“You want to what?” This is generally the first reaction when grandparents hear their grandchildren will be schooled at home. The next question is generally, “Why?”
Your children may have some excellent reasons as to why they wish to homeschool their children. The motives causing people to homeschool are as varied as the people who homeschool. Your children may have a religious reason, or maybe their school district is a particularly poor one. Perhaps they want to spend more time together as a family than school allows. Maybe one of your grandchildren has learning issues the parents feel would be better addressed at home.
Whatever the reasons, chances are your children have done their homework before making the decision. Plus, there is far more homeschooling support and information than there used to be, and if you take the time to listen, you will probably be surprised at how much research your children have done.
Sharing the Decision
Karen Gibson, a homeschool mom of three from Danville, Ala., remembers that her stepmother wasn’t very happy about their decision to turn the living room into a classroom. “My stepmother, whom we told in person, was not happy at all,” says Gibson. “Since she worked as a school counselor in the middle school at which our daughter would have attended, she seemed to take our decision as a personal attack upon her workplace, her career, her school. She was also rather upset that we had not discussed the matter with her prior to making our decision.”
The Gibsons had known in advance that Grandma wasn’t going to be too happy about their decision but preferred to make their own decision based on what they felt was suitable for their children, not how other people felt about their choice.
When the Baxters* told their parents about their decision to homeschool, they received a decidedly mixed reaction. “We told my mom first, and she was very negative about it, saying that she didn’t think that was a very good thing to do, they’d miss out on too much, etc.,” says Laura Baxter*, mother of three from Trafford, Pa. “Then we told my mother-in-law. She was quietly supportive, just basically saying that as long as it was something we felt we could do, then it didn’t matter to her.”
While Baxter’s mom has gotten over her initial negativity, she still is wary of the outcome. Her in-laws, however, are incredibly supportive, and their warm acceptance spills over to help with their grandchildren’s educations. “My in-laws are supportive,” says Baxter. “They often ask the kids what they’ve been studying, and they take opportunities to share things with them as they come up naturally in life.”
Baxter recommends that grandparents make an effort to learn about homeschooling rather than to go by assumptions. “Spend some time with your grandchildren in their ‘school’ setting if possible … see what they do during their day,” says Baxter. “Don’t criticize, but ask questions if you don’t understand why they are doing something or how what they are doing is a ‘learning’ activity.”
Tamra Orr, author of A Parent’s Guide to Home Schooling (Mars Publishing, 2002), agrees that grandparents can do many things to support their homeschooled grandchildren. Still, first, they must conquer any prejudices they have about this unusual form of education.
“Older adults occasionally have a hard time accepting change or new ideas,” says Orr, who homeschools her children. “I also think that homeschooling is too non-mainstream for many of them to accept. Some grandparents also feel that it is an indirect insult to the fact that they had not homeschooled their own children.”
If grandparents could understand how significant their contribution could be to their grandchildren’s schooling, they might look at it differently. Homeschooling often is the perfect way for grandparents to get involved with their grandchildren in a significant way.
“Grandparents can offer to be involved,” says Orr. “Teach a child how to knit. Discuss the past. Build a model plane. Go on a field trip. Share this special time.”
Orr had some very uncomfortable moments with her parents when they first learned that she and her husband would homeschool their children. “They had just paid for four years of college in which I had gotten a teaching degree, and now I was turning my back on that whole system,” says Orr. “I know this was very hard on them, and it made for some awkward moments and unspoken thoughts.”
In the years since, however, Orr’s parents have become homeschooling advocates. “They now see how well the children turned out and have read enough of my books and heard enough of my presentations that they support homeschooling … and can often be found defending it to their friends and neighbors,” says Orr.
Tips for Grandparents
Grandparents are an excellent resource, and most busy homeschool parents would love to have their parents involved. The following tips can help you understand, support and become a significant part of your grandchild’s homeschool experience:
· Ask questions that are not emotional, so Mom and Dad don’t become defensive in answering.
· Learn as much as you can on the topic. Read books. Attend homeschooling support meetings with the family. Go to a conference.
· Give the parents time to figure out what they are doing, become confident and capable, and, if you are unable to give them your support, then stay silent about your fears and concerns.
· Ask if there is something that would help your child in their homeschooling endeavour. Maybe it would be a family membership to a local museum or buying a telescope, or maybe there’s some area of expertise that your grandchildren would be interested in learning.
· Don’t quiz your grandchildren the minute they walk in the door to see if they know their times’ tables. Not only are you aggravating and annoying your child, but you are putting your grandchildren on the spot to where they feel that you are not appreciative of them as a person – and only want to know how their mother/father is performing as a teacher.
· Ask if you can assist with field trips. This is the fun stuff, and you may be surprised at how much your grandchildren are learning!
· Believe that your child wants the best for their child – and homeschooling may be the best for all of them.