Anna Dusseau | 4th March 2020
Let me guess. You’re loving homeschooling, right? I mean, I know we all have our ups and downs, but if you can recall, that was what the school routine was like, too. In fact, if I’m really honest with myself, almost every single day when my daughter was in Reception and my middle son attended – very reluctantly – the local nursery, I would spend the day with my stomach in my shoes, just watching the clock and wishing the time away before I could collect them at the end of the day. Does this ring a bell? Because I think, if it doesn’t, that your children are probably in school and that you are all happy with it that way. Which is great. I mean it. A positive school experience is a rare and wonderful gift and you are right to recognise that, if it’s what you’ve got. If, however, like pretty much all the homeschool parents I know, you either never did school, or withdrew your child from school, I am going to hazard a guess that the following situation might be familiar to you.
You are walking down the supermarket aisle in the middle of the day with your dreamy, uber-relaxed homeschool child (multiply by how many of this species you have tagging along right now). This is definitely a time of day that, you know, most children are at school and, most likely, the truth is that you’re not there for an academic purpose at all. Perhaps you’re out of hummus for lunch, or you need a bunch of flowers and a card for some awesome homeschool mama who just leant you the entire Life of Fred series and then casually said ‘oh, you can keep them’. (Note that, actually in this case, flowers and a card aren’t enough. It’s a bottle of bubbly and a genuine friend hug, or you can forget it when she’s done with her National Geographic subscription.) Back to the supermarket, though, and there you are, at the checkout, idly discussing something trivial and blatantly non-academic with your homeschool baby (yes, we will always call you our babies, so just get over it, kids!) To anyone observing you, they might reasonably assume that your child is taking a sick day. They would be wrong, of course. But what they also wouldn’t know and couldn’t even begin to fathom unless they, too, are in on the homeschool secret, is that, before their children even brushed their teeth for school, yours may well have finished a writing project that they began at the weekend, helped their little brother to make the wheels rotate on his life-size cardboard car, skyped another homeschooler to discuss some tricky Maths problem, and listened in blissful silence to a TED talk on marine biology. Or perhaps they really have been just chilling out that morning. Because homeschool learning happens differently and at different times of the day compared to school and because, for homeschool families, academics and mental wellbeing are of equal and inter-related value.
What you can be almost sure of, especially if you recently made the decision to homeschool and are relatively new to this, is that sooner or later, this exact scenario will present itself and you will be, for a moment, suspended in a bubble of warmth and love for the incredible experience that you are giving your whole family and for what an amazing human being your kid is turning out to me. That is, until you spy Jane from next door (adjust name and habitat of the predator, as required) and your heart does a flip. There’s nowhere to hide. Your homeschooler is way too chilled out and in the mental process of planning an elaborate trap for elephants/burglars/terrorists to notice what’s going on in the adult world (and why should they?) to be on board and, with a single hand gesture like a Navy Seal, duck and roll beneath the checkout with you to avoid detection. No, that doesn’t happen. Nor does your kid stop fiddling with the dry leaf stuck in their hair which, they have informed you, means they have joined ‘The Tribe’. Yesterday, you totally indulged this whim; today you are slightly regretting it. Because Jane, bless her, isn’t down with homeschooling at all and you know before she opens her mouth how the conversation is going to go. For the sake of time, I’ll give you a whizz through the highlights.
- How are you doing? (never better)
- So what do you actually do all day? (too much to embark upon in this conversation)
- And how are you managing to socialise? (we’ve adopted a chimp; we call him Steve)
- Honestly, I don’t know how you do it! (right back atcha)
- So are you just going to carry on, then? (looks like it)
- Oh, well that sounds..nice. (it is)
- Aren’t you at all concerned about exams? (nope)
- How are they getting on with Maths? (they are aware of Maths)
- And English? (yep, they know about English, too)
- You must have so much time for reading! (you wouldn’t believe)
- Is this a religious thing? (I don’t know. Is it?)
- How do you know if they’re keeping up? (we haven’t lost them yet, Jane)
- So, how do they make friends? (they all have clubs which are small but persuasive)
- I didn’t even know it was legal! (every day’s a school day, Jane)
- Well, I can tell you, this would never work for my kids. (chill out, it’s not infectious)
Okay okay. I apologise for the deliberately flippant responses. Perhaps you thought you were going to get an itemised recipe for responding in succinct and strategic fashion to each intrusive and wildly misrepresentative question that homeschoolers are faced with? Well, here’s the best tip I can give you at this point. Please lean in close. If someone is fundamentally against homeschooling and is feeling severely ruffled by your family flouting the ‘rules’ by just not doing school, there is absolutely nothing you can say to convince them otherwise. Just occasionally, you will speak with someone who is either genuinely interested in what you are doing or, quite possibly, has considered or is considering homeschooling themselves and, here, you can find yourself relaxing into an interesting and enjoyable dialogue which does justice to the educationally and spiritually superb experience of being a homeschool family. But I suspect these people don’t grill you when you are trying to pay for groceries. I expect, too, that these people have the tact not to probe your parenting in front of your kids and would find a suitable time to discuss in more detail over a coffee. If the conversation that you are locked into is with Jane from next door then, honey, you’re not in a conversation. Your family has been swept up in this person’s own insecurities about things being done ‘differently’ and you could reply in a series of dog barks for all the difference it would make.
So, if you take one thing from today’s blog, let it be this. When you are faced with your homeschool nemesis in the supermarket, the post office or just idly crossing the street on your way to the park, check yourself and realise that this is someone who isn’t ready – and probably never will be ready – to hear what you’ve got to say about homeschooling. Don’t gabble (like I used to), don’t try to inform people who aren’t interested (again, I did this) and don’t end up apologising for your kids or playing down what you do because you can see you are meeting with a brick wall (again, I am ashamed to say, once or twice I have done this). Here’s my rock-solid advice and, if you take it, you will find yourself permanently in the comfort of the magic homeschool bubble and not, sporadically, popped. So here goes: 1) remember to smile, 2) stick to the stock response ‘it really works for us’ and 3) flip the conversation away from you and keep the questions rolling (‘So, how is Ellie doing at school?’ ‘When are the holidays?’ ‘What is her reading level now?’ ‘Oh, that sounds amazing!’ ‘This seems like such a great school; lucky you!’) And you know what? As sarcastic as those questions look written down, you might just emerge from the conversation feeling a whole lot better, with a bounce in your stride and thinking, after all, that Jane from next door isn’t so bad. You might even invite her over for coffee.
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