What do you do if the grandparents are poisoning your child's mind against homeschooling?
© Beverley Paine, Jan 2007
A desperate homeschooling mother found herself on the verge of cutting all contact from her husband's parents because every time her seven year old daughter came home from visiting she suddenly wanted to go to school and hated homeschooling... This is a very sad situation and extremely stressful for the family, but it's an all too familiar for many homeschooling families.
The homeschooling parents had spent countless hours explaining her reasons for homeschooling, provided information and research as to the effectiveness and suitability of home education. She'd even asked the grandparent to stop talking to her daughter about school - all to no avail. It was her husband that suggested withdrawing contact from his parents, something they both wanted to avoid. They felt, however, that they'd run out of other option.
There are some constructive steps to try before isolating yourself from the extended family if the behaviour persists after you've done your best to reason with them (and this goes for well-meaning but unhelpful friends too).
The first thing to do is always talk to the child about how they feel and think about homeschooling and school. We often think we know what they think but children work hard to second-guess what adults want: they seem to live to please us, especially in those younger childhood years.
Find out what the child she likes and dislikes about homeschooling, and what she thinks happens at school and why she thinks it would be better for her to attend. She might have a completely different view of what homeschooling means for her than you or the grandparent. Children's minds perceive things very differently to adult minds: we often think they are capable of complex understanding simply because they come out with startling insights now and then. Children at this age think in the here and now, rather than worry about the future. We need to deal directly with the child's immediate concerns. Often these are much easier to address than we first suppose.
Everyone wants to feel normal and the same as their peers or others around them. It’s an instinctive part of being human and a natural part of social development: It's the “socialization” of social development and helps us to feel that we belong to a group. It’s one of the core tenets of society, developed from our survival instinct based on the need for security. We seek sameness to feel safe: we are instantly suspicious of difference as it may pose a threat.
We like to take our time to get to know strangers, check them out from a distance, and make sure they don't mean to harm us. We engage in specific dialogue designed to be ambiguous and doesn’t reveal much about who we are, what we’re doing or what we believe. We are taken aback by forward or pushy people. This is one reason I’m always amazed that school education and the media continue to push the extroverted and overly friendly child as the ideal! It’s so counter-intuitive to human nature and produces unnecessary stress on children and young adolescents.
Feeling the 'same' can be a real comfort. At different stages of growth children focus on this need more than at other times. I found that my children really focused on social growth in this area around the ages of three and then again at seven. It was a real challenge to meet their changing social needs and I felt that throughout their education at home we kept swinging from one transition stage into another!
There are a few things parents can do to meet their child’s needs, without succumbing to sending her to school.
Some parents faced with this dilemma decide to play ‘school’ for a week or two and replicate the classroom environment and schedule for their children. To convince their child that homeschooling is a more child-friendly option they even implement a regime of getting up early, hurrying breakfast, checking that homework has been done, making and packing lunch! They then move into the designated study area, tick the attendance sheet and begin lessons. This is followed with a short recess where the children are allowed to have a quick snack and ten minute run around before being called back for more structured activities. And so the day goes on, exactly like a school day.
It takes a lot of discipline on the part of the parent to keep this ‘game’ up for more than a couple of days. All the chores will need to be done before or after ‘school’ and running off and playing outside or in their own room during lesson time isn’t an option. Neither is watching television or playing video games! But to be an effective and instructional deterrent to school this approach really needs to replicate the structure of school life as closely as possible.
There are other, easier ways to address this problem without needing to convince your child that school isn’t as good as the grandparents would have her believe.
By working out what your child really yearns for you can work to meet that need at home.
Other children feel that they are missing out on the fancy paraphernalia that goes with starting school: fashionable backpacks, lunchboxes, drink bottles, special stationary, new pencils, etc. We always bought our children fresh art and craft supplies at the beginning of the year. Some families will start new work folders and books, packing away last year’s books in a labeled (and accessible) box. I used to love wandering around the stationary shop in January, fingering the pencils, crayons, paper, exercise books, eagerly buying a ruler, pencil sharpener and fancy eraser with my pocket money. The best part of starting a new school year for me was always opening the parcel of school supplies!
If it will help, you can organise it so that your homeschool curriculum is similar to that used by the local school. This might help to put the grandparents’ mind at ease, and it will give the child something to talk about to them that they can easily relate to as it’s familiar. You don't have to go the whole way; select a few things that you feel can work well at home. You may find out that the year three class are going to swimming lessons, or doing a project on litter, or perhaps even starting a school garden. Set up something similar. This might involve private swimming lessons or enrolling in after school activities. The object is to reassure your child that he or she isn’t missing out just because they are homeschooled.
Involve your child in designing a homeschool school report card and their own homeschool diary. You could set up a corner of the room as a study or learning centre. Some children are reassured by this kind of structure, particularly if other people are talking about it as something special...
If you do have other homeschool children nearby it may be helpful to organise a structured activity once a week. It can be art, craft, beach biology, science fair projects, a series of history focused excursions - anything 'schooly' will definitely make her feel that homeschool isn't missing out on education, or the opportunity for learning in a group with other children. Remember, it's not the grandparent you're seeking to reassure here: it's your child.
Investigate and talk about the possibility of part time attendance. This might be enough to give your child an 'escape' route every time her grandmother talks about school. She may feel trapped between two powerful and important adults in her life... She wants/needs to please both of you.
I know that what I've suggested is a lot of extra work, especially at the beginning of a new homeschool year, and particularly so if you are homeschooling more than one child, but it's well worth while. The child that is yearning for school will quickly feel that you aren't neglecting her needs, especially if you take the time to talk with her about the different ideas you want to try and why you think they may work. It's really important to listen to what she has to say and to help her open up and talk about what she thinks she really wants and needs, and why. It's hard for children to be that aware of their reasons (it's hard for most adults, sadly), but it's worth persevering in a gentle but persistent manner.
Remember, you can always let your child go to school if she is adamant after everything you’ve tried that this is what she wants. If things don’t turn out the way she expected she can always homeschool again. A lot of homeschooled children want to give school a try. For some, having friends that go to school, listening to the stories of what actually goes on, is generally enough to convince them that the freedom to do what they want when they want, and especially the ability to play when they want to, is much better!
Definitely increase opportunity for social interaction, but don't go overboard. Too many homeschoolers go down this path, especially when their children (or well-meaning relatives and friends) start complaining about lack of friends. Too much social interaction can result in more stress on the family, not less! I find school students are peer addicted: it's one thing that we homeschoolers can avoid. Children love to be with other children but need the freedom to disappear when they want to for some solitary time without being ostracised or pestered. It's hard enough to do that with siblings, but when every day is scheduled for play dates or homeschooled excursions and activities children don't get the quiet time they need.
Social interaction doesn't have occur only through homeschooling activities: look hard for opportunities to get involved with local community activities, even if they aren't for children but are happy to include children. After school and weekend activities offered in your local community may be the answer for your family. Whenever our children met up with schooled children they were envied for their homeschooling status!
If none of the above works and if you and your partner are happy to have 'time off' from visiting the grandparents, go for it. Even if it means you have to sort out other child care arrangements. I always advise homeschool families to avoid people that seek to undermine their confidence. It’s best to build a caring support network around you in the early years of homeschooling, or when faced with stressful situations such as moving into a new area. The last thing we need is unsupportive people badgering us about our choices. Homeschooling is becoming more recognised as a viable alternative to school based education, but for most people it’s still a radical choice that has yet to be proven in effectiveness.
Be honest with the grandparents. It can be really hard to be assertive and honest but it's best in the long run (past experience has taught me this). First of all, double check to make sure they are the ones putting pressure on the child to want to go to school. I would ask my husband to talk to his mother instead of me (and did - I was accused of twisting him around my little finger, but my family integrity is way more important than his historical family connections!) as a lot of people listen to men and take them seriously, especially where education is concerned. Sadly, mothers still don't usually get the respect they deserve!
Remember that grandparents often take a long time to come around and accept the idea of home education. Once they see the benefits of homeschooling they usually swing onside. Some never do, however. Our children's grandparents thought the benefits were great but never recognised homeschooling as a legitimate and successful option to school. The pressure by them to conform to the 'norm' and go to school was always present. Ultimately I stopped discussing that part of our family life with them. I even went so far as to tell the children to ignore their grandparents when they started talking about school, in effect teaching my children to be rude! It was hard, but I couldn't see any other way to protect them against such stubborn dogma.
Every generation has the right to bring up their children according to what they feel is best for their children. Our parents did that with us, often rejecting the advice of their parents. Our children will do this with us! I like to keep this in mind when dealing with intergenerational problems.
Our children feel most secure when we, the parent, accept the responsibility for making decisions regarding their lives. We help them learn to gradually become responsible for their own lives by talking and listening to them about what they want and need, to taking that into consideration when making our decisions. If they feel listened to and respected as individuals then the decisions we make will be more acceptable to them. In this way we slowly let go of the parenting role and set up lasting friendships with our offspring.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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