School: You Don’t Have to Adjust to That

I read often about people trying to decide whether or not to homeschool and wondering if they should give school a try first. As if maybe it’s only ok to consider deviating from the norm as the second option, if school doesn’t work out. Personally, we never even tried school and I’ve been thinking back to the moment we made the decision to forgo mainstream education…

We had been talking about homeschooling for a while. The pro’s and con’s, the how’s and why’s. It was a HUGE decision and a scary one. We too were afraid to take that final step, without a definite reason. We hadn’t tried school, we hadn’t had a bad experience, so there was nothing really pushing us to make the decision. So we decided that we would try out kindy and see if it was for us. We knew our options now, we knew we could homeschool if we wanted to, so we would give kindy a try and at the end of the year decide if we would continue on to school, or homeschool.

So we did what everyone else was doing. We found a lovely homely kindy that we liked, we took our daughter to have a look around for a morning, we put our names down, we were accepted, we had an interview, we payed the deposit. We were all ready to go!

Starting School: Legitimate Feelings vs Inevitable Adjustments

As the time got closer we started to talk about it more, about what would happen and what it would be like. She seemed excited. She had had a good time when we had been there and was especially taken with all the craft materials she would be able to use. Then one day when I mentioned how I would drop her off and she would have lots of fun and I would pick her up in the afternoon, she started to cry. She cried and cried, getting more and more upset. I couldn’t understand what was wrong all of a sudden. Eventually she calmed down enough to tell me that she thought it would be like when we went to visit and that I would stay with her. She didn’t want to go alone, no matter how fun it was and how nice the kindy seemed. She thought it was something we were doing together.

So now it was my time to choose how to respond. We were all set to go, we’d even payed a non-refundable deposit we were so sure this was what we were doing. I knew it was common for kids to take a while to adjust. I knew there were often tears. I knew what advice parents often received when facing this. ‘She’ll settle in’, ‘she won’t cry for long’, ‘she’ll be fine after you leave’, ‘after a few weeks it won’t be so hard’, ‘it will be good for her’. I knew that this was all apparently ‘normal’. But it didn’t feel too normal to me! This wasn’t how I’d responded to her tears and feelings in the past 4 years of her life, so why did things have to change now? The answer was they didn’t.

Starting School: Legitimate Feelings vs Inevitable Adjustments

I remember receiving very similar advice when she was a young baby too, and we were all suffering from a lack of sleep. ‘Just let her cry’, ‘she has to learn’, ‘it won’t take long and she’ll adjust’, ‘you have to be strong’. Back then I had no trouble ignoring that advice and following my heart. It never felt right to leave my baby to cry. Though now even people who once would never have used controlled crying either were saying the same kinds of things. Suddenly when children turned 4, it was deemed necessary and acceptable. Now I was in new territory, out on my own, and I needed to do the same as I had always done. Trust myself. There will never be an age for me where I stop listening to her feelings and trusting my own instincts, no matter what ‘normal’ is.

So I decided to go against all that advice and continue parenting as I had always done. I told her that I wouldn’t make her do anything that she didn’t feel comfortable doing, or go anywhere she didn’t feel comfortable going. I decided that our relationship was the most important thing and after the past 4 years of parenting a certain way I wasn’t going to sacrifice all that now. Why is there a magic age when kids all of a sudden need to ‘grow up’ and ‘get used to it’? Sure, independence is important, but forced independence isn’t for us. Independence grows gradually and naturally through confidence and practice. And most commonly at an age greater than 3! Just because it has been decided by the powers that be that all children should start school at the same age, does not mean it is right for my child. She was thriving at home. Learning and growing at her own pace, excited by life, curious, adventurous, and immensely happy. Why change that? Why try to make her fit into a system that wasn’t willing to adapt to her individual needs, when I could instead let her live a life that perfectly suited her. When I could give her freedom, childhood, fun, ample time with siblings, and a great education?

Starting School: Legitimate Feelings vs Inevitable Adjustments

There are so many voices telling parents that the normal thing is to wait it out, kids will get used to it, just keep going no matter how you feel, you have to be tough, it’s good for them in the long run. And for some that is the path they want to take, or it’s not even an issue because their children are ready for kindy or school at a younger age. But just because it’s the most common thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s right for your family. You get to choose that! There are so many articles about ‘school adjustment’ explaining away what are sometimes quite worrying symptoms as ‘normal’ to comfort parents. It can make you feel as if you’re doing the wrong thing by listening to your children and taking their feelings seriously. But, we have followed our instincts for this long already and nothing suddenly changes when a child turns 4 or 5. You can take your time. There’s no need to hurry into any of this. ‘They have to get used to it sometime’ and all the other comments justifying pushing children who might not be ready to ‘adjust’ are unhelpful. Independence cannot be forced and I’m not willing to risk any consequences of trying.

So when our child wasn’t ready, we listened, and we gave her time. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach so we carved out our own way.

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. It’s ok to listen to your instincts, no matter what age your child is, no matter what everyone else is doing.

And for us it just so happened that we found an even more ‘different’ path, and it is wonderful.

27 thoughts on “School: You Don’t Have to Adjust to That

  1. Hi, Sara, You have such a sensible, yet marvelous outlook on parenting and school. I think your daughter already understands at 4 years old that you trust her and will listen to her concerns. If the day comes when she really wants to go to “regular” school, I’m sure she’ll be able let you know and explain her reasons to you. It will be interesting to see how your younger daughters feel about school as they get older. Are their personalities quite different, or are all three similar to each other?. I have a good friend who began to homeschool when her three boys started having social problems with the other kids at school. She was so distressed at their unhappiness, and it worked well for the family until they reached high school. The oldest was ready for the transition, but the younger two (twins) were resistant to it–“Everybody will pick on us,” they said. All seems to be well now, though, after a year, though the twins are in a very small class. There is also a 3-year-old in this family, and my friend says he’s so outgoing and different from the others that she’s going to try him in half-day preschool in September. They live in New York, which has stringent guidelines for homeschool. Another friend who lives in the high desert here in Arizona homeschools her four children and they all love it. She never tires of being with her children, and the state has virtually no rules about homeschool, so she has no requirements to meet. They are always out in nature and busy with projects like your family. They also have a strong homeschool association, so they are connected to other families, too. I think you are wise to listen to your daughters’ hearts and your own, Sara. Your homeschool days sound wonderful for all of you, and I am looking forward to following your blog more closely! Best Wishes from Arizona, Catherine P.S. januarysend is my WordPress blog – I have a Wix website for my writing at catherinereynoldswriter.com, too.

  2. Hi Sara– I just found your blog and love this post. <3 I don't have children yet, but your experience is something I have already played out in my mind. My thought pattern on this is very similar to yours. Thank you for sharing, and I look forward to continuing to follow your journey in hopes that it will help me with my own someday soon! πŸ™‚

  3. Sara, this was very interesting. I actually feel very conflicted about what you’re saying here – not that I completely disagree, but rather I can see both the benefits and drawbacks of what you’re saying, and I don’t really know what side I’m on yet.

    I really get what you’re saying here. Why pull a four year-old out of an environment where she’s happy, and thriving? Why make her do something that she hates, something that upsets and unsettles her? It’s sad, and unnecessary if you have the resources to homeschool/unschool. So why do it? Why not accept that she would be much happier at home? I can totally understand all that, and I agree with your reasoning.

    But…I can’t help but think that sometimes you have to do things you don’t like.
    I know, I know – she’s only six. She’s very young. Plenty of time to do things you don’t like. I agree! I also read your post on a topic related to this (preparing a child for the workforce, I think). Totally silly – I’m with you on that.
    But what if throughout your life you get to stop what you’re doing because you don’t like it?

    Thinking back to my own childhood, the moments where I felt uncomfortable and ready to quit were actually really great in hindsight (because I discovered I actually really enjoyed sleep-over camp as an eight year-old, for example, and I really did get better at French after I committed to learning boring grammar and was eventually able to read that beautiful book). If I expressed my desire to really quit something, my parents would tell me to keep trying it a little longer. If, after that, I still wanted to quit, I could quit.

    In short, while I really like what you’re saying and actually agree with some of it, it does make me wonder: if I raise a child like this, won’t he or she lack persistence? Determination? Grid? The ability to push through? I don’t know. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Hi Bee!
      I figure that there are plenty of times in life you have to do things you don’t like, without me having to ensure that it happens. Usually though there’s a legitimate reason why you have to do them and so that gives you the motivation and determination. For example, I don’t particularly like cleaning, I would be happy to avoid it forever lol. But, I do like to live in a clean house so I am motivated to do it even though I dislike it and it’s hard sometimes. There are plently of these opportunities. Say they wanted to become a Doctor, then they would be motivated to do the hard work to get there!

  4. I really enjoyed this post! My oldest will be three in September, and I am fully planning on home pre-schooling, but am still up in the air about homeschooling after that, so I could completely relate with this. So far, in her almost three years, we have let her decide when to do things, and haven’t forced anything. I realize there are many people that would disagree with us, but it is what works for us, and what works for her. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  5. I have a question. For how long do you think you will keep up with homeschooling? I could imagine it could become quite difficult when the kids become teenagers.

    • Ann, homeschooling a teen is far easier these days than sending one to High School. I have one in each door and OMG the drama’s at high school are incredible … so many kids with depression, boy/girl problems, anxiety, needing to have the latest technology (and never getting off it!), and so on. The homework load, the inferior and restricted learning that takes place … don’t get me started! My DD was horrified when she was told she could only take so many subjects … she spent days agonising over what subjects she would have to give up by entering the school system. Three years now and she wishes she had never gone but, she has friends she doesn’t want to leave behind so is determined to stay. On the other hand my other DD is still homeschooled and her and her h/s mates are so laid back, cruisy, unconcerned over fashions, technology (they still love it but less caught up in having the right brands), etc. Yes there are times the curriculum can be a bit of a strain on my brain (it doesn’t quite remember all those wonderful math equations and science theories, etc) but, we have loads of places to find the information from. We can also do the local curriculum via correspondence(online) in NZ if we want to go the same route as the school kids and there are tutors assigned – they do their end of year exams at a local school when the other schooled kids do. I often end up still having to help my schooled lass at night because she hasn’t understood the teacher and the teacher hasn’t had the time to go back over it – she’s an extended student (smart classes) too so goodness knows how the poor kids who don’t do as well in school go. It seems to be all about results not if the kids are actually learning and getting more and more so … I feel sorry for the teachers too.

  6. Om my you have spoken my heart and mind. THIS is my story too, down to the finest detail almost. Thank you, I feel better that someone agrees, I don’t need a ‘reason’ to make the decision to homeschool, (we are not religious, we are not sick, we haven’t been bullied) other than it feels right and school feels like the wrong fit. My little girl was so excited about turning 5 but started anxious behaviour she assumed it meant going to school straight after. She is terrified of it, after me leaving her at preschool, which she attended for 8 months somewhat happily and seemed to like for a good while, I left her crying only once, like I was told to do, it made me feel like someone else had taken over my body, I wouldn’t do that to my little girl so we quit the next day. There is so much pressure in making kids fit the norm and it’s all my fault she doesn’t. She suddenly developed a separation anxiety, now I need to fix the damage possibly preschool and I created. School next year seems so wrong. She is my sunshine and I don’t need her to fit a mould, thank you for your words they are a comfort to me.

  7. I love how you just go with the flow and respond to your children’s needs, and what you feel in your heart. That’s all that matters. They are lucky to have you.

  8. This blog is the first blog I have chosen to follow, since I am a new “blogger”now. Being from Missouri, you don’t have to start school until you are 7, but if you do, the cut off is August 1st. Lo and behold, she misses it by one day. Wow, wow, wow. My feelings are hurt to say the least. So, I went round and round and looked at my options and homeschooling is what “we” as a family have chosen to do. Its a great alternative especially when attending a public school isn’t even an option. My children are ready to be educated and I have found that deliberate teaching methods is a great way for them to learn.

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  10. What if you’d been allowed to stay at kindy with her, welcomed even, as part of the mums and dads that didn’t want to leave their kids, the ones that wanted to continue to play with them, help them – and their new friends of course – and keep having lots of fun learning together? Would you considered home educating then? What if, a year on, you could still attend as often as you or your child liked, stay as long as you or child wanted or needed, and that story kept going throughout primary school? And then, at high school your interest in volunteering and working with students was embraced with enthusiasm by the staff and teachers? Schools like this will one day exist everywhere, not just tucked away in a suburb or country town here or there… and when that day comes (if it comes…) I wonder how many people will still be home educating. I would be, that’s for sure. I was one of those lucky parents who had access to such a school and although our family enjoyed our time there we all love home educating more.

    • I’m not sure what would have happened at the time. Back then we were only first thinking about home education. I think we would have eventually done it anyway though as we were already thinking that way. I can say now that we’re unschooling there is no school in the world that could tempt me.

  11. Great post! We’ve always parented in the same way, gut feelings are generally right. We decided to Home Educate the night before our boy was due to start nursery, however in our hearts we’d made the decision a lot sooner. Loved reading this ??

  12. Hi Sara,
    I’ve been reading your facebook page and blog for a while and I’m finding lots of encouraging information and lovely and funny stories about your way of life. Me and my partner also want to unschool when we’re having kids. Now we’re still living in the Netherlands, and the schooling situation here is quite rigid. You can only keep your kids at home when you’re an seventh day adventist or your child is disabled. Some people are faking their beliefs to homeschool. You can’t try out school, because once you’re in it it’s forbidden to change. So we’re planning to move to Belgium, where homeschooling is much more accepted. Still, there are inspectors who come by every year to see the progress your kids are making and they decide whether they can stay home. Also, at the age of the end of primary school (12-13), there’s a test they’ll have to do and if they don’t succeed they have to go to school. Not looking forward to all the governmental controlling. Do you guys have any sort of inspecting or tests they have to succeed before a certain age? If yes, how do you prepare for those tests without breaking the unschooling? It seems hard to me.
    Keep posting, I think you’re inspiring a lot of people to take the step!

  13. This article and the comments are very interesting.
    My boy is 3 and 1/2 and he started school a bit before he was 3 (we are french). He hated it for the first week and kept crying a bit for 2 or 3 weeks. I hated it, it really hurt to see him unhappy. He was 4 days a week with a nanny before that and 1 day a week at daycare, so even though he was used to being with other people, it took him a few weeks to adjust to this new environment.
    After a few months he was just happy to go and now he’s telling me “hurry up Mommy” every morning… so I don’t know what to think.
    To me it’s really ok to homeschool, I wouldn’t do it cause I need to work (and I love my job). But the only thing I find weird is diversity/mixity – not sure how to explain that in english. My boy is in a school where you have people from many different backgrounds. Rich people, very poor people. Different origins as well, different religions. 50% black, 50% white. But the kids don’t even notice other kids have a different color.
    And that’s what I like about school – to me, it’s the only place where you really meet people that come from a different background. Later in life, it doesn’t happen so often. (of course, that’s only if you’re not obsessed with finding the best school with only white rich people in it to make sure your kid is in a competitive environment !!!)

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