On Age Segregation

My friends and I fall into three camps: those who first read Harry Potter to their children, those who first heard Harry Potter read aloud to them as children, and those, like me, whose adolescence more or less coincided with the publication of Harry Potter in this country.

I find so much value in intimate conversations with those in very different places in our marriages and journeys as mothers. Some of my friends have kids in college, while some have only a new baby, or are still casting sidelong glances of curiosity at this motherhood gig.

How much more so for my children, who learn the richness of childhood games from older friends, who seek to emulate the motherly ten-year-old daughter of my friend or consider becoming an altar server when they see an older friend from co-op process down the aisle at Mass. I think of Pippin, whose relationship with his baby sister has been so much richer this year for spending most of each day with her, instead of being shipped off to kindergarten.

An older Boston Globe piece with the headline “What Age Segregation Does to America” points out:

“Age segregation can even have costs among more closely linked groups. A study by husband and wife anthropologists Beatrice and John Whiting looked at age-mixing among children in six different cultures, and found that older kids who spent time with younger ones learned to be nurturing, while the younger ones learned valuable lessons about how to be part of a system where they were less dominant. Kids who only played with their exact peers, on the other hand, learned to be competitive.”

There’s a lot of talk, when you decide to homeschool, about socialization. And it’s true! Pippin spends way less time per week with other kindergarteners than do his peers. He doesn’t know as much about Spiderman, or fidget spinners, I admit. While we’re at it, I have less of a sense of how he stacks up against other kindergarteners in his reading skills and running speed. After all, he only spends scheduled time with other kindergarteners in a classroom one morning a week.

What he does know more about than his peers, though, are these things:

  • the names of flowers in our garden
  • how to use reverse psychology on a tempestuous three-year-old
  • how to soothe a frustrated baby sister
  • how to bake molasses spice cookies
  • how to get along with big boys twice his age
  • how to speak to computer science professors

I have no idea, obviously, whether, in looking back on his childhood, he’ll be grateful for these skills. Maybe he’ll wish he had a traditional classroom experience — I mostly loved my public school education. (I have never been homeschooling against public school, just for some of its benefits.) But when I see his ease in interacting with kids of all ages (socialization!), when I consider the richness friends of different ages have brought to my life, it feels like a gamble worth making.

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