing I dreamed up.

Here is the thing, reader: nobody lives like that anymore. Nobody. Not even in the stickball capital of the country:

“Sure, stickball,’’ he said, one hand rubbing the back of his neck, a sure Letterman-like shot to the blind side about to be delivered. “Yeah, you’d maybe go to, oh . . . 1958, I guess?’’

Ouch. Not only embarrassing, but correct. Like Joltin’ Joe, stickball here has left and gone away.

The City That Never Sleeps, it turns out, is just like the USA everywhere else in that kids rarely play outside anymore. Sure, they play, if it’s an organized league with parents in control of scheduling and transporting and rule making and, of course, paying. We have no shortage of parents forking over big bucks to get their kids in games, in private instruction, on travel teams to chase the next $5 plastic trophy.

But for reasons we all know, few of our kids are either compelled or equipped to dash out the door after school or during the summer to play pickup anything.

If you have a social butterfly for a child, who makes friends in thirty seconds, it’s no big deal. But if you have a child who is anxious about meeting other kids, and a perfectionist about everything, ever, well – that child is not going to scour the neighborhood to put together a kickball game. And even if he did, he wouldn’t find anyone home. (cue MUSIC OF RIDICULOUS HYPERBOLE AND DOOM) Because everyone, everywhere, is at Activities.

We decided we could either do exhaustive research and calendaring to find the other hippie-dippie-free-range people in a 3-mile radius and coordinate play dates and manage expectations, or we could…take a second look at Activities. Maybe, just maybe, we (and by we, I mean me) were being big fat babies about the whole thing and didn’t actually know a thing about kids’ sports.

The 11-year-old was not excited. It was no coincidence that he’d never expressed an interest in trying a sport, because why would you try something if you don’t know if you’re going to be excellent at it?

Good Lord, what a way to look at life. We need to nip that in the BUD. Enter Little League.

Here’s the thing: if you wait until your child is 11, many of the other kids will have been playing since they were 4 or 5. That’s just how it is. And it’s going to be harder for your 11-year-old to jump in and try out for the team, and you will want to cry in sympathy, but he’ll live. And he’ll get better. We are not all-stars by any means, but we had a great time this season.

And so that is how I found myself, a week ago, standing in a torrential downpour at the end of the pool, with one hand on a stopwatch and the other holding down the canopy. Whooping it up when my daughter made it across the pool doing the butterfly without being disqualified, celebrating that my son shaved a couple of seconds off his freestyle time, and generally thinking, “this is all pretty fun, even though it would appear to be insane.”

Good parenting involves helping each of your children to discover his unique gifts and learn to use them well, but I’m starting to think an even more important skill is the willingness to try something you may be terrible at and have a sense of humor about it. It took me a long time to mature to the point that I would attempt something outside my comfort zone and not really give a rat’s rear about how good I would be at it. And I would argue that this ability has actually contributed more to my overall happiness than the various things I’ve always been good at. I’d love to know if that’s been true for you, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to register both the boys for Fall Ball.