When I was growing up, it was a well-known fact that homeschoolers were weird. I didn’t actually know anyone who homeschooled, but there was a homeschool family that walked past my school daily. So by observation and copious amounts of shared expertise on the subject among my school chums, I amassed a great deal of knowledge about the rare and exotic species known as: the homeschooler.
This is what I knew:
- Homeschoolers had no social skills.
- Homeschoolers never left the house, except when they took family walks and called it gym class.
- Homeschoolers were illiterate.
- Homeschoolers were super religious.
- Homeschoolers wore skirts.
- Homeschool girls didn’t shower and wore their hair in buns.
- Homeschoolers didn’t go to college.
Obviously I was an authority on the subject.
The truth is, most of these negative assumptions about homeschooling followed me into adulthood. So I never in a million years considered homeschooling my children. It was not even on my radar. That is, until I took a side job teaching science to homeschooled teens.
On the first day, the last words I spoke to my husband before heading out the door were, “This oughta be interesting. I bet these kids are so weird.”
Only they weren’t.
The kids I taught were polite. Respectful. Intelligent. Inquisitive. Funny. Kind to one another. Inclusive. Engaged. Grateful. And…not important but definitely worth mentioning…they were even stylish.
I came home after the first day absolutely stunned that teens could be so…amazing. I was an experienced public school teacher and adored my public school kids. But there was something tangibly unique and infinitely less jaded about the homeschooled class. I was so blown away by my homeschooled students that I chose homeschooling as the research topic for my master’s degree.
I won’t get into my findings because you would weep tears of boredom at my enthusiastic information dump, but teaching homeschooled teens and researching homeschooling became the catalysts for my husband and I to choose to home educate our own children.
And we are not alone. Homeschooling has grown more than 62 percent in the past decade and is continuing to gain popularity across multiple demographics. Yet while the practice has become a very mainstream and viable education option for families, many of the rumors and myths surrounding homeschooling persist.
Odds are you know a mom who homeschools. Maybe you want to encourage her. Or maybe you sincerely want to learn more about homeschooling. Or maybe you don’t understand (or dare I say, don’t approve of) homeschooling and want to discuss it with a friend in the know. And maybe you aren’t sure how to approach the topic.
If this describes you, I want to encourage you to go ahead and talk to your friend. But I would like to highlight some seemingly harmless statements to avoid and why they can be discouraging for a homeschool mom.
1. Aren’t you worried about their socialization?
The socialization question just doesn’t want to die. Even though it should.
If you stop and think about it, asking a parent if they are worried about socialization implies we haven’t thought about the detrimental social implications of homeschooling our kids. Except we have. And mounds of research demonstrates that homeschooled students score higher than traditionally schooled peers in emotional security, social skills and happiness. Homeschooled students also tend to be more civically active, more engaged in real-world settings and have opportunity for more social interaction across multiple age groups. We know this. We love this. And it often plays a big role in a family’s decision to homeschool.
Better to say: Some folks still think homeschoolers lack social skills but I have heard that’s not true. What can you tell me about this?
2. Just put them in school.
Homeschooling is not easy. There might be times when your friend who homeschools hits a wall. When that happens (and it will happen) nothing and I mean NOTHING is more draining than someone dismissively pushing her to just put her kids in school.
No parent has ever embarked on the journey of homeschooling without careful consideration, painstaking review of all their options and incredible foresight. In other words, there is a reason your friend is homeschooling. Odds are she doesn’t want to return her children to the environment she already determined wasn’t the best fit.
Better to say: I am so sorry you are feeling frustrated. You’re doing a great job, mama.
3. You chose to do this.
Homeschool moms listen to all kinds of complaints from our regular school mom friends. We hear moms gripe about bullying, mean girl behavior, bad teachers, unfair grading, classroom behavior issues, too much homework, too little homework, lack of individual instruction and the like. Imagine if the response was, “Well, you chose to put your kids in school.” That would be inconsiderate and completely unsupportive. People choose to do hard things all the time, especially as it relates to their children. It is life-giving to just be a listening ear and source of encouragement for your frustrated friend.
Better to say: Homeschooling is hard. I admire your determination to see this through.
4. I could never do that.
Every single homeschool mom I know inwardly cringes whenever we hear someone say, “I could never do that.” Homeschool moms don’t have any special powers that other moms don’t. Our kids are just regular kids. They misbehave. They sass back. They avoid their work. And we are normal moms. We misbehave. We sass back. We avoid our work.
And there is no such thing as a cookie cutter homeschool mom…working moms, single moms, conservative moms, liberal moms, rich moms, poor moms, college educated and non-college educated moms all successfully homeschool their sassy kids and difficult kids and easy kids and smart kids and kids who struggle academically.
We know that homeschooling is not everyone’s jam, but it is everyone’s choice. And if you are someone who would never homeschool, believe me, we don’t blame you. But implying how crazy we are to undertake it is defeating, not uplifting.
Better to say: Nothing.
5. Are you really going to homeschool them all the way through?
This question seems innocent on the surface. But really it implies a homeschool parent can’t or shouldn’t homeschool through high school. But actually they can. The market has become saturated with resources to home educate a child through high school. And if parents want extra curricular activity options, schools happily offer shared time experiences for fine arts and sports.
Also, colleges love homeschool students. Homeschooled students adapt seamlessly to the college model because they are already used to organizing their schoolwork independently. Plus colleges report that homeschoolers tend to be inquisitive in class, well read and well socialized, making them assets to the college classroom.
Better to say: Explain to me how homeschooling through high school works.
When given the chance, we homeschool moms love to share our experiences. And we need supportive friends just like anyone else. We know people don’t always understand our decision and some are naturally curious. So by all means ask away. Just think about your question ahead of time. Consider if it contains a hidden level of censure and how you’d respond if it were asked of you.
And always be mindful of the adage everyone learns in kindergarten: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.