by Misty Foxley
I still remember the first homeschool boy I ever met—a bushy-haired boy of eleven years old—standing at the pulpit, bearing a thoughtful, sweet testimony. At the time, I was a young mom, and my own little boy was just entering primary as a Sunbeam. I secretly hoped he would grow up to act and think something like this special young boy.
He came from a young, wholesome family; he was their oldest child. I had no idea why they chose to homeschool, or how they did it. But I kept an eye on their family each Sunday, week after week. I was curious—deeply curious—about what made this family “tick.” What I didn’t know then was that I would be homeschooling, just three years later! By then I had moved halfway around the world, but this family’s impact for good weighed in as my husband and I later made this same decision our own family.
The truth is, we don’t know who is watching us in the same way, but as homeschool families, I can guarantee you that we are all being watched. And this is a good thing, because homeschooling is a good thing.
As homeschooling becomes more accepted by the mainstream as a viable educational option, many LDS families are choosing to homeschool and many more are at least considering it. A 2012 article in LDS Living reported that LDS homeschooling totals have doubled in only the past ten years. That makes families of our faith possibly the fastest-growing homeschooling population in the nation.
So, whether we like it or not, we must accept that we are being observed by many of our LDS friends. We must rise to the occasion and learn to be good examples of the blessings of homeschooling.
Be Patient When People Ask You About Homeschooling
I remember briefly visiting the home of this young boy’s homeschool family. I had dropped by on a weekday morning on a Relief Society errand, and several of their young children rushed to the door to greet me with their mother. As I was invited in, I noticed that a couple of the children were practicing their musical instruments, while a couple others went back to their little desks, and reluctantly tried to focus on their workbooks (even though I was proving to be a terrific distraction to them). The toddler was at her mother’s feet while the baby was on her hip. I was very interested in this rare, momentary peek into her little one-room schoolhouse.
I ventured to ask a question or two. She answered politely, though I sensed that there was a great chasm between us as I tried to wrap my (then) mainstream mind around her completely different homeschool perspective (which I now view as enlightened).
Unknowingly, I dropped the bombshell question. If you can believe it, I actually asked her if she was worried about her children not getting enough “social interaction.” To me, at the time, it seemed a harmless and even intelligent question. But I was surprised at her response: it was uncharacteristically (for her) curt—and slightly defensive—and it ended our discussion. I left feeling confused and worried that I had offended her, when in truth I was a young mom who greatly admired her.
Years later, I remembered this little experience with a chuckle, but it helped me remember to give my own homeschool questioners the benefit of the doubt when answering their sometimes tedious questions!
Be Aware of the Messages You Send to Others
We’ve all had our share of “masked criticism,” which is sometimes posed as innocent questions. We’ve been in social settings where our educational values were mocked instead of praised.
Because of this, we sometimes build an invisible, protective shield around ourselves to safeguard a precious part of our lives: our homeschool experience. If we are not careful, we may unintentionally send a message of indifference, defensiveness, self-pride, or isolation to others (even to those who actually watch us with admiration); when the truth is, deep down we’d really rather be sharing with others the passion we have for home education.
So how do we send a positive message to those “unknown moms” in our lives who are, if the truth were more obvious, actually quite curious about homeschooling and would like to know more?
Be Confident! You Don’t Have to Defend Your Decision
The first thing to realize is that we must be wiling to express our beliefs to others with confidence. Our confidence will attract positive response. We all have our reasons for homeschooling—they are no doubt well thought out, prayed over much, and ultimately made for the benefit of our family—which is our own stewardship. We don’t have to defend our decision to anyone. We only have to declare it with joy and confidence.
One year before we put our oldest child in school, I made friends with a mother of four children at the time (she now has eight), who had joined the Church with her husband a few years prior, had started their own business, and now had decided to homeschool! I admired greatly their courage in all three of these big life-changing decisions.
She always spoke confidently about her decision to homeschool. When she spoke of homeschooling—and she would talk about it with anyone and everyone—she spoke frankly and matter-of-factly. She has been my friend now for over two decades, and I have seen how her confidence and her matter-of-fact attitude about homeschooling has protected and blessed her family. First of all, I’ve noticed that people treat her family’s choices with respect. Confidence sent out seems to attract confidence in return.
More importantly, her children have confidence in their homeschool, and they respect and value their own education. They don’t think of themselves as “weird” or as “socially misunderstood” because she doesn’t think of them in that way. She never makes demeaning jokes about their choices; she speaks about their homeschool with appropriate pride. Naturally her kids have picked up on this mindset.
A Side Note About Addressing the Naysayer
Sometimes we just have to stand up for our choice, but we can do it in such a way that we send the clear message that we are firm in our choice and it isn’t up for debate. Whether or not the naysayer chooses to agree with us or not is not our worry. This can be done with respectful compassion for the other person (understanding that they simply don’t understand our perspective).
Let me illustrate. After enrolling our first child in a very fine private school (paid for by my husband’s employer while we lived overseas), we watched almost helplessly as our once sweet and confident boy began to change over time in negative ways. A three-week Christmas break at home did wonders in restoring his inner peace and sweetness, but that sweetness was again quickly lost once he went back to the classroom.
We worked with the school for several weeks that January. Finally, after no improvement and out of sheer unwillingness to stand by and watch him deteriorate any further, my husband and I removed him from the school.
That day, a member of our small church branch, a friend who worked at the school, called me and spoke very directly, “How do you think you can possibly offer your son all that teams of professionally trained teachers and administrators can offer him instead?” I choked back my tears—I did not know the answer to that question. In fact, I feared that she was right. But I simply said, “We’ve prayed about it and we feel it is the right thing for our family to do.” That was all the confidence I could muster up. It was the humble truth. And truly, that is the best form of confidence.
Not everyone is going to agree with our choices, but we must be firm and stand confidently for what we believe is best for our children. And we can do so with respect for the other person. After all, according to her perspective, she was speaking “reason” to me—based on her personal experience—and I knew that she meant well.
Homeschooling is Awesome!
If we pay attention, we can have at least one moment during each and every day when we smile to ourselves and think, “Wow! Another bit of proof that it works. Homeschooling is awesome!”
It’ll most likely be little things, but they’re important differences in our family’s life. To name a very few, homeschooling gives us time together with our kids during their best hours of the day. It helps solidify our family relationships, often making siblings best friends and fostering better relationships with parents. Homeschooling makes it easier to have more meaningful, relaxed family scripture study, and it encourages a love of and familiarity with the scriptures. If our eyes and hearts are open, we will see the blessings of homeschooling each and every day in simple but important ways.
I read about a homeschool mom whose teenaged son died unexpectedly of a sudden and unpreventable health issue. After expressing her faith in the Savior’s power to resurrect, she said something like this (I’m paraphrasing), “Thank heaven that we were inspired to homeschool. Because of this, we’ve spent every day of his life with him, together as a family.”
Realize that Families Who Don’t Homeschool Don’t Know Homeschooling is Awesome
Try to remember what you thought of homeschooling before you starting doing it! You didn’t know what homeschooling was like then; you couldn’t even imagine it. That’s how your friends think when they talk to you about homeschooling. Try to remember that. Some of them are curious, and when they “catch” us homeschooling, they want to get a good glimpse of what we do, how it looks, how it works inside our home. They can’t imagine what they haven’t experienced. Here are some ideas to help them see the magic.
Use Social Media
Facebook is a great (easy!) way to allow others to peek into our homeschool and experience some of our joys. This can help both our homeschool peers and non-homeschool friends.
We can post thoughts, expressions of gratitude for the opportunity to homeschool, photos showing what we do in our formal education, and photos showing the sweet moments that are unique to families who spend all day every day together.
Have you noticed the back-to-school trend on Facebook of moms posting photos of their kids all dressed up and ready for their first day back to school? Recently, I scrolled through several such postings and was suddenly surprised and pleased to see a homeschool friend of mine post individual photos of each one of her children on their first day back to their homeschool. As I looked at the photo of each child I realized what a special tradition this was for that family. But also, it shared with her friends her own joy in starting their homeschool year. I thought that posting spoke volumes to those who would listen.
Refuse to Hide Our Homeschool Lamp Under a Bushel
Sometimes it’s just easier to keep a silent front about our homeschool. That’s a risk-free path. But again, if we think back to our own life-before-homeschooling days, we remember the seemingly “mysterious life” (to us) of those homeschool families who said or shared little. Let’s not do that. Let’s trust in the Lord and share all the light we can.
It’s good for us to share our positive homeschool stories or successful experiences with others. We can weave it into our conversations from time to time. Let your homeschool experiences be a matter-of-fact part of your life and conversation, remembering to share the positive side of things. Follow the Spirit; at times we may even be prompted to bear our testimony about what we are doing with our family.
You never know, a family might make a major course change that will be positive for them or for one of their struggling children because of your willingness to share your life experience with others a little more freely.
Show Genuine Respect for Families Who Don’t Homeschool
This is not only an important part of being Christlike, but it helps others to break down their own prejudices towards our own homeschool choice by diffusing any potential or perceived contention. Often parents who don’t homeschool fear that homeschool parents view themselves as “better” parents. We can prayerfully strive to be sensitive to those kinds of feelings.
I believe many families would homeschool if they believed it was possible. Sure, we may have broken through some of those barriers ourselves, but from our outside perspective, we can’t understand the nature of their circumstances. It is better to show trust and support towards all parents and their personal decisions about their own families. After all, our Heavenly Father is doing that, isn’t He?
Inviting Others to be Part of our Homeschool Circles
Inviting families who don’t homeschool into our home and visiting with them there is also a great thing to do. It takes a little work for us to prepare (and teaches our children how to thoughtfully and politely host others), but it helps our friends see “evidences” of home-based education as they mingle with our family in a home setting, rather than a church setting. This is a great way for us to help other families get at least a sense for what homeschool can be like. Again, while doing this, we ought not to be afraid to speak freely and matter-of-factly about our homeschool in conversation. If they are curious about it, they will ask questions more freely in that safe environment.
Several years ago I wanted to go to a major historical site that was too expensive for my large family, so I called and asked about school-aged group rates and found that they were substantially less. I then arranged for an “education group” to arrive on a certain day, and went through my ward list and invited many families, including homeschoolers and public schoolers. It was a great way for homeschool families to share their “field trip” with other ward families. We had a lot of fun together that day and forged stronger friendships with other ward families.
Like It or Not, Our Kids Are Like “Poster Children” for Homeschooling
The reality is, to those who are watching us closely, our children are the “product” or final “outcome” of our homeschool. If they are pretty good kids, it makes the homeschool look good, too. We need to teach our children to represent themselves, their family, and the Lord well. If they are doing that, then a side-benefit is that they are representing the homeschool well, also.
Many younger couples and young families are watching the older, established families around them. If our children are representing themselves well and are not afraid to talk about their lives in a positive light, often these younger families will begin exploring homeschool just because of their good example. I’ve noticed over the years that many bishops, stake presidents, primary, Sunday school, and youth teachers can’t help but notice the difference in some of our ward’s homeschooled youth. It tends to soften their views significantly about homeschooling.
How to Help Those Families Who Are Thinking About Homeschooling
Over the years, I (like you) have had several different moms come to me and express, often with heartfelt emotion, their concern for their own children (usually over a difficult situation at school). They admit, sometimes with difficulty, that they are considering homeschooling.
What is the most important thing we can do when we are approached like this? Follow the Spirit. Our natural tendency is to overwhelm them with our zealousness at that moment; we must resist! (Isn’t that true?!) We have to remember to just listen, listen, and listen some more—to them, and to the Spirit. We can ask a few questions for clarification, but mostly, at that critical moment for them, we need to be supportive of THEIR perspective and their immediate need.
We may be tempted to raise their sights to where we are, but we have to remember that we have taken time to gain that viewpoint. They will need time, too. There’s a mountain to climb and if we are halfway up, we can’t expect them to start out at that elevation. We can help them greatly by leading them to resources, books, websites that we can tell (from listening to their needs) would help them at this time.
My favorite resources to share are the resources I have been most excited about—resources that have helped my family and me the most. But sometimes I can tell that the person I am trying to help isn’t looking for the same things I am looking for. So I try to refer them to others who are more similar with them.
What is Wanted Most: Sharing MY Homeschool and the Way I Do it
Probably the scariest thing to a new homeschooling parent is just visualizing what a homeschool is “supposed to be like.” The natural tendency is for us to replicate what we are already familiar with and think of as “education,” so we tend to rebuild the school classroom into the home place, not realizing that the school class is structured for group instruction, while our homeschool ought to be set up for private instruction, which can look and function very differently.
One of the best things we can do to help our friends who are newly starting out with homeschooling, is to share with them “our way” of organizing and setting up and administering homeschool.
But as we do this, we need to emphasize that these are just ideas, and that their family will be as unique in their homeschool as we are all unique in how we operate as individual families. By sharing with them electronic copies of sample weekly schedules, work charts, kids self reports, or mom’s yearly plans, they can mimic these closely at first, which can be a great relief for a beginner mom; but then, as she gains confidence in herself and begins to cater to her own family’s needs, she can then create her own systems.
The Big Picture
I think back fondly to that first young homeschool boy I ever met—and how I desired to raise our own children so that they, too, could act and think in a similar way to that special boy. That was 23 years ago. Has my hope come true? Yes, I think I can confidently say that it has. I am grateful for the courage of those parents who showed us (when few homeschoolers were to be found) what homeschooling could really do for a family. Because of them, it was easier for us to take that step ourselves. To this day, not one of us regrets it; I often hear our kids express gratitude for their homeschool experience. And thankfully, through those past two decades, it has been our opportunity to show other families by our example that they can do similarly, if they so choose. We all help each other, and the Savior helps us all.
Misty Foxley is a homeschool mom who, together with her husband, raised her family for the first ten years around the globe, and then spent the next ten settling down in a simple, plain home on five acres of rolling, green hills in the Virginia countryside.
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