Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Our Mini United Nations

One comment I often hear from people in regards to home schooling is that children don't often get exposed to children "different" from themselves if they are home all the time. I always smile a bit when I hear this. Mostly because anyone that actually meets my children have meet people "different" from themselves. We don't belong to one of the major religions (or any religion for that matter, but we do follow a Torah based life), we are overall quirky, and not very "typical". However, I have yet to meet a "typical" family anyway. Everyone we know is quirky in their own way - even when they belong to various majority based groups.

I do a chemistry class for young home schoolers. The children are all between K and 3rd in terms of grade level. In this group of roughly eleven children (including younger siblings observing) - the differences are amazing. There is one set of twins, one child with English as a second language, at least 5 children  are mixed race, four children with parents born outside of the United States, three families with a language other than English spoken in the home - either as a primary or secondary language, at least two families that do not belong to any of the major religions. Some of the children have older siblings, some have younger siblings, and one child is being raised and home schooled by a grandparent. Two families travel from different cities to join us for class - so much for being confined to people that live in your neighborhood!

Our mini UN is filled with diversity; diversity that can be appreciated because it is genuine. It isn't found in a book or a movie; it's just their friends - each one unique in their own way. What makes this such a wonderful group of children is the fact that their differences go almost unnoticed. They know "J" and "K" speak Mandarin in the home, but it isn't a big deal. What makes it cool is that "J" and "K" and their mommy is teaching everyone a little Mandarin. The children that speak Spanish in the home blended easily with the native English speakers as they all counted to 10 and beyond in Spanish. They didn't do it as an assignment, or to point out differences; they just did it because the kids all wanted to do it and found it to be fun.

While the other children might find it weird that my kids don't celebrate Christmas, Halloween, or Easter - it isn't a big deal. I am sure they may find it kind of interesting when they come over during Sukkot and we are having class out in our temporary shelter (most likely an RV rented from a vendor). My kids rejoice and do a happy dance when one of their friends gets a visit from the Tooth Fairy, even though she doesn't visit our home. That is what diversity is really all about - being able to appreciate the culture of others without feeling the need to change the core of who you are. We don't proselytize our friends, and they return the favor. We embrace our differences as well as in the wealth of things we have in common. In fact, we are more common than we are different. I have found in my own journey through life that I am more like most people than I am different - irregardless of where in the world I am standing. This is the gift that homeschooling allows me to give to my children as well - they are experiencing the truth that we are all more alike than we are different. They are learning you don't have to look the same, believe the same, or live the same in order to be the best of friends.

Some of my children's friends are vegetarians - even though we eat meat, we don't offer it as a meal choice when their vegetarian friends join us for play. That's also a big part of embracing and understanding diversity. Understanding that you compromise where you can, when you can, and it's all okay.

I don't know if my kids would have these type of experiences in a traditional school setting. Maybe they would, but I know "I" wouldn't. While the kids enjoying playing with their friends, I am getting an opportunity to get to know some really awesome and amazing parents! I love that I can converse with others that don't home school exactly like we do, but still get just as amazing results. I love talking recipes with people who have a different diet than we do. I love hearing about the spiritual experiences of other families, even though we don't engage like they do. It's also nice to meet other families that do many things in a similar way - like knowing other families that choose not to spank (and yes, some of our friends spank as well).

Genuine interest and respect of others while still being true to yourself - that is the best thing I can teach my children. And that is what they are learning. Well, I take that back - they aren't learning it at all. Children naturally function this way without the interference of closed minded adults. What I and the other parents have provided is an atmosphere for the children to continue to function in the kind and inclusive manner they are born with. Many people say children are cruel, but that isn't true at all. Children unencumbered with bigotry, hate, and self righteousness from adults are actually quite kind and enjoyable individuals. What is so amazing about our mini UN is that all of the children are just naturally kind. No, they aren't perfect. They get a bit loud and rowdy and I did think they would come to blows as they tried to hoard Lego's! But not one person made fun of "P" even though he stutters. Not one person laughed at one of my little ones that had a meltdown and cried a bit. No one mentions that "C" is a little over weight while "M" is a bit skinny. None of that registers at all - they just don't ever talk about it, they don't dwell on those things. In fact, I shouldn't even call them a UN - they function so much better than the UN. They don't group themselves by language, race, socioeconomic status, or gender. It doesn't matter who their parents will be voting for, if they choose to vote at all. They are so comfortable in their own skin that I am a bit jealous. What they have can't actually be taught, it has to simply be nurtured. I and the other parents have vowed to do just that, provide an environment that is as close to uncorrupted as possible. We won't be perfect; we are adults and that puts us at a disadvantage. But for as long as we can, we commit to just letting them be and enjoy each other. We will continue to do a happy dance if the Tooth Fairy visits a friend, bop our heads as someone sings a Christmas song, and giggle as we have class outside during Sukkot. We will sit back while the kids count in Spanish, English, Mandarin, and any other language they choose, and smile at the rainbow of children playing freeze tag out in the yard.

I grew up in a world that was simply Black and White, rich or poor - that was it. My heart if filled with joy that my kids have a world so much bigger, so much more colorful, so much more authentic than I could have imagined at their age. For this experience alone, home schooling has been well worth the effort.

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