Friday, February 27

"This and That" Friday: Unsocialized Dog and Socialized Kids

We have been really lucky the last weeks compared to much of the our country, which is covered in snow.  Our temperatures have gone from the high 20's to the low 70's (crazy, right?) but lately the weather has been pretty dreary with only a few days of sunshine.  But no matter the weather, I try to bring the boys and the dog on a walk every day.  

We love to bring Blackberry walking out on the greenbelt behind our neighborhood, but once off-leash she doesn't listen.  I call her, she guiltily glances at me, tucks her tail between her legs, and continues to go where she wants to go.  Usually this is not a problem because no one is out there and she always comes back (when she is ready), but occasionally someone else is out there walking their own dog off-leash and that is when trouble ensues.  

Blackberry is a shelter-dog and was stuck in a cage as a puppy for almost ten months. No one wanted to adopt her as she was black (the shelter is full of black lab-mixes), had mange, and constant diarrhea.  When we went to go look at the dogs most of the "good' ones were gone for an adoption day at Petsmart.  One of the guys there said they did have a dog in the back that was sweet but they hadn't been able to adopt out (for the obvious issues stated above).   

For some crazy reason we agreed to meet her, instantly feel in love, and took her home.  Yes, I took home a dog that was noted to have mange and constant diarrhea.  What was I thinking???  However, the vet cured her mange and we found out her stomach issues completely resolved once she was out of a tiny cage surrounded by crazy barking dogs.  Poor thing had a nervous stomach.

She is an incredibly sweet dog and a loving member of our family, but due to her past she is terrified of other dogs.  Dog socialization has become completely impossible as when she gets scared (a dog looks at her), she will go on the offensive...  Which unfortunately she did the other day while walking on the greenbelt.  A neighbor was walking his tiny fluffy dogs off-leash, they ran up to Blackberry yapping away, started jumping underneath her, and she completely lost it and all Hades broke lose.

Luckily we were able to get them separated and no one was hurt, but I realized that Blackberry could not be off-leash in public areas anymore. I had noticed that many of our neighbors were walking their big dogs without any leashes. I assumed they were just really well-behaved pets, but after talking to them I found out their dogs are trained to behave with E-collars.  Yes, SHOCK COLLARS!  In desperation I decided to try one out.

I went to Amazon, read tons of glowing reviews ("I was going to get rid of my dog and now she is an angel!"), and purchased this collar.  I went with this midrange-priced one because it can reach 300 yards, has rechargeable batteries, and is waterproof.

Within 10 minutes (and one shock on number 2), Blackberry was completely leash-free.  Now I can walk anywhere in the neighborhood with her and she makes sure to stay within eyesight (usually just a few steps in front of me) and comes instantly when I call her.  I haven't had to shock her at all and if she is slow to listen I beep the collar and she instantly comes to me.  It is unbelievable how this little collar has changed our life.  Now it is such a pleasure to take her out for walks and she is much happier as she isn't stuck on a leash.  She is not dog-socialized and never will be, but now she runs over to me and I can "protect" her from the mini-yapping dogs.

Talking about socialization, I had a comment on my blog the other day that I was ruining my boys because I was homeschooling them.  The person commenting said that school wasn't really about education, but absolutely necessary to socialize children.  I have heard this same comment often (even from friends and family) and I just have to ask myself: "Why do so many people assume my kids are little friendless hermits?".

First of all, I personally do not believe school properly socializes children for adult life.  In the "real world" you aren't usually stuck with 10-30 people your same culture, age, and socioeconomic status.  School socializes kids for more school, not life after school.  :-)

Second, I don't know about you, but when I was in school my best friends were usually the neighborhood kids, not my school classmates.  In school we spent so much time rushing around because of that darn annoying bell that we didn't have much time to hang out and talk.  But when I got home I would play with the boys and girls in my neighborhood for hours and hours, uninterrupted by adults or bells.

My neighborhood was an interesting mix of kids and we all played together.  If someone was a bully, you didn't play with them.  If someone was small and needed a boost, you boosted them.  If someone cheated you called them on it and stopped playing with them.  If someone was too rough, you went and played with someone else.

As "free-range kids" we managed our after school/weekend time ourselves, without any parents (or teachers) planning our play or interfering.  I didn't get to hand-select my friends; they became my friends because they were there and willing to play with me.  Kind of like life, right?

So back to my poor boys missing out on socialization.  Our neighborhood is full of kids, many of them boys aged 5-15 with a healthy mix of home, private, and public-school education.   Any nice afternoon or weekend you will usually see a gang of boys (including my sons) in one of three yards playing sports, chasing the dog, jumping on the trampoline, having Airsoft wars, exploring the woods, climbing trees, swimming, and biking.  The other day my friend down the street looked out her window and counted eleven boys in her yard!

I love watching them play from the sidelines.  We adults don't babysit or interfere unless someone gets hurt.  And by hurt I don't mean kids hurting kids, but rather kids falling out of trees (Imp), spraining fingers on the trampoline (Duke), getting cuts on feet from running around barefoot, etc.  Normal kid stuff.  The bigger kids keep an eye on the little kids (as do the adults of course) and the kids work out their issues on their own.  If someone gets mad (which occasionally happens) the upset kid usually just heads on home to sulk for a while before coming back as if nothing had happened.

Most school afternoons around 5:00 Duke and Imp head out on their bikes to find someone out and about.  They aren't picky who they play with or what they do, they just want to hang out with their friends.  I tell them a time to be home, Duke sets his watch alarm, and they play until they are completely exhausted and come home sweaty, dirty, and happy.

I know that not everyone lives in a kid-friendly neighborhood like mine (nor wants to!).  We used to live on 17 acres in a semi-rural area.  We had chickens, fields, and a pond (which we all loved), but the neighbors were scarce and never home, and the boys and I would get lonely...  I do miss living on the farm, but now we have a decent-sized yard, a wooded creek a short walk away, and lovely neighbors. The boys are thriving AND getting "socialized", unlike our sweet dog Blackberry who thrives but continues to hate all other dogs...

I am sure there are homeschooled kids out there that are lonely and friendless because they live somewhere isolated, have parents who ignore them,  or aren't involved in any co-ops/social gatherings.  But I also know there are public and private-schooled kids that are lonely and don't feel they fit in, even though they are surrounded by kids all day long.  I was one of those kids when I went to school. But luckily when I got home I was surrounded by my neighborhood friends who accepted me as I was, warts and all.  ;-)

Homeschooling isn't for everyone, but shouldn't the same be said about school?  I would love to hear your thoughts on children socialization in the comments.  

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  1. Homeschooling can be a very controversial topic. I'll start by saying that for 40+ years I taught in both private and public schools in both Canada and California. I have 2 daughters now aged 28 and 30 who attended both private and public schools. During my 40 years teaching I encountered many children who had been homeschooled for part of their lives then sent on to public school, usually in 6th grade because the homeschooling parents felt incapable of teaching the junior high and high school curriculum. Of these children, I would say that about 10% had adequate social skills and fewer had academic skills equal to the kids in their grade. Most were incapable of working cooperatively with classmates in a learning situation. Why was this? My conclusion was that the homeschooling parents themselves had social issues and/or did not know how to seek out social situations in which their kids could learn to interact positively with other kids. Also, most of the parents had absolutely no training in "how" to teach. Just handing kids worksheets and following a homeschool curriculum is not enough. Another thing I observed was that many of the kids who were homeschooled were kids who already had social issues and couldn't cut it in the public or private school environment so were pulled from traditional schools and homeschooled. Not to stereotype, but quite often the parents of homeschooled kids were themselves socially awkward. So it was a no-win situation for those kids to start with. The few kids I encountered who had been successfully homeschooled were children of well-educated, socially active, socially aware parents who made sure that their children were engaged several times weekly in social activities (sports, dance lessons, church choirs etc) with children in their own age range. Also, the parents who were homeschooling successfully had not slammed the door forever on having their children attend traditional schools. To sum it up, it takes a special person to successfully homeschool their child/children - and truthfully, their children more than likely would be successful academically and socially in any educational environment.

  2. Lynn, thank you so much for posting this, it was so interesting!

    Homeschooling has changed so much from when you started teaching and has become mainstream. When I was a kid I didn't know anyone who was homeschooled and now I meet parents all of the time who do it. I think the Internet really changed homeschooling and made it available for everyone. Plus there are countless co-ops, museum classes, camps, etc. for homeschooled kids. Socialization should never be an issue anymore.

    The parents I know personally who homeschool are actually very social (as are their kids) and well-educated with degrees (including PhD's). It is true, some of their kids were pulled out of school as the school said they had issues, but these same kids are thriving at home and not getting labeled or bullied at school. They are smart kids who just don't fit in at school.

    I don't know anyone who is scared to teach middle school or even high school. We have a local college where our homeschooled kids can start attending at age 15 and get a few years of college finished before they turn 18. I myself have a genetics degree. I even know some women that were teachers and homeschool their own kids.

    My friends who homeschool love their "job" teaching their kids while many of my teacher friends hate their jobs teaching in schools. I haven't met one parent who has their kids in public school here who does not complain about the system...

    Homeschooling is not for everyone, but I can say the same about schools. ;-). My boys are very social and love being with their friends and meeting new people. Plus they are passionate about learning. My little seven year old just told me this morning that he loves our Latin lessons and couldn't wait to do his math.

    I am just so happy we have school choice in Texas so each parent can do what is best for their family.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. We homeschool our son and daughter. Our daughter is 18 and has been accepted to college with a good ACT score (better than some of her public school friends). People always ALWAYS comment on how well behaved our children are. How thoughtful, how they have good relationships with us and their friends. And the funny thing is, we know SO MANY homeschooling families like that. The problem with judging a homeschooling family is that if there is ANY sort of behavior/mental problem, homeschooling is blamed. What if they are homeschooled because the problem is already there? I do fine socially, but I hate tons of socializing. So my kids don't do a lot of it. I wouldn't call myself socially active at all. Not because I can't but because I have too much to do! Family! Writing! Photography! Books! I don't thrive with constant lunches and get-togethers, clubs, and parties. I just don't. And yet our kids still seem to be doing fine and people still tell us all the time how bright they seem and how caring and kind. So how come negative things are always blamed on homeschooling but positive things almost never are? If your kids are doing things "right" it's because the parents are pushing socialization?? John Gatto (a public school teacher who wrote Dumbing Us Down) writes a lot about how damaging public school socialization can be. The problem is that you want your children to emulate adults. You want them to learn by example, according to Gatto. Not by relying on their peers but by being with experts in socialization - adults. Yes, some homeschooling families aren't good. But neither are all public school families. Problems aren't necessarily going to be fixed just because those challenged kids are put into a classroom every day so they can socialize. Anyway, sorry. Rant over! ;) I love reading what you write about homeschooling and this post just really resonated with me. Thank you.

  4. Linda, I LOVED your comment, thank you so much for taking the time to post it. And I have to agree with you on everything you said. I love this part: "The problem with judging a homeschooling family is that if there is ANY sort of behavior/mental problem, homeschooling is blamed. What if they are homeschooled because the problem is already there?" So true!

    I personally can spend all day by myself reading, working, fishing, hiking, etc., but I also enjoy being with people (just not all of the time). I am an extroverted introvert. Or is it the other way around... ;-)

    Like you, everyone tells me that my boys are so compassionate and respectful. And my boys have no problem at all if they are dumped in a crowd of strange kids playing at the park. I have found that they are very flexible and have fun reading at home or out playing with friends. Best of all, they can self-entertain. Right now the boys are making cookies together while I type away on my computer. ;-)

    I love that my kids are never labeled or bullied. I know that as adults they will probably face some people who treat them horribly, but I really believe my boys will have the self-confidence to realize that bullies have the problem, not them.

    I really love hearing pros and cons of socializations in school versus homeschool. It is all so interesting! I am just so happy that we live in a country that we do have choices and can freely discuss the pros and cons together. And we also have the freedom to change our minds whenever we want if the situation changes.

  5. Hi Rita,

    I don't think I will venture into the homeschooling discussion waters, having no experience in that whatsoever. I will say that it sounds like a choice that involves enormous commitment and dedication which you seem to possess by the boatload. I am more qualified to opine on your pet parent status and applaud your choice of the "problem" pup. Not every animal is perfect (something like we human counterparts) and fortunately you rescued poor Blackberry from a life in a cramped cage. Kudos to you!


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