IF YOU think home-schooled children are missing the social interaction of their publicly educated counterparts, you are in for a surprise.
Last week's Homeschool Field Day at Christ Episcopal Church on Oakland Mills Road brought out 24 Howard County families for a day of games, food and socializing.
Columbia Homeschool Community (CHC), a nondenominational co-operative of 58 families, sponsored the event. The group meets monthly at the church for "Homeroom Day," when children ages 2 to 12 and their parents take part in activities typical of traditional schools - reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, playing team sports, practicing public speaking, sharing birthday celebrations and having field days, said Susan Kaczmarek, one of the group's founders.
"Especially as the kids get older, they really need the interaction with other kids," Kaczmarek said.
Lisa Dean, who co-founded the group with Kaczmarek about a year ago, said CHC is a reflection of Columbia's ideology. "On the Columbia concept, we wanted to expose our kids to differences and learn from them," she said. "We know we can educate our children at home, but there are some things we need to get from a community, like socialization."
Wednesday's Field Day provided such an opportunity. With the scent of sunblock wafting in the air, children competed in team activities such as sack races, obstacle courses, water races and a "Tug-of-Peace." Kaczmarek noted that the "Tug-of-Peace" was the same as a traditional tug of war but with a more friendly sounding name.
The theme of the day was "Winning Sportsmanship Through Teamwork." The teams were made up of children of assorted ages, so older team members could assist the younger ones in the contests.
The field day was open to members of all area home-schooling organizations. Some people have more than one home-schooling affiliation, such as Barbet McLain, coordinator of CHC's Homeroom Day. McLain, a mother of three, is also a member of the Christian Home Educators Network. Between the two groups, McLain says, her children stay busy and well-connected with peers.
"The hardest part of home-schooling is keeping a lid on all the activities," she said.
Before Field Day drew to a close, each child received a gold medal and was asked what his or her favorite part of the day was. "Most said they liked meeting new friends best," Kaczmarek said. "It was such a great day."
Usually when pupils complete an academic unit at school, the culminating "activity" is an exam. Not so at Owen Brown Middle School, where the seventh grade recently celebrated the end of its study of Latin America with a fiesta.
"This is a culminating activity. It goes with the English and social studies curriculum," social studies teacher Gail Hutchinson said.
The connection of Latin America to social studies is obvious, but English might seem to be a contradiction. But John Sharbaugh, seventh-grade team leader and English teacher, said he teaches a unit on Hispanic literature in English class.
"We read Hispanic poetry and short stories, and tap into what they've learned in social studies," he said.
The fiesta was a mosaic of activities. The day began with a musical performance by a calypso group, Goombay. Schoolchildren, some wearing ponchos and sombreros, danced along. Twelve-year-old twins Eric and Nathan Cole sported rain ponchos.
"It's a little hot," Nathan said of his plastic poncho.
Yarryd Lowery, 13, wore a custom-made fringed poncho. "My mom made it," he said.
After the concert, the children dispersed to different classrooms. In the art room, pupils sampled Latin American foods such as mangoes, star fruit, salsa and chips. Other rooms provided computer games with Latin American themes, skits performed in Spanish, craft-making and Hispanic dancing.
Outside, seventh-graders had a chance to play a favorite Latin American game - soccer.
Kristin Watson, 12, said she liked the food samples. "It's pretty cool learning about the different cultures," she said, adding, "Art class was the best with all the food."
"It brings it alive," Sharbaugh said. "It's better than sitting back and reading about Hispanic food. They're tasting it."
Vivi Provine Diefenthaler, program coordinator of the Owen Brown Senior Center Plus program, says her children are good to her all year, not only on Mother's Day.
"Both of my children have been very good to me," she said.
Her son lives in Paris, but her daughter lives nearby. So each year, they spend Mother's Day together.
"Every Mother's Day, she's taken me to Mrs. K's Toll House restaurant," Diefenthaler said.
The restaurant in Silver Spring is meaningful to her. "That was my mother's favorite place," Diefenthaler said. "It's reminiscent of my own mother."
This year will be different - her daughter, Kimberly Lourenco, gave birth to twins in February. "This year, I'll bring Mother's Day to her house," Diefenthaler said.
They'll resume their tradition when the tykes are older.