Life has just presented us with an opportunity to walk the talk when it comes to Age Segregation!
For people who are new to this blog, my wife and I have given a fair amount of thought to the fact that our society tends to want to pigeonhole us by age, especially in public settings. We put our kids in schools that separate them by age: there are elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools; and in each school, kids are further segregated, so that first graders spend very little time around third graders--let alone seventh graders. We even do this in the churches, with kids put in their classes (which are often broken out into grades like the schools), and the adults put in theirs--and the age segregation is strong here as well, with "Young Professionals" groups and "Young Marrieds" groups and "Families" groups and "Seniors" groups.
We're on record as saying that this tendency to break us out into narrow age cohorts in so many aspects of life is not good for us. It's especially not good for the development of the young, but it has negative consequences for all of us.
And because of this, we've decided to try to push back a little, in our own way, against the trend. Our homeschooling gives us an opportunity to do this some.
Now, our church has started to do more mixed-age activities and unstructured activities (replacing "worship service" time outside of Sunday Morning with "hang out and enjoy each others' company" time, for example). I think this is a welcome development, in theory.
Of course, although this is a welcome development in theory, it means something like work for us armchair philosophers. The trouble is that these age-segregated activities are convenient, and when they go away, the parents' responsibilities go back up. After all, if you can just drop your three-year-old off in the three-year-olds' class, you can go do what you want for an hour, and know she'll be fine; but if there is no three-year-olds' class, you have to keep her with you, and that means there are a whole lot of activities you can't do.
Tonya and I ran up face-to-face with this issue yesterday. You see, our church is doing these "hang-out-and-fellowship" things this summer on Wednesday nights, after the regular classes have let out. This usually involves a publicly displayed movie (and before you ask, we do have a CCVI license, so it's all legal) among other things. The trouble is, the movie takes place too late for our kids to see it; and there are no kids' classes before it. There are some adult classes, and a singing practice; but nothing that one can imagine working with a young family with three kids, the youngest of which is a very energetic seventeen-month old boy who likes to run, hide, climb, and squeal very very loudly.
What to do? Well, let's look at the options.
One option (which I include here for the sake of completeness) is, find something else to do with the time on Wednesday night. One could say that, because the church activities aren't convenient for our family, we could find something else to do--either at home, or at another church, for example. But I really didn't like this option, because it sends entirely the wrong message to our kids about what the Church is, and what role it's supposed to play in our lives. We belong to a Church in no small part because God founded the Church; we believe that we were never intended to live out our faith in isolation from other believers. We need to have them in our lives, and we need to be in their lives; this is one of the ways that our faith is preserved. I've seen too many people raised in the church, who decided that they were strong enough that they didn't need to attend all the time; who then went off to college or moved away, and let themselves get isolated; after a while, their faith has dwindled or been snuffed out.
Furthermore, church attendance isn't just (or even primarily) for our benefit; we're there to benefit others as well. If all the "strong" Christians stay away because "we don't need it", that means that the only ones attending are the "weak" Christians. (And at this point I would start questioning the definitions of "strong" and "weak" in the previous sentence.) The more people attend, generally the more that others can get out of it. This is part of the lesson that I want my kids to learn; we're not just there for our benefit; we're there for others as well.
Ok, so we're going to go, even though there are no activities for the kids. Now what?
Well, for the Happy Boy, he isn't going to be content to sit for an hour. That will not fly. We might be able to pull it off on a Sunday Morning, when we're all half-comatose anyway. ;-) We're not even going to try on a Wednesday night. So for now (until we can think of a better idea), I decided to take him to the (unstaffed) nursery and look after him by myself, playing and talking to him, while Mommy dealt with the girls.
The class that Mommy and the girls went to was an adult class, but there were a few kids in that class, of widely differing ages. Mommy and I had had the foresight to pack a set of art supplies to bring with us, so the girls could draw and color while the class was in session. It turns out that this worked out reasonably well. The kids got pretty antsy at the end, but they made it, and that's what counts.
So about ten minutes before the class time was to end, the Omnivore was getting tired of being in the nursery, so I cleaned up all the toys, and took him into the auditorium, where the singing practice was being held. They were just finishing up, so he got to run around for a bit while I conversed with some of the other adults and teens there. I had to rescue the occasional hymnal from the little guy, who's been learning from his sisters how to wield pencils; but no major harm was done. He's quite the charmer, and got lots of attention from the Altos and Sopranos....
All in all, our little experiment worked. It's not much in the way of age-integration yet, as the activities aren't really inclusive enough to accept entire families; but it's a start. I was very pleased that the girls were able to contain themselves through an adult-level beginners' class on the Bible; and I enjoyed the time I got to spend with my little boy. It's not often that we get to spend an hour, just the two of us, in an environment where I'm not continually trying to keep him from killing himself.
Well, we consider yesterday a small success. One little piece at a time....