What if They Ask to Go to School? Here’s Why They Probably Won’t.
I have four children. Currently aged 12, 10, 7, and 5. None of them have ever set foot in a classroom. And so far, none of them have any desire to. There has been some passing curiosity at times, but never anyone wanting to make that part of their lives. In fact, they are quite certain when they tell me they NEVER want to go to school.
Is it inevitable that one day they will want to though? The amount of times I’ve had the question ‘what if they want to go to school?’ makes me think that most people believe so. As the numbers of homeschoolers appear to dwindle as the kids’ age I have even wondered myself if it’s bound to happen. Is it an unavoidable reality? But, I don’t think so.
The truth is, I don’t want them to go to school. I don’t think it’s the best place for their educational, physical, social, emotional, or moral development. I don’t think it would bring out the best in them, and I actually think it’s likely to be damaging. I think there are far better options for how they spend their childhood. At the same time, I’m not going to limit their opportunities or tell them they can’t go if it’s what they really want. I’m not going to scare them and tell them it’s a horrible place or pretend it doesn’t exist. I am absolutely not going to coerce them into homeschooling if it doesn’t work for them! No way. I don’t believe in forcing children to homeschool if they don’t want to.
So given the option, will they choose school eventually? Never say never! Who knows what the future holds. One day they may use school as a pathway to University if that is their goal. But I do think there are some reasons that make it unlikely they will want to go to school just for the experience.
7 Reasons my Children Aren’t Choosing School
1. Strong peer connections
One of the strongest needs my children have as they get older is peer connection. They need lots of friend time and a feeling of belonging. We currently spend two full days out with friends every week, they talk and play games online outside of that, and also see dance friends every afternoon. They need time to develop friendships, a consistent group of friends, and a feeling of being an important and valued part of a community. When they were small they were content to play with other kids at playgrounds, visit family, or attend various homeschool events with different groups. But this is definitely not enough at the ages they are at now. They need to form relationships with friends they see very regularly and have lots of free time with them to do whatever they like. They also enjoy sharing different learning experiences with them.
Providing for their changing social needs as they grow has always been high on my agenda. Consequently, this makes them now unlikely to choose school as a way to fill that need. Without strong friendships, I have no doubt that school would seem like an enticing option. It makes sense! They need that regular contact and if I can’t show them how to get it outside of school, then TV and books will do a very good job of showing them what they are looking for is found within the walls of a school. Right now, their social life is actually one of the reasons they would not want to go to school. There is no way they would give up their homeschool friends!
2. Family Connection
Family connection, cohesion, and culture are also super important! If your home is an enjoyable place to be where you are valued, respected, and your autonomy protected, then you want to spend time there. If you are connected to your parents and siblings and enjoy their company, feel a sense of belonging, feel loved, nurtured, and safe, then you aren’t seeking to have those needs met in other places. You can explore the world and have experiences gaining independence on your own outside the home, but know you have a safe place to return to.
All that hard work of respectful parenting we do pays off when our children truly enjoy spending time with us. Another big reason my children aren’t interested in trying school is that they would be so sad to be separated from their sisters for so much of the week. That’s definitely not something they want.
3. Feeling of freedom
If you feel free, why would you give that up?
Unschooling means freedom to choose what, when, and how you learn. To follow your own unique interests. To set your own goals, and assess for yourself whether you have met them. It means freedom to be yourself. To live life on your terms. From simple things like eating when you are hungry and moving your body when you need to, to developing your own beliefs and having a leading role in your education. Where schooling feels restrictive, unschooling feels free.
I can imagine if I had adopted a strict school-at-home approach, my children would resist that. They might actually want to go to school if they were going to be doing it at home anyway. Unschooling means the freedom to make life and education whatever you want and need. They are not likely to want to give up that level of autonomy.
4. Active support
Jumping to the other end of the spectrum, if I was incredibly hands-off and just totally left everything up to them, my children wouldn’t be happy either. Children want to learn and they are incredibly capable, but they thrive with a parent as their partner. If I was not actively involved in their life and learning every day, they would likely be bored and uninspired. My support and presence helps them achieve their own goals and sets the tone in the house. They know they have someone that is invested in their life, excited and interested by what they do, and willing to help them with whatever they need. That is very hard to replicate in a classroom with 30 children and one adult. But, maybe having a teacher, who in theory is there to help you, would be appealing if you aren’t actively supported at home.
Making sure I’m supporting each of my children in the ways that they need (which change often as they grow), means they are not looking at school as a place to fill that need.
5. Knowing they have choices
Knowing that they ultimately have the choice about how they are educated makes all the difference. This is incredibly age-dependent! I would not let my 5-year-old go to school for example, as I don’t believe she is able to really grasp what that decision means and I wouldn’t want to expose her to anything harmful. Whereas with my 12-year-old it would be an entirely different conversation. However, at any age they absolutely know that if they came to me asking about the possibility of school it would never be a flat out ‘no’. We would chat about reasons and options and get to the bottom of what they need, at every age.
Unschooling is fun! Every day they’re having fun. Learning, laughing, playing all day. Our home is a fun place to be. Our weeks are filled with exciting things. They can wake up and decide to do some art if they are feeling creative, snuggle up with a book if they need some rest, or jump on the trampoline all day if it pleases them! Fill your home with fun and enjoyment and school looks like a pretty rubbish alternative really.
7. Openness about school
You don’t need to badmouth school! My children know I’m obviously not a fan by now. But I don’t tell them school is a horrible scary place to try and frighten them off. They have friends that go to school and it’s an option the majority of people choose! They have been curious and asked me questions about things at times and I am just honest. The facts make school seem like a pretty strange place to an unschooled child. When they learned that you couldn’t eat when you wanted, or go and play outside when you felt like it, they were shocked. All the simple things they take for granted. You have to wear SHOES???? No way! Ha!
If they ask what school is like, I just tell them! I have described a normal school day, talked about what I used to like and what I didn’t, and they see lots of TV and in books. I’m not afraid that if they hear what it’s like they’ll want to go. Quite the opposite!
It’s All About Needs
What it all comes down to is meeting their needs. And that’s what Unschooling is really about – everyone working together to figure out ways to get their needs met in every area. Designing a life that works for you. When children know that is the goal, that they are listened to, and that what they want matters, unschooling works! Other options can’t compete.
I won’t say my children won’t ever go to school. Maybe they will see some use for it in the future that I can’t predict. But it’s certainly not on the horizon any time soon. The world is too exciting out here. And it won’t be from lack of trying to meet their needs as they grow. As long as we’re doing that, then we have the perfect learning environment right here.
I don’t think it’s inevitable that children will eventually choose school. Some will, some won’t, but I do think how we approach home education can have an impact. We aren’t powerless here. We can create something wonderful that works for all of us.
I have a friend who unschooled her now-21yo daughter. Daughter asked to go to school when she was about 14. I think she went for about six months. Not sure if she actually enjoyed it but she was happy to work out that she wasn’t “behind” in her learning except for a few maths concepts which I think she then looked into and learnt on her own. She then chose to go back to unschooling. She’s a happy, very well-adjusted, kind, intelligent young woman.
You’ve touched on the key piece for me: support. Happy and relaxed, I am able to engage with my kids – and that energy revs everyone up. I’ve noticed our homeschool year fluctuated during covid because of my own inability to concentrate, and that distractedness filtering down. Once I was able to realize and re-connect, the vibe returned. Our unschool culture, our family, relies on each of us showing up every day, willing and happy to make the effort.
My daughter was in a private Christian school from preschool till the fifth grade….we were thinking of home schooling at some point but I wasn’t confident about my ability to ensure she had the basics of reading and mathematics……with the fifth grade came the “mean girls” which I naively thought would not exist in a Christian school, or at least would be aggressively dealt with…..with each passing day we watched our little girl withdraw further and further into a shell, nervousness and anxiety permeated her and she wasn’t sleeping and she had become clingy again like she had stepped back maturity wise.
We decided we were risking her physical and mental health by keeping her in the school setting, and had to do what was right for our child and not listen to what the “norms” of society determined should be.
The results were almost immediate and amazing. Her personality came flowering out along with confidence and joy for living that permeated our family. Now she sings in front of hundreds of people without batting an eye and is getting ready to record her first Gospel album in Nashville.
I firmly believe that each child is different along with each current situation and parents must consider what is right for their child.
Thank you for yet another inspiring blog! I am finding myself being more and more drawn to the concept of un schooling. I feel so excited and up for an un schooling journey with my family. However, one of my biggest concerns is one of the majorly important topics you mentioned here. The need for a child to spend ample time with their peer group friends.
My question is, how did your children find and build this group of peer friends? Where did you go to to allow for this to occur? I am asking this because we are a family of three, our boy is now 2,5 and we won’t be having any more children. We live in Amsterdam, Netherlands and most children here go to school starting age 4. We legally have the right to choose home schooling, but as this is quite rare, I am so concerned we will not be able to build up these relationships, for the other children will be at school 5 days a week. I would really love to hear more about how and where you created these relationships for your children. In our neighbourhood we have a beautiful community and already have a few children that have become his friend, but again, once those will go to school and him not, what will be left for him?