It’s that time of year again. The department stores are festooned with giant cardboard cutouts of pencils, notebooks and backpacks. Office supply stores are practically giving crayons and paper away, and the weekday morning commute just doubled. That’s right; it’s back to school time, at least for some people. For many families, it’s time to stock up on supplies, head to parent-teacher conferences, and get their kids back into the groove of learning.  For us, however, it’s time to dust off answers we’ve given a hundred times about what homeschooling is and why we do it because this is the time of year we get questioned about it the most. As coworkers, acquaintances and complete strangers ask us or our kids if we’re excited about school starting back up or whether my wife and I will be glad the kids are finally getting out of the house.

My wife and I have been homeschooling for almost 20 years now and I’ll be completely honest, those questions and comments used to really bother me. They felt overly assumptive and intrusive. My kids never knew what to say and would look to us when asked about their grade level (we’ve never assigned overall grade levels for any of them.) I always felt the urge to snap back with something about what happens when one assumes, or lash out with some self-righteous snark about the inferiority of the public school system, but over the years I’ve softened – a lot. Call it wisdom if you like, the gift of getting older. I’ll call it humility and the realization, looking back, that I just sounded like a jerk when I talked about why we homeschool or when I got snippy about people’s assumptions. Whatever it is, it took me a long time to be able to look in the mirror and be honest with myself about that.

Nowadays I still give the standard answers in a pinch, “We homeschool” or “We do school all the time”, when it’s a quick interchange with a store clerk or well-meaning acquaintance, but I do it with a genuine smile.  If someone is sincerely interested and has the time I’ll even get a little deeper and talk about how we love to make life a learning experience that our kids get excited about and so don’t really assign traditional start or stop times.

I now look at it as a way to start a conversation about how happy and lucky we are to homeschool. The greatest barrier we have always faced is breaking down people’s stereotypes and misunderstandings of what homeschooling is and why people do it. Over time (too long) it became pretty apparent that all I was doing with my negative responses was reinforcing  that stereotype and turning more people off to the idea by being the snotty, high-horse, educational elitist I thought I was.

The truth is, I’m just a dad who loves learning and who wants his kids to love learning too. The best way I know how to do that is to take a direct role in their education and literally be one of their teachers by sharing my experiences and knowledge with them. Homeschooling fits very well with that, and we’re lucky enough to be able to do it, which is pretty awesome. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s just fine. As parents, we’re all doing the best we can and trying our best to do what we think is right for our kids. I also want to teach my kids to be happy, loving, and kind human beings, and for me to judge people for not making the same choices I do would directly contradict that.

So next week, I’ll go into work and chat with my coworkers about the new school year, share their joy for the end of summer and their laments about homework and grueling school schedules. I’ll laugh along at their stories about funny parent-teacher conferences and first-day-of-school faux pas. I’ll also tell them about our weekend field trips and what we do to teach chemistry or how we handle grade levels (by subject, not by kid), and hopefully, the next time they hear about homeschooling they’ll be a little more informed. Maybe they’ll even pass that knowledge on to their friends so that the concept seems a little less weird and a little more mainstream. And maybe one day my kids will get different kinds of questions this time of year like, “Did you learn anything interesting today?”

Bio: Jason is a homeschooling dad of six incredible kids and the husband of one lucky wife. He’s a mild mannered science and Disney nerd, a Humanist Celebrant, and a newly-addicted mountain hiker. Jason has shared some of his love of knowledge and adventure by writing a handful of interactive books on science, history, and literature. You can find his materials at http://www.thebrainytourist.com/store