I tend to overthink a lot of things, and this topic has had my brain going back and forth for two years. Should we join a homeschool co-op? I suppose the reason I keep flip-flopping on the idea is because in theory I love the idea of a co-op, but in practice I just don't see how it's possible for us at this time.
Anna is very blessed to have a best friend who lives down the street from us. Anna and Maddie have had a special friendship since preschool that even survived our two year "vacation" in Chicago, and since they live so close they get to see each other fairly often (although they would argue it's not nearly enough). Anna is also friends with another homeschooler at church, but it is harder for them to get together because of schedules and distance. Otherwise, Anna has few friends. Of course, she gets along well with many other kids at church and on swim team. But one of the reasons I was relieved to not have a birthday party for her this year is because it would have been a pretty short guest list.
It's even worse for Ryne and Grace. Ryne is blessed to have a great group of friends at Cub Scouts. He's known most of these boys since he went to Kindergarten at a Christian school, and they truly are neat boys. They are so accepting of Ryne, even when his behavior is hard to understand. But about the only time he gets to see them is at Cub Scouts. Grace has a few friends, but it always requires some special planning on my part to set up play dates, and I admittedly have not been as diligent as I should in setting up play time with her friends.
So it seems logical that a co-op would be a great solution. It would provide a great opportunity to meet kids their own ages whose families share similar values as ours, not to mention learning some subjects that would not normally be included in our homeschool curriculum. It seems to work wonderfully for thousands of homeschoolers. My area of town might not have as many co-op opportunities as others, but I still have options. I've mentioned before that we have a great group of homeschoolers we meet with for field trips and an annual Christmas party. This same group has a small co-op that meets once a week that would probably be a wonderful fit for us.
And yet I keep deciding the timing isn't right. I tell myself that our schedule is too packed as it is. I currently schedule us to "do" school four-and-a-half days a week, leaving the extra half day for a field trip, dentist appointment, etc. So far this school year we have had only two or three weeks where we didn't have anything scheduled for that half day. And there have been plenty of weeks where we've had to take more than a half day. For example, this week we will be going to Chicago for a doctor appointment, so we will do good to get half our normal workload done. This is not a common occurrence, but it seems like our schedule is full of uncommon occurrences. In addition to our jam-packed school schedule is my jam-packed personal schedule. To be part of the co-op I would have to teach a class, and I just don't see how I can devote the time needed on top of what I'm already doing.
Probably more daunting than scheduling issues, is the whole autism thing. Ryne's social skills, while improving, are still quite lacking. If we joined a co-op I would have to be constantly monitoring him and helping him navigate the social scene and his interaction with his teachers. Frankly, I don't have the energy for it right now. This was one of the reasons why we chose to homeschool in the first place.
Some would argue that he is going to have to learn these skills someday, and that I am not doing him any favors by sheltering him. But I am not trying to shelter him forever. That is why we started RDI, so maybe someday he could relate to other kids in a meaningful way. But RDI is a developmental approach, meaning he needs to learn some foundational skills before he can relate like his peers.
In December I shared how finally learned some basics in my Photoshop Elements software. I loved the experience of playing with the different tools, even though I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I bought a magazine all about digital scrapbooking to read on our trip to Denver. As I flipped through the pages, I was fascinated by all the pictures and the cool things all these people did on the computer. But that's about as deep into the experience as I got because I was out of my league. Instructions for adjusting Tolerance settings and changing the Angel Jitter were completely lost on me. This is how Ryne is with relationships right now. He's fascinated by people and loves to be with other people, but he just doesn't get the intricacies of social communication. Yet through RDI, we are learning to guide him slowly through the social maze. We may just be working on the basics right now, but without the basics he will never progress to the more difficult stuff. Just like if I want to learn more advanced digital tricks, I need slow down and master the basics first.
Just when I think I have it settled in my mind, another thought enters. Should Anna and Grace be deprived of the opportunity to develop friendships because Ryne isn't quite ready? I am constantly struggling to balance the needs of two neurotypical homeschoolers with the special needs of the other, whether the needs be social or academic.
Back and forth. Back and forth. What to do? Today I think I have the answer. When I look at the interactions between Anna, Ryne and Grace, I can see that they already have friends. They have each other. Oh, yes, they fight and they can drive me crazy with their bickering. But they also have a marvelously fun time together. They perform goofy skits together. They make up silly songs that make sense only to themselves. They joke back and forth. They draw together, commenting on each others' pictures. They chase each other and wrestle. Right now, I think it's enough.
I'll probably change my mind next week.
And then change it back again.