3 Types of questions people ask homeschoolers, and how to answer them

The hardest part of homeschooling is not making the decisions about education. It’s dealing with social scrutiny of the decisions we make about education. I have found that social scrutiny falls into three categories: 

Innocuous questions.

When someone says, “What grade are you in?” my kids just make up a grade. When someone says, “What’s your favorite subject?” my kids say a subject they know kids learn in school.

For the most part, when someone asks a school a question, they never really want to talk about the answer. They just want an answer that’s in line with their expectations. It’s the kid equivalent of the adult question, “How are you?”

The am-I-in-trouble? question.

Adults think it’s their right to know what a kid is doing out in the world if they are not in school. Adults think it is a community imperative to keep the kids locked up during the day. This burden elicits questions like:

Why aren’t you in school?

Do you have the day off from school?

Does your mom know you’re here?

My kids answer, “I’m homeschooled.”

The adult usually feels bad that they assumed the kid was doing something wrong, so the adult says something like, “Oh! That’s great!”

The you’re-in-trouble questions.

Parents who worry that they should be homeschooling ask these questions. They are logistical in nature and the intent is for the parent to assure themselves they could never do it themselves.

Is your mom a teacher?

How do you learn math?

How do you make friends?

How will you go to college?

At each stage of parenting there are new versions. Right now my hardest question is: What does your son do besides cello?

I used to say, “Basketball.” But he decided to quit basketball, which was a hard decision. For me. He quit because he’s on two travel teams and he wants more time to practice cello and piano. It was an easy decision for him.

I am actually a big fan of quitting. I’ve let my kids quit tons of stuff. But I hesitated this time. I suggested quitting just one of the teams. But I’m hesitating not because quitting is bad for him. It’s because I’m sick of hearing people question my decisions. Homeschooling means constantly defending what I’m doing to non-homeschoolers.

I have had this for my whole life. I played on the beach volleyball tour the year before it was made an Olympic sport. I competed against the Olympic team every week, but still, people thought I was a slacker in a non-sport.

I got a job giving financial advice when I had very little money of my own. People said I should be fired and I’m an imposter and delusional.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now – everyone second-guessing me and doubting that I make good decisions. But you never get used to it. I think it might be part of being human to never stop wanting the approval of the people around us.

12 replies
  1. Niki
    Niki says:

    I get a lot of “you’re-in-trouble” questions from parents whose kids are athletes (& many of them are being homeschooled). My kids used to play competitive tennis but hated it. So I let them quit cold-turkey. Now, I get asked a lot of “what do your sons do now?” These parents think I am nuts for letting my kids compete in esports. My boys didn’t enjoy training for tennis, but for their esports training, they actually did their own research and came up with a physical training routine that is quite rigorous to improve their concentrations during matches. To be honest, I was nervous about giving up on traditional sports altogether for teenagers, but I am confident now that quitting was the right decision for my kids. But I don’t usually answer questions from the other parents this way. My go-to is, ” oh, we are totally doomed!! ” with a smile on my face – it’s what they want to hear.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love that your kids have a training program for themselves. I’ve been watching youtubers talking about training programs and I’ve been so impressed.

      Also, I my son asked to get a coaching session from a top League of Legends player (probably because my son hears me coaching people all the time) and I was just blown away by how good the coaching was. It was pretty much exactly the same advice I give to people who hire me to help them get a career.

      He told my son about setting a goal and making a commitment to meet that goal. Figuring out what other people do to meet that goal and then deciding what you have to do each day.

      I’m so happy that you commented here about what your kids are doing, and what it feels like to be a homeschooler who has kids doing esports. My kids will not be that serious about gaming, but I confess that I wish they were.


      • Niki
        Niki says:

        My son did a session with someone from Gamer-Sensei (WyzAnt of the gaming world.) After sending in one of his gaming sessions, my kid got a tailored advice via YouTube video. For $10/hour! My son told me all of the stuff the guy told him to focus on were spot on. My guess is that these tutors had to figure out their own way to the top, having to assess what they did or did not do right every step of the way. I routinely pay waaaay more than $10/hour for acdemic tutoring. It made me smile when my son’s gaming tutor apologized to him for being a little “pricey”, but the session will be worth every penny :).

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Anytime you do something that isn’t in the mainstream people think you’re a slacker with a non-life. If you choose a non-mainstream path, your personal journey is about becoming comfortable and confident with your choices regardless of the disapproval.

  3. Alyson Long
    Alyson Long says:

    I was called a counter cultural hippie the other day on my website. It’s like water off a duck’s back now because I KNOW how freaking awesomly by kids are turning out. This guy had never met them, didn’t know me, he was just spewing his venom somewhere he could. But in real life I honestly have very few problems of this sort. My boys are 14 and 11 now and spend a very large part of their time playing computer games. But the part that isn’t computer games is far more than most kids get to do in a whole lifetime. I’m happy, they are happy. So stuff it. What they do is nobody else’s business.

  4. LAP
    LAP says:

    When my brother and I were homeschooled ( for a few years in the 90’s) some people would give us pop quizzes. I guess because they wanted to make sure our education was up to par? So nice of them.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I think that the parents who experience the most pushback are the ones who have kids who are 1, 2, 3, or 4 years old who broadcast that they are homeschooling their kids. Because generally their friends have kids the same age and maybe they aren’t planning out their kids education yet. Or parents with older kids want to impart some unwanted wisdom. Homeschooling is more mainstream now than ever, so people that don’t understand that are probably very old-school and won’t change.

    When I took my daughter out of 5th grade for her to homeschool again everyone was supportive. The school, other parents, librarians…and when we would go to the movies at 10am noone cared, or if they did I didn’t notice. And there are always other kids out doing stuff at the same time as us. So even though the homeschool community is much smaller than what I’m used to it’s not like I’m the only one doing it.

    The usual response I get is “Oh” and then we move on in the conversation.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      YMKAS, it seemed to me from your other post yesterday that both your kids were back in school again. Is homeschooling in the past tense for you, or the present?

      I think some of the pushback against parents who broadcast that they are homeschooling their 1,2,3,4 year olds is similar to the pushback against people who broadcast that their furry pets are their children: it’s simply not the case. You can’t actually be homeschooling a child who is not school age, like you can’t actually be the parent of a dog.

      You can be planning to homeschool a 1,2,3,4 year old. I was planning to homeschool my daughter at that age, and brought her along to many homeschool events with my son (who I was actually homeschooling), but the phraseology always felt awkward to me. “Are you homeschooling her?” “We might do that, when she’s older.”

      I think another part of the pushback against parents of 1,2,3,4 year olds has to do with social acceptance of daycare (which would be the alternative to home for these kids). In this country, we’ve been doing compulsory public schooling for a century and a half. Everybody’s grandparents were required to go to school. But when I was a kid almost no kids – except desperately poor kids and kids whose families were in some sort of trouble – went to daycare. Today almost all kids go to daycare: what was once seen as an aberration is now seen as a necessity.

      So another part of the pushback against parents of 1,2,3,4 year olds who broadcast that they are keeping their kids home is sour grape guilt from parents who feel that it would be better for their kids to keep them home, like they were kept home as kids.

      I would happily have kept my girl home longer, but she really wanted to be in a school-type situation as soon as she saw other kids doing it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Yes, it’s complicated. Difficult to really explain in the public domain… but there is a story there. Past, present, and potentially future.

        Anyway, I have three kids. Two in elementary still. My oldest homeschooled the remainder of her 5th grade year and is now enrolled for middle school where she will start in Sept. This is where I have a 504 in place that should make school very accommodating for my oldest. Obviously we needed some reason to get a 504 in the first place.

      • Molly
        Molly says:

        It’s like you’ve never heard of any preschool ever. Children can be homeschooled from the start.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “The hardest part of homeschooling is not making the decisions about education. It’s dealing with social scrutiny of the decisions we make about education.” …
    “You’d think I’d be used to it by now – everyone second-guessing me and doubting that I make good decisions. But you never get used to it. I think it might be part of being human to never stop wanting the approval of the people around us.”
    It may be true we’re looking for approval or validation of the people around us at varying degrees depending upon the circumstance. I don’t think that’s what this post is about, though. It’s more about justification. Justification of a decision already made by yourself to someone else asking questions for whatever reason. And the reason can often be traced to their ignorance. In this case, it’s homeschooling and homeschooling questions can be difficult to answer because homeschooling is not mainstream and the reasons to homeschool are myriad. In fact, the answer to many questions about homeschooling/unschooling seems personal because they are. So each time you chose to answer someone’s question about your homeschooling, it may be easier to think of it as providing information or defending your decision rather than it being viewed as looking for approval.

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