What If Your Child Wants to Go to School?
Advice From the Experts
In this issue…
Q: What Should You Do If Your Child Wants To Go To School?
A: We've asked the following homeschooling experts and authors for their advice (in alphabetical order):
* David Albert
* Susan Wise Bauer
* Dr. Matt James
* Pat Farenga
* Diane Flynn Keith
* Rebecca Kochenderfer
* Marilyn Mosley
* Win & Bill Sweet
Advice from David Albert
David H. Albert is a father, author, homeschooling speaker, and magazine columnist. His latest book is "Have Fun. Learn Stuff. Grow – Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Love." His website is www.skylarksings.com.
"When they were young, I didn't let the
kids touch the stove, run out in the street, or sample items from the
medicine cabinet. I'll grant it is possible they might have learned
from each of these experiences, but I didn't want to find out.
There were also things I didn't let them
eat. It is possible they might have liked them, or seen other kids
enjoying them, but I didn't want to deal with the bellyache in the
morning, or the longer-term consequences of poor eating habits. I am,
after all, the parent, and I get to make those decisions, based on my
own experience and insight, both characteristics which I think it is
unreasonable to expect a young child to possess. That's basically the
way I think about school.
the time they are 13 or 14, the kids know what my values are, and are
(or should be) prepared, with help and love, to make some decisions
about how and with whom they choose to spend some of their time. If
together you decide on school, you make it clear that they will be
expected to abide by (and you will enforce) the school's rules and
expectations, even those with which you disagree.
But if the decision has come down to homeschooling versus school, you're missing something big.
The developmental needs of early teens require ongoing engagement with
the adult world – with mentors, apprenticeships, explorations of
passions, dreams, and possibilities that go far beyond what one can and
cannot learn in the restricted, mono-chronological world of the school
environment where, for the most part, the blind are leading the blind.
School doesn't get them, or you, off the
hook. In school or no, you are still the leading educator and advocate
in your children's young lives, and life is too important to be left to
a group of government-paid strangers, however well-meaning."
Advice From Susan Wise-Bauer
Susan is the author of "The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home." She was home educated herself all the way through high school and currently homeschools four children, aged 6, 10, 14, and 16.
"There is no one-size-fits-all answer
for this question; how you respond depends on the child's age,
maturity, goals, your school options, your family…a whole multitude
of considerations. Here are the things I would want to know:
How old is the child? Before age twelve
or so, parents shouldn't be at all hesitant to make the decision that
they think is best for the child. Young children may feel an immediate
need to be in a crowd of friends, ride the school bus, play peewee
football, or just do what everyone else on the block is doing–but
these are all short-terms wants. You, the parent, have the child's
long-term good in mind. Immaturity is the inability to look ahead
towards long-term gain. Parents are mature; parents have the
responsibility of guiding the child towards goals that the child can't
Once a child nears high school, their
decision-making ability may begin to mature. A high school student
should be allowed to have a voice in the decision. You may ultimately
choose to override the student's wishes–but he or she should be given
the chance to explain the reasons why school seems like a good thing. Parents should be willing to listen to those reasons and consider them carefully.
How long have you been home schooling? A ninth grader who has been home schooled since kindergarten may ask to go to school because it
is an unknown–and the teenage years are times when children should
begin to explore new situations. Sometimes, it may be the very best
decision for both of you to let the student try out the classroom.
Once the allure of the unknown is gone, students may find themselves
much better equipped to evaluate the pros and cons of home vs. school.
If on the other hand you've pulled a tenth-grader out of a toxic school
situation, you shouldn't return him to a classroom just because he asks
to go back. In that case, home schooling is the unknown–and the child
should be willing to explore what home education is like instead of
insisting on returning to a familiar situation.
Does the student need training that you
can't provide? It may be that athletic talent, music or drama skills,
or other particular talents need resources that a school can provide.
If your budding football player has his heart set on playing college
ball, this is a good reason to consider putting kids back in school.
Are you in a difficult family
situation? There may be times of family illness or chaos where the
child is in need of a more structured kind of schooling than you're
able to give. The classroom might be a temporary solution.
These are all factors to consider–and
of course are all dependent on the quality of schools that are in your
local area. In the end, I would say: never make a decision to put a
child back into school SOLELY because the child insists–always be able
to articulate (to yourself and to the child) WHY you would decide to
return to a formal school environment. And once you've made the
decision that's best for you and your family, don't feel guilty. Home
schooling is a wonderful choice, but there are situations and seasons
in which it may not be the best choice for you and your child–and you
shouldn't allow others to make you feel that you've 'failed.'"
Advice from Dr. Matt James
Matt is the author of "Homeschooling Odyssey" and is our Advisor@Homeschool.com,
answering hundreds of emails every month. Matt and his wife
homeschooled their children until they were high school age. Then the
children attended a public high school and eventually all five went on
"I would encourage them to talk about
their desire, and then address the underlying wish. All kids, at a
minimum, want to know about the places where their friends spend so
much time. This is a legitimate curiosity. We would work with the
child to satisfy his curiosity with part-time or interrupted attendance
at a public or private school. When applicable, we would explain that
the public schools just didn't deliver the sort of educational product
we were looking for, and the private schools were difficult to afford.
Sometimes a child wanting to go to
school is another way of their saying that homeschooling is boring or
onerous. It always makes sense to make homeschooling more adventurous
and more stimulating so the competition of institutional schooling
doesn't look so good. I think the presence of institutional schooling
keeps homeschooling honest.
When they reached high school age, our
six kids really wanted to join the big parade. We were fortunate to
have access to a throwback public high school where academic
achievement was admired by the community and also by many of the high
school kids themselves. Mixing with their peers in high school gave
our kids the opportunity to develop lifetime social skills. They had a
lot of fun in high school.
On the downside, the quality of
academics was not comparable to good homeschooling. We always felt
that literacy, the three R's, was accomplished during the elementary
years. This is somewhat confirmed by SAT and PSAT scores, which don't
seem to improve after the freshman year in high school. So we felt
that weak high school academics were time wasting but not necessarily
intellectually destructive. Maybe we were rationalizing.
It seems as if the public school
environment gets a little worse every year. My wife currently teaches
social studies at a local public high school, and she describes a
classroom where so much time is wasted on dysfunctional students and
behavioral problems. If we had to make a choice today, I don't think I
could endorse attendance at this school. If we won the lottery, we
might go for a good private high school. Otherwise, I would probably
vote for a combination homeschooling experience involving work, junior
college, and some classes from a homeschooling vendor."
Advice From Pat Farenga
Pat is President of Holt Associates Inc and Co-Author of "TEACH YOUR OWN."
our children to attend school was among the most painful decisions we
made as unschooling parents. Many friends, and even ourselves, felt
that any exposure to school was dangerous. 'Better never than ever!' I
thought I heard my friend John Holt say in my head as I thought about
what to do. But as our three girls got older, each felt a strong
curiosity towards school that my wife and I, who were not homeschooled,
never experienced as children. This challenged our own perceptions and
values about school and its role in our lives, and it forced us to
recognize that allowing children choice in their education – who, what,
when, and from whom they want to learn – can mean they may choose to
We talked with each of our girls about
their reasons for wanting to go to school, and we made all sorts of
arrangements to work with them to satisfy those reasons without sending
them to school full-time. For instance, one girl just took Spanish
class at our local public school, another attended community college
for foreign language classes. However, at various points in their
youth, each girl expressed a desire to try the total school experience,
not just a class here and there. All our girls have followed different
paths in and out of school throughout their lives, and we've grown to
be comfortable with this by gaining trust in our girls' ability to make
sound decisions about their learning.
When I revised TEACH YOUR OWN I was
particularly struck by John Holt's response to this very question. John
replied, 'This is a hard question. There is more than one good answer
to it, and these often conflict.' Parents could argue, and some do,
that since they believe that school can and probably will do their
children deep and lasting harm, they have as much right to keep them
out, even if they want to go, as they would to tell them they could not
play on a pile of radioactive wastes.
This argument seems more weighty in the
case of younger children, who could not be expected to understand how
school might hurt them. If somewhat older children said determinedly
and often, and for good reasons, that they really wanted to go to
school, I would tend to say, let them go. How much older? What are good
reasons? I don't know. A bad reason might be, 'The other kids tell me
that at school lunch you can have chocolate milk.'"
Advice from Diane Flynn Keith
strategy for figuring out what to do is to find out WHY your child
wants to go to school. I've heard some frivolous and compelling
reasons in my years of homeschooling from a child's simple wish to have
a Shrek lunch box, to satisfying a teen's natural curiosity about what
goes on at the local high school.
Once you know why, you can set about
problem-solving. If your child wants a lunch box, take her down to
Target and let her have her pick. Fill it with a PB&J sandwich, a
bruised apple, room-temperature milk, and a Twinkie to get the full
effect. Suggest your teen have a 'shadow experience' by following a
friend around high school for a day. Many schools allow this practice.
The student must get permission from the principal. Usually, it's as
simple as filling out a short form or waiver. My own son shadowed a
friend at Lord of the Flies High and it cured his
Understanding the 'why,' and
acknowledging your child's feelings as valid, will take you a long way
in determining the best course of action for your own family. Oh, and
one more thing. Don't let anyone guilt you into NOT doing what you know
in your heart is best."
Advice from Rebecca Kochenderfer
Rebecca is Senior Editor of Homeschool.com and co-author of "Homeschooling for Success"
"I have been homeschooling for 16 years
and my children have been in and out of school. I have three children
and it amazes me how different they each are.
My son has always loved homeschooling
but when he was about to start 7th grade I said to him, 'Your father
and I chose homeschooling for you when you were younger because we
believe it to be the best education available. But now it's time for
you to choose.' We then took him to the different schools in our area –
the public school, the Catholic school, the Waldorf school – so that he
could see what they were like and we discussed the advantages and
disadvantages of each. He chose to stay with homeschooling and it was
amazing to see how much his homeschooling improved because HE had made
the choice. He became so much more self-motivated and we didn't have to
nag him to do his studies any more. A couple of years later, when he
was about to start 9th grade, he decided that he wanted to see what
high school was like. He was afraid that he wasn't good enough for high
school and I didn't want him thinking that he was only doing
homeschooling because he couldn't do anything else. So we encouraged
him to try it for a year. He liked school just fine and did well, but
described his experience as 'so much busy-ness for so little learning.'
(Out of the mouths of babes…). He is now recommitted to homeschooling
and I am pre-planning an awesome homeschooling graduation ceremony for
My youngest also loves
homeschooling. She wanted to try school and so she attended 4th grade
for half a year. But it was very stressful for her. Her teacher was
very kind, but still my daughter was coming home from school crabby and
with a stomach ache. She knew that homeschooling was a better fit for
her, but she worried about losing her friends. So we spoke with her
friends and their parents and we all reassured her that they would all
stay friends, even if they went to school and she went back to
homeschooling. This has worked out well and now she enjoys the best of
both worlds – peaceful mornings to focus on the studies she loves and
busy afternoons with her friends.
middle daughter had a completely different experience with
homeschooling. We homeschooled her up to 4th grade and she hated it.
She was bored and restless no matter what we did. She was the first of
our children to go to school. She had been begging us for years and
finally we agreed that she could give school a try. She loved it. And
still loves it today. I read somewhere that you can tell the difference
between an introvert and an extrovert by how they recharge. Some people
recharge their batteries by being by themselves and enjoying peace and
quiet. My daughter recharges by being in a crowd. Homeschooling was
draining for her and school is energizing for her. She starts high
school this fall and we know she will love it. It's more challenging on
our family life having her in school and we all have to work harder to
make sure she doesn't feel left out. And we have to work harder to make
sure that she has solid values and manners, but we are happy that she
has found something she enjoys so much."
Advice from Marilyn Mosley Gordanier
Marilyn is the Executive Director and Founder of Laurel Springs School
began homeschooling my three children in December of 1983, when my
youngest son, Raphael, made the request to learn at home. In the coming
years, all three children homeschooled for varied periods of time
uniquely adapted to their needs and goals. Raphael homeschooled from
third through sixth grade, and again in high school; Michael for his
last two years of elementary school and one semester of high school;
and Ramaa, for seventh grade and almost all of high school. I
discovered that each child homeschooled for different reasons, and no
two years were alike. My youngest son homeschooled for the pure joy of
spending time with his mom. My daughter homeschooled to fulfill her
aspiration to become a movie/TV director.
accommodate each child's needs, we held family meetings to discuss
their educational options, which could include homeschooling, public
school, or even private school. During grade school, we met twice a
year, once in the summer and again during Christmas break (a year is a
long time for a young child). This unique and unorthodox method gave my
children the opportunity to discover that learning takes place in many
environments; that they were an important part of the decision-making
process; that they were committing to a specific time period; and,
ultimately, it gave them a sense of self-determination. It also
eliminated the mystique regarding going or not going to public school.
process worked beautifully for our family. By the time my children
reached high school, they were more settled into the schooling method
that worked best for each of them. When all three later attended
college, they made fantastic decisions regarding their college
educations. One took a semester off to travel and then transfer to a
different college; another to spend a semester working in the movie
industry (Yes, my daughter is a successful commercial director.); and
the third, to complete his Masters Degree in a dramatically different
area of study. In each case, the trust we had built over the years was
validated by their ability to make good decisions as emerging adults.
what should you do if your child asks to go to school? I recommend
sitting down and 'talking about it.' Find out why your child wants to
go to school. Open communication leads to self-discovery for every
member of the family.
way, I've shared my experience with many Laurel Springs parents whose
children wanted to 'try' pubic or private school. On some occasions,
our students do opt to enroll in a public or private educational
institution. Often this experimentation is short-lived, but sufficient
to assure them they are very smart, highly motivated and, in many
cases, getting a great education at home. Wishing you the very best in all you educational endeavors, Marilyn."
Advice From Win & Bill Sweet
Win and Bill are the authors of one of my all time favorite books on child raising, "Living Joyfully With Children"
child thrives in a joyful home that nurtures the child with confident
parents as models and with as much freedom as the child can safely
handle. When your child wants to go to school, the issue becomes, 'Can
your child handle the conformity of school without losing much of her
or his initiative and creativity?' Up to age 11, these emerging
qualities are delicate and vulnerable; so a parent can firmly say, 'No,
I am protecting you until you are old enough to keep your qualities
safe.' After age 11, the brain can think logically and a child can
begin to protect herself or himself by being discriminating. The
question then becomes, 'Is my child's logical thinking and
discriminating ability sufficiently developed to safely handle a
school's pressure to conform?' In our experience with our children and
grandchildren, being homeschooled up to age 11 is a great asset for
safely dealing with school in the later childhood years. Honor your
child's enthusiasm for life, and simply explain that other families may
have different standards, but in your family you stand firmly on