They also asked if we could extend the length and scope of the festivities. So, though last year's guests arrived after dinner on Friday and stayed until just after breakfast on Saturday, this time we started with dinner on Friday - a simple taco supper - and went through lunch on Saturday.
Abigail and Rachel had wisely planned out a series of activities for Friday, starting with minuet dancing and then proceeding to the actual tea party and beyond. The structure really helped to break the ice and build camaraderie among the guests, many of whom were meeting for the first time.
And then - shortly before 10:00 - everyone settled in for the evening's movie, Ever After. One of our guests couldn't stay overnight, but the rest happily camped out on the living room floor and I slept on one of the couches. I know some parents would just leave the kids to their own devices at that point - and, in fact, Jeff and I both stayed largely in the background through most of the event - but, though these young ladies are all lovely and trustworthy, there is something to said for keeping an adult presence to insure an appropriate tone and demeanor. As far as I'm concerned, that's just part of a parent's job.
Just before breakfast, we said good-bye to one friend who had to leave early but also welcomed a new guest - one of the girls' oldest friends who, though unable to attend on Friday, more than welcomed the opportunity to come when she could. So, of course, we had to snap some photos of our beautiful Saturday crew.
And then they went off for the next three hours to play as girls do before enjoying a final meal together.
Of course, this was simply a fun party for all the girls. But I couldn't help but take note of a few things along the way:
- Including my girls, 11 young ladies attended part or all of the event. Eight of them are homeschooled. The three who attend public schools do not attend with each other, but the homeschooled girls don't represent a homogeneous group either. Actually, each family situation is unique and the home learning environments among the families are quite diverse. And, though all live in the same city, some had not had occasion to meet before the party;
- Most of the girls were between the ages of nine and 11. But the youngest was just six, another was only seven, and the oldest was almost 14. My girls invited their friends, feeling no obligation to limit the guest list to same-aged peers;
- The only two girls who initially seemed nervous were the youngest two, one homeschooled and one not. Clearly, their hesitation was a factor of their age and of realizing they were much younger than the others, not where they are "socialized." But they both experienced something I've seen consistently among homeschoolers much more than institutionally-schooled kids: the older girls embraced the younger ones as peers and helped them as needed without giving it a second thought. So, before long, the younger ones relaxed and joined right in;
- Other than the two youngest, none of the girls was the least bit "socially awkward" even though several had never met each other before. The homeschooled girls didn't sit around in the corners twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the "properly socialized" public school girls to "draw them out." They didn't speak only with the girls they'd known before the party or break off into same-age enclaves. Nope. Instead, all the girls were engaged in conversation with each other almost from the moment each walked in the door. It didn't matter one bit to any of the girls who went to school where;
- I know the parents of the girls who attend public school extremely well - better, in fact, than the parents of most of the homeschooled girls. And, from my own experience as a student and then later from my years as a public school teacher, I know all about the socialization environment of the public schools. The publicly-schooled girls at our party are wonderful young ladies - but I'm sure that has nothing to do with where they go to school. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that they're well-socialized because of the parenting they've received and in spite of the inevitable, unavoidable "lord of the flies" environment prevalent in the schools.
Given all of that, I kept wishing that critics of homeschoolers' supposed "lack of socialization" could have been flies on my wall. They could not have distinguished between the homschooled kids and the others, and their stereotype would have been blown out of the water. Of course, they would have noticed the lack of "mean girl syndrome" and how respectful the girls were of each other and of the adults - behavior that might have seemed "weird" to them. But, honestly, if that's the definition of weird, let's keep at it.
As for the future of the sleepover...well, suffice it to say that Rachel and Abigail are already thinking about next year, and Jeff and I will be happy to oblige.