26 February 2014


I've been thinking about homeschooling Four and Five. I'm intrigued by the idea of challenging what we know as "education," and I'd like to find a way to make my boys enjoy learning again, because they hate school.


They don't just moan about going, or grumble about the work load. They feel bullied, unappreciated, and overwhelmed. Less than a year ago, Five's anxiety about school was such that he wanted to die rather than go there. He threatened to throw himself out of my moving car. I had to hide the knives in the house because he begged to stab himself.

To be fair, there are other factors that may have contributed to his anxiety. My mother had recently died after living with us for over a year, and genetics had gifted him with a nervous disposition. But when your nine year-old would prefer to commit suicide rather than attend elementary school, I don't think the system can be held entirely blameless.

After medication and therapy, Five is better. He is no longer suicidal or highly irrational. But he still only attends school about 70 % of the time. Each day is a negotiation to get him to the school, and a separate discussion about staying for the entire day. Four leaves more willingly, but gives greater resistance about homework. I must supervise, encourage, and, in some instances, instruct in order to get it done every night. It's a long day for all of us.

Now, before you think "well, maybe if you took away their electronics/games/cards/free time they might be more inclined to do what you want," let me assure you that we have tried both negative and positive reinforcement. I am good cop and bad cop every morning, first offering encouragement/pep talks, followed by reminding them that staying home will be VERY BORING, to downright frustration and anger.

I don't want to be frustrated and angry with my children. I love them. I want them to educated in a place where they feel special and appreciated for what they have to offer.  I want them to be excited about learning, about exploring what interests them. No offense to Bill Gates, but I don't think everyone needs to learn more math and science. I think it denigrates the importance of the arts to suggest our society will only survive if we spend more time in structured learning, force-feeding the same subjects to all.

I am a product of a public education, taught in schools that I did not hate. But I'm not sure the system works for everyone. And yes, differential education exists to teach to the children with different learning styles. But it exists within the same structure that's been around for over a hundred years. Sometimes the system needs to be overhauled or abandoned. I mean, I'm pretty sure everyone thought child labor was a great idea at the time, or segregation, or denying women the right to vote. It takes bold thinking to change the world, one person at a time.

I want to be bold. I think my children's lives may depend on it.


  1. I know of at least three families that have home schooled their children with enormous success. The kids are brilliant, creative, and self-motivated. I think if you can do it and it works for your family, you absolutely should. It wouldn't have worked for us, though. My daughter and I would have killed each other, and MadMax doesn't want to. I've heard the Unschooling Handbook is a great place to start, do you have it?

    1. I don't have the Handbook, but I've read a lot about unschooling. It's what piqued my interest about a year ago.

      (Somewhere, Carrie Trimble is screaming in horror at the idea of schooling with no rules!)

  2. My step-niece-in-law (complicated family) home schooled all four of her children. They learned well, but because their major social interactions were with the members of their church and their family, they have been very poor at interacting with greater society. I don't think that would be the case for your boys, though.

    Like BarbN, I've heard about Unschooling, and it might be a good fit for your boys. While homeschooling will deeply cut into your writing time, I do understand wanting to not only help your boys but give them a safe place to learn and develop and learn to love learning. I think you'd be great at it.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I already spend so much time dealing with the emotional toll of school, not to mention the time I spend cajoling and then supervising homework, I think I might actually end up with more time on my hands! In reality, there aren't enough hours in the day for all that I have to do to run the family. That's not going to change, homeschooling or not.

  3. There is a MASSIVE on-line home-school network. Not even kidding: MASSIVE. So, plenty of support and resources from that end. Also, if I'd know more about this option, I totally would have yanked Empress out of the classroom (which, for quite a block of time, she rarely showed up in anyway because she was unable to, what with being in the same state as Five that you just described) in a heartbeat.

    Tell us what we can do, we're behind you a million percent.
    Love, love, love,
    from me to you.

    1. Thanks for the support! We'll see how it all shakes out. I'm currently swimming against the tide with my progressive thinking.

  4. I was that kid, Megan. I used to get stomach aches every morning before school. I had no friends, was bullied, and was WAY too sensitive to be in that environment, at least without a better form of backup. Counseling didn't help, and eventually towards the end of middle school things got a little better, and I made some friends. But it was tough.

    Would homeschooling have been a better option? (It wasn't an option at all--both parents worked so much, they barely had time to help with homework on occasion, and my dad especially was of the "Oh, toughen up," mindset.) I honestly don't know. I'm not sure I would have ever learned to function around other people at all if I'd been able to stay at home.

    Either way, my sympathies to your boys and to you. Is there any possibility of switching them to a different school?

    1. It's not an easy decision, but I also think it doesn't have to be a permanent one. Switching schools for Five isn't going to work because it's not the building, it's the pressure of the curriculum and the structure of the day. Even though Four is in an alternative school, the learning style isn't all that different than the public school-there are just some added bells and whistles.

      As I envision it, homeschooling doesn't mean just staying at home. I actually think it will open up hours in our day for experiences we don't have the energy for after struggling through a whole school day and staring at homework. The social concerns are valid but we have a lot of town recreation programs and athletics that are open for everyone, not just public schoolers.

      Paradigm shifts are difficult for all involved. I'm still trying to articulate what I mean to the family members really struggling to wrap their heads around it. I haven't managed to do it yet without sounding defensive, so I think there are many more discussions in our future. (I promise not to subject you to all of them!)

  5. As I've been writing these comments I've come up with a core goal.

    I want us to be happy.

    This seems facile, but happiness pays dividends. I know this because I have been both happy and unhappy, and I am much more productive when I am happy. School is making all three of us unhappy.

  6. Having worked in a public school for eight years up until last June I can tell you that there is something TERRIBLY WRONG with the current system. My kids don't want to be homeschooled or I'd be tempted. I too was bullied and humiliated at school - and I was bored. A horrible combination.

    Do what is right for you and your boys. There are lots of resources and many different ways you can go about schooling your children. And I do think, once you get into the groove that time will free up. After all, you won't have the homework hassles, and most home schooling moms find that three or four hours of instruction a day is more than enough. In fact, I've seen kids that spend half the time of a normal school day excel and go beyond where the public school kids are.

    AND I agree that we need artists and writers, musicians and storytellers just as much as we need mathematicians and engineers. Everyone deserves to be educated in a manner that works for them. Public School is designed for middle of the road students with absolutely no issues (behavioral/emotional) but also no passions. There just isn't any space for kids that are different. It's not the teachers's fault. Its the system.

  7. Hi! Late to the party again. :)

    A lot of people around here do alternative schooling. A LOT. Here's what I know works for some people here. Take what you can use, discard the rest.

    First, for those who home school here, our town allows the kids to go to the school to participate in the "specials" (computers, gym, art, etc.), so the parents who want to have their kids interact with the other kids in town do specials in school, academics at home. Also, our town sports are not just for the kids who attend public school.

    Apart from that, there are home schooling parents who have formed groups and do field trips together. They play at the park (phys. ed.), they go the the local farms and museums (social studies), etc. These provide plenty of opportunity for socialization for both kids and parents.

    If you're not quite ready to give up on school, but need a different structure, perhaps seek out a Montessori school? I can't speak to the expense, which could be a major factor, but their approach to learning is completely different. More student interest/strength based and looser in regulation. Perhaps they'd do better there?

    Anyway, just my thoughts on the matter. I've been blessed to live in a small town where the size of the school makes it almost as if the kids are in private school. Lots of individual attention and everyone knows everyone. So, y'know, as a last resort, I'm pretty sure there are some houses for sale in town. ;)

    Good luck with whatever decision you make. And remember, home schooling could be just the thing they need, but if it's not, they can always go back. Don't be afraid to try if that's what you feel you need to do to keep your kids healthy and happy.

  8. Laurie7.4.14

    Please look into charter schools. There are public (tuition free) charter schools. My son was SO unhappy with school, for many reasons. We found a charter school that is working out so much better.

  9. Laurie7.4.14

    **not telling you "don't homeschool," but just mentioning charter schools. I always ruled them out because I thought it would be too expensive.


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