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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi!

My oldest, who will be 4 in September, gets asked regularly if he's starting school in the fall (here in Ontario, there is the option to begin kindergarten at 4). I don't think he has any idea what "school" is. He often answers with an enthusiastic "Yeah!" and yesterday he told someone he was going to "park school" :rotflmao

I'm curious to know what others have done, especially those who have been home/unschooling from the very beginning. Did you talk to your kid about conventional school, and then tell them what you'll be doing differently? Were they ever curious about conventional schooling?
 

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This is especially an issue with the oldest child in a new unschooling family. (Younger siblings tend to simply aspire to whatever ever path their elder siblings have followed.)

My eldest was a fair bit older than yours at the age she was due to start school. We're in BC and she is a January baby who missed the cutoff by just a few days, so she was 5 and a half. By that age she had asked a lot of questions and was relatively sophisticated in her understanding of what school is and why it wouldn't suit her terribly well. We live in a very small town where the school is a sort of community hub, so even though we were pretty free of commercial and pop-culture school influences, the prominence of school in most children's lives was impossible for us to avoid. We had talked about school a lot by the time she was of an age to not go. Your approach might not need to involve nearly as much discussion as ours did, since your child is much younger.

Anyway we answered whatever questions were asked in a way that explained clearly what school was, but in a way that normalized homeschooling instead of portraying it as an exception. Rather than saying "Instead of sending you to school, we are lucky to be able to choose another way for you to learn ... " we said "Some parents aren't able to help their kids learn as they get older, so they send them to school." We explained that either the parents needed to work full-time, or weren't interested in their kids' learning, or didn't have the confidence to feel they could help their kids learn effectively. And then we'd point out that because school learning was done in big groups, and was led by people who didn't know the kids terribly well, it couldn't follow interests and meet needs as easily. We implied that school was an impoverished Plan B for families who couldn't manage the preferred Plan A for whatever reason. With so much in our society and our community conspiring to normalize school and push it on kids as an essential, exciting rite of passage, I felt justified in a bit of unabashed counter-indoctrination.

With my eldest we also gave her some opportunities while she was 4 and 5 that she loved, activities which it was fairly obvious she'd have to give up if she went to school. So on Tuesday mornings she had piano lessons with a lovely teacher whom she idolized. Thursdays were play-dates with Catherine, a fellow-homeschooler. We enrolled her in a block of homeschool swim lessons. And we started a tradition of "Lunch Club Picnics" once a week, whereby we'd pack a lunch and drive somewhere new and interesting to eat it, often by folding down the seats in the back of the van and spreading a drop-cloth, watching trains go by, or a crane at work, or enjoying the sights and sounds of a little waterfall or whatever.

These were small things, but they were enough that when we said "If you went to school you'd probably have to stop piano lessons, and you couldn't do things like swimming, and we couldn't do our Lunch Club anymore, and you wouldn't have Thursdays at Catherine's house." The idea of losing all those things trumped whatever she imagined she might gain via school.

Miranda
 

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Hi Miranda, I really love your response overall, but wanted to comment on this one part: "We explained that either the parents needed to work full-time, or weren't interested in their kids' learning, or didn't have the confidence to feel they could help their kids learn effectively. And then we'd point out that because school learning was done in big groups, and was led by people who didn't know the kids terribly well, it couldn't follow interests and meet needs as easily. We implied that school was an impoverished Plan B for families who couldn't manage the preferred Plan A for whatever reason. With so much in our society and our community conspiring to normalize school and push it on kids as an essential, exciting rite of passage, I felt justified in a bit of unabashed counter-indoctrination."


I think those can be reasons for some families -- and, of course, I can totally understand the need for the counter-indoctrination as we were an unschooling family for many years ourselves (I guess I should change my profile now, LOL, or maybe not, since I still feel like an unschooler at heart). But I've personally learned of another reason why some unschooling kids end up going to school and even liking school: because they want to, and they enjoy the extensive and continuous social interactions that they're able to get there (and here I'm not implying that unschoolers don't have social lives -- simply that in our case, school has increased the number and variety of kids from all different backgrounds that they've been able to get to know -- or at least, my older daughter at this point as school is still pretty new for my younger daughter). My 15-year-old homeschooled until she was 13 and then started public school and pretty much loves it. And now my 10-year-old is into her second week of 5th grade and is really loving it so far, too. But, of course, we're playing it by ear and remain open to letting her come back to unschooling if she so chooses.
 

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But I've personally learned of another reason why some unschooling kids end up going to school and even liking school: because they want to, and they enjoy the extensive and continuous social interactions that they're able to get there
As a parent of three "kids" (16, 18 and 21) who are now in school and have been for several years, I can add other reasons too that might apply to some students ... access to specialized equipment or course material, ongoing exposure to adult mentors passionate about subject areas not readily mentored by others in the community, a system of external accountability for learning, a ready accredited pathway to a particular post-secondary program, access to scholarship funds for promising students, tapping into a peer culture with a passion for something that interests the learner, group learning experiences difficult to replicate in a home-schooling environment (eg., if your general or homeschooling community doesn't have a youth theatre, or a community basketball league, school may be the only place to gain experience in those realms) etc. etc.

For a pre-kindergartener, though, a simple explanation is best. I didn't mean to imply that these were the only reasons ever: just that they were the most understandable reasons to give to my 5-year-old at the time.

Miranda
 

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For a pre-kindergartener, though, a simple explanation is best. I didn't mean to imply that these were the only reasons ever: just that they were the most understandable reasons to give to my 5-year-old at the time.

Miranda
That makes perfect sense, and I also understand that going too deeply into some of the positive aspects of public school might cause a five-year-old to overthink the matter and wonder if they could be missing something. And I do not regret for a second that my girls unschooled for as long as they did. I know it's too soon to evaluate the experience for my younger daughter, but she's still (at age 10) filled with such a sense of wonder about the whole school experience. She could hardly get to sleep last night because she was so excited, because she thinks her teacher told her that they start music class today. She also came home on Friday explaining how it was "Fabulous Friday," which meant that the teachers gave them gum to chew while they were out at recess, and had them spit it out when they came back in. :)


As for my older daughter, she's excelling in so many areas. The one subject she's had a hard time with is math, but she got lots of extra tutoring whenever it was available, and by the end of her 9th grade year (last spring), she tested as proficient, which is wonderful news. The categories for the test are advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic, so it's quite an accomplishment for her to start out as "below basic" in the beginning of her 8th grade year (when she first started), and be proficient by the end of the following school year. But above and beyond the academic success, she's just so focused on what she wants to accomplish and so organized about setting and working towards her own goals, and since she currently sees academic success as a key to getting to where she wants to go in life, she's determined to achieve it.


So from my observations thus far, unschooling for as long as the child is happy with it is the best foundation for success in life, and skipping the formal instruction in the early years (unless the child happens to want it) will in no way hinder their ability to jump in there and succeed in school should they ever decide that they want to get on that path. I know that's not what this thread is about, but since so many new unschoolng moms get inundated with "concerns" about how their child will "catch up" if they decide they want to go to school later, I feel like I just can't say it too many times: Children who learn to take ownership of their own learning in the early years, are miles ahead of the kids in their peer group who've never gained that sense of ownership. To me, that ownership is the basic, non-negotiable piece of the education puzzle, because I've observed how quickly a child can absorb everything else she needs later on -- but it seems like kids who get to be teenagers without any sense of ownership of their educational goals, can even be super-smart but it's just really, really hard to add that piece in after they grew up without it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Miranda and Susan, thank you for this excellent conversation! Miranda, I love your suggestions for some counter-indoctrination. It's strange that my son has never asked about school...it's a setting in a few books on our shelves, he gets asked about it often, we sometimes play in the school yard, but he doesn't seem curious about how he's meant to fit into it. I might give him a head's up though, since he gets the question so frequently.

I appreciate what you're both saying about kids who eventually choose to go to public school. It's a good thing to keep in mind, too, for when concerned relatives ask their questions. I would never keep my kids out of public school if that was their desire, and it's a nice way to explain unschooling, as being helping to facilitate however the child wants to learn.

Thanks so much for this!
 
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