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Vol. XXVI
No. 4
Cover
July/August
2010

In This Issue

SPECIALFEATURES
REGULARCOLUMNS
ANDTHEREST

Cover Story Next Page
by Andrea Longbottom
- disclaimer -

...
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS SEASON
IN YOUR GRANDCHILDREN’S LIVES.
...

Kids love a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house—after all, that’s where you’ll find fascinating stories, great food, relaxation, and of course, the ever present bowl of candy on the coffee table—yum! For many reasons, grandparents are often a special part of a child’s life, and in homeschooling families, grandparents have the unique opportunity to be involved in the children’s education.

The Butlers travel with their grandchildren.
Courtesy of the Family
Grandparents Phil and Becky Butler have enjoyed sharing the homeschool experience with their grandchildren. Here they are traveling on a summer trip.

If you’re a homeschooling parent, are you looking for ways to involve grandparents in your children’s education? Maybe you’re a grandparent and you’d like to do more with your homeschooled grandchildren. Or maybe you’re not sure about this at all. So, why and how should you be involved?

THE WHY

“As a grandparent, you tend to be a teacher,” says Wayne Saunders, a homeschooling granddad in central Vermont. “You just know more because you’re twice as old as everyone else!” Due to their years of life experience, grandparents can be a valuable part of the teaching process in homeschooling even if they don’t formally teach a subject.

By getting involved in their grandchildren’s everyday life, grandparents not only teach, but they also strengthen family bonds. Children will gain a stronger sense of identity from knowing those who came before them. For Christian families, this is an especially wonderful part of knowing grandparents—the legacy of faith that grandparents and great-grandparents represent and pass on is an encouragement and inspiration to younger generations.

Grandpa and Grandma also provide an extra layer of accountability for grandkids. If Daniel knows Grandpa doesn’t use that swear word, or if Emily notices that Grandma prays regularly, they are more likely to exhibit those traits in their own lives. Grandparents have the opportunity to be lifelong mentors, discipling their children’s children.

One word sums up all of these reasons for being involved with grandchildren—support. Homeschooling isn’t easy, and it’s not a one-person job. Grandparents, simply encouraging your children in their decision to homeschool will go a long way. And your kids and grandkids have a chance to get to know you better in the meantime! The interest you show in your grandchildren, and the love and encouragement you give your children, will be one of the things they remember most about you in the years to come.

Becky Butler, a homeschooling mother and grandmother in Huntsville, Alabama, still appreciates her mother-in-law’s support: ’My mother-in-law, Grace, has been just that—full of grace toward our decision to homeschool. We were some of the early people homeschooling, and it was so ‘radical’ back then. I appreciated her love and care while we had so many negative comments.”

Ground (Or “Grand”) Rules

Ann Goff and her granddaughter, Elizabeth.
Courtesy of the Family
Ann Goff and her granddaughter, Elizabeth, hit the books. “I think my being Elizabeth’s teacher has strengthened our bond,” says Ann.

If you’re a grandparent, keep in mind that ultimately, the parents are the ones raising their child. Treat their educational choices with respect. That doesn’t mean you can’t make suggestions, but do so in a loving way, considering their perspective. Find ways you can be involved that are agreeable to both parties. The same for parents: it’s important to show that you respect the grandparent’s time and abilities.

Ann Goff, a grandmother who lives close to her granddaughter in Huntsville, Alabama, admits there are challenges to being involved and helping teach someone else’s child. “But the positives far outweigh any challenges,” she says.

Becky Butler says that it’s important not to micromanage your children in their homeschooling. “When you serve your children, it builds a stronger relationship,” she says.

If you’re a parent, maybe you’re not sure you want your parents to be involved, or maybe you’re finding yourself giving them too much responsibility. If the grandparents aren’t involved and you’re hesitant, think about ways for them to pitch in, and make sure you and they are comfortable with the level of involvement. Grandparents may also have many of their own responsibilities. For example, Ann balances a homeschool co-op teaching job, daily life, and being a grandparent with caring for her sick mother. “So many people my age are trying to balance the demands of grown children, grandchildren, and elderly parents,” says Ann. “It is a juggling act. You can’t drop any of the balls, yet it’s hard to keep them in the air!”

Christa Butler, Becky’s daughter-in-law and a homeschooling mom in Gurley, Alabama, advises parents “to let the grandparents know you’re interested in their help. Begin by letting them know what your goals are for your child and what subjects you find challenging or dislike. Perhaps the grandparents have a love for that subject and could easily pass it on to your child.” Similarly, she encourages grandparents: “Simply ask if there is a subject or time slot that you can help with. Start with a trial period and, if it goes well, commit to it.”

Homeschooling parents David and Valerie Monk of Gilbert, Arizona, encourage grandparents to always try to be positive. “Pray for your children and grandchildren,” says Valerie. “Ask what you could do. If you can’t do something that they ask, try to find something smaller that you can do. Attend their state homeschool convention so you can catch the vision of what homeschooling is about. If you can’t attend, ask for the CDs so you can listen to the keynote speaker, for example.”

THE HOW

The Simpsons took their grandson with them to Europe.
Courtesy of the Family
Geography on location in the Alps: Grandma and Grandpa Simpson took their grandson Jason with them to Europe a few years ago.

As a parent, have you ever thought, “Wow, Michael’s approaching algebra stage ... I wasn’t so good at math myself. Guess I’ll have to dig back in and just do my best.” Maybe your own parents can help solve this one. Do either of them have a background in math, or do they have a penchant for problem solving or crunching numbers? Maybe they’d be willing to brush up and take Michael along for the ride.

Fynlon Simpson, a grandfather in the Dallas, Texas, area, was able to share his love for science and engineering with his high school-age grandson Jason. He taught Jason advanced science and math courses. “I have a technical background that gave me confidence,” says Fynlon. “And I enjoyed teaching Jason. I was able to tell him where I’d actually used the various fields of math in my career.”

Jason, now 19, says he was a little hesitant to begin classes with his grandfather. “I was afraid he might give me a lot of homework,” he says. But his fears settled after a few weeks and he found the routine enjoyable. “I think for some kids, being taught by a grandparent would be unusual.... For me, it never was, because our relationship was so based on him telling stories and teaching me how to do things. It was fairly natural.”

...
WHAT DOES GRANDPA ENJOY? WHAT SKILLS COME NATURALLY
TO GRANDMA? MAYBE IT’S BOATING,
COOKING, PLAYING THE PIANO, OR WRITING POETRY.
...

Ann Goff teaches a homeschool co-op one day a week to be part of her 7-year-old granddaughter’s homeschooling program. “We are really close and I think my being Elizabeth’s teacher has strengthened our bond,” says Ann. “We talk about school all the time. She loves it.... It’s a whole different relationship being her teacher. She calls me Mrs. Goff, not Mimi. She really respects my role as her teacher and doesn’t try to take advantage of it.”

However, grandparents don’t have to bring out the math textbook to be part of the homeschooling process. “Most grandparents have some experience—a lot of experience at something,” says Fynlon Simpson. “And whatever it is, they can share it with their grandkids.”

Becky Butler agrees. “Every grandparent has something they love,” she says. “They could teach their grandkids the things they are passionate about.” What does Grandpa enjoy? What skills come naturally to Grandma? Maybe it’s boating, cooking, playing the piano, or writing poetry. Many grandparents are also natural storytellers and history teachers.

Phil Butler, Becky’s husband, runs a construction business. “I feel it’s very important for my kids and grandkids to learn to work,” says Phil. This might mean helping clear sticks and brush out of Great-Grandmother’s yard next door or participating in a building project. He also encourages grandparents to look for teachable moments, such as stopping the car to observe a turtle in the road or identifying a bird by its song.

Fynlon Simpson adds, “A lot of people grow up without a knowledge of household things and how to repair them. I took the approach of waiting till I could have my grandson Jason over and let him do it.... At first, it was more my teaching Jason, but before we got through, I was calling him for advice!”

If you’re a grandparent and teaching isn’t your cup of tea, or if it’s not possible, think of other activities to enjoy with your grandchildren. If you live close by, take the grandkids on a nature walk. How about making a trip to the zoo or symphony? Becky Butler loves museums and finds herself taking her grandkids along. (Some museums even offer discounts to grandparents.) If you live far from family, head to the library, check out a stack of children’s books, review them, and recommend the best ones to your grandkids (you will probably want to check with the parents first). Then have the kids write you short book reports. Or plan some special story times during your next visit.

David and Valerie Monk advise parents to give grandparents “bite-size jobs like ‘Please answer the grandkids’ letters,’ or ‘Please come to our science fair and be a judge,’ or ‘Would you host a tea for our girls’ literature club if we will do all the cleanup?’ Then show your appreciation and have your children express their gratitude by sending a thank-you card, telling what it meant for their grandparents to be involved.”

Homeschooling mom and author Laurajean Downs suggests grandparents attend a homeschool conference or curriculum fair with the parents.1 Many conferences offer free entrance for grandparents who accompany registered homeschooling moms and dads.

Phil and Becky Butler’s son and daughter-in-law, Jason and Christa Butler, appreciate the senior Butlers’ “willingness and sacrifice” in assisting with their grandchildren’s home education. This ranges “from a weekly hands-on school day with Becky, to special geography projects with Phil and numerous forms of help from Becky on field trip days,” says Christa. “These things allow me to spend time with the younger children or sometimes just regroup. The children enjoy the extra attention from their grandparents and are gleaning wisdom and making memories at the same time. It’s a beneficial situation to us all.”

While it’s natural to think of homeschool involvement as being academic in some way, a grandparent’s love, presence, and interest are what will reap great rewards in the lives of grandchildren. If you as a grandparent are involved in any way in your grandchildren’s lives, you will naturally find yourself being a teacher and mentor.

Distance, Thou Shalt not Daunt Me!

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “This is all great if you’re close to family, but I live on the edge of the Kamchatka Peninsula!” Fortunately, involvement isn’t just for grandparents who live next door.

Thanks to technology, grandparents can connect with grandchildren daily if they choose, through email, internet calls, phone calls, and blogs. One grandmother uses technology to help teach her grandchildren: “As a veteran homeschooler, I have the privilege to help my daughter, who lives overseas, with our two grandsons, via the webcam. We have fun with the special holidays calendar. I also do printable pages with them. They can hold up their work for me to see. We are exploring doing all subjects. I can also give my daughter a break when needed, or each child can be getting one-on-one time.”2

You can also adapt some of the ideas in the section above to fit a long-distance family relationship. For instance, even if you don’t have a computer, you can become pen-pals with your grandchildren, teaching them a skill through your letters, or just sharing what life was like when you were a kid.

Homeschooling mom Valerie Monk’s in-laws live 45 minutes away. “One thing they have done since the beginning is read and reply to our children’s letters,” she says. “I have my students include their paragraphs, essays, and reports in letters to them.”

Her in-laws love the children’s letters and will reply, writing about what they enjoyed and commenting on improvements they notice in the children’s writing. “They feel closer to their grandchildren, and our children feel that their grandparents are interested in them,” Valerie continues. “The children also have an audience to write to instead of just doing an assignment for Mom.”

Author Laurajean Downs encourages kids and grandparents to exchange self-recordings or homemade videos. A child could record school speeches, conversations, or passages read aloud from books. He could even send interview questions and the grandparents could record and return their answers. Another creative use for audiovisual media would be to exchange recordings of the grandparents’ and child’s homes, towns, or trips.3

Some kinds of support don’t depend on your proximity to family. Have you considered financial support? Maybe you can purchase some of next year’s readers, textbooks, or science tools. Perhaps there’s a co-op class or music lessons your kids really want the grandchildren to take, but are struggling to afford.

Full-timers

Maybe you’re a full-time homeschooling grandparent or soon will join this new demographic. Wayne and Cheryl Saunders of central Vermont become homeschooling “parents” whenever their daughter is deployed on military assignments. (If you are planning to homeschool your grandchild, or have already started, be sure to check out your state’s homeschool laws. Visit www.hslda.org/laws for state legal summaries.)

Since their grandson, Nate, grew up overseas, Wayne and Cheryl didn’t have many opportunities to get acquainted until Nate lived with them for several months. At first, says Wayne, “we were just ‘PapaNana’—one word.”

Wayne and Cheryl eventually homeschooled Nate with the help of a reading program, homeschooling friends, and their own creative ideas. Later, Cheryl enrolled him in a weekly classical homeschool co-op for structured learning and fellowship, followed by reinforced instruction at home.

How did the homeschool experience turn out? Cheryl says, “It was amazing how quickly Nate became part of our lives.... The hard part was giving him back to Mom.”

Wayne enjoyed the practical aspect of homeschooling Nate. “Homeschooling is more than just teaching facts. We would go out and learn to build a garage.... I was presenting to him what normal life is like.”

Homeschooling the grandkids is a big time commitment but one with amazing rewards. If this step is on your horizon, Wayne suggests finding a support system, whether a homeschool support group or a circle of homeschooling friends. Cheryl agrees: “That sense of community has been really good, because when I was struggling, I had a sounding board. I had someone who understood what I was going through.”

Wayne also encourages parents and grandparents to talk out their goals. “If you and the parents have time to plan ahead, the parents should let you know what they’re looking for in an education.”

Challenges to Grandparent Involvement

For reasons of their own, some parents may choose not to have grandparents involved. And vice versa. Sometimes it just won’t work out, and in these cases, involvement shouldn’t be forced on either side.

In other situations, however, hesitant or resistant grandparents may simply need more information about homeschooling. In this instance, try casually explaining a little of what your kids are learning, or have them show the grandparents projects or reports. Invite them to your child’s speech competition or choir concert. (Check out www.hslda.org/research for positive results of research on homeschooling that you can share with family members.)

Valerie Monk says that in her family, “both grandparents started out ‘okay’ with homeschooling, but have since become enthusiastic supporters of our homeschool and homeschooling in general. My husband’s parents even counsel parents interested in homeschooling at their church and send them to the state homeschool convention and website for more information.”

If you’re a grandparent and your children are hesitant or negative about your involvement, let the parents know you’d like to be involved and then leave the decision in their hands. As Ann Goff says, “You can’t do it if your children don’t want you to be involved.” She encourages grandparents to pray about their desire to be involved.

Although homeschooling in the face of family opposition can be challenging, remind yourself why you decided to homeschool in the first place. One homeschool mom says, “I have to remind myself I’m not doing it for the grandparents or their approval, or even for me! It is what I know is best for my child.”4

If family involvement just isn’t a reality—for either the grandparents or the parents—consider adopting ...

Adopted Family

If your parents are no longer living, or are not involved in your family life, think about “adopting” an elderly friend or two. They might be neighbors, friends from church, or other relatives. Invite them to a year-end barbecue, have your children interview them about their own childhood, or ask them if they could teach your child a skill.

The same can go for grandparents who would like to help homeschoolers but cannot be involved with their own families. Maybe you have homeschooling friends who would appreciate your participation and support.

Go For It!

“There’s only so much time for grandparents and grandchildren to be together,” says homeschool graduate Jason Simpson. So, grandparents, be encouraged to take advantage of this season in your grandchildren’s lives. If you’re a parent, encourage grandparents to get involved. Begin now to build a relationship that your children or grandchildren will remember when they have grandkids of their own.

“We have really enjoyed the grandparents’ interest in our children’s education,” says Valerie Monk. “The children feel like school is very important to everyone, not just their parents. And our parents have gotten to know their grandchildren better than many.”

Endnotes

1 Laurajean Downs, You’re Going To Do What?! (Elkton: Holly Hall Publications, 1997), 144.

2 Beverly Hernandez, “Readers Respond: What is your experience as a homeschool grandparent? What role do you take?” About.com, http://home schooling.about.com/u/ua/family/grandmothers .htm?from=lb.

3 Downs, 152-3.

4 www.homeschoolspot.com/archive/index .php/t-3630.html.


About the author

Andrea Longbottom is a homeschool graduate who lives and writes near Houston, Texas.