If you've homeschooled for a couple of years, you may be in a position to help people who are considering homeschooling or who are in their first year or two of homeschooling.
Chances are, by now, you've learned a lot of content for answering homeschooling questions. You know your state law. You know six or eight different approaches to homeschooling. You've examined ten math curricula in detail. You've seen the high school transcripts of homeschoolers who have gained admission to college.
So you have information to share.
But do you know the best technique for communicating homeschooling information to interested parents?
In my opinion, that technique boils down to this:
Give information, not advice.
Tell someone about the approaches to homeschooling, provide insight about benefits of homeschooling, explain the pros and cons of curricula, or point out the ways families can organize their time.
However, advising someone directly which specific homeschooling approach she should take or what schedule she should use is almost never appropriate—and this goes double if the new or prospective homeschooler is a personal friend or relative.
Why is "giving information but not advice" so critical in my opinion?
1. Giving information, not advice, is empowering to new homeschoolers. You provide them with what they need to know, but the decision-making resides with them. Since homeschooling is nothing if not a series of educational decisions, it's important for new homeschoolers to take this responsibility themselves.
2. Giving information, not advice, means you're not "prescribing" homeschool methods based on your family when other homeschooling families may be different from yours. Of course, it can be really useful to share with new homeschoolers the varying ways homeschooling families—including yours—have responded to challenges or organized themselves for field trips or prepared for college. However, to assume your way is the way that will be right for an individual family you are helping is presumptuous at best and limiting at worst.
If they don't look beyond what worked for you, how might they find what will work best for them?If you talk about what works for you, be sure to let them know that other homeschoolers may have other ways that might fit even better. Encourage research and an open mind rather than do-as-I-do.
3. Giving advice that doesn't work means you will have been proven a bad adviser. This means the new homeschooling parents won't call on you again, and maybe will be reluctant to ask for help from others. If you've said point blank that a homeschool family should do something that was an utter failure or impossible for them to execute because their situation is different, you've lost credibility and will likely no longer be a resource.
4. Giving advice sets you up in an unequal relationship. Even when I work as a homeschool evaluator and am able to make observations about resources that might be helpful to a family, I offer these as possibilities and options, not cure-alls or interventions that will save the day. I am not an authority over anyone else's homeschooling, and chances are, neither are you.
In most cases, you will not be prepared to deal with the consequences of having set yourself up as "over" someone else or their homeschooling—and it can end a friendship or potentially beneficial relationship.
5. Giving information rather than advice lets you meet homeschoolers "where they are." Homeschoolers often grow and change in their philosophy and approach over years. A new homeschooling parent can hear about a certain approach to homeschooling or a new idea but not be "ready" for it until she has also had specific experiences to lead to that direction.
Advice that purports to know what a new homeschooler should do can often create resistance to the very thing you hope the homeschooler will try. Sometimes it goes beyond resistance and straight to animosity.
6. Giving information rather than advice helps prevent development of the mindset that homeschoolers should blindly follow specific leaders. When people hear what they must do from so many different directions, they may find it confusing, so they settle on a single person as their leader in homeschooling.
Will we have our favorite homeschooling speakers and authors and experienced homeschool friends? Certainly we will. But elevating them to guru-dom or not examining their messages in light of a bigger picture may mean we are limiting our children. Hearing information with encouragement to use discernment to develop one's own path discourages the idea that any one person can advise all homeschool families with one-size-fits-all homeschooling directions.
When we present statements about homeschooling as information, parents who are new to homeschooling are free to take what works for them and leave the rest. We preserve our relationship with them, since we have not set ourselves up as having authority over them.
Do long-time homeschoolers have experience and wisdom to share? Yes. This is why we tell our stories and reach out to new homeschoolers, and this is why they look for our stories and examples. We've been there.
However, attention to our communication style can make us more effective in helping parents homeschool.