As homeschoolers we constantly get that ever popular question, “So what about socialization?”
For me, that question has never really posed a problem because I’ve never placed myself on the defensive side of it. I’ve never had a problem simply defining “socialization” and posing the question from the offensive,”Well, what kind of socialization do public school kids actually get?” That’s not to mention my kids don’t have a problem stepping in and answering the question for themselves!!
I believe it takes a lot of work to build a well-rounded kid no matter what type of educational environment a child is in. While I understand that public institutions do offer easy-access activities such as sports, band, and FFA to name a few, homeschoolers have to work a bit harder sometimes to find activities, clubs, and groups that meet their interests and goals.
But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and the more effort one puts into something, the more fulfillment and reward is met I’ve always said. I’ve never been one to take the easy way out, LOL! Besides, we know that God is on our side and wants to provide the best for us.
As we’ve moved around the country, we’ve searched diligently for the opportunities that existed in each community we’ve lived in. When my girls were little, they loved ballet and dance. We found an AMAZING dance program on the army base we were living and the girls had an amazing year of lessons with a marvelous and fabulously-talented teacher who had danced all over the US and trained at Alvin Ailey. We also had a wonderful Homeschool Co-op there as we began our homeschooling journey. When we moved to the next base we were involved in an extremely active Girl Scout program and the girls took gymnastics from a super coach as a part of a homeschool group we were in. Once we moved from active duty to the guard and started looking for land to build our ranch on in South Texas, we found a Girl Scout troop and continued with scouting a bit, and were a part of an AWESOME homeschool choir and orchestra where the girls took violin and voice lessons from a seasoned master musician. But once we relocated closer to our land to begin building, girl scouting wasn’t popular in the area and we began to get involved in 4-H and found our Cowboy Church.
As a girl, I was involved in both Girl Scouts and 4-H (and everything else our community had to offer!), so I was excited about both programs. I never had the opportunity to own or show horses of my own or livestock (I showed dogs and cats and was involved in many other aspects of 4-H) , so I was also really excited to get the girls involved in something they loved, and had always wanted to do: horses.
So off we dove into the world of 4-H. It has changed a lot since I was a girl, so it took some dedication to try and figure out how it worked. The club we joined was a very young club with no older kids to really run the meeting or practice jurisprudence, but we hung in there. We asked a lot of questions and drove the 4-H office and extension agents crazy, but made friends, and began to participate in some of the activities like Food Show, photography contest, community service projects, and eventually showed in our first county horse show. After that, we really got to rolling and began to figure out more and more activities that were being offered, and learned to rely on our monthly newsletter. We started the Vet Science project and helped start the JWC Horse Judging Team. The girls began to make lots of 4-H friends outside of our club, then outside of our county and district, then even statewide.
Once we began Horse Judging, the girls both got a feel for the fun of the big stock shows, and teamwork. They both studied hard on their own, devouring everything “horse” they could get their hands on. Quizzing each other, spending hours on the TX A&M judging website, making flash cards, and then Morgan got the surprise of her life when she came up with a second place ribbon at San Antonio as an Intermediate. She was not only excited for herself, but she was excited for her team as well, hoping that everyone would feel like this was a token of “hope” so that they might all join together to work towards a strong and close-knit team.
I watched my girls develop a drive to help others, to be leaders, and to want to work together as a team. I heard them working together and encouraging each other and their team mates. After Morgan had the opportunity to go the A&M horse judging camp, she was even more fired up. When she came home, she was “bleeding maroon”, and was more motivated to strive for excellence than I’d ever seen her. She spent time on college websites looking up majors, classes, pre-requisites, qualifications, etc. She talked to the younger girls about all she had learned and really moved into a role of leadership.
As we pressed onward, we learned, however, that every horse judger has their down period. The more they learn, the more they begin to “overthink” it. But as my girls fell into a slump, (which truly wasn’t much of a slump, but it surely was to them!), they graciously continued to press forward. They encouraged the new team members success, and spent hours learning together.
As with anything, it takes a lot of perseverance to press through the growing pains of different personalities, bad days, sour attitudes, teenage hormones :), and just plain exhaustion sometimes. Horse Judging is a tough sport that takes a lots of concentration and a boatload of focus and willpower. It takes a heart for horses, a sharp eye, a willingness to develop good public speaking skills, and a desire to work hard to better your decision making along with practice, practice and more practice.
This summer Morgan was able to take her sister Taylor and their friend Kaitlyn to A&M horse judging camp. It was the time of their lives and they were able to really learn a lot and further develop those skills. When we look back at pictures of the girls first judging experiences, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come from the 8 and 11 year olds they started out as! It’s also amazing to think that they hung in their through the learning curve to flourish in such a way. It’s quite amazing as well that Levi has been hitchhiking along with us every step of the way since he was just a toddler and is now in pre-4-H and sits along during competitions judging along with them from the sidelines. He has begun to vocalize his own “reasons” using the same vocabulary he hears the girls practicing. In the last judging competition, he even judged the Trail class correctly! Whether he ends up wanting to horse judge, livestock judge, or whatever his interest, I do believe his immersion in this way will benefit him greatly!
I’m so proud of these kids, and my girls. I feel God has blessed us with an amazing 4-H program full of endless opportunities to make friends, grow and succeed in so many ways, and exceed any definition of socialization that we ever could have given. It’s chalk-full of leadership opportunities, community involvement, teamwork, and forever friendships.
For anyone looking for opportunities to get your kids involved in a quality program full of endless opportunities, look into 4-H. If you live in Texas, I can tell you it’s well worth your time investment. If you live in Jim Wells County, well, you are just missing out if you don’t get involved. We have some of the best, most caring, and most dedicated extension agents I’ve ever met. My girls (and me!) LOVE our county agents, and so many adult volunteers they’ve interacted with. I believe it’s really important to surround my girls with motivated, caring adults and peers to help them appreciate and be encouraged to be the best that they can be. There are many different 4-H clubs to choose from, and events and activities that will fill your calendar full every single month!
Unfortunately, it can be tough to find those types of people in today’s world. Between our 4-H community and our Cowboy church, we’ve found some rich and genuine relationships. Glory to God and may He continue to lead us in His ways!
I’m so very thankful for 4-H in Jim Wells County!