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November-December 2005 Selected Content

No School Today? - Tammy Enz

We were at the dentist's office last Tuesday. As the hygienist peered into the mouth of my six-year-old, she made friendly conversation with him. To most others, her line of questioning would be nothing other than small talk, but I stood in the doorway, palms sweating and heart thumping, waiting for the conversation to take its usual course.

"So, don't you have school today?" she finally drawled. I gripped the doorframe as my son squirmed in the chair. He shot me a scared glance and mumbled under his breath, "I don't go to school. Mommy teaches me at home."

From my vantage, I saw the hygienist's spine stiffen a little. "Oh, my," she replied and crammed the mirror back between his molars. My heart skipped a beat as I wondered if all my intentions to give my child the very best in life and education was counterproductive because of the hit his self-esteem would suffer in explaining it.

Standing there, it struck me that the explanations my children and I have to make about homeschooling are the most difficult part of the whole venture--often harder than the actual schooling itself.

I returned home determined to elicit advice from the professionals--those parents who have been doing this forever and never seem to sweat answering questions about it. I quickly typed out my concerns and e-mailed them off to a list of veteran homeschooling parents. How do you empower your children to answer the "No school today"' line of questioning in a smart, confident way? How do you shield their delicate self-esteems from unjust criticism of their homeschooled status?

The responses came pouring in. I was surprised to find that an overwhelming number of parents sympathized with my feelings on the subject. Many shared the sentiments of Nancy, a homeschooling parent of two. "I felt guilty, different and almost as if I were doing something wrong." Tami from Illinois admitted, "My kids do not know how to answer in a confident, empowering way."

I studied the responses hoping to find a nice packaged way to present my ideas to people who inquired about our homeschooling lifestyle. There are so many reasons people homeschool. Some are motivated by the desire to protect their children from the negative influences in the school systems. Others feel they can give their children a leg up in life by better preparing them academically in the home. Many wish to emphasize religious or character issues in the schooling of their children. Others homeschool because they "have to" because of a medical condition or family situation that would make it difficult or nearly impossible to send a child off to school.

I basked in the knowledge that many parents, no matter their motivation behind homeschooling, shared my angst at defending their reasons. And I began to glean morsels of wisdom from those who had once been in my place. Amy, who homeschools two boys, ages six and nine, shared a story that had a common theme among the responses. She wrote, "I was uneasy at the beginning and dreaded the stares and questions. I am sure [my children] felt this. But over time I grew in confidence that homeschooling was right for our family, and so [my children's] answers became more sure."

A recurring theme began to take shape--parents who are unsure about why they homeschool have children who are unsure about it. Like all the other lessons we teach our children, we are the ones who teach them confidence. The way parents can give their children confidence to answer questions about homeschooling is to be secure about their own reasons for homeschooling. If they convey these ideas to their children matter-of-factly, always affirming that the children are lucky to have this opportunity, the children will be comfortable with the questioning.

Dawn, an Illinois homeschooling parent, took this advice one step further. Her focus is on raising confident children by emphasizing "family identity" to her children. "Make sure [your child] knows your family is special and that he is loved and respected for who he is. Make sure he knows that he doesn't have to be like everyone else to be somebody. These truths will help him far more than just knowing why you are homeschooling. He will need this confidence his whole life through."

The most seasoned homeschooling parents agreed that the best response from our children is a simple, "I am homeschooled." Mindy, explains that, "'I am...' vs. 'My mother...' sounds more volitional for the child, rather than victimized by their mother." Most agreed the questioning often is cut short when a child supplies this confident answer in a respectful manner.

More than one respondent emphasized that we, as parents, should rush in to assist our children if an unfeeling adult puts them in an uncomfortable situation. One such situation may be a parent's most dreaded line of questions--the socialization issue. But when pushed in this direction, it is surprising the answers that can come forth from a child who has learned confidence. Mona recounted the following story about her 11-year-old son at the doctor's office when the nurse stated her belief that homeschoolers suffer from a lack of socialization. Mona wrote, "I could just feel my eye starting to twitch. I was ready with my 'I don't lock them in the basement' remark when Travis respectfully said, 'Oh that is just not so. I am involved with so many things; I play basketball with a homeschool team, and take Tae Kwon Do at the Y, and am involved with my church, and deliver food to my elderly friends.' The lady was in total shock that this 11-year-old looked her in the eye and explained his sometimes over-socialization to her. I, on the other hand, was giving myself high fives in my head..."

As I compiled the responses, it hit me that I had never sat down and explained to my children why they were being educated at home. I wasn't even completely confident I could articulate my reasons--and for the first time I realized that until I am confident in my reasons for this venture, my children will always shrink under the illumination of the "No school today?" question.

Something Mindy, mother of seven, wrote kept coming back to me. She explained why she chooses to teach at home rather than to trust her children's education to a stranger who has twenty other little ones at his elbow. "To train up a child is more than finishing a workbook--it is mentoring the mind, molding the heart, inspiring the soul. Who is better equipped [to teach a child] than his or her own parent who yearns to give that young life a purpose and direction?"

Yes, that's why I do it. But I realized I had been putting all my emphasis on the ABC's and little on the reasons that matter to me. I decided I needed to shift my focus from finishing workbooks to mentoring, molding and inspiring. But how was I to begin such a shift?

I found my six-year-old engrossed in a pile of easy readers and posed the question, "Sweetie, do you know why I teach you at home?"

He looked up at me and shrugged, "Because you love me?"

I smiled. That's a great place to start.

© 2005, Tammy Enz

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