MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Rules of the Playground

So my kids are going to daycamp for the first time, at a Boys and Girls Club camp in downtown Bellevue. Not a rough part of town by any means, average group of kids such as you might find on the playground of most any public or private elementary school. They’re being pretty game about it, but I can surmise from the things they say about their day when I pick them up that they’re both fascinated and a bit intimidated by these kids whose social behavior has been molded by a completely different system than what they’ve grown up around.

It’s not like my kids haven’t been around other kids while they’ve homeschooled; they have, a lot. We weren’t actually even technically “homeschooling” because my kids have always attended one or another of Washington’s homeschool resource centers, which to me are one of the things that makes Washington a great state in which to homeschool. This past year, for instance, the kids were at the Kelsey Creek Homeschool Resource Center, taking classes from 9AM to 2 or 3PM every day. They were taking classes like Shakespeare, and Reading and Writing Seminar, Logic and Reasoning, Socratic Seminar, and Art History.

There are a lot of homeschoolers at Kelsey Creek, so they were around a smallish but consistent group of kids day after day. They played together between classes, impromptu games of four-square or cards that would happen spontaneously, and which almost always included a spectrum of kids from preschool age to high school. They were an inclusive group at Kelsey Creek. I never saw a kid being excluded or picked on or bullied for being overweight, or not meeting some arbitrary standard of beauty, or being poor, or from a different culture.

I’m not saying it never happened, but I can count on less than one hand the number of times I personally saw any problems between kids at all, and I was there pretty much all day, every day. There were always lots of adult eyes around, because parents were required to stay on site with kids under age 13. We’d all hang out in the common room or the patio, prepping lunch for hungry kids, getting work done … but we were there, and the kids all knew it.

Imagine if you’d been raised going to school in America, but moved to, say, Japan, where the culture is very different, and that rather than going to the international school with all the other non-Japanese kids, you went to a regular Japanese elementary or middle school. The rules of social engagement, the expectations, would be completely different. It would feel disorienting. You’d feel a little anxious, maybe, a little tense until you learned the rules of the game in this new place, so you could fit in.

That’s pretty much what going to regular school this fall will be like for my guys: Not completely foreign in that there will be classes and teachers and other students, lessons and homework, all of which they’re used to, but different in that the kids interact a bit differently, the expectations are different, and there’s a higher kid-to-adult ratio (ergo more opportunity for your average ambitious troublemakers to fly under the radar).

So far, in three days at daycamp, Luka’s been made fun of, a kid on Luka’s side of a soccer game berated his entire team by saying they were all lousy players, and another kid grabbed Luka’s GPS out of his hand during an activity. Veda seems to be faring a little better; when I came to pick them up yesterday afternoon, she was deeply immersed in a game of Apples to Apples with a group of what seemed to be nice little girls. But she, too, has been quick to report a litany of recalcitrant behavior on the part of these daycamp kids. She seems interested, mostly, almost as if she’s engaged in an anthropological study and some important thing rests upon her figuring out the rules of this social game.

And it does, of course; she’s going to fifth grade in the fall, not the easiest time to be jumping into a public school setting, socially speaking. That’s about the age when girls start to turn mean and petty and exclusionary, and I’m not looking forward to helping her navigate that kind of crap because it pisses me off and makes me want to go all momma bear on someone’s ass, but I can’t because these days you are likely to get a law suit slapped on yourself if you dare to so much as raise a warning eyebrow at some miscreant kid. And with all the volunteer time I spend working with youth at our Unitarian Church and the youth theater, I’ve seen a lot of behavior issues; for some of these kids today, let me tell you, it truly takes a village.

So daycamp is shaping up to be a kind of boot camp for going to regular school this fall for my gang. I guess this kind of stuff constitutes normal playground behavior, and that probably when I was a kid I dealt with it and survived without being permanently traumatized — or maybe early playgrond experiences defined me more than I know, and explain a lot about who I am today, who knows? The counselors seem to be on top of it, nipping problems in the bud before they bloom out into serious issues, and the kids still want to go back. I guess I should just trust that they’ll adapt and figure out the rules of the playground, hopefully without evolving into mean kids themselves.

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