There’s this thing about being a homeschooler – people will want to talk to you about it. Your neighbors will inquire why your children are not at school. When you are out in public with school-aged children during school hours, people will ask you about it. In the course of casual conversations with other moms at the park, the subject will come up. In the midst of doctor’s appointments, you will be asked about homeschooling. This will not only happen at your pediatrician appointments, but also at your own. I kid you not – I have fielded questions about homeschooling during mammograms and gynecological exams.
Homeschooling is no longer a fringe activity. Almost everyone knows of someone who homeschools, but we are still unusual enough that people are curious about our lives and what homeschooling looks like. Most of these people aren’t rude and don’t have any sort of hidden agenda. They are genuinely interested in learning more. Some of them are even considering homeschooling for themselves and their children.
While you might decide it is easier to simply never leave your house again, chances are at some point you will need to venture into a public place and engage in a conversation about your life. Whether you want to be or not, by virtue of being a homeschooler, you will end up being an ambassador for homeschooling. What you say about homeschooling and how you present yourselves impacts how people view homeschooling. You may be the only real-life homeschooler this person has ever spoken with.
What does this mean? It means that you need to put a positive spin on it, even when you are having a bad day and dreaming of a life that would involve sending your children off to school. Life can be hard enough for homeschoolers without shooting ourselves in the foot. We need to stick up for each other and this life we have chosen. Among ourselves and with those who are seriously considering homeschooling, we can share both the positives and negatives, but with the general public, it’s important to accentuate the good things about homeschooling and homeschoolers.
Most of the time, we can do this by answering people’s questions with honesty, but not hostility. We can maintain that this way of life works better for our families without attacking those who choose another path. What works for one child does not necessarily work for another. We don’t need to discuss the failings of the local school system. For many people, that is their only option and most teachers work incredibly hard at their jobs.
You can emphasize the things you have in common. For example, most homeschoolers take part in some outside activities. Discussing these helps show that your children do interact with other children and reduce other’s fears that your children don’t have the opportunity to socialize.
People have different visions in their heads of what homeschooling looks like. Sometimes they will ask very specific questions about how homeschooling works. What curriculum do you use? Do your kids need to take state achievement tests? Are you planning on homeschooling through high school? (They will ask this last one even when your kids are in Kindergarten – I always said it was a year-by-year choice until my children actually got to high school.) As I indicated, most people are simply curious.
You also have a responsibility to help other people who want to homeschool. You can offer friendship, advice (when they ask), and talk through their questions and fears. You can show them that it can be done. I’ve been so thankful to the friends who have guided me on my homeschool journey. It’s great to be able to help those who are just starting out.
Your children also end up being ambassadors for homeschooling. In the course of everyday conversations, people will ask your children questions such as, “Where do you go to school?” or “What grade are you in?” It is helpful to teach children once they are school-age to answer that they are homeschooled and to assign them a grade. Yes, they may be eight years old and reading at a first-grade level but doing fifth grade math and science. They may be unschooled and not have a grade at all. Just assign them whatever grade they would be in at the local school. It beats the embarrassment of having them answer, “I don’t go to school.” In addition, you most likely will need those designations at some point, whether it be for entering a religious education program to make their sacraments, reporting to the city, or attending a formal school or co-op program.
It can be difficult to have our lives be under the spotlight. It can be a challenge to be different and have people question us about our lives, but it is also an opportunity to share the reasons why we homeschool and the ways homeschooling has had a positive effect on our and our children’s lives.