Q&A: How do you talk to others about homeschooling?

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

I‘ll always remember that day at the library.

“Are you going off to kindergarten soon?” a well-meaning lady asked my four-year-old. He stared at her blankly, having never heard the word “kindergarten” before in his life.

“Uh, we’re thinking about homeschooling,” I said in a slightly nervous voice, my eyes on the floor.

It was the first time I’d been asked in public about it–but it most certainly was not the last.

If you’ve been at this for a while, I’m sure you have a similar story in your homeschooling history. Whether it’s a stranger, family member, or a prospective homeschooler, questions about your educational choice can catch you off guard or even leave you feeling defensive.

It’s helpful to develop some “standard answers” for these occasions.

Q & A

These days when I have the opportunity to talk about homeschooling, I always try to inject an upbeat, positive tone to the conversation.

Many of those who are not familiar with it may have never considered the many benefits that homeschoolers enjoy. I mention the fun we have, the freedom we enjoy by setting our own schedule, and the friends we get together with to learn and play.

How about you–what advice can you give to those just starting out who wonder how to answer these questions? How do you talk to your family about homeschooling? What about strangers or other prospective homeschoolers who are curious?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. It helps when I have a “sound bite” ready of our curricula for the year- they’re reassured that at least I sound like I know what we’re doing, without miring them in details :)
    Myrnie’s latest post: Budgeting 101- Planning for Large Expenses

  2. My daughter just love to tell people that she is in “Kindergarten.” When they ask her what school she is just as happy to report, “Homeschool!” Normally, folks take that pretty well. She is enthusiastic and tells them about some project we’ve done and that’s the end. I also send out pictures of what we do to family who have expressed an interest.

    We haven’t met a lot of opposition other than some raised eyebrows, but my in-laws really don’t understand. They ask if I am following the state curriculum or did I buy a curriculum? How do I know what to do? It helps that I have been a teacher for the last 10 years and that I am certified to teach every grade from K-9 and bunch of individual high school classes. That kind of halts the questions (or the inferences into my ability). That being said, I do nothing like I would do in a traditional school setting. It is not even remotely the same.

  3. I’ve found that there are mainly 2 responses:
    1. They are quite happy for us.
    2. They are quite confused and uninformed.

    I’ve rarely got a real ‘negative’ response about home educating. I think the most important thing is to be confident in your response. I’ve found that if I am happy and comfortable with what we’re doing, others seem to accept it almost instantly.

    I’m not a teacher by profession, so my family is a little more skeptical. But they believe in my instincts as a parent, which I’m thankful for. The one thing that DOES drive me nutty is the underlying attitude of “Pft, this will pass… it’s a phase.” I think a lot of people think I’ll give up once our kids are past preschool and Kindergarten. They don’t get it that we’re in it for very deep rooted reasons. They think I’m just ‘playing school’.

    Oh well, I figure – it’s not about what others think. The results will be the proof of the pudding, right? ;) Or is it proof IN the pudding? Ah… whatever. HAHA!

  4. Some very good advice I got about midway through our homeschooling experience (I’ve been homeschooling for 19 years!) is, “Always give a positive reason for why you are homeschooling.” It may be that you are worried about the violence or the Marxist teachings or whatever at the state school, but tell what the positive side is without mentioning the bad things you are reacting to.
    It really DOES help to get the conversation off on a better footing.
    I like to say, “Our family has learned so much about how to love each other and get along like Jesus wants us to through homeschooling. Living with each other all day, every day we HAVE to learn conflict resolution and I think that’s probably one of the best skills my children will ever learn. You know, you’re always living with and trying to get along with someone!”

    • This is SO wise- to keep it positive…even when we aren’t having the greatest day :)

    • Thanks for the awesome idea! I just started homeschooling a 13, 12, and 3 year old, but our 6 year old goes to school since he needs the special education services provided there. I’m never sure how to answer those questions, because people don’t get why I’m just starting now. People don’t get how they could be learning, how it’s better for them than public school (where they were falling behind due to ‘well he passed the subject, even if he really doesn’t get a core idea’). Now all I have to figure out is how to deal with the other homeschoolers who seem to like to give me the third degree. I’ll remember, keep positive! Thanks for the wise advice!
      Mary’s latest post: Where in the world are we going

  5. One question that I seem to get a lot is, “Well how do you know they are learning anything?”

    I finally have an answer to that one. I just smile and say, “Because I get to see it every day.”

  6. In the last few weeks we have finally made the decision to homeschool! This blog has been a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement. I agree with having a positive response on hand – there is certainly enough negativity on the matter! I am so excited about out journey!

  7. I was homeschooled in Canada, which was unusual at the time (homeschooling is still less common here than in the US, though it has grown quite a bit). I do remember many confused as well as negative responses, mainly from people who felt we couldn’t possibly receive a decent education outside of the school system.

    When I attended university, made the Dean’s Honour List for scholarships every year, and graduated as part of the honour society I felt that I had rather concrete proof that homeschooling does work (not that I doubted that much through the years).

    My husband and I are now planning to homeschool our children. The oldest is 2 1/2 so we have a while before we officially get started, but we’re regularly asked about it because I was homeschooled. I find that the combination of more general awareness about homeschooling plus my own experience and academic success makes it simple for me to answer the questions with confidence. People have fewer negative things to say than they used to, for which I am grateful.

  8. Margaret – that is genius! I think that part of what creates such an us against them mentality with homeschooling is that so many parents launch into how public schools are terrible, the other kids are a bad influence, teachers don’t spend enough time with the kids, etc. While those may be true and valid reasons for why someone has chosen to homeschool, the immediate implication for others is that they are bad parents for sending their kids to public school.

    Additionally, it just makes the whole thing so negative instead of the wonderfully positive experience it is for so many families.

    Love this – you’ve made my day with this little tidbit!

  9. I agree – a positive attitude combined with some confidence makes all the difference in the world. I’ve gotten some strange looks when I’ve been outside playing with the kids during a school day. I just tell people that we homeschool and are having recess time. When people ask why we homeschool, I simply say that it works for our family, then one of the kids will pipe up about whatever we are studying in history or science.

    It helps that two of our kids are special needs – so we actually get a lot of support for homeschooling from their therapy/medical team. I actually had one doctor tell me that our boys (both on the autism spectrum) are so high functioning BECAUSE we have homeschooled them, and they got the equivalent of early intervention at home.

  10. I recently moved to Italy and even though my daughter is only 10 months old I have been thinking and wanting to homeschool her since before she was born. Its barely eve heard of in Italy, so not only do I have the challenge of figuring out how to get it done in a foreign country (I already know its possible) but I will also have to deal with any negative responses that may come along with that. Of course first I have to convince the hubby. He was all for it when we lived in America but once we returned to Italy (its where he is from) he is having his doubts. Ive got time to work on him though :)

    Great post, Ill definitely remember it in the future
    Adrianne’s latest post: Don’t Get Electrocuted! – Renovating our Kitchen- DIY Edition

    • We live in the US- but my husband isn’t American- where he is from homeschooling isn’t legal. He has been on board from the beginning, but it is helpful for our family to use a homeschooling charter school where the kids have state tests. It works for us to have the extra eyes on us- but lots of homeschoolers would disagree. In any case- for you- your husband might feel more comfortable if you used an online source for some of your subjects….or other alternatives. You can even work towards an ‘international baccalaureate’ on-line when the kids are big. That might make him more inclined to home school. Although we might all dream of unschooling while canning, hiking and dancing every day- we have to make it work with our family- and this certainly includes the feelings of our husbands!
      priest’s wife’s latest post: Faithfulness NOT Success

  11. David Hurst says:

    After mentioning a positive reason why we homeschool our two kids, I also remind people that we are not just public schooling our kids at home, and that my 6 year old daughter is nearly learning at the same level as my 8 year old son… it’s not really bragging, when you are the one seeing their progress every day.

  12. We just recently had this come up. Someone asked my oldest if he was going to Kindergarten this year and he said no- because he doesn’t *go* to Kindergarten!

    We get a lot of weird comments and questions about our lifestyle in general though, and it all comes down to our goals and purpose being completely different than other people’s. It’s sometimes hard to explain those very personal views in a concise way.

    The most common question I’ve been asked is “shouldn’t you be worried about your boys getting into college someday?” My concise answer is that I and my 9 college educated siblings were home schooled and that I have been a teacher for almost 13 years. That helps a lot of people feel like I know what I’m doing. The answer I’d like to give is that our goals for our children reach far beyond getting into a good college- it’s about teaching them to live a godly and fulfilling life.
    Erin’s latest post: Self-Stitched September Prep

  13. The comments here have been great- I also need to keep it positive!!! Because I am a part-time college professor with a Master’s, most people ‘let’ me home school. I don’t really bother to state that my degree has little bearing on what I do with the young ones. I am relearning what I forgot or never learned in school….

    questions about socialization….my kids are really normal in my eyes…but maybe they aren’t and I have to embrace that. Do normal kids debate favorite Shakespeare plays with friends? Do normal kids offer to hold the baby (yes, probably)? Can normal kids stay quiet during an hour and a half ballet class (probably not because they have already been in desks all day)? Can normal kids sing a solo in front of an open casket at a funeral (no- no experience)? So- whatever our family dynamics and special talents and interests- none of us homeschoolers are raising ‘normal’ kids- in the eyes of the world. Simply because our kids are not in a big group of their peers for eight hours of the day makes our kids different.
    priest’s wife’s latest post: Faithfulness NOT Success

  14. I always just keep it short and sweet. “We’re actually going to homeschool her.” Most people just say that it’s neat or something, so I don’t have to defend myself. Although, I’m going to a family reunion this weekend and my family is really outspoken, so I don’t know what they’ll say. I have no problem standing up and saying, “I know what’s best for my daughter. Thank you so much for your concern.”

  15. Shelley R says:

    Typically, questions from strangers are few and do not leave me feeling defensive. When acquaintances inquire further than “Oh, that’s interesting. I hear that’s becoming more popular these days.” There was one question that baffled me for awhile last year (our first ‘school’ year). It was always along the lines of, “How do you know your qualified?” or “Do you trust yourself?” Intially, I wanted to state “Well, the Lord trusted us with these little characters in the first place… education is the least of my concerns!” But have resolved to say something like, “I don’t know if I trust myself either. However, God does, my husband does, I qualify to teach according to our state’s standards, and I have joy learning with my kids as they discover the world.” That’s usually all I have to say, and it’s exciting when others commend us for our homeschooling journey.

  16. One of my homeschooling mentors (Melisa of A Little Garden Flower) talks about how you should talk about homeschooling with the same confidence about your other parenting choices (like breastfeeding or eating natural foods or whatever) and so I try to have that confidence, even on the days I’m not feeling that confident :-)

    Over all, the few negative things that have ever been said to us have usually been much more about the person saying them than about me or my kids or our homeschooling.

    Great topic – I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the discussion in the comments!
    Kara @Simple Kids’s latest post: Being An Example- Helping Our Kids Get Organized By Modeling It For Them

  17. I am constantly telling people that we homeschool, and most people look at me with a “I-feel-sorry-for-you” or “I’d-never-do-that-in-a-million-years” look. So I’m completely honest with them explaining that we have our good and bad days, the reason why we’ve chosen it, and then list all of the perks!

  18. Great topic – I have really liked reading the comments. This is our first year of homeschooling and I have not been met with negative responses to our choice as of yet. I really appreciated the commenters who recommended “keeping it positive.” That has been my practice since we decided to start this journey . . . we have great public and private schools in our town, but are still choosing to homeschool because it works for us. Thanks for starting this conversation!
    Ashlee’s latest post: Meet Brielle

  19. Randall Moeller says:

    Positivity is good. And a little humor works well sometimes, especially when combined with a request for advice that gives the other person a stake in your child’s success. For example:

    “We’re really excited, but a little concerned. Aside from church, softball practice, Scouting, volunteering at the old folks’ home, extended family get-togethers, the FIRST LEGO League, play dates, math camp, Junior Toastmasters, and selling his homemade crafts at the Sunday market, we wonder whether Bobby will be adequately ‘socialized.’ Can you please give us some suggestions?”

    Randall Moeller
    Smart Kids Do This

    • I’m brand new to (officially enrolled) homeschooling this fall (K), but what I just figured out that will start saying is that we’ve always been homeschooling (which we have, really) and I love it and my kids love it, so I am really happy to continue. It’s in the offerings of toys, books and activities, the arrangements for playdates, the zillions of library books that have crossed our shelves, and most importantly the meaningful conversations and teachable moments that I know my child will be guaranteed if her primary learning is at home (and out and about) with me. I love that! That makes sense to my intuitive self. So this coming year we’ll be doing more of the same, except that I’ll be reporting on my child’s learning to my Learning Consultant, instead of only to the proud and interested grandparents. LOL

  20. Pauline Gough says:

    The most common question I am asked these days is : “Don’t they have to go to public school at some point?” as if this is all a game and sooneror later they will need to get serious. I never get offended, remembering that their concern is often out of love. I love to say that if our children ever felt the strong desire to experience what public school is like we would support them but academically and we are the best love and support system that they could ever need to help them achieve all of their goals. I don’t usually get much argument after that.

  21. I have received so many negative comments-it is very discouraging, even though I know it is what is best for our family. I get the comments that imply this is a “game” that we will get tired of, I am placing an unneccessary burden on them (having to be so responsible I guess), I am taking away their “right” to socialize with others in a school setting, and that I am just asking for a nervous breakdown by having my children with me all the time. The few positive comments I have received have been from public school teachers! How is that for irony! I really haven’t known what to say to people. I don’t want them to feel as though I think they are bad parents for not making the same choices but I am also brand new to this and don’t have a lot of confidence or experience to tell about how great it is. I told somebody (family) this weekend that they were my children and it was none of their business how I raised them! Probably not the best response :( I just vent to my hubby and pray it away!

  22. I share via my blog and by confidently proclaiming it when asked.
    Rachel’s latest post: The First Day Of School 2010- Our Homeschool Year Begins

  23. I used to feel the need to defend my decision to anyone who asked. Now, when someone asks where my children attend school, I simply say, “We homeschool.” And I leave it at that. I let them ask the questions!

    I walk through answers in my mind, and my husband and I even “practice” giving answers to each other and talk through the tougher questions.

  24. I have had many experiences with this. At first, I was self-concious and believed that I needed to justify our choice (as if we were doing something wrong). I am past that now, but I think it is natural to feel that way at the beginning.

    Now, I have learned to let the questioner take the lead. I can tell within 30 seconds to a minute whether they are really interested. If they are, I tell them about the great benefits. If not, I say something very “decisive” like, “We had a bad experience in the school we were in and thought this was a better option”. (end of discussion) and we move on.

    I don’t take any response I get personally. All that matters is that homeschooling works for our family.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic.

    Kim Bauer
    http://www.confabulicious.com

  25. When I first started homeschooling (11 years ago) I first needed to convince my parents that this was a good thing. Once they visited (we live 2000 miles apart), and saw the music class, the coop, the church, the ice-skating on top of the readin’ ritin’ and ‘rithmatic, they were won over. As for the public is concerned; when the topic of homeschooling comes up, I always mention it was not my first choice. However, all my other options didn’t work out, so, I turned to homeschooling. This turned out to be a good thing, because, (I tell the questioner), my son ended up in a semi-professional boys’ choir and has traveled the word. Homeschooling allowed us to work his classes in and around his travels. That usually stops the conversation right there with a nod and a smile. If I see that it is going to continue I drop this: “I am so glad I earned my masters of science in education – it is the only way I can keep up with the kids’ learning!” That stops them cold. (I have a similar-type answer that applies to my daughter.) Being positive and (especially) confident are key to having the advantage in the conversation.

  26. I agree with the commenters about keeping it positive. We recently moved from NY state to central VA and it’s amazing to me how different the responses are. In NY people acted as if we were in a cult and asked us about socialization. In VA people almost always say “oh! I have a (neighbor, friend, sister) who homeschools. I think it’s great. I’ve been thinking about that.” Why it’s so different I’ve yet to figure out, but it’s shocking. :-)
    Sharon’s latest post: How to Draw Animals. Really, You Can!

  27. Katherine Myhill says:

    Be confident and excited! You are investing in your children!

  28. Shaunte O. says:

    This is our 1st year and I am just now starting to feel more confident in telling people that we Homeschool and why this was the best choice for our family. I thought “Oh I need to give them the BEST ANSWER” but now I know I just need to tell them that we are the BEST teachers for OUR children.

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