To the Friends and Family of Homeschoolers
To the Friends and Family of Homeschoolers
This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while and feel like I can write from a bit of a removed stance as I have received nothing but support from our family and close friends. Even though our education path may have seemed unconventional to some or perhaps they had doubts, our circle chose to be supporters, cheerleaders and resources. For that I am so grateful.
Even relative strangers that I meet and get into conversation with will at times start to voice concerns about this homeschooling journey but usually quickly “back down” when they find out that I have a degree in education and spent my pre-children career teaching full time in the public system. I still substitute teach in the public system and I’m a huge fan of teachers. I support public school and see the wonderful things they do in educating our youth. And yet…
We chose to take a different path. I think it’s important to note that most that choose home education are not AGAINST public school (granted some are) but they are FOR homeschool.
Being a certified teacher does not better qualify me to be a home educator. Typically nobody is more invested in seeing their child succeed than a parent. No one knows their child better than a parent.
(* I say typically because obviously as a public school teacher I unfortunately have encountered family situations of students that are unhealthy and unsafe. For these children, school is safe place and a much needed institution in their life.)
Initially when I sat down to write this post my intent was to walk people through some of the most common objections and burning questions regarding homeschooling.
What about socialization? (Insert Inigo Montoya saying “That word… I do not think it means what you think it means…”)
But won’t they be missing out on things happening at school?
How do you know if they pass?
How do you know what to teach?
Does the school division check up on you?
You’re going to keep regular hours right? You can’t just play all day.
These questions are all ones that I’ve gotten and they’re not bad questions! (Some are thinly veiled as accusations but… I digress.) It’s so natural to be curious about how homeschooling works. I realized though that the questions people have are vast and diverse and instead of a blog post I’d have a whole book. Instead I’ve decided to come at it from an angle of how can we support and self educate.
Beginning your homeschool journey is quite a lot like giving birth and bringing a new baby home from the hospital. Here you are in one moment drastically altering the course of your life. The decision to home educate will touch every part of your life, it will affect every hour of your day, it will require a (usually steep) learning curve, lots of trial and error, and it will stretch you in ways you never imagined being stretched. Sounds like parenthood right? Now also similarly we greet this new adventure with excitement, anticipation and do everything we can to prep. We’ve got a space organized, shiny new school supplies, curriculum and resources all lined up (just like a nursery). Along with that, most feel a bit of trepidation. We’re human, we have insecurities, doubts and often obsess over details trying to make sure we’re doing “it all”. We’ve made this completely audacious choice to be solely responsible for our child’s education and we’ve CHOSEN to be up to the task. No one makes the choice to home educate lightly. It is a big decision. It requires sacrifice. It’s essentially a career move where you throw yourself into learning how to navigate this new responsibility and position.
So, here we have this new “baby” called home education and we somewhat expect (and at the very least hope) that our friends and family will surround us with support and encouragement just like they did when we brought these precious children home.
If you have a family member or friend who is starting this homeschool journey, can I encourage you to be a bright spot in their “home coming”? In case you’re at a loss, here are some ideas for how to come along side them.
React to the news with encouragement.
Ask them what they’re most excited about. Let them share what they’re nervous about.
Bring a meal during their first week or month. Trying to find a rhythm those first days and weeks (and months lol) can be exhausting. We should probably also do this for mom’s who head back to work after mat leave right?
Shoot a text saying “Happy First Day of Homeschool”
Drop off a new book or fun notebook (not a workbook ;) lol.)
Call to check in and see how they're doing.
Recognize that whatever “school hours” they set are work hours and treat them as such. You wouldn’t expect a classroom teacher to pick up the phone at 11 am and nor should you expect a homeschooler to.
I think we can all empathize that embarking on a new journey that makes you feel a full spectrum of feelings can be made a really trying time if met with opposition. Unfortunately, almost weekly I spend time talking and messaging with homeschoolers who are indeed facing vehement opposition to their choice to educate at home by the people closest to them. It is absolutely heart breaking to witness. I think most homeschoolers expect misunderstanding and uneducated opinions from strangers but it cuts deep when it comes from family and friends.
Let’s also not forget how the children feel in this. Such opposition is very divisive and negatively impacts kids. Anytime we have an unpleasant encounter we need to come home and process through it with kids. For instance, one time at the clinic the doctor learned we homeschool and started interrogating my children. I’m not exaggerating the “interrogating” and leading questions.
Are you sure you like homeschool?
Don’t you wish you could be with your friends all day?
How do you socialize?
Don’t you feel sad that you’re missing out on things?
How do you know if you’re passing your grade?
Is your mom a good teacher?
Isn’t it boring being at home all day?
Will your parents let you go to school some day? (Um... will other parents let their child be homeschooled if they asked? Valid question no?)
And on and on. I obviously jumped in and addressed the doctor and did my best to provide a bit of education in the short time we had. I understand that people are curious and generally not mean spirited. But my kids always say the same things after, “That was super awkward and uncomfortable.”
I mean, can you imagine if we started drilling public school kids?
Don’t you wish you could learn at your own pace?
Aren’t you sad that you don’t get freedom to choose the things you learn about?
Don’t you wish you could spend more time with your parents instead of just a couple hours after school/work?
I bet it sucks to sit in a desk all day when you could be spending more time outdoors.
Just looking at the list it’s obvious it’s wildly inappropriate, yet our kids get drilled on the first list all. of. the. time. As adults we need to do better. A child is not responsible to make us feel better about someone’s choice to homeschool or public school. Also beware of inserting yourself as a secret confidante. Going to a child (even if it’s your grandchild, niece or nephew) and communicating “You can tell me the truth - do you actually want to homeschool or are you being forced to? I wont’ tell your parents.” or any version of that question is NEVER O.K. Never. Ever. Yet… I can’t tell you how many kids I know who have been subject to this.
At times I encounter people who seem to feel like a family’s choice to homeschool is a personal attack on their choice to use public school. They feel that the HS family thinks homeschool is “better” and that means you’ve chosen worse or less for your children. I’ve seen grandparents feel this offense because their children chose to home educate their kids and this makes them feel like their child didn’t think their public education was good enough. Does this strike a chord at all? I think it’s so good to be reflective and aware of our feelings and reactions. If someone choosing to home educate makes you feel less than or attacked please work to gain some perspective on that. A family who is choosing to homeschool is making the best choice for their family, they are not thinking about other family’s choices. They are not doing it to “stick it to anyone” or snub an education choice. If you feel offended by someone’s choice to homeschool that is something for you to work through independent of that person. It is not their responsibility to make you feel better for your education choices.
Another common scenario I see is homeschoolers feeling like they are in a place of constantly needing to justify their reasons for homeschool and to educate people in their misunderstanding. Homeschool forums are filled with people desperately seeking guidance and support in HOW to best communicate to their family and friends or how to protect their kids from divisive attitudes. Here’s the bottom line, they have better things to do with their time than trying to make someone else feel better about their choice. Again, educating your child is a massive undertaking. No one needs the added pressure of having to educate the people around them who are against homeschooling, have massive misunderstandings, etc.
So please hear this in the love that I say it with, if you are uncomfortable with homeschooling, disagree with it or have doubts about it, it is NOT their job to educate you about homeschooling. It is your responsibility to educate yourself.
Here are some ways you can educate yourself:
Research. The internet has a ton of research on homeschooling and its outcomes (both academically and socially).
Read. Blogs and books are great options. My favourite book on homeschool at this point is “The Brave Learner” by Julie Bogart. The Call of the Wild and Free by Ainsley Arnett is also a great introduction to homeschooling.
Exposure. Try exposing yourself to the homeschool community. A great place to start is Instagram. Look up hashtags like #homeschool #childhoodunplugged #intentionalhomeschooling #wildandfreechildren and start following some of the accounts or hashtags. What you will soon find is that the homeschool is broadly diverse, wildly creative, 110% invested and very often on the cutting edge of education. They are educators who are without the restraints of division policies, large class sizes, schedules and bells and the ways they think, the things they try, and how they learn is inspiring and thought provoking.
Discuss. Most homeschoolers actually LOVE talking about homeschooling with someone who is genuinely curious and interested and who isn’t interrogating them from a specific set mindset. I will talk for hours about homeschooling with the curious.
If you are a homeschooler reading this I think it’s important to point out that even though we hope that people in our lives will choose support and encouragement we are ultimately responsible for what we engage in. You do not need to attend every argument or discussion you are invited to. You are responsible to set boundaries. If an individual is consistently aggressive about your choice or keeps giving unsolicited opinions it is your responsibility to shut that down. Just like with any boundary, if it’s not respected or adhered to then it’s up to us to limit our exposure to the one crossing the boundary. This is never easy or preferred but unfortunately is necessary. You do not have to subject yourself to toxic behaviour and attitudes.
Lastly - I've read and re-read this post a dozen times trying to make sure that it comes across as kind and helpful and not defensive or rash. I know that to many who will read this it will likely seem like a totally unnecessary post because they either homeschool and have 100% support (yay!) or they know homeschoolers and they've never thought to demand justification from them regarding their education choice (yay!). Unfortunately in the polls I've done and the people I've talked to around 60% of homeschoolers face extreme opposition to their choice by those in their life. Let's hope that by talking about it a bit we can swing that number to the side of support and encouragement.