“What school do you go to?” is often one of the first questions we ask new students in our youth ministries. And every now and then the answer is, “I’m homeschooled.” And while, in a lot of ways, homeschoolers are just like the other students in our ministries, the truth is, they have some unique needs as well. In this episode, we discuss some of the specific issues and challenges homeschoolers are facing and unpack a few of the best ways to connect with these students in our youth ministries.


  • Who at this table was homeschooled? (0:51)
  • 4:47: “There’s a range of how students feel about being homeschooled. And honestly, not all of them like it.” –Tyler Rees
  • Did your parents explain to you why you were homeschooling? (5:06)
  • Is it more difficult to connect with a homeschooler in your community than someone from a traditional school system? (7:20)
  • 11:45: “Connecting with and reaching homeschooled students in your ministry starts with knowing their background.” –CJ Palmer
  • Why does homeschooling get made fun of? (12:30)
  • Homeschoolers can be difficult to reach because their worlds are so decentralized. (15:21)
  • 16:35: “For better or worse, there’s more possibility of isolation for homeschoolers.” –Tyler Rees
  • What tensions do you face as a ministry leader knowing there are homeschoolers in your ministry each week? (17:10)
  • Were there other homeschoolers in your ministry? Or did you feel like an outcast? (23:38)
  • What do homeschoolers need from our ministries that other students may not need? (28:18)
  • 29:48: “One of the things homeschoolers need is a place to belong. And the church can be a place they belong beyond their kitchen table.” –CJ Palmer
  • 34:47: “We are moving toward online or homeschool being more common, so we have to start anticipating more of that in our ministry.” –Jean Sohn
  • What does it look like to partner with the parents of a homeschooled student? (35:30)
  • Any final thoughts about how to serve and connect with the homeschoolers in our ministries? (39:55)
  • 40:40: “A lot of times homeschoolers may be more biblically literate but the application of what it looks like in life can be less developed.” –Ashley Bohinc

Episode Transcript

– Hey, friends. Welcome to “Rethinking Youth Ministry.” This week, I’m joined by Tyler.

– What’s up?

– Ashley.

– Hey.

– And Jean.

– Hello!

– And this week, on the podcast, we’re talking all about homeschoolers, and specifically what you do with the homeschoolers in your ministry, because homeschoolers can, in some ways, be a little bit different than the traditional student or the public school or private school student in your ministry and they might have some unique needs that we’re going to unpack here.

– Yeah, watch your wording, watch your wording. Yeah?

– Why should I watch my wording, Tyler?

– I’m just, don’t offend the homeschoolers at this table, CJ.

– Well, that’s a good place to start. I want to find out who is a homeschooler or was a homeschooler. Hopefully, you’re not still being homeschooled at this table–

– But if you are, it’s okay.

– It’s okay.

– Who was homeschooled at this table?

– I was.

– Ashley, were you homeschooled?

– I was not.

– Jean?

– I was not.

– What about you, CJ?

– I was also homeschooled. So, we have two people here at the table who were homeschooled and two that weren’t, which I think will be a good balance as we unpack some things here. But first, I want to dive into, so what ages were you homeschooled, Tyler? And, yeah, so tell me about your homeschooling background.

– So, you’re really trying to introduce a segment called “How Homeschooled Were You?” is what were doing right now.

– Right.

– We’re trying to see which one of you–

– Right, right, right.

– Okay.

– So, if this is the game we’re playing, I could’ve been in a commercial for homeschooling. That’s how, and so.

– Wow. Do they have those?

– [Jean] Commercials?

– Probably.

– They’re not good. They’re not good.

– Got it.

– They’re not public. Yet. It’s to a select audience.

– Okay.

– So, I was homeschooled from first grade all the way through to graduation.

– Wow.

– Get this. I worked at a Chick-fil-A, so that’s two points there.

– [CJ] Yeah.

– I played on a homeschooled soccer team, so that’s three points-ish, depending on how you want to call it. I went to community college. I don’t know if that’s a thing that you know of, but all my homeschool friends did that, so I feel like that’s a point for me.

– [CJ] ‘Kay.

– I went to a homeschool prom.

– Oh, pause. Tell us about your homeschooled prom. How does that work?

– Homeschool prom was, I was a part of a body of homeschooled students that would meet every single week, and the parents would teach classes. So, it was a way of going to class.

– It’s like a co-op?

– It was called a co-op, yup, yup. It was called a co-op. So, part of that co-op, they did some events, and one of those things was a prom. So, I went to prom my junior year of school, not because I wanted to. I got asked to prom, which was fine. I was like, “Sure, let’s go to prom.” It was okay. The DJ, the first song, it was like, the DJ was kind of like, “All right, we’re going to have a great time tonight. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.” And then the next song that got played was “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” which, to me, was not what I was expecting.

– That’s great.

– Interesting.

– No, thanks for sharing. You scored all five points. Five out of five for the homeschooler.

– Thank you.

– What about you, CJ?

– Well, I did homeschool. I homeschooled through high school. So, not the whole, I went to a traditional school and then switched over to homeschool in my high school years and did kind of like a high school program co-op thing where you still had some teachers involved. So, not as homeschooled as Tyler, but still homeschooled.

– Didn’t play on a homeschool soccer team.

– But there are unique levels of homeschooling, and it is a very unique culture, and that’s what we’re going to dive into here, so.

– What changed that you transitioned from traditional school to homeschool for high school?

– Yeah.

– Like, what was the reason behind it?

– Honestly, my parents just decided to. So, I didn’t have much say in whether or not I was homeschooled or not. I think they were just decided that, hey, we’re going to, all three, I’m one of three kids, and all three of us, one of them went to private school, one of them went to public school, and I was homeschooled. So, it was kind of unique that they kind of looked at us

– Oh, interesting.

– and decided what they thought each kid needed, for better or for worse, you know? In some ways, it was a great thing. Tyler, did you have a choice in whether or not you were homeschooled?

– It was a choice made for me in first grade. Later on, I, this is probably important to know, there’s a whole range within homeschooling that I’ll just speak to in a moment. Some of my fellow classmates in homeschool loved homeschooling. I realized freshman year of high school, I did not. So, that’s probably important for listeners to know and for you all to know, is that there’s probably a share of how students specifically feel about this. I think I realized in high school I didn’t like being homeschooled. So, I tried to go get a transfer to a public school in junior year, and for whatever reason it didn’t work.

– It didn’t work.

– So.

– Do your parents ever explain to you, like, their reasoning behind homeschooling? ‘Cause I feel like there are different reasons as to why people homeschool, because of they want in charge of their time, or because either it’s proactive–

– Jean, you’re not hosting this podcast. You can’t ask us the questions.

– Proactive or reactive to, you know, like,

– Yeah.

– education, like certain situations. Like do you get

– Yeah.

– involved in those conversations at all?

– I got involved in conversations like after I graduated college where I was like, “Mom and dad, why did you homeschool me?” And regardless of those reasons, there are, and what you’re saying is like, within homeschool there are a lot of different options of what that can look like. And so that’s probably important to know of like there are so many different reasons and there are so many different ways that can look for a student when you are homeschooled. I went to school with kids who were like Olympic athletes and that was the reason that they were homeschooled was it allowed a more flexible training schedules. I went to school with kids who were like insanely smart and what homeschooling allowed was a, like an expedited learning process where they could go through their studies quicker, graduate sooner, whatever that was going to be, just because they could handle it. And then you also you find other kids who like, their parents wanted to be in more control of what they were learning, stuff like that. So, there’s a lot of, I don’t know if any of those ring true.

– Yeah, totally. I mean, I don’t think as a middle schooler or a high schooler or a ninth grade, at a ninth grade level, you’re not really in some ways, self-aware enough to like ask you parents, “Hey, why did you choose, “why are you choosing to homeschool me?” But, in hindsight, similarly, you know, you do have those conversations as you get older. And for me, it was they didn’t love the public school system in, where we were living. And they wanted me to focus on music. So, I did play, I played several instruments growing up and they thought, hey, this is a really good thing for you to get into, to develop. And you need to hone these skills more and it’s just really hard to do some of that at the level they were wanting to see in me, if you have a traditional school schedule. So, very similar to what you were saying as far as like, I know I look like I was probably an Olympic athlete, but I wasn’t and that wasn’t the reason they decided to homeschool me.

– Sure, like oboe was your biggest sport.

– Okay, so let’s dive into this a little bit more. So, agree or disagree? It’s more difficult to reach and connect with a homeschooler in your community than a student from a traditional school system.

– I feel like that’s hard. I think it depends. What do you think?

– Yeah, I think it depends, too.

– Like, are we talking about a one-on-one conversation? Are we talking about in a small group setting? Or what’s the context?

– I don’t know if this helps. I would, I see two kind of angles.

– Yeah.

– One is how student or a kid connects with an adult leader or somebody like a ministry leader or small group leader. And then how a student might connect with their peers. At least, it was my experience that I was well able to connect with adults, but I wasn’t as good in my middle school and high school years with connecting with my peers.

– Were you aware of that, as a middle schooler?

– A little bit, yeah, yeah, yeah. Not fully aware, but you knew that there was more difficulty connecting with other students than there probably should be.

– Do you think that’s changed at all now that technology’s moved forward and social media platforms are–?

– Like for me or for other homeschoolers?

– Well, I’m just thinking as we’ve been preparing of this podcast, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different homeschool is now than when I was in school.

– [Jean] Yeah.

– And even when you were in school. And so, and I think, you know, four years of traditional high school or traditional middle school are gone in America. I think more and more often, there are homeschool programs. There’s hybrid homeschool programs. There’s virtual classrooms. There are so many more opportunities and options. And so, that’s why I’m really excited that we’re talking about this because I think when we talk traditional homeschool, that’s one thing. But I think it’s not the same as it used to be. And I think when we look forward as church, I think it’s going to continue to change. And I think we’re going to have to tackle this topic in a lot of of different contexts. But we’re going to have more and more of these situations because learning is being de-centralized in the education system.

– So, your saying more as a, as we think about education, this is only going to be more of a thing whether you call it homeschooling or not. The variety in educational avenues, even if that’s as a public schooler, but you’re going to college classes junior or senior year, like those are all challenges

– Right.

– that we’re going to have to face, regardless, when it comes to students.

– I remember being a teacher in the school system, and this was, let’s say it was I think back in like 2010, this specific conversation happened. So, that was what? Nine, almost 10 years ago. And I remember we spent 45 minutes in this all staff meeting talking about how students, middle schoolers were not allowed to use tablets in the classroom. And this was like the position the school system was going to take on tablets in the classroom. And then you look, fast forward 10 years and textbooks are pretty much only on tablets these days. And you look at colleges, when I was getting my Masters degree, the only online degree you could get was from like this school in Arizona, you know? There wasn’t all kinds of opportunity to get classes online. And now, you see college students and high school students taking online classes like more than 50% of their classes. And that’s just going to keep trickling down

– Totally.

– into our students. And all these virtual schools, high schools and middle schools in all states across this country are growing for various reasons. The reasons you guys listed about homeschool, I mean, traditional homeschool, right, is when parents are determining the coursework. And then there are co-ops or virtual-op schools who still have standards that they met.

– [Tyler] Right.

– Things like that. So, I just think if we don’t start forward thinking as ministry leaders on how to tackle this topic, we’re going to miss it, ’cause it’s going to, culture’s already changing. We just have to figure how to change with it.

– But I also agree with what you were saying. Each student is doing all these different online courses or parents have decided to do homeschool for a particular reason. Like, there is some sort of reason as to why. Maybe the kid was bullied in school, back in grade school, and they’re like, “Nope, no way. “We’re pulling you out because you’re just going to “get a better care here at home,” or something happened.

– Right.

– Or for whatever reason, I think it impacts how you engage that student because there could be a story behind all of that, that for each student, it’s going to be different.

– Yeah, and I think that’s a great place to start as far as connecting with and reaching homeschooled students in your ministry sort of begins with knowing their story and their background. Just like we do with all students. You know, we encourage connecting with them and getting personal with the students in your ministry. And, you know, part of that is not just almost making fun of homeschooling from the get-go, but knowing that hey, they might be homeschooling for a reason and it might not just be because they’re afraid of the big, bad public school system. There might be a legitimate reason there that they don’t want to, you know, use the public school system. But there might be other legitimate reasons, too. And I think getting to know that story is a good starting point.

– So, can we–?

– Go ahead.

– What you said there, I think probably is maybe another good thing to throw here. Why does homeschooling get made fun of? And if this is a tension that you all have faced as ministry leaders, I frequently hear homeschooling jokes from people who were homeschooled or people who weren’t. So, is that good a place to say, what is it about that, that creates that tension?

– I think anything that’s different gets made fun of.

– Yeah.

– You know, I think public school is kind of the norm. Everyone is, you know, everyone else just kind of goes to the public school. And anything that is different or unusual or doesn’t make sense is something that people just want to make fun of. It’s just easier to do that, which is why I think homeschool is a part of that.

– And I mean, part of hit is because some of the reputations are true as far as homeschoolers tend to be, I mean, I’m going to generalize here, but they’re less brave, they’re less social, they’re more conservative, they’re awkward a lot of times because of the way that they’re raised and the environment they’re living their lives in. And that just sets them up to be made fun of, to be bullied, to be poked at as far as that goes. That’s definitely not true of all homeschoolers. Obviously, Tyler and I are sitting here and we’re very cool people, right ? Right, right?

– That’s generous. That’s generous.

– So cool. You guys are cool.

– Thank you, thank you.

– We’re honored to be at the same table as you.

– But . Ah, man, but it’s true. Like they’re all the same, but it’s easy to generalize.

– ‘Cause you’re saying there’s like a stereotype of a more isolated,

– Right, totally.

– socially awkward homeschool kid,

– Totally.

– whether that’s true or not.

– We all know that.

– It exists.

– It totally exists. And I know it’s not true for every kid who was homeschooled.

– Yeah.

– But I think it’s true for a lot of ’em. I mean the stereotype exists for a reason. And part of it, I think, is when you’re not surrounded by kids your age who are going to point out anytime you’re doing something that’s weird, then you don’t realize it’s weird. Like, you have the student sitting in your youth group who, while you’re talking, they’re knitting the whole time. And you’re like, “Do you want to participate?” And so it.

– Have you had that experience?

– Yeah, of for sure, 100% for sure. Or the kid who shows up.

– Or brings a book and is reading it in the corner.

– Reads it the entire time.

– Yeah.

– Or shows up to group and their like Dragon Con mask but won’t take it off the whole time. Like, things that, well, to be honest, like middle school in general, they’re all weird, so.

– Yeah, I mean, you know. I just.

– Even kids who go to public school.

– It’s true.

– They’re wearing tails and ears and there’s all kinds of things but I think–

– The knitting is a new one for me, so that was I stopped there.

– Oh, 100%. That’s happened more than once.

– That’ great. That’s great.

– For sure. I guess I was a great communicator . They really wanted to pay attention.

– But kind of pulling us back a little bit, I think homeschoolers tend to be somewhat difficult to reach, though, sometimes because I want to refer back to a word you used, Ashley, a few minutes ago. Their roles are somewhat decentralized. And I think that’s what, as much as culture is heading to decentralized school system and world, homeschooling has been that for a very long time while pubic school and private schools have a place that students are going. So, if you’re a ministry leader who wants to learn the culture of the students you want to reach, who wants to connect with students in your community, you have a place to go. And homeschoolers are so decentralized, there’s not, you’re not going to go to someone’s home to learn about their culture, you know, as far homeschooling goes.

– But I think, traditionally, a lot of homeschool students, especially in middle school, don’t have access to a centralized place, like a social media platform. So, I think a lot of times the stereotype might exist or if they have trouble socially fitting in because they might not have heard that album that everybody’s talking about on social media. And they may not be able to connect to your ministries outside of actually being there, ’cause they don’t have a way to.

– Yeah, it’s like there’s this, with homeschooling, for better or worse, there’s greater availability of isolation. When, if you do traditional schooling, you are forced to be in front of peers probably five days a week. With homeschooling, that might not be the case. For some students, that is the case. You might have a different kind of educational structure, but there’s also a chance that you could go five to seven days a week without seeing peers. It’s kind of up to the parents and how they structure it. But, there’s a greater availability of isolation if that’s kind of the avenue that the schooling goes.

– All right, so we’re talking a whole lot about the tensions that maybe homeschoolers feel and the way that their worlds work, you know, as far as a middle school or a high school student. But let’s kind of flip it to the other side because we do have two ministry leaders here. Ashley, Jean, I would love to know, what tensions do you face as a ministry leader, knowing that there are or could be homeschoolers walking into your environments every week?

– Yeah, I think that always just making sure that they feel like they belong and that they’re not any different from any of the other students that we’ve got in our ministry area. So, we don’t make like just a small group of just home schooled kids, you know? But we may place them

– Yeah.

– in groups that maybe they, there are kids that maybe go to private school that maybe have the views, you know, similar views as them. We did have one situation where one of the groups was all like a public, they were all public schools. But some of the issues that they were kind of talking about in small group were a little bit more on the extreme side but the parents were kind of , “Our kids, they are just not ready “or they just don’t know about these “kinds of situations.”

– Yeah.

– And it was a conversation that we just had to have to be like, “All right, well, this may not be “the best group for them, “so we can partner together with you to find “a better small group for, “that matches your student and caters to them “and makes them feel like that they are comfortable “to share and feel like they are heard and belong.”

– Yeah, wow.

– I think I’d add to that. I know for me and my experience, a lot of homeschool parents didn’t want their kids in a small group with public school kids for that exact reason. Like, they didn’t want them exposed to what other kids were going through. And I remember feeling like I don’t really know the right answer here. Like, I don’t know. Should I have them in their own small group? But then, at the same time, is that helping them be exposed to, like, reality or outside their bubble? Is it more helpful for them to be in a small group with people who are living in their same community, even though they go to a different school? I don’t really know

– Yeah.

– the right answer for that, but I know that was a huge tension. And the other tension of having small groups that have homeschool students and traditional public or private school students combined, is a lot of times we have either the student or the parent complain that there was too much joking around happening, at least in middle school ministry. Or it wasn’t deep enough. And so, that was a thing that would come up a lot. And then also, when students would come to the ministry and they’re like 10 years old but their in seventh grade. Yeah.

– And you’re like, where do you place them?

– Right.

– Because, okay, yes, they’re learning math at a seventh grade level, but they’re 10.

– Right.

– So, developmentally, they’re still in pre-teen ministry. And so, they haven’t even entered into middle school socially or developmentally. So, how do you navigate? That would come up a lot because, as you were saying Tyler, with homeschool, you have an opportunity to take a fast track through your education.

– Yeah.

– And you can advance quicker, not necessarily developmentally, but maybe, you know, in your learning. So, I think that was a big tension that we felt. And also, when you talked about like letting them know they’re included and they’re not different, I think that was hard because a lot of times they feel left out, especially when we make an effort to try to be relevant to culture.

– [Jean] Yeah.

– And they were so out of touch with what was going on in culture, because they lived in this bubble. It was, how do we help them feel like they belong and they’re not weird, but at the same time, be relevant to kids who are up-to-date on culture?

– Yeah, but I think a lot of it is parenting is also different. Like, you mentioned parents are the ones who are teaching some of these classes in homeschool. Like, the way you parent, the reasons why they decided to homeschool, I feel like that all kind of really plays a role and impacts that student. And really understanding and partnering with those parents to understand like, okay, I guess where they are in, I guess, in the scope of things. Like, where that student would best fit in your ministry area.

– Yeah, so much of it is driven by parents, which might not be as true for a traditionally-schooled kid. So, and that might be a practical thing of like maybe it’s a good call to get to know the parents and just see where they’re coming from and meet them. And usually, if you meet them, you kind of get a pulse for like, okay, so this makes sense now why you’re kid believes this or something’ like that. It’s context for what that kid has been experiencing, potentially and why that’s the way it is.

– And maybe, for me, maybe it’s because I was a public school teacher prior to being the youth pastor, but I always felt like a lot of times traditional homeschool parents felt suspicious of me or they were always the one questioning what we were talking about, how we were talking about it, you know? They were showing up at parent preview nights, So, I mean, I agree. Like when we get into how can we better partner with parents of homeschooled kids and all that, I’d love to dive into that. But I do feel like the pressure is different.

– [Tyler] Yup.

– And they’re the first to raise a flag on anything that feels off base. And, like I said, I think especially in middle school, parents are like that in general because they’re all over the board in middle school and developmentally, maturity, puberty-wise, all over. And then you add the homeschool dynamic on top of it, it feels so sensitive and so personal. And so, I’m excited we’re having the conversation because I feel like I didn’t do all right.

– Yeah.

– And I’d love to learn what I could have done better.

– So, I want to ask Tyler a question. So, aa few minutes ago we were talking about small groups a little bit there and like how do you decide where to place a specific homeschooler? And did you grow up, Tyler, going to a ministry with small groups?

– I went to a ministry that had a small group. So, which I think is true for a lot of churches, though.

– Totally.

– If you have probably, you know, 10 to 20 consistent, you know, students in your ministry, it ends up operating a lot like a small group. So, I was a beneficiary of small group ministry, whether my ministry leader knew it or not.

– Right. So, I guess my question for you is were there other homeschoolers in your ministry or were you like the only one? Did you ever feel like you were the only one?

– Yeah.

– Or kind of, outcast is a strong word, but like, kind of almost, yeah, you see what I’m saying’.

– This is going to sound like a joke but it’s not.

– Yeah.

– Yes, there were other homeschoolers and they were my siblings . So, other than that, in the ministry, in youth group specifically, there were no other homeschoolers. So, life for me looked like jumping from kind of like pocket of social circles to pocket of like I had my co-op friends that I did school with and then I had a soccer team that I hung out with. And then I had youth group. And all these friends in totally different circles and they might not cross over. So, yeah there’s a chance that they might the only one that they know in multiple circles, because of just how homeschooling operates in some ways.

– Yeah, I think my experience was very similar to that. And kind of going back to the small group thing, I went to a large church where we did have more than one small group. And I can remember, I was plugged into a group that I was the only homeschooler and everyone else went to a school. And I remember that was really tough, because I did feel like an outsider because, to your point, the rest of the guys in that group did life together, you know? They had the same

– Yeah.

– classes together, they had the same soccer or baseball practice together and then they went to and were part of the same small group in church. And that’s great for them. But I always remember, it was always tough to become one of the guys in the group because I didn’t have all of the other shared experiences.

– Right.

– And I don’t know the answer, but I always remember feeling like I was, they didn’t where to put me, maybe.

– Yeah.

– So, they just plugged me in somewhere. And I would say, well, I don’t know what the answer is. Just plugging them in somewhere is probably not the best way to do that. But, at the same time, if you have a whole group of homeschoolers in a group, I don’t know if that would work either. So, I don’t know if it’s like you treat homeschoolers like they’re their own school so you have a half and half kind of a thing.

– Yeah.

– But yeah, so I don’t know where I was goin’ with that, but.

– Yeah, and that’s, kind of what you’re saying, too, is that goes back a little bit to commonality, of like when students engage with other students, usually they’re looking first for like the thing that’s common.

– Yeah.

– And it just tends to be in high school or middle school, the first question you get asked is where do you go to school? So, that’s like your baseline for the thing that creates connection. SO, when you have something that is different than most or kind of you’re in a minority group when it comes to your schooling, that’s the first thing that kind of is the box that doesn’t get checked when it comes to, are we going to get together? ‘Cause whether you have a good view of homeschoolers or not, you just don’t go to the same school.

– [CJ] Right.

– So, it’s just, there’s a hurdle there already.

– I wonder if that will change at all as virtual school becomes more of a normal thing. I wonder we’ll see a shift in that being a negative quality. Like, I think if I could go back as a teacher, I’d be like, I’ll do online school. That’s awesome. And then I can focus on all the other things I’m passionate about.

– [Jean] Right.

– And I have that much more time. And that’s talking like a three on the anagram right now. I’m like, more time in the day to do what I love.

– Yeah.

– But I think I would go back and do it all online.

– Yeah, which is a great like, and there are probably a lot of students that are like that, that are, “Yeah, I’m homeschooled. “It’s awesome. “Why do you not think it’s awesome?”

– Right.

– Or you have the students that’s, “I’m homeschooled and I don’t want to tell you,” right?

– Yeah, I mean, honestly, I have two kids of my own who are not in grade school yet, but online sounds awesome for us.

– Yeah.

– But it’s because we want to just be in charge of our own time. Like, we want to be

– Yeah.

– able to control that and not have it dictated by, or controlled by somebody else outside of us. And maybe that sounds

– I totally would.

– control freakish, but I don’t know. It just makes it more flex, it just seems so much more appealing ’cause it is more flexible.

– Well, even like think family vacations. Like they can still

– For sure.

– go to school.

– Yeah.

– From wherever they are.

– Guess we’ll take it with us.

– If it’s virtual. Like, I don’t know. I just wonder if we’re going to see a shift. And like, this is how it is, but this is what we’re moving to.

– Yeah.

– I mean, you’re right, Ashley. It’s going to keep decentralizing and keep, you know, evolving. And that’s why I think we’ve got to stay on top of these conversations and keep talking about these things. But I still think this dynamic is always going to be a tension to manage and wrestle with. There’s still going to be somewhat of a tension here, which is why I am glad we’re talking about this. So, to get things a little bit more practical though, for the homeschoolers that are in our ministries right now, what do homeschoolers need from our ministries that maybe other students or traditional students don’t need quite as much? What elevated needs might they have that we’re sometimes not realizing?

– Can I ask you two a question? As people who were homeschooled?

– I just asked you a question, but that’s fine.

– I know, in response to your question.

– Okay.

– Can I ask you a question about your question?

– I want to know, because we were talking about where you place a homeschooler. Like, in their own

– Right.

– small group? Or do you spread ’em out amongst small groups? What would have been helpful for you?

– So, my youth group didn’t have the tension of whether to split or not to split. But I did have a youth pastor who saw homeschooling as an opportunity, not something that was going to make me different or not part of the youth group. So, he actually ended up giving me more leadership opportunity because he knew I had more flexibility in my schedule, I had more capacity time-wise. I just had extra time where I could help out with stuff. So, he actually helped developed me as a leader because of the opportunity that I had because of my schooling.

– Yeah.

– So, it’s a example of how to—

– That’s awesome. Shout out to that youth pastor.

– Yeah.

– Yeah.

– I need to start doing that. I need to start looking for homeschool students or students that are

– Ideas, right?

– like online. And just be like, “Hey, you want to help out? “Put the decorations up for our new event “that’s happening?”

– Our T-shirts.

– Yeah, yeah. That’s it, ingenious.

– Well, I mean, we’re talking about, one of my notes was I think one of the things homeschoolers need is more of a place to belong because a lot of homeschoolers don’t necessarily have that as much. Like, traditional students have, they’ve got home room or they have the soccer field or they have this classroom or the library or whatever. Homeschoolers don’t really have as many places. I don’t know if you would agree with that or not, but like it’s your home. And to have a place and to invite a homeschooler to the church to help out, to, you know, this or that, it almost makes the church more of a place for them to belong outside of their kitchen table because that’s not a fun place for a ninth grade guy to feel like they belong.

– Yeah.

– Like, their kitchen table or at the couch or whatever.

– Yeah.

– So, it’s, I think that’s a great way to pour into and connect with lives and the students, you know, who are homeschooling in a unique way. And to get back to, I guess, the question that you answered my question with, Ashley, about where do you place homeschoolers? Like what did I think I would have needed, this is just my personal thoughts and experience. But I would have loved to have been placed in a group with other homeschoolers and more traditional or private school students, too. Like, almost make homeschoolers a school of themselves, if that makes sense. I don’t know, maybe some ministries do that, but if you think about it, the reason we place students in seventh grade or ninth grade small groups with students from that same school is because they’ll have shared life experiences, they can do life together better, they can talk about, hey, you know, they might be on the same sports team or whatever. And homeschoolers have that same thing if they can connect with other homeschoolers in the group that they might not have those same shared experiences with other students in the group who go to traditional school.

– I think when I was in high school, I would have preferred to be in a group that wasn’t just homeschoolers because I’d spent so much time in classes or, me personally, I had a home school soccer team. So, I was kind of ready to be outside of the homeschooling world and I was looking for opportunities to do that. So, that was true of my case. But I think there’s also a tension there of if you’re the only homeschooler in a group that all goes to the same school, well, that’s got to feel a little bit isolating, too. And that’s going to be hard to think, too. So, I think that’s,

– Right.

– it’s probably, this is a really difficult question that probably doesn’t have an easy answer to.

– Yeah, I mean we do kind of a mix of homeschool and then kids who are like in private or there’s other schools that we don’t have a huge ton that we’re pulling from, like the school that we’re pulling from that we just kind of put them together. And it seems to be working for us, like those

– Yeah.

– home school students with the other kids that just don’t have a lot of other students from their school. They just all bond over the fact that, well, it’s just us. Like, cool, like, I’ll get to know you and then I think the key person in there is that small group leader in making sure that they feel like everyone belongs. There’s no difference here. Like, we’re all in here to do life together and journey through this together. And each one of us, we’re going to struggle through different things that we’re all here together to figure that out.

– Yeah, I think the key would just be you don’t want to make a homeschooler feel alone. And so, I think the balance is, you know, maybe you don’t want to do a whole group of homeschoolers together. That’s totally understandable. You also don’t want to do one homeschooler in a group of students who go to all one school,

– Yeah, right.

– because then we are sending a kid up to be an only, you know?

– Sure, yeah.

– The way that we did it was, you know, they were organized by their school or area that they lived. And homeschool kids could kind of pick which group they wanted to go into. But, now I’m rethinking that ’cause I’m not sure that was the right call because it kind of makes it feel like everyone else has an assignment and they don’t. So, I’m not sure that was the right call, but it’s, I don’t know. I don’t know, you now, I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way, as much as like you were saying. It depends on the kid. I mean, I’m thinking of this one specific girl in the small group, sixth grader. She was homeschooled and it was a group of like public school, private school, and home school in this group. And, you know, as I’m leading that group, she keeps using the phrase, play date. And I’m thinking, she doesn’t realize that’s not a term you use anymore when she gets to middle school.

– Yeah.

– She has no idea. And the other girls are like totally weirded out that she keeps using the word play date. And I’m thinking, if, right now, I’m like, well, had I had her in an environment where I could, maybe that’s something extra she needs, is a coaching in that kind of a social cue

– Yeah.

– of, hey, like, we don’t, I don’t know if I would say, “We don’t use that word anymore,” ’cause then it sounds like a bad word. But I’d have to think about how I would approach that, but I’m thinking back to that. How do we create an environment where we can help move them forward in a way that’s honoring to them and they feel confident in it.

– Yeah.

– Yeah. And I think in this day and age, we’re moving forward more of like the online homeschool, like, that’s increasing more and more. That as working in ministry, like we’ve got to start kind of anticipating more of that and being prepared and ready for when these students start coming into or environments to put them in these groups so that they can feel like they are loved.

– Yeah.

– Totally.

– That’s great. And so, as we get closer to wrapping up, though, I want to circle back to something that I think, Ashley, you brought up way earlier in this conversation, and that’s parents. Because we believe that parents are a crucial part of what it looks like to bore into the faith of the students we lead. So, what does it look like to partner with the parents of a homeschooling student? Does it look any different that the other student’s parents that we lead?

– I think there’s a chance you might need to work with them more. And this, again, there’s a full range of what it looks like to homeschool, but a lot of homeschool parents are used to curating experiences and sort of being the sole decider of what their kid learns. And that, sometimes, that’s a really good thing. But sometimes that can create sense of, “Well, I don’t want you teaching my kid that, “or I don’t want you teaching my kid that.” So, the more you can

– Right.

– be proactive in partnering with them and making sure that they know that you’re on their side and, “Hey, here’s what we’re going to be teaching. “I just wanted to give you a head’s up,” so, that they can do what they do best of kind of looking out for their kid. It only can help you in their relationship, just to know that they’re coming from an angle of what they do as an educator and as parent is help curate learning for their kid. So, as a church, you can partner with them in that and not be

– Yeah.

– for or against them.

– I love that. I mean, I definitely think turning the volume up on partnering with parents. I mean, all jokes aside, parents who are homeschooling their kids are doing so because they really care about their kid and they want the best for their kid, whether it’s they need to learn in a special way, or they need, they’re overcoming something, or they are on the fast track to something else, whether it’s athletics or academics. I think parents of homeschooled children are amazing. And as frustrating as it can be sometimes as youth worker, ’cause they’re the ones you get emails from or calls about or they call your senior pastor and jump over your head. And then you get called into that, you know, the executive pastor’s room. And they’re like, “What did you talk about?” As frustrating as that can be, and I know that’s a real frustration, the heart of it is they care. And so, I love what you were saying, Tyler, is partnering with parents. And I think, you know, we’ve talked on this podcast before about the importance of using technology to be transparent about what we’re talking about with students, whether that’s, especially in middle school ministry, when you’re talking about sensitive topics like self-harm or suicide, or sex, or fill in the blank, whatever it is. Like, how do you equip the parents who want to be the number one resource in their kid’s life? And we want that. That’s our whole strategy

– Right.

– at Orange, is we want parents to be the number one, you know, we want them to be the number one source of information to their kid. So, how do we do that when school’s decentralizing, church is decentralizing? How do we leverage things like podcasts and YouTube and parent meetings and live streaming and, yeah, we live an awesome time where we can do this as youth leaders.

– Yeah.

– It’s going to take a lot of work and changing our budgets, but I think we don’t have a choice if we want to keep moving forward

– Yeah.

– in youth ministry.

– I would also add that for as much as I’m a small group leader, but as often as I get frustrated with the lack of response I get from parents and the lack of they’re not responding to my emails, they’re not responding to my texts or phone calls, or whatever, lack of “parent engagement” that we often sometimes feel, even though may or may not be true. Parents of homeschoolers are usually on the other side of that because to your point, both you, Ashley, and Tyler, like they often, parents of homeschoolers want to be more involved. Like, that’s the reason why they’re doing it. And I think we can lean into that as ministry leaders

– Totally.

– and small group leaders and take advantage of the fact that, hey, they want to be more involved. Maybe I don’t love the fact that they’re asking about, “Hey, why is this bottom line this way?” or “Why are you using this scripture this way?” As frustrating as that can sometimes be, the other side of that is, hey, we can, I don’t have to try to connect with them ’cause they want to connect. And we can use that in our ministries to pour into the lives of that student and, honestly, all of our students. Like, we can partner with them and use their help in our ministries in a lot of ways because they want to be more involved.

– And that’s not to say that public school parents don’t care.

– Totally.

– But, I think we’re saying that homeschool parents naturally have an antenna up already, so let’s just,

– Right.

– let’s take advantage of that opportunity.

– There’s an opportunity there that we can tap into. So, as we wrap up, what would you say your final thoughts would be as far as what can we do to serve and connect with the homeschoolers in our ministries?

– Yeah, I think we just help them feel like that they belong, that they’re not any different from any of our other students ’cause that’s what all middle schoolers want, is just to be loved and belonged and that someone knows them and hears them and that they matter.

– I would say two call backs to what we talked about earlier, where we talked about a lot of times either homeschoolers themselves get frustrated in small groups or large group, because it’s not deep enough. Or parents challenge, it doesn’t seem deep enough. And what I’ve, and I don’t have research to back this up, but in my experience, a lot of times the homeschoolers in the youth ministry may be more biblically literate, but it’s the application of what does that look like playing out with other people and in life?

– That’s good.

– And so, as a youth worker or a small group leader, I would really lean into that is, yes, they may know the Sunday school answers. And yes,

– Yeah.

– they may know the answers to how that Bible story goes. But what does that look like in their life? And leaning into that piece. And when parents challenge you about the depth of your small group or the depth of your messages, asking the question, “How do you measure that?” Like, “What do you mean by that?” Because I think a lot of times

– Right.

– in that conversation, you can help them understand your desire to help them learn how to apply the truth that they already know.

– Yeah.

– That the parents are doing an incredible job teaching them. And the second thing that I wanted call back to, Tyler, was something that you said earlier about your awesome youth pastor who gave you leadership opportunities because of your flexible schedule. And I mean,

– Yup.

– it’s such a part of your story of how you ended up here, which is really awesome. And so, it’s inspirational. And I can’t wait to see Jean, how you kind of implement that in your ministry. That’s really cool. But, one of the thoughts I had, if I’m being honest, and I don’t want to be offensive at all in saying this, but I think it really depends on the kid because I don’t think just any homeschool kid is who you should elevate to a leadership position just because they have time. Because they can actually maybe do more damage either to that kid or to the culture of your ministry. And I’m not trying to be mean to homeschool kids. Ty, please don’t take it that way. I just think the importance of getting to know every kid and making sure they feel like they belong and you know what their strength is and leveraging the strength. Because, Tyler, you have leadership abilities and your youth pastor saw that in you. But he couldn’t have,

– That’s right.

– yes, yes. But not every kid, not that not every kid has leadership abilities.

– But it goes for all kids. Like all kids.

– Yeah.

– You should be kind of, there’s an application. Like, you should be interviewing them to make sure that they are fit for that leadership role and it’s not just, all right, whoever’s available gets to fill that, you know?

– And if happens to be a homeschooler, good luck. They might have more time to spare.

– Yeah, I love that.

– That’s great. Tyler, do you have anything? No final thoughts?

– So, my final thoughts would just be, I think this is true of all students, like you said, Jean. But I think this is more true when students have differences that are more apparent, is that they need to know that they’re accepted and not called out, that the unique thing about them is information and opportunity, not a categorization.

– [CJ] Yeah.

– So, that means what you say from stage matters. If you are deprecating to homeschoolers or calling them out for being weird or something like that, that gives students permission to say those same things. So, just

– Totally.

– be careful about the language used from stage and if you can, elevate them. Like, when I communicated, I would always make sure to say I was homeschooled just so I could identify in that moment with those group of students that did have that similar experience.

– Yeah, that’s so good.

– That’s great. And I would just add that, as a homeschooler, one of the things that I wanted most, and I feel like some of the students that I lead that are homeschoolers want most is they just want to be normal. You know, they just want to fit in. They want a place to belong, like Jean’s been saying. But, you know, that student that you were talking about, Ashley, that may not be fit for a leadership position, they might not want that leadership position

– Right.

– ’cause they just might want a place to be normal and to be treated like

– Yeah.

– every other student, not called out because they do have extra time or because they do have this or that or, you know, that kind of a thing. So, treat every kid like they, that this is a place for them to belong and be themselves and be normal. And I think that’s great way to end this. Yeah. So, thank you, Tyler, for sharing your experience homeschooling. Jean, Ashley, thank you for sharing your ministry experience leading homeschoolers. And thank you for listening and watching this week’s episode of “Rethinking Youth Ministry.” The podcast doesn’t have to stop here. The conversation doesn’t have to stop. We want to hear how you think the changing world of homeschooling and kind of the decentralizing of school is going to affect our youth ministry worlds and how is homeschooling going to change in the coming years? How have you seen it change? And how is it changing in your ministry? That was a lot of questions, but we want to keep talking about this. And the best place to that is in our Facebook group. Just visit rethinkingym.org for a link or search for Orange Students on Facebook. You’ll find us there this week. Thank you so much for watching, listening and we’ll talk to you next time.

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