An occasional complaint of the primary homeschooling parent (most often Mom) is that the other parent (most often Dad) does not appreciate any learning for which he doesn't see firsthand evidence.
If "learning" happens while Dad is away working, but he happens to come home to kids who are on the internet, watching television, or "just playing," he may not believe any "school" took place in his absence. This can certainly be a reasonable concern that a father has for wanting to make sure that the children he loves are being well educated.
However, it may also be that a father who has not steeped himself in homeschooling does not realize how different homeschooling can look compared to school. For example:
- Homeschooling is very efficient, especially in the early years. It just doesn't take as long for several kids working with one adult to do a lot of learning. The hours spent in school include time standing in line, changing classes, waiting for children to finish work at different rates, and taking turns in large groups. All of this is cut out of the homeschool day.
- Homeschooling doesn't always produce visible products. Children who are learning by listening to read alouds, watching documentaries, and taking nature walks may not have the kind of worksheet and curriculum samples lying around that would reassure their dad.
- Some specific approaches to home education don't look much like school at all. There are devoted homeschooling parents whose children are learning effectively through a strange-sounding method called "unschooling" -- and they are purposely not using any curriculum. There are families who are using interest-led learning that might involve reading about a favorite topic, which may not even be a school "subject." There are families who are using project-based homeschooling who are learning by making, building, and doing -- and through these processes children have fantastic opportunities to read, think, plan, and create. These approaches are well-respected and familiar within homeschooling -- and the kids go on to college, work, and entrepreneurship -- but Dad may never have heard of these strange educational approaches.
- Learning is embedded in regular day-to-day activities, and the homeschooling mom may realize that by giving her kids time to dam up the little creek in the back yard, they are internalizing some basic engineering concepts. By counting out change to pay for a smoothie, a child is solidifying number sense and an understanding of money values. Researching how to make moccasins after reading My Side of the Mountain might not be seen by a father as an extension of reading comprehension and the budding of research skills. In fact, all of these things might go unnoticed by a busy dad who is looking only for evidence of the type of work he did when he was in school.
- Screens may be the delivery not the distraction. Homeschooled kids are Googling, fact-checking, watching how-to videos, viewing documentaries, debating in forums, listening to audiobooks, watching classic movies, taking online classes (even homeschooling with MOOCs and streaming The Great Courses), creating digital art, participating in NaNoWriMo, learning to code, and more. Seeing kids in front of screens may not initially sit well with you, but screens can also provide amazing learning.
- Homeschooling commonly does not occur on the same kind of schedule as school. Many families also come up with unique daily schedules, weekly schedules and yearly schedules that may not mesh with a father's school-type expectations.
- The end of the day when a working parent comes home may be the toughest part of the day for the at-home parent. She's tired, she still has dinner to get through, and she's been dealing with littles all day long. This may not be the slice of life a dad should judge the whole day by.
When one parent is the primary homeschooling parent (typically Mom) and another parent is not (typically Dad), daily time out of the home is not an excuse for Dad to not learn about homeschooling, nor is it open season for him to quiz and criticize the homeschooling parent for what he does not see.
When Mom is the primary homeschooling parent and Dad is not, daily time out of the home is not an excuse for Dad to not learn about homeschooling, nor is it open season for him to quiz and criticize the homeschooling parent for what he does not see...
It is his responsibility to try to learn more about how learning is happening and to engage his wife and kids in genuine and natural conversation about their days, their interests, and their learning. If Mom responds with homeschooling terms that seem unfamiliar, Dad has some homework to do to learn about these concepts and understand how they work and if they indeed may be working in their home, even though he does not see a lot that looks to him like "school."
At the same time, the primary homeschooling parent has an interest in making home learning "visible" to reassure a concerned father. Without being defensive, a homeschool mom may help create "buy-in" for homeschooling by discussing what the children are doing and realizing how different homeschooling is for a father who is not seeing the daily learning and only has "school" to compare it to.
Moms can take some simple steps to help their partners with this:
- Provide evidence of learning. It can be as simple as keeping a calendar on the fridge with quick notes about "what we did today" (check out this simple form for recording learning). It can be a concerted effort to display artwork and talk about it at dinner, or to video a child reading aloud or doing an experiment during the day. It's not defense; it's sharing.
- Share homeschooling resources. Offer books, videos, and online reading about homeschooling to help your spouse learn how homeschooling works.
- Explain deschooling. Mothers are often attending more workshops and doing more reading about their new educational adventure, and chances are they will stumble across the concept of deschooling early on. Then they are living deschooling every day as they experience how learning can be de-coupled from school defaults. However, they need to share this concept with fathers, and encourage them to read about deschooling and challenge their notions about how education has to work.
- Socialize Daddy. That's right, moms can take their husbands to homeschool picnics or outings, so they'll have a chance to hear from other families what homeschooling looks like and how dads are integral to homeschool families.
There are more ideas I have written about before for Homeschooling with a Doubting Dad, but my point today is that this is a two-way street. Dads need to realize that homeschool may not look like school, and moms need to realize that dads may need reassurance that their children are getting what they need.
There is also an underlying possibility that homeschooling is not going well. To assess that, in a two-parent family, each parent must have:
- a willingness to learn about homeschooling and
- a willingness to be honest about whether children have at least one engaged and involved parent partnering with them consistently.
The right question from Dad may not be "Did school happen here today?" but "Did learning happen here today?"
The right answer from Mom and the kids?
"Yes! Here's how!"
(Note from Jeanne: This piece is written with the acknowledgment and appreciation of dads who are the primary homeschooling parents, the single parents who are homeschooling without a partner, the two-parent families who are tag-teaming homeschooling responsibilities, the primary homeschooling parents who include their spouses and build trust in the process, and the breadwinner parents who find ways not only to pay the bills but to be involved with their families in nurturing, trusting ways. We all work it out differently.)