March-April 2007 Selected Content
Questions and Answers - Laura Weldon
How Educational Is the Doggy in the Backyard?
Will the kids take better care of the dog than they did the hamster?
How do my children make neighborhood friends?
How Educational Is the Doggy in the Backyard?
"I'm all out of arguments. My kids had all sorts of small pets like lizards, hamsters, and fish. Once the enthusiasm wore off, they lost interest and did little more than feed them. But they have never stopped begging for a dog. Their favorite movies are about dogs. Every gift-giving occasion they ask for a dog. My husband and I have never had one and I think it will just end up like the hamster, ignored, except we'll be stuck with it once the kids go to college. Is there any educational benefit for homeschoolers to own a dog?" - Cassy, Salina, Kansas
Dogs can be amazingly educational. We too struggled with the decision for years, and even had our then 10 year-old son do an extensive research project and presentation on dogs to make sure that we all understood what we were getting into. We did eventually get one three years ago, when our kids were 10 and 7. They were old enough to help out but young enough to still be at home for most of a dog's typical life span.
You could also dog sit for a friend to get the feel of dog ownership, volunteer at your local shelter, or find other ways to spend time with dogs first.
I chuckled when you mentioned the fact that small pets eventually get ignored. This was true for us as well but a dog won't let you ignore it! I actually prefer cats and dogs over fish and caged pets because I hate cleaning aquariums and cages. Plus, a dog is another friend, as well as a patient, understanding listener even when your child/teen isn't getting along with anyone else in the family.
Some of the educational benefits you can get from a dog:
- Physical Education: Dogs provide lots of exercise through walks and other kinds of play. Part of our deal is that our son is responsible for at least one walk a day in all but the worst weather. Our daughter regularly spends time actively playing with our dog. You can also take physical education even farther by getting involved in dog sports like agility training.
- Biology: Dogs make excellent science projects. From learning about the care and feeding of a dog, to anatomy, physiology, and doggy health care, a live subject to study and play with is endlessly inspiring. There are even several books and kits available to help kids do benign experiments with their dogs.
- Social Studies: We've studied dog breeds, which leads to history and geography. Studying breeds before you get a dog also helps you choose a dog that fits your lifestyle and activity level. We've also participated in pet-related community service events like fund-raising walks for our local animal shelter. If you want to take community service even farther, you can get involved with a therapy dog or service dog training program.
- Social Skills: Pets really do help teach responsibility and compassion. Kids get used to dealing with strangers as they meet other dog owners and admirers while out in public. Kids can also be the ones to work with the dog during obedience training classes.
Of course, one of the biggest reasons to get a dog is that they're just plain fun! As for being left with the dog when the kids go off to college, you might find it comforting that the dog still with you for company when the kids are gone. - Cathy Munson-Klein
I know what you mean. My three children had all the small pets like ferrets, hamsters, and rabbits. They still wanted a dog. I was like you and didn't give in to their pleas for a dog because they just weren't into cleaning and feeding their previous pets. But when my oldest went off to college, and the next oldest was starting to look into the Air Force, I knew my son Emery was going to be pretty lonely. So I agreed to consider a small dog. After reading up on breeds and talking to dog owners we ended up with a year old Golden Retriever named Maggie who was already house broken. This dog has added an entirely new dimension to our household. Needless to say we all love her. I believe there are educational benefits as well.
First off, I used to worry that Emery got too little exercise. He's always been my computer and X-Box kid, but part of our agreement in getting the dog was that he would walk her every day. A walk is very important in keeping the dog healthy and calm. We have found a walk does the same for a pre-teen. They are out in all kinds of weather. Emery notices things outside that he never used to pay attention to, and that adds new topics to our conversations, too.
Having a pet also changes Emery's level of responsibility. He can't get away with ignoring the dog as the kids used to do with smaller animals. A dog will come up to you and bark when it needs to go out or needs fresh water in its bowl. It has a distinct personality and alters the way you live your life. For a child, that may be the first time he has to think of caring for needs other than his own.
And most important to me, a dog is a companion for a child in a way that parents and siblings (or any human) cannot be. A dog loves unconditionally. It doesn't judge. Maggie sleeps by Emery's bed. She joins his adventures and waits for him when he leaves. Once, when Emery was angry with a friend, he stomped off to his room and slammed the door. I heard him open it right away to let the dog in. He said, "Sorry Mags." And then as an afterthought he called out, "Sorry Mom." I know that he has Maggie to put an arm around or play with if he's feeling sad.
So think about getting a dog after all. You may just adore it as we do our Maggie. - Angela Stuart
If you do decide to get your kids a dog you might consider having them allergy tested for dog allergies beforehand. There would be nothing worse than finding out after the fact that you couldn't keep the pet. We have severe dog allergies at our home and our kids long for a dog, but knowing the allergy issue has put it to rest and I am not the bad guy any more.
Also, I know this sounds terrible, but large breeds do not live as long as small breeds and that may be something to consider if your kids are getting close to leaving home. - Carmen
On the educational front, if you do decide to get a dog you should all do some research. Learn about breeds and decide carefully what type would fit into your household. We recently adopted a wonderful dog for us but she was completely unsuited to her previous family.
Read about dog training as well. You'll have a much better time with your dog if you can teach her/him what the expected behavior is in your household. Also, plan to get involved in some sort of obedience training class. Those classes can be very helpful in training the dog's family as well as socializing and teaching the dog. - Lisa K. West Chester, PA
I think there are tremendous educational benefits to dog ownership for homeschoolers. We do dog agility training and participate in shows. We also breed dogs and sell the puppies. I see that my children learn through these endeavors, not to mention the character traits they develop such as patience, trust worthiness, and good humor. - Natalie
There's a way you can have your cake and eat it, too. I mean you can have a puppy, do a good deed, and not be stuck with a dog when your kids are grown. You raise a puppy to be trained later as a guide dog for a visually impaired person. Check out the links for programs in your area. Our daughter's family did this two different years and enjoyed the experience very much.
- Bill Rubica
"We moved to this development a year and a half ago partially because it's full of kids. We have a homeschool group and participate in some activities, but I want my children to have friends in the neighborhood. Everyone here goes to the same school and is a big booster of sports. We could care less about sports. You can see where this is going. None of the kids on the street play with mine. Any suggestions?" - Rochelle
School does create a culture of its own, but you can help create an inclusive neighborhood climate. Every summer I have Open Fridays in my yard with my children, seven year-old Jared and nine year-old Cassidy. We bought a large-scale popcorn popper from a garage sale a few years ago and the smell of that popcorn cooking helps bring the kids in. I spend Fridays outside with lemonade and popcorn available. We do things like make an obstacle course, paint the drive with tempera paint (lasts longer than chalk), play large scale games (explain cops and robbers to today's kids!) and do cheap crafts. Sometimes other mothers come over but most of the time I'm the only adult with my kids and about eight others. I appreciate the chance to get to know the different personalities. During the school year my kids and I pick and choose whom to invite over for indoor activities or to go with us to after school field trips.
When we get our deck done I plan to have parties and invite the neighbors over for barbeques and other events. I truly believe that the more friendly I am, the better the situation is for my children. - Holly
I moved to our community four and a half years ago. We had some difficulties before I discovered that I needed to overcome the damage done by another homeschool family that used to live a few streets over. Those people gave homeschoolers a bad name. For one thing they actively campaigned against much needed improvements to the high school building. Worse yet, they were arrogant and superior about their method of education. I continue to hear stories about the dismissive comments these parents made and the cruel way their children acted even though these people have been gone for several years. I feel as if we are here, in part, to heal the image of homeschoolers. In fact, one of my children went back to school for his last two years of high school and, when my husband and I went to register him, the school officials were actually nervous. They said that they'd been threatened with lawsuits by yet another homeschool family! So, the only suggestion I can make is to be extra kind and friendly. You never know if your neighbors have had a bad experience and are staying away because they are afraid you are judging them for being less involved in their children's education. The last thing we need in this world is more division. - Unsigned
I can understand your difficulty. When we moved into our neighborhood I was pregnant. On our small street everyone had children. In fact, two of my neighbors were also pregnant. We soon found out that we all had very different interests and lifestyles. When my daughter was in preschool, the kids in the neighborhood watched as she tried to play "Little House on the Prairie" with them using wagons and bikes. She couldn't get into the pretend game of "Power Rangers" that they organized. As they all became old enough to attend school and we stayed home, it became obvious that the possibility of constant friends in the neighborhood wasn't going to happen. As children get older, especially in high school, the school and the school's activities become the larger neighborhood community.
But, if you really want to find that connection then you will have to be the ones to put yourselves out there and make the effort to try. Have a tree planting or trash pick up party on Earth Day. Have a movie night in the summer by projecting a movie on your garage door and invite everyone on your street. Have a sledding party and gather afterward for hot chocolate around a bonfire (or one of those patio fireplaces!). Then, once you have these group activities, with the adults included, you can find out what other interests their children have. You may find that you do have something in common with them, after all. - Maureen
Be the alternative for neighborhood kids. There have to be kids who feel left out by all that sports boosterism. Competitive sports leave little room for kids who prefer exploring in the woods, talking about books, or playing imaginative games instead of endless practices and too many rules. Make an effort to get your kids acquainted with other kids, especially the ones who might not always be playing with a crowd. Eventually you will find one or two kids whose interests mesh with your own kids' pursuits, and their friendships will add substance to their lives both schooled and homeschooled. - Annie Spencer
You have to work at it and drop any expectation of other people reciprocating. Other people are just too busy. Welcome children to visit and play in your yard, with safety rules enforced. Find attractions beyond the usual basketball hoop so new children will be interested enough to come by.
In our case it was the presence of my husband during the late afternoons that really brought neighborhood children over. He works a different shift and was available to play silly games in the front yard or help them nail up steps on a tree to help them climb. Lately, he's been working out plans to build a fort/playhouse out of scrap wood. He'll be sure to ask whatever children are around to help him. These days, parents have too much to do to hang out with children or, even more importantly, to let children take on tasks with a noticeable result such as building something. So this will be great. - Emma and Harry's Mom
My kids don't play with kids around here much, either. You know why? Most kids have too many scheduled activities, too much homework, too much time devoted to playing video games or watching TV. If they aren't doing that, they are spending the weekend with their dad and stepmother. A lot of kids don't understand the concept of kids' play any more. I overhear six year olds play and the only thing they do is act out TV shows. They don't know what to do on their own if you send them outside. My solution is to find those kids who actually have their own imaginations and arrange play dates no matter how far away they are. My kids have a friend or two from temple, one from our old block, and the rest are homeschoolers. Friends make a big difference in the satisfaction quotient for my family, so no effort is too much. -Sasha
© 2007, Laura Weldon