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Your Child Wants to Attend School – Now What?

A reader posed this Unschooling Question:

Hello! We decided to homeschool before my first was born. Along the way we discovered unschooling and it was a perfect fit…for mom and dad. My daughter, now 5, wants to go to school so unbelievably bad. At first I was appalled, but I have since warmed to the idea out of necessity. I don’t want my daughter to feel that she will be missing out on something she wants so badly…”because I said so!” I have tried to lay out the pros and cons as non-biased as possible, but I find myself highlighting the pros of unschooling (and homeschooling in general) way more, on accident, and later feel as if I am spreading propaganda rather than being honest about the situation.

This has to be one of the strangest parenting dilemmas. “Should my child go to school? (with parental hopes and dreams being that she chooses to not attend).” I guess if we choose to help her find her own path and attend public school, we would definitely be considered radical unschoolers. I just don’t know how to make sense of it in my head, and essentially to my daughter. I don’t want to push her either way. I just never thought I would ever face this kind of situation, given that most kids would love to have the option to NOT attend school.

Also, if she does attend, do I push her to do her homework and study, etc. I am so confused.

One more thing…we have a great local unschool group that is very active and hosts monthly events for every interest.

Any input will be welcomed. Thanks sooooo much!

First off, your statement that “most kids would love to have the option to NOT attend school” would apply more to children that have already attended school, not to those who have never been. Television and other aspects of our society (media) have worked diligently to make public school in general and Preschool / Kindergarten in particular appear very appealing to young children. It is not at all unusual for young children to be excited about going to school, where they can do all the things the big kids do!

The Main Decision

Your main decision seems to be whether or not to allow your daughter to attend public school. Once you decide that, then you can deal with your other concerns. In order to make that decision, you need to examine your feelings and beliefs about public school. Do you homeschool due to a belief that public schools are inherently injurious to children’s spirits? Or do you view homeschooling as just one of many possible ways to educate, neither better nor worse than any other form?

Some parents equate public school with playing in the road. While it may seem harmless at first, the dangers are there and by the time you see them coming, it is too late and the damage (sometimes permanent) is done. If you feel that public school is a danger to your daughter’s health and well-being, then your decision is made for you — you homeschool her, regardless of what she wants to do. At her young age, your daughter does not have the maturity or experience to make such a large, important decision.

If you feel that public school is a perfectly viable alternative to homeschooling, then allowing your daughter to try public school would seem to be a logical decision. Based upon the experience with my children, some children really enjoy public school during those early elementary years, while others absolutely do not thrive there. But even in the best of public schools, there will be issues, some of which you may hear about from your child, many that you will not. I was very surprised and disturbed by some of the stories I heard from my children even several years after I removed them from public school. I like to think that, if I had known at the time all that was going on, I would have removed them years earlier.

Finding Out Why She Wishes To Attend Public School

You might try to find out why your daughter wants to go to public school. I have had friends whose children wanted nothing more than a back pack like all the other kids that go to public school. Or they wanted a lunch pail. Or to ride the school bus. One even wanted a menu of what lunch would be each day of the week. It can be amusing to find out just what the child’s expectations are about Kindergarten or Preschool or Public School. If it is something as simple as having a backpack to carry around, that is easily solved.

I also know some families that have done a complete “school day” at home, so their children would know what school was really like. The reality of having to get up early, catch the bus (they actually strapped everyone into the car and made the trek to school), stay seated all day, ask for permission to go to the bathroom, etc., was much more than the children had anticipated and long before the end of the day, they were more than happy to be homeschooled.

If Attending, What To Do About Homework and Studying

Again, you have options here, depending upon your philosophies and beliefs about education, public school, etc. Some families whose children opt for public school do so knowing that they can homeschool at any time. The parents do not care about grades and wish that the child get out of public school what they desire and/or need at the time. Other families insist that, if their children go to public school, they agree to the rules of the game and therefore are expected to do their homework and worry about their grades. Some even insist that the child commit to a full year if they decide to go to public school. Of course, at the Kindergarten age, I doubt that a child that young can understand that type of commitment or whether the parent would want to insist upon completing a full year in public school if they felt it was harming their child in some way.

Guilty of Spreading Unschooling Propaganda?

We all have our biases, based upon our beliefs and experiences, and they will come out, no matter how hard we try to be neutral in our speaking. You want to homeschool, you want your child to be unschooled, so it is only natural that you present that idea in a better light than you do public school. As long as you are trying to be balanced, that is the best you can do. No one can ask for more. Quite honestly, after experiencing life with my children in public school and then homeschooling, I doubt I would be at all balanced in trying to convince a child of mine not to attend public school.

Unschooling Support Group

You are lucky, indeed, to have an active unschooling support group locally. If your family decides to continue homeschooling, be sure to plan something fun for that first day back of public school. Many homeschoolers plan a “not back to school” day, including swimming, park days, ice cream, whatever you can think of to celebrate your freedom from the public school schedule for the coming year!

Best of luck with your decision. Be sure to write back and let us know what you decide!

For ideas about homeschooling / unschooling Kindergarten, check out my Do You Need To Teach Kindergarten? article.

6 comments to Your Child Wants to Attend School – Now What?

  • This is excellent advice! It’s difficult to give the child the freedom to choose, given that their desires are shaped by media influence and a lack of experience.

    So many times, I’ve seen my kids expressing reluctance to try something new, and yet they’re often glad that they’ve tried it later. One of my parental jobs is family PR person, encouraging the kids to try new things, and to make choices that deviate from the herd.

  • carolyn smith

    Perhaps you could let her attend Kindergarten so she has an idea what school is all about. Most likely, she will have gotten the idea after the year is up and be content to homeschool. Although my daughter had no desire to go to K, most of it was fear driven, which I didn’t like either. I arranged for her to attend one day in the middle of the year for her to face her fears and have an idea what school was about and that she could handle it if she chose. She did fine and enjoyed her day and now has a ‘been there done that’ attitude about school but with no fear. —

  • This is an excellent article, and on a topic that I’m dealing with right now. My youngest child will be a freshman in high school this fall. She and her two older siblings have been unschooled since kindergarten, but now this one is set on going to high school. She’s registered, but I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet. So, we’ll see how this all plays out. I’m praying she changes her mind, but I’m also willing for her to try it if that’s what she really wants.

    I agree, though, about younger children. They really don’t know what they want or what’s best for them. I love the ideas about getting them a backpack, going through a simulated day, etc. Those things worked for my kids in the younger years.

  • I went through numerous decisions before finally settling on homeschooling. When I taught middle school for two years from ’93-’95, I decided NO WAY would my future children EVER attend public school! I started thinking about it when my son was just a baby in 2001, and began praying. It was then when God said to me, “you should not be asking if your son should be homeschooled; you should ask if he should attend public school.” So often, we have it backwards, as if it’s normal to send our kids away for the majority of their waking hours. When we moved to a small town, I threw my convictions out the window as a trade for a smaller, safer, “good enough” alternative, which was really about my selfishness to have my time back. I would still have one child at home, but by the time our kids reach kindergarten age, we see our “freedom” fast approaching. I even registered my son a couple of months before school started. Slowly, God spoke to me in bits and pieces. I started meeting local homeschoolers. I started hearing negative things about the school. He reminded me of our initial conversations, and made clear that He never told me to enroll my son in school. He was right. I was being selfish.

    Now, after two years of homeschooling, I can’t even believe I considered putting him in school. Once you are doing it, your philosophy becomes almost militant and you feel sorry about the poor kids in school all day! I have seen SO many benefits for both of my children, I would not consider doing anything differently. And the good thing for our kids is that WE have the knowledge and experience to make decisions for them. Five year olds do not have that. My son wanted to go to school, too. Keep in mind that I had been preparing him for school for a couple of months before I pulled the rug out on it. So I had to undo what I had created. For a couple of months into “school” he said he wanted to go to school, but as he woke up at 11 am I reminded him that he would have been in school already for THREE hours! It’s the little things they don’t think about until they are in the middle of it and realize school at home is fun and gives you the freedom to learn what you want, when you want.

    I still hold true to my feelings on this. EVERY child is better of at homeschool if his/her parent is not abusive or neglectful. Even parents with barely a high school diploma are better for a child than sitting in a class with an educated teacher. This has been statistically demonstrated!

  • […] a final decision to homeschool, our children tell us that they want to go to school. What do we do? Karen has a very thorough post about what a child’s request to go to school really means, and what a parent can do […]

  • Dianne

    my child has a hard time learning at school and at home but she does do better at home . she is mor e relaxed at home and calm. and she can do her school work easier if shes able to concentrate.

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