Culture

An Open Letter to Grandparents of Homeschooled Kids

Max_Elliot_main_photo_grandparents_with_grandson

Dear Grandparents,

We know you were surprised when we decided to homeschool your grandchildren. We were the first in the family to ever consider doing something so preposterous and it’s understandable that you would have doubts and suspicions about our ability to educate our children at home, without the help of the government schools. After all, generations of children in our family have attended public schools and they turned out just fine — well for the most part (except for the ones who didn’t). You wonder if we think the education that we received was somehow inferior or harmful. You hear us complaining about the dangers of public schools and you think perhaps we are judging you for the decisions you made as parents. We recognize that you might feel a bit hurt or defensive about our decisions.

Beyond our initial decision to homeschool, you interact with our children and realize that they’re “different.” Perhaps they’re more mature than their peers and they don’t understand current pop culture references. You wonder how they’ll ever make friends or interact in the “real world” if they can’t even name a single Kardashian and they don’t know how to “twerk.” Or you have concerns that they’re not “socialized” because they don’t get to spend six hours a day, five days a week in a school classroom. And what about the prom?

You question whether there is any way we can provide for the academic needs of your grandchildren. How can we possibly duplicate the myriad of experiences our children would receive in the public schools? After all, the schools have millions of dollars to spend on faculty and state-of-the art facilities. We have a 3-bedroom home — and we can barely manage to keep the bathrooms clean! How absurd to think we can provide these kids with a 21st-century education.

We understand that it doesn’t seem right that our 9-year-old isn’t reading yet and the 10-year-old is doing algebra. And how can we manage to educate them when we’re running around town all day or letting the kids run wild in the backyard? Surely, we must be doing something wrong.

chec (1)

Grandparents, we get it. We understand your concerns because we wrestled with all of these issues (and many, many more) before we made the difficult decision to homeschool. Just like many other parenting decisions (whether to breastfeed, whether to vaccinate, where to live, how many children to have), we did not make this decision without much prayer, counsel, and research.

What we learned from our research is that homeschooled children excel both academically and socially. In the largest study of homeschoolers, they scored between the 75th and 85th percentile on standardized tests. The study also found that teacher certification had no effect on student test scores for homeschoolers and the academic performance based on parental education level was similar to that seen in public school students. Seventy-four percent of homeschooled kids go to college (compared to 46% of the general U.S. population), they’re more involved in their communities when they reach adulthood and 76% of 18-24-year-olds who were homeschooled vote (compared to 29% of the general public). They’re also more likely to work for candidates and contribute to campaigns. Ninety-five percent of adults who were homeschooled were glad their parent chose homeschooling and 82% plan to homeschool their own children. The main reasons parents give for homeschooling are a desire to provide religious and moral instruction to our children or because we are unhappy with the environment in the public school. And as far as that “socialization” question is concerned, keep in mind that normal, like beauty, is in the eye of beholder.

But despite the great outcomes for homeschooling, you still have concerns.

What if your grandkids are the ones who end up at the bottom end of the academic scale? What if your grandkids are the ones who aren’t learning everything they need to learn — if they miss something? We freely admit that there are children in every educational system, including homeschooling, who fall through the cracks. And you may have special reason to be concerned since we confess that we weren’t always the best students ourselves. We may have even been very poor students or the ones who spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. Understand that for many of us, one of the main reasons we decided to homeschool was that our trip through the public education system was not overwhelmingly positive. Maybe we were the late bloomers who took longer to learn everything. Or perhaps we excelled and found school mindlessly boring as we constantly waited for the other children to catch up. Others among us thought the social structure of school was immature or worse, painful and humiliating.

Whatever our reasons, we are conscientiously choosing something different for our children.

6455_1157577630080_1176755_n

It is important to know that this education will look different than a traditional public school education. Most likely your grandkids will not be sitting at little desks for six hours a day. They may spend part of the day at the kitchen table or they may do their “school work” (for lack of a better word) on the living room floor or on their beds or under a shady tree in the backyard. And it likely won’t take six hours a day! Because of the very low student-teacher ratio, we can be extremely efficient, knocking out focused lessons in reading, math, science, and spelling in a few hours. Most of us embrace the idea that education can happen anywhere, so we learn together as a family at zoos, museums, and parks. We learn science by examining puddles in the backyard or by raising farm animals and we learn about history by visiting the places where history was made.

If it seems like one or more of your grandchildren is behind (by public school standards), please consider that many parents — and even many experts — believe that a more relaxed learning environment encourages natural curiosity and many families have great success with non-traditional learning methods. And regardless of the educational method, all children learn at different rates. Even in traditional, graded classrooms, teachers see a wide variety of abilities and skill levels. Homeschooling allows children to learn at their own pace, advancing quickly through material that comes easily, and slowing the pace to accommodate more challenging subjects.

Perhaps, even after reading this, you still have concerns — something is not right. You truly believe the children are not receiving an adequate education. As grandparents, what should you do?

Setting aside your concerns about education for the moment, let’s begin with the premise here that there is no child abuse in the home — your grandchildren are physically and emotionally safe and your only concerns are about their education.

First, you could offer to help (please, do it in a non-judgmental way!). Homeschooling is challenging in the best of circumstances. Parents — mothers in particular —  can be overwhelmed by the responsibilities and the day-to-day exhaustion of being with children 24-hours a day. Can you take the children on monthly (or even weekly) trips to places like museums, zoos, and parks? Many offer reduced prices for grandparents and the children would benefit from your experience and perspective. Would you consider sharing your hobbies with your grandchildren? “School” doesn’t only mean math and reading. Part of a thorough education includes living skills like plumbing, woodworking, cooking, and landscaping. And hobbies like chess, bird watching and golf can all enhance the education your grandchildren are receiving at home. Do you have favorite books you’d like to share with your grandkids? Time spent reading to them can provide invaluable learning opportunities.

Second, consider whether the education the children would receive at public school would be better than the one they are receiving at home. Do you know that test scores are inflated to make you think the schools are better than they actually are? Even in the best school districts, a percentage of children fall below the standards — and many fall through the cracks.

429849_259874064098958_100002290986553_605941_504098751_n

The question to ask is whether the education being provided to your grandchildren is so poor that they will get a worse education at home than the least-educated children in the district. Because the schools cannot guarantee that your grandchildren would be in the top percentiles if they enrolled in school.  They very well could be at the top of the class, but some children do end up in the middle and at the bottom of every class. Your grandkids could end up anywhere along that continuum. And instead of learning in peace, at their own pace, they would be forced into a cookie-cutter system where their individual needs may not be met and their natural desire to learn could be squelched.

Finally, think about whether the schools are safe. Do they effectively deal with bullies? Are children protected from age-inappropriate sex education programs? From dumbed down curriculum? Are the police dogs trained well enough to sniff out all of the drugs in the lockers? Are there enough metal detectors to keep all of the shooters out?

You see, schools look quite different than they did when you sent us to public school. Even with the best teachers and programs and even in “safe” communities and districts, children deal with terrifying realities. The schools train them from the earliest days of kindergarten how to react in the event of an active shooter. Schools are evacuated regularly due to bomb threats — and kids who make the threats find themselves swiftly jettisoned to the juvenile justice system. Little boys caught playing cops and robbers at recess become criminals in today’s schools. Bullying has reached bizarre, terrifying new levels with the advent of cyberbullying. Many children are destroyed before they have the opportunity to grow and blossom. And perhaps worst of all, their faith is often treated with derision, as religious expression is banned and teaching about the history of faith in our nation is mostly absent.

Can you blame us for wanting to spare our kids from these harsh realities? For wanting to let them learn in peace, without the distractions of a school social scene that enables antisocial behavior and is unlike anything they will ever experience in their adult lives? For wanting the opportunity to teach about our faith alongside the other school subjects?

As parents, we are asking you to trust that we know what’s best for our children. We are not perfect parents (we’ve learned that those parents don’t exist). We can’t promise that our kids will turn out to be rocket scientists or doctors. But we do promise that we will do everything within our power to raise great kids who grow up to be productive, law-abiding citizens who love God and love their country. In the process, we would love for our children to have a special relationship with you — and we hope that you will give us your blessing. We understand that you don’t completely understand our decision to homeschool, but we ask that you join us in this journey and become an integral part of our children’s education.