“Tell me again,” my mom asked. “Why are you homeschooling your children?”

It was a question my parents asked often during our first few years of homeschooling. They weren’t openly critical of our decision to homeschool, but they didn’t understand our reasoning and convictions either.

My parents were educated in public schools, and after they had children of their own, they were satisfied to enroll us in the local public schools as well. Though our parents’ choices for our education weren’t a significant factor in our decision to homeschool our children, they initially interpreted it as criticism of the choices they had made as parents.

After we shared with our parents some of the resources that had influenced our decision to home educate, they began to better understand our motivation. They could see that we were not criticizing their parenting but simply making the best choices we knew how for our family in today’s culture and educational environment.

My parents were never antagonistic, but it still took time for them to become enthusiastic supporters. Had they been less supportive or not supportive at all, we still wanted to model honoring and respecting them in front of our children and probably would not have changed most of the ways we invited them into our homeschooling activities. Our children learned much more from watching how we loved, honored, and respected their grandparents than we could otherwise have taught them.  

Grandparents who live close enough to be regularly involved in homeschooling do have an advantage over grandparents who live far away. The mother of one of my homeschooling friends is a retired public school teacher who was not always supportive of homeschooling, but once a week she follows my friend’s lesson plans and homeschools her granddaughter. For my friend, her daughter, and her mother, it is a gift. Her mother has cancer, and chemotherapy treatments often leave her feeling sick and exhausted, but she cherishes the day each week that she homeschools her granddaughter and the opportunity it provides to nurture that relationship and create lasting and meaningful memories.

My parents lived hundreds of miles away, but even if they had lived as close as Karen’s mom did, I don’t think they would have wanted to be that involved in their grandchildren’s homeschooling. Like all homeschooling families, we had the freedom to involve our children’s grandparents in the ways that worked best for our family’s unique circumstances. What was important was staying connected—getting the grandparents involved in appropriate and meaningful ways that would strengthen family relationships, encourage support from the grandparents, and demonstrate to our children the importance of appreciating and honoring the wisdom of their elders.  

As our homeschooling decision gained favor in the eyes of my parents, it was important for us to remember that not all of their grandchildren were homeschooled. We could express our convictions about homeschooling and even encourage other family members to consider home education, but we needed to be careful to avoid putting my parents in the middle. They needed the freedom to love and nurture relationships with all their grandchildren and be involved in their more traditional school activities without our condemnation.  

We began homeschooling in the mid-1980s—the “dark ages” before the Internet, blogs, Facebook, and digital cameras. Writing snail-mail letters to grandparents was a frequent language and penmanship assignment. With my mother’s help, we planned field trips close to my parent’s hometown. We often invited them to join us and extended our visit by staying overnight and including them in our studies the following day.

When my parents were ill and could use our help, we packed up our “school” and stayed with them as long as we were helpful and needed—a benefit of homeschooling that my parents came to appreciate the most. After my father’s death, we moved my bedridden mother into our home so that we could care for her as a family. Our children not only kept up with their academic studies, but they also learned by example the joy of making sacrifices to serve others—especially their grandparents.

With today’s technology, staying connected with extended family and keeping grandparents involved in their grandchildren’s home education couldn’t be easier—whether they live next door or on the other side of the world. The opportunities are endless.

A cell phone photo of our children doing a science experiment or a video of them reading their first words can, within seconds, be shared with their grandparents. In the children’s lesson plans each week, we can assign the writing of emails or snail-mail letters to their grandparents, including artwork, a summary of their studies, a Scripture memory verse, or photos.  

A private family blog (blocked from public access) can be a delightful and easy way for the children to share letters, stories, essays, photos, and videos with their grandparents. You could also encourage the grandparents to post their own entries with photos of their activities for their grandchildren to see!  

If your parents are or were teachers, respect their experience. Though homeschoolers use different skill sets than teachers in the classroom, tap into your parents’ “teacher knowledge” and wisdom. Include some of their suggestions in your planning, involve them in co-op experiences with other homeschoolers, and be sure to thank them for their help. It may improve support and bridge gaps between you and less supportive parents.

Ask the grandparents to teach a particular skill, or ask them what skills or knowledge they would like to pass on to their grandchildren. Create the opportunity for it to happen. Even grandparents who live far away can make videos to teach their grandchildren a lesson or skill.

Have your children interview their grandparents about a variety of topics. As an example, our children asked their grandparents to describe what they experienced on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  

If grandparents live close by, ask them to participate in family or one-on-one read-alouds. If they live a distance away, encourage them to make audio recordings of themselves reading to the grandchildren and mail the CD or cassette to your family. They could even read to the children on Skype. If you are unsure or uncomfortable with your parents’ book choices, suggest a title or mail them a copy of the book you want them to read and record.

Direct the hearts of your children toward their grandparents by speaking kindly of and to them. Encourage your children to pray for their grandparents, and pray with your children for them as well.

Ask your parents to pray for their grandchildren’s homeschooling—with specific requests, and be gracious in receiving the advice they may offer as a result. In our homeschool we, along with our parents, cherished intergenerational relationships and understood my parents’ God-given responsibilities to future generations (Psalms 71:17-18).

Proverbs 17:6 tells us that grandchildren are a crown. Our parents’ desire to be actively engaged in their grandchildren’s lives is God-honoring, and it’s up to us to graciously welcome and not hinder their efforts to wear and delight in their crowns.

Patricia Hunter is a small town girl who thirty-five years ago married a handsome sailor turned citrus farmer, and together they raised and homeschooled their now adult children through high school on south central Florida’s rural sandy ridge. She is a freelance writer and photographer and “Mimi” to eight grandchildren. “Cultivating an eye for life’s mercies” through photography, Patricia blogs at Pollywog Creek: pollywogcreek.blogspot.com

Copyright, 2012. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, April, 2012. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: May 17, 2013