What TO say to homeschoolers

I was hanging with a friend who publicly schools her oldest but is wondering if public school is a good fit for her middle child (who would enter Kindy next year).  In the process of talking, I spoke about the various things I’m tired of hearing people say in response to hearing that we homeschool.  (see “I can’t homeschool because…”)

But it brought up a good point: what WOULD you say. As I noted in the above-referenced post, you would say the same things you’d say to someone when you find out what public or private school their kids go to–especially one you know nothing about.  How would you respond to someone saying that they sent their kids to a well-noted private school?  What would you say to someone when they are in a crappy school district?  Your responses are different based on what you know about each–right?  You think about what they might be facing.  You put yourself in their shoes and wonder how they’re tackling the tuition or the gang activity or whatever would be your concern.

Or maybe you think in the other direction–about how fortunate they are to not have their fine arts program whittled away, or how lucky they are to have access to aftercare programs. The thing that most people don’t do is make it about them the way they do when they hear someone home schools.  True, when someone hears about a family sending children to a notable private school–inevitably they cross paths with someone that blurts out “Oh I wish I could send my kids there but we’re not rich!”  Most of those people follow up tat comment with something more meaningful.  Not all people, of course, but most.  Likewise, if someone’s in a crappy district, it’s not like you’re going to say “Oh, I could never live there!”  I mean, there are definitely people out there who are that inconsiderate; but it’s not the majority.

None-the-less, that is the overwhelming response to homeschoolers: “I could never do that!”  Although those making that statement think that we homeschoolers should take it as a compliment.  We don’t. (again, see the above-referenced post for more info) So the recommendation is that you do the same thing with homeschoolers as you do for anyone else.  Think about what THEY are doing and respond meaningfully.  Think about how you’d respond to someone whose kids go to school in a place you know nothing about.  What would you want to know or what would you say to make conversation?

Sometimes you don’t get forewarning about these conversations.  You don’t think about what you’d say because you can’t possibly know all of the places in the world that a child could attend school.  You’re immediately put on the spot when you hear them spew out the name of some educational facility you’ve never heard of.  It’s the same with homeschooling, too, right?  Or maybe you just say “Oh, I’m not familiar with that–what’s it like?”

Why not say THAT to a homeschooler?  

Because really, unless you’ve done it–you’re NOT familiar with it.  And if you HAVE done it, you’re unlikely to be familiar with the way THAT person is doing it–much the same as public schools, school districts and private schools vary.  Let me give you a list of responses to help get your mind thinking in the right direction for build bridges rather than walls.  Obviously, there are way, way, WAY more responses available than this.  I’m just hoping that this set will get you on a track that leads to meaningful discussion.

  • “I’m not really familiar with homeschooling…”
    • “…what’s your favorite aspect of it?”
    • “…what do your days look like?”
  • “Are your kids involved in any enrichment activities where we might run into you?”
  • “What are they most interested in?”
  • “Does this area offer a lot of group activities specifically for homeschoolers?”
  • “What do you do on days that get off to a rough start?”
  • “What’s your favorite or least favorite part of it all?”

Another really important thing to know is that we often (but not always) know about the local schools, local resources, and cool stuff.  Don’t assume that we do; but also–don’t assume that we don’t.  Share what you know with us anyway!  Likewise, we will share the stuff we’ve found with you!  Many of us would even assume that you might find an activity or two worthy of keeping your kid home for a day.  There is definitely stuff we DON’T know about–stuff that you may have learned just because your kid found out from some other kid we’re not friends with or through the school.  I had no clue about xtramath.org or Kik Messenger (or it’s caveats) except from our public schooling friends.

Another thing that might surprise you is that a lot of us keep up on what’s happening in public education.  Partly because a chunk of us are former teachers and care deeply about public education even if we’re not currently using (or working in) it.  Some of us live in states where what happens to the schooled population affects them as homeschoolers (or there is concern about how it might affect them).  I was at a block party in my new neighborhood and I think my new neighbors were slightly surprised to hear me speak about Core Curriculum like any public schooling parent.  But many of us also know that our kids may be in the public education system at some point.  Some are in delicate financial positions where a few unfortunate events could render us needing an income from the homeschooling parent–making them unavailable to homeschool the kids.  Some have simply decided to give their kids a foundation at home at their own pace, giving more attention to their kids individual needs, and sending them back to school at a later age with better preparation for what awaits them.  Parents do this for Kindergarten or first grade; but some wait until middle school or high school to re-enter. Aside from that, almost all of us know that public education is a service to our communities and to our future as a nation.  We value it deeply and know it needs to address all of the children fairly–not just some of them.

There are DEFINITELY homeschool evangelists out there–the parents that would hear any complaint you have about your education choice and immediately try to push you into homeschooling.  There are some who are not very diplomatic or considerate in how they articulate their reasoning for homeschooling in comparison to public schooling.

Please do not assume we are all like this.

I don’t assume that all public schooling parents feel like I took a teachers job or that ALL kids should be in school no matter what.  Those parents exist.  In large numbers (with lots to say about my child–who they know nothing about).   But in fact, I don’t know many of these kinds of homeschoolers at all and I’m in an area where homeschooling is VERY common.  Most of the homeschoolers I know are considerate people that realize this is a personal choice that differs by the family; and if you are willing to be open and honest with them, they are happy to be open and honest with you.  I have public schooling friends that know they can vent to me and I will offer them suggestions for working within the school’s system rather than say “This is why we homeschool” or “Maybe you should homeschool”.

Likewise, I can usually gripe to them about something regarding my kids without them saying “Ugh… I don’t know why you don’t just put them in school already and let the professionals handle it.” Because neither of those responses is supportive; and rarely are either of those responses appropriate. If we could all feel like our choices would be respected, there would likely be a lot more communication going on.  Possibly a lot more playdates.

Definitely a couple of cool Moms Night Outs.

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