School: You don't have to adjust to that
Homeschooling / Unschooling

School ‘Adjustment’

What would you think if your child suddenly developed the following symptoms…

  • Increased clingyness
  • Withdrawing from things they usually enjoy
  • Anxiety, shyness, stomach ache
  • Avoiding participating in things
  • Planning and organisation difficulties
  • Increased crying and tantrums
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Sleep difficulties, nightmares
  • Regression to younger behaviours (eg bedwetting, thumb sucking, baby talk)
  • Aggression

Would that concern you? Or would you think that was a normal part of growing up? Personally, they seem like signs of a distressed child who is having some difficulties and needs help right now. I wouldn’t call the sudden onset of those behaviours ‘normal’. I would take it as a sign that my child is struggling right now. That something is wrong.

However, these are apparently just some of the ‘normal’ things to expect when your child starts school. ‘Typical’ ways that children react to beginning school. There are many articles online listing these symptoms and many more, reassuring parents that they are very common.

Common, maybe. But normal?

School Adjustment

As there are so many voices out there telling us that this behaviour is ‘normal’ and expected, I thought I’d speak up for the other side. Maybe this is not ‘normal’ behaviour? Maybe, as the quote above suggests, we are forcing children into situations that are biologically unsuitable for them. They can’t just ‘get used to it’ straight away. Their body is telling them they need to move and play and run outside. Their time is structured when they need freedom. All that fighting down their impulses and instincts all day is tiring and then they ‘act out’. Maybe then they’re even punished for that behaviour.

Eventually most of them do ‘adapt’, at least outwardly. But I wonder what’s really going on inside. At what cost? Do we really want them to adapt and change to suit a system that doesn’t value their biological needs? Should they have to?

Maybe instead of dismissing their behaviour as ‘normal’, we should listen. The message they are sending is loud and clear and in any other situation it would be taken seriously. But because it’s related to school it’s seen as necessary and expected and therefore not a big deal. Maybe children should be educated in ways that better meet their biological needs. Maybe we should demand that that happens. And if it doesn’t? Maybe we should opt-out altogether.

School: You don't have to adjust to that

“Children are designed, by nature, to play and explore on their own, independently of adults. They need freedom in order to develop; without it they suffer. The drive to play freely is a basic, biological drive. Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, as would lack of food, air, or water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth.” -Peter Gray, Free to Learn


January 13, 2016 at 7:02 pm

I still remember my first day of school as clear as anything, 25 years later. The way my hair was, what I was wearing, what I was holding and where I was standing. They had to get my brother who was two years older than me to come in and console my sobbing, it didn’t work. I never did recover from that experience, and I never emotionally adapted. I went into my own world and I was always out of step. I am so grateful for that experience though because school never stuck to me and that helps me on this homeschool journey. I feel like my sensitivity protected me in a way even though it was hard at the time ♡

January 13, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Yes. This exact thing is actually happening with my oldest who started kindergarten this year. He started out loving school and then bam crying about not wanting to go. And not just crying which would be bad enough but sobbing for a whole day on Sunday because he doesn’t want to go on Monday. Crying himself to sleep at night. Going to the nurses station with a belly ache to try to come home. More aggressive with his siblings. He is a naturally happy learner and a pleaser he always wants everyone around him to do the right thing. So he was telling his teacher every time someone would do something they weren’t supposed to and that list at school is extensive. So the teacher got sick of hearing the “tattling” read them a book “don’t squeal unless it’s a big deal” and started punishing them for telling on each other by taking away their rewards they earn for good deeds all week. Now he’s sad and has told me that when someone scares him he gets in trouble for telling her. I need these lines of communication to remain open and she is effectively shutting them and hurting him emotionally in the process. He went from being a star student and a “joy to teach” in her words to hating school. He says the best part is leaving. It has been a hard decision but we are pulling him this week for these very reasons.

    January 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    I forgot to mention that they have to be at school in kindergarten in our district at 715. So I am having to wake my 6 year old up at 6 and they eat lunch for 20 minutes at 953 and only have 20 minutes of recess and that is their only play time in the 7 hours they are there. It’s just not physically right.

      January 14, 2016 at 4:59 am

      Oh Denise 🙁 It’s so wrong.
      You won’t regret pulling him out.

        January 14, 2016 at 7:36 am

        I agree. School is becoming quite ridiculous, so are all the other systems, placed there to erode our standards and our culture.
        You won’t regret it Denise. I love having my children around me so much now (now I’ve had about four or so months getting used to it); it’s so lovely a routine, they understand me better and me- them. For example they know I’m currently ‘caught in the (www)web’ for about half an hour with my morning cup of tea. They go to sleep in my bed each night (the elder being transferred to his own at c.10pm), and wherever we go people comment on how well-behaved, kind and helpful they are. My 6yr old son spontaneously stands by the door of any shop we in and opens and closes it for people. The old ladies beam at him.
        It’s as if >>The Mother<< is the pin that holds the grenade of the nuclear family (and perhaps it could be said- the world's cultures) together, makes sure the standards are set and met, exceeded if possible. Take The Mother out of the picture and..
        We're handing over our most important responsibility to the men in government calling the "educational" and all of the other culturally-defective shots.
        As my Dad always said; 'If you want something done properly you have to do it yourself.'

January 13, 2016 at 9:18 pm

I remember not my first day but a day a couple of weeks later when it sunk in and I realized I really didn’t want to be there. I got very upset and cried for my mother not to leave me. She did, as she saw this as her only option but has told me that she walked home distressed and crying that day. I did adapt but school was not always easy for me and it makes me sad to think of that little girl all those years ago. I could never put my children through that, I’m so thankful I realized there is another way!

January 13, 2016 at 11:44 pm

My child has severe anxiety. My family and friends say homeschooling her will make ‘her worse’ (words from my mother). My argument is being with me and helping her feel more secure and boosting her confidence by finding things she is good at will help! No one agrees of course and says she needs time away from me. Her anxiety is still there even when I’m away! I love reading this and will share with them. Thank you!

January 14, 2016 at 1:32 am

Agree with above comments. We pulled my child from our school – she asked to go somewhere where “kids listened to the teachers and where people were kind and nice” so I was luckily able to find that in a private school. After one day at the new school she was back to herself. She loves it there. Current chaos of school classrooms with huge classes and a Lord of the Flies attitude is incredible sad. Had no idea how bad it was until we experienced it.

January 14, 2016 at 4:57 am

Yes I still remember my first school days too – even the smell and sounds are ingrained in my memory! I too found it terrifying and I knew I couldn’t complain because my parents both had to work and there was no where else for me to go, so I didn’t act out or ever cry. I even remember thinking one morning (we had to get up at 5am to leave at 6am) that kids of my age should still be sleeping!!!! How very right was I and I was only 4 years old at the time.
Glad I can keep my kids at home – they are happy, they jump out of bed in the morning – eager to learn, play and create. I can preserve their innocence a little longer and let them have no worry in the world.

January 14, 2016 at 6:02 am

I was thinking about this the other day. I remember going to a course where the teacher said one of the best things the kids had to learn was that the kindy teacher wasn’t their mother and didn’t love them. Where else do you create such a dysfunctional relationship with a child – having an adult you see so frequently who really doesn’t care about you and by the next year or two has forgotten your name? There are some really lovely teachers out there of course but by the nature of the system, you are forced to have such a temporary relationship with the child . . . it’s so different from the other relationships in a child’s life.

January 15, 2016 at 5:20 am

This was super interesting to read, because it’s one of those pieces that makes me think…on the one hand, you’re really making sense here and I agree with you. But then another part of me is wonders if it isn’t harmful (in the long run) to shelter them from all the things that cause them anxiety. Won’t it prevent them from discovering new things/passions/people, simply because they were scared initially and moved away from that thing/passion/person? Won’t it teach them to give up when things are hard? Won’t it exacerbate their fear of the things they are afraid of?

Those are some of the things that were running through my mind as I was reading this. But then again, I am not sure if there is any good reason for me to think this way. Am I just thinking these things because that’s how I was taught to think? Or is there a legitimate scientific (psychological) basis for thinking one way or the other? I am actually not sure. I think part of the problem is that I find it hard to draw a line between common discomfort at trying something new, and actual severe anxiety. I think those two warrant different responses.

So…you’ve given me lots to think about 🙂 . Thanks for that.

    January 20, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    “I think part of the problem is that I find it hard to draw a line between common discomfort at trying something new, and actual severe anxiety. I think those two warrant different responses.”
    I think you’re right here ^^
    And I also think it has to do with age. Why should a 5 year old child be pushed into this? Extra years of anxiety and practice aren’t going to make them more prepared for having to do hard things in the future. Young children should be playing and our education system is increasingly limiting that.
    I don’t think it’s really sheltering, but respecting their feelings and decision. When they want to follow their passions in the future the difference will be that it is something that THEY are passionate about and want to do, not something they are forced into. So the motivation to overcome challenges will come from them.
    Just my thoughts 🙂 Always enjoy your comments xx

February 25, 2016 at 5:36 pm

As a homeschooling mom, really enjoy reading your posts x

March 10, 2016 at 12:19 am

I think with all the the world’s information at our fingertips you will find more and more people will be homeschooling their kids and it will be a more specialized education.

March 19, 2016 at 3:07 am

My Sophea will be finishing first grade this year and she still hasn’t adapted. I really wish I had started planning this earlier. It makes me sad to see so many of the symptoms in the list in my own child. I worry because we live in such a cold climate that being outside for a good part of the year is difficult and our community is very small. I’m unsure how to keep them involved in life for those months.

April 7, 2016 at 5:51 am

Oh my goodness Sara! I’m catching up with your blog after a little bit of being distracted by other things and this post just hit me hard. It reminds me of an article I wrote about a month ago about school being inherently traumatic:

I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s noticed this. :/

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