The Hardest Thing is the
A Grandparent's Perspective on Life Learning
By Karen Ridd
“It’s the hardest part of my job,” said the
affable Manitoba government liaison for homeschooling. He was talking
about dealing with concerned extended family members of homeschoolers.
As he went on to describe these encounters, I thought of my own life
learning friends, and the complaints I have heard about relatives –
often, and understandably, grandparents – who keep asking when the kids
will finally be sent to school or who insist on “testing” the children
whenever they see them. One friend’s mother cried out, when she heard
that her grandchildren wouldn’t be attending school, “But the boys will
grow up to be drug dealers and your daughter will be a prostitute at
I have been fortunate. My extended family
has been at least tolerant and, at best, very supportive. But as I
thought about these questions, it dawned on me that in all the reading
I’ve done about homeschooling – and believe me, I’ve done lots! – I’ve
never read anything about the grandparents’ journey. What is it like to
have unschooled grandchildren? How do you explain it to your friends and
co-workers? There are lots of ways that I, as a parent, can access
support (although never enough!). But how can a grandparent get support?
Filled with these questions, I arranged to interview a grandparent of
homeschooled children: my mother.
Karen: Tell me about when you first learned that I was going to be
homeschooling your grandchildren [neither Daniel, now eight, nor Ben,
who is four, has ever attended school.] How did you feel? What did you
Bev: I had a mixed reaction. Homeschooling wasn’t a new idea to me,
since I had met other homeschoolers a long time ago. I liked these
parents; they were solid people, people I admired, not wingnuts. So the
only people that I knew who were doing it were good people, which was
Now back to you – I could see right from the beginning that it would
be difficult for Daniel to be in the classroom. He was so smart and
didn’t find it easy being in large groups of people, so I could see that
homeschooling was a really positive thing for him. The one concern that
came into my mind was about socialization. I was quite relieved to hear
about the homeschooling association, and glad you had him in soccer.
Also, when I heard that you were going to do this I did some research on
my own and talked to some excellent teachers that I know. One in
particular was really enthusiastic. She said, “If you have a child
one-on-one you can teach them the whole curriculum in two months and
then they can spend the rest of the time playing – and that is what
children should do.” She was very positive. I never did talk to another
grandparent though, because I didn’t know any.
Karen: I’m assuming that you see both good and bad in this, but let’s
start with the positive. What do you like about having home-educated
The other thing I thought about was how children learn, and they
learn so much through play. Every moment is a teachable moment – even
raising my own children, I was always doing that, quite naturally.
Another big thing for me was trusting that you were doing the best for
your kids. Right from the time you were pregnant you did research and
did things differently – midwives and home birth for instance. The most
radical thing I had done was “Childbirth Without Fear!” You were doing
things differently than me, but that you were doing them thoughtfully
and responsibly, and that is what mattered.
Bev: I like being able to have time with my grandchildren, time that
I wouldn’t have if they were in school. I think that it has been very
exciting to see them take off on a topic that they are interested in,
research it and become really confident in their knowledge. Another one
of the neat things is how much Ben, as the younger child, has learned –
just from osmosis. It’s been fun – and challenging – because Ben comes
out with things that I would not expect him to know about. You just
don’t expect three-year-olds to be talking about machicolations or
“Romans against the Gauls,” for instance.
Karen: What about concerns?
Bev: You do wonder if they want to go into the public system at some
point, how they will cope. Fortunately, I talked to a teacher at the
high school level who knew kids who had been homeschooled and then
entered the school system and did well. It’s a big step for a
grandparent, having been in school yourself and then having your kids in
it – it’s a big, big shift from that to homeschooling. When I was in
school there were 48 kids in class! And when you were in school, we
could see for ourselves that if you got one good teacher out of the
system you were lucky. We had concerns about the system ourselves
but we didn’t know there were other options, so we just tried to fix the
system. You have left the system entirely – and that is really
different. The biggest downside, though, is that I don’t know what the
overall framework is. It’s hard not quite knowing where this is all
going. You and I haven’t had time to talk about this, and it would be
something that would be good for grandparents to know about.
Karen: As you are talking I realize that I really haven’t given you a
lot of information, have I? I’m glad that doing this interview has made that come out! If it is okay with you, can I finish
this interview and then talk more with you about it? I’d love to know,
for example, how you explain homeschooling to other people who ask you
about what your grandchildren are doing. Especially since I seem to have
explained so little to you!
Bev: I do get questions, mostly around socialization, which is
interesting. I tell them about the homeschooling association and the
children playing community club soccer. People assume that a
homeschooling association would be all the same kinds of kids, and they
think that it is good that they are playing with other kids who aren’t
homeschooled, who are different.
I don’t think people think that they won’t learn. But people do think
that you must do some form of school-at-home. Unschooling is quite
different and new – I haven’t actually explained unschooling to anyone
at this point, because I don’t know enough about it!
Karen: What support do you, as a grandparent, need? Where do you get
Bev: I think right off the top that it would be good for homeschooling
associations to have a pamphlet for grandparents that describes what
this is all about, and then maybe more elaborate material after that.
Something in print means a lot to people, psychologically. Also, it
would be great if there were other people grandparents could talk to if
they were really anxious, especially if their relationship with their
children wasn’t easy.
Karen: Any “last words?” What advice/guidance do you have for other
grandparents of homeschooled children?
Bev: The hardest thing for grandparents is the unknown. There are no
books, pamphlets or support groups for grandparents. People will be
anxious, of course, because they love their grandchildren, but there is
nowhere to go with that anxiety. There seem to be support groups for
everything else, but not for that. So grandparents need to find more
information, talk to their children, talk to teachers. You need to go to
your grandchildren’s activities and meet other homeschooling families.
I really do think that the grandparents have to let go and trust – trust
the values that you have instilled in your own children. You need to be
open to doing things differently – these children will be growing up
into a very different world than we did, or our children. It is not
always easy to let go when you are older, and it is easier for some than
others. But if you get involved with your grandchildren you can see for
yourself the good things that are coming to them from homeschooling.
Karen: It is clear, isn’t it, why my mother is one of my heroes?
Karen Ridd is an activist, educator, retired clown, and delighted unschooling mother.
Her children Daniel and Ben are responsible for the biggest growth curve in her life – and she appreciates that!
Karen lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She has contributed a number of articles to Life Learning Magazine. This interview was included in the book
Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier.
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