So, your kids have decided to homeschool your grandkids. Or maybe, you've noticed that the family next door with school-age kids seems to be home during the school day. Maybe one of your BFFS from college has decided that she's going to keep her kids home even though schools are reopening this fall. And you have thoughts. Maybe some big feelings about it, too. Maybe you even hate this idea. What if the kids never learn to read? What if they can't make change at the grocery store? What if they don't make any friends ever and turn out totally...weird? And what's next?!? Are they going to move to a "little house on the prairie"? A yurt? Put in a composting toilet, buy a herd of goats, make their own cheese, and...stop calling me?!?
Short answer: breathe. Several times.
Long answer: kids often learn more at home than in a traditional school, homeschooled kids often have a more robust and healthy social life than traditionally schooled peers, and homeschooling is not necessarily a slippery slope to "The Adventures of the Wildnerness Family." (And PS, if you ask any of that out loud, I'd say there is a strong possibility the parents may stop calling you, at least for awhile. BREATHE.)
Underneath those thoughts, fears and misgivings, and wild fantasies is the most important thing: you care about these people. You care about the parents, the kids - and you truly want them to thrive. Here is how you can be part of their thriving.
Keep your advice and opinions to yourself unless you are asked for them. This is harder for some than others, but it's essential. All of my parents have done a great job at this. One grandparent was enthusiastic about our decison from the start. The others, I'm not so sure. But if they weren't keen at first, they kept it to themselves. (And PS, This is a good thing to do on many topics involving personal agency and parenting decisions.)
Be genuinely curious. Read some books about homeschooling. Better yet, ask your homeschooling family member/friend if they have a favorite book about homeschooling you could read. If they follow a particular philosophy, ask them what drew them to it and what they like best about it. Approach these conversations as learning opportunities (not interrogations). My mother has read several books about Waldorf education and just knowing she cares enough to try to understand it means the world to me.
Ask the kids open-ended questions. No one likes to find themselves on a quiz show without fair warning. (What's the square root of 49? Who was the fourth President? What is the literary significance of Joyce's Ulysses?) Ask them what they are learning, what they've been working on, if they have a favorite book. My Pops is especially great about this. He always asks - and then they talk about whatever it is for as long as the kid would like. (PS These open-ended questions can be magic with any kid - not just homeschoolers.)
Respect their school calendar. Many homeschoolers do have a more flexible schedule - but many don't. If you must call during traditional school hours, ask if it is a good time to talk. If you must text, let them know that it's fine if they can't answer right away because you know they might be schooling. Ask before you plan a trip to make sure it isn't during a time that conflicts with their schooling plans. Treat them just like you would if their kids were going to a traditional school - ask first. I have a dear friend whose children are grown who always, always asks if her call or text is coming at a good time because she knows I might be schooling. It's a small way she lets me know that she takes what I'm doing seriously and wants to support us.
Offer respite in person or virtually. Homeschooling parents get very few breaks. Can you create one for them? Offer to take their kids on an outing or just invite them to your home for an afternoon. If you live far away, offer to visit with the kids via video call or just on the phone at regular intervals. When my kids were younger, my mother did this so that I could get a brief rest without worrying about them and it was awesome!
Offer to share your skills, hobbies, and interests. Don't assume they are uninteresting to kids or "too niche." A friend of ours took a trip to India a number of years ago and then came over with mementos from her trip to share with the boys. Another friend invited the boys to her home to see her haul from a rock and gem show in Arizona. Other friends regularly invite the kids to go boating and fishing with them. Another owns a wildlife safari (we are lucky to have such interesting friends, aren't we?) and the kids love visiting his animals. You don't need to be a world traveler or own a camel to help out. I guarantee you that you do or know about something you could share with the kids. Volunteer!
On gift-giving occasions, give experiences or gift cards to book and supply stores. Homeschooling can be expensive. It usually means one parent/caregiver has made that their career, giving up an income in whole or in part. The cost of books, supplies, classes, etc. can really add up, too. (Yes, you can homeschool for free - but it's time- and energy-consuming for the parent/caregiver to do it that way.) Ask if they have a homeschooling wishlist or favorite book or supply store. Go in with the other grandparents, aunts and uncles, or college roommates and buy their kids that microscope they need or send the kids to Fungus Camp. The possibilities are exciting! All of my parents are great about this. They have given trips, tools for school, art supplies, and more that have helped make our homeschooling journey more rich. (PS I don't know if there is a Fungus Camp, but it wouldn't surprise me if there is.)
Remember that homeschooling parent/caregiver during holidays and Teacher Appreciation Week. If it's a time when traditional teachers are typically being recognized, consider giving some small token to that parent/caregiver. My mom does this and I love it! (I have also done it for myself. Thanks, Self, for the "Best Teacher in the World" mug! I shall treasure it always!)
Mark milestones like First Day of School and Last Day of School. Ask the family when these days will be and if they are doing anything special. Give the kids a card, a pat on the back, a gift card for ice cream. Congratulate them on their new adventure/their accomplishments and tell them you're proud of their work. (If they celebrate Not-Back-to-School Day (many homeschoolers do!), ask them if you can help.)
Offer yourself up as an enthusiastic spectator. If the kids have a portfolio, project, story they've written, poem they've memorized, a puppet show, or a three-minute play - BE THERE. My children put on a short play via FaceBook live last year and it meant the world to them (and to me) that family and friends from all over the world tuned in. Homeschooled kids don't always have the same opportunities for recognition their traditionally schooled peers do - but most enjoy it just as much. Be their biggest cheerleader no matter what they are doing - even if it is a PowerPoint presentation about their week at Fungus Camp.
When a family you care about decides to homeschool, you have a big decision to make. The decision to homeschool is for the parents to make - but the decision to show you care in ways that are helpful is yours. I think most grandparents, neighbors, and friends absolutely want to do that. I hope these tips are helpful.
Have you tried any of these? How were they received?
If you are a homeschooling family, has anyone ever done these for you?
How did you feel about it?
What could you add to the list?
Have you been to Fungus Camp?
Let me hear from you!