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The Particulars of School Experience

schooolbusI was reading a general child development book and making note of all the assumptions we assume about children that really may say more about kids in the context of school than they do about kids. By which I mean that when studies naturally focus on peer relationships in school, which is a very specific context for peer relationships, those studies might miss out on the fact that peer relationships in school may be the default experience but it is not necessarily TRUE the way that a babies need to suck is TRUE.

There are a lot of similarities between what I’ve seen of my own children’s middle childhood and what the books say about middle childhood but when it comes to some of the peer experiences, I see a lot of differences, especially around the gender assumptions.

Around the local Columbus homeschool community kids do tend to group by age and gender but not nearly as much or as rigidly as much of the research says kids do. Instead homeschoolers tend to group around activity and interest and availability. Kids play with the kids who show up so big kids play with little kids and girls play with boys and sometimes they do sex or age segregate but most of the time they do not. Most of the time you just have packs of kids who are kinda around the same age (or ability) running around or standing around.

Now I’m not saying that homeschool is more TRUE anymore than school is more TRUE; I’m saying that it would be a mistake to assume that school is TRUE because it is more typical. Looking at atypical families (homeschoolers) might bring insight to more typical experiences (school). Because maybe it is not true that most kids naturally sex segregate to the point where most boys will actively avoid speaking to a girl unless they have to (see this chart); maybe that is true when you put large groups of same age children together for six hours a day. Maybe in schools where children are in mixed age this doesn’t happen in the same way.

I  wonder how much we assume is developmentally to be expected and instead it’s developmentally expected in a very particular context. Wouldn’t looking at children in other contexts give us insight into kids in general?

As a therapist who works with a lot of kids, I try to remember that we are all of us deeply affected by our environments and that a child who is having a particular experience in school is having that experience because of who he is AND what school is for him. For the child who is struggling, I hope to help him (and his parents) find a balance that honors the person who he fundamentally is and understands that he still needs to find a way to function in his environment.