When is it too late to change my mind?

One of the scariest things about homeschooling is that you are deciding to put your kid on the road less traveled. Who knows if it’s a good road? We can see the standard path is bad, but it’s hard to know for sure that the alternative path will turn out better.

So I wonder a lot whether it too late for me to change my mind. The research about the damage that school does is clear –  each year hurts a kid’s creativity, self-esteem, and resilience. Each year they learn to accommodate someone else’s idea of interesting, which closes doors for finding their own passions. Your child forgets what uniquely excites him.

But when is it too late for an unschooler to decide to be academically oriented?

I talked with Iris Even, head of The School for Young Performers. She deals with totally fascinating families – kids who are recording artists, actors, athletes, and models.

Iris Even says that eighth or ninth grade is when kids need to start building an academic record if they want to go to college.

There are exceptions. Kids who are very self-motivated can get a GED. Kids whose parents who are very involved and can take up the task of rigorously homeschooling in preparation for a range of college entrance exams.

There are kids who are taking alternative academic paths—Westinghouse Winners, for example—who clearly have the academic chops to do college even if they are not taking a conventional path. But most of the students at The School for Young Performers have a non-academic passion.

When your child is aiming for the very top of a field, you want a plan B. And Even says plan B starts forming in eighth grade. I liked knowing that limit – I feel like I have a few more years to wait and see about my older son. For now I feel secure that I can get him to his goal, a Phd in paleontology. But if I can’t, I know I need a new plan in eighth grade.

I thought my conversation with Iris Even would make me nervous. But talking with her made me feel confident that parents and kids who choose alternative paths still have options. There’s not actually one road not taken. There are infinite.

79 replies
  1. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The link for The School for Young Performers isn’t working, it’s giving a 404 error. I’ll google it. :)

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I googled it and it was very intriguing. I’m curious how the conversation went.

        I go back and forth for that age between these options: Stanford online high school http://epgy.stanford.edu/ohs/ , or boarding school, or jr. college. I try to have three or four back up plans since I can’t predict if my kids will want to go to college, or if college will even be necessary for what they want to do. If college is not needed then I consider boarding school to get that dorm room experience… I guess…. it’s all speculation but definitely something I think about.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            The Libertarian Homeschooler? I’m just speculating, not committing to it. The best friends in my life are people that were a part of my dorm. If my kids have no desires to go to college this is one of the paths I have floating around in my INTJ mind.

  2. Claire
    Claire says:

    Oh shit! Well, now at least I can quit planning anything fun to do this summer … cause I’ll be figuring out what the hell the “task of rigorously homeschooling in preparation for a range of college entrance exams.” means!

    I’d been thinking we were going to hit this wall soon. The wall where all the fun and games we’ve been having has to end and someone else tells us what has to be mastered and how many times and how many ways. It does feel, right now, like it’s going to suck. But maybe we can do it in such a way as not to lose our hearts and souls.

    When I was a working woman, owning my own business in fact, I NEVER worked as hard as I do homeschooling. I look back on those 60-70 hour weeks and think: “Hmph! Whatever!”

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      We are using the sticky note method to create courses for my high school unschooler. I learned about it here: http://thesetemporarytents.com/2013/07/19/delight-directed-7th-grade/ (Hope it’s okay to link this.) Basically she keeps a notebook full of sticky notes, 1 per event/book/movie/etc. and then once she accumulates enough time in a subject, we can give it a course title and put all the information in one place. Super easy and helpful. Also we can see where she is coming up short. My high schooler is not at all math oriented, so she will do consumer math, business math, etc. but not algebra and geometry. For science she picks out books that interest her. Once we have a theme going, she knows which direction to go to finish a course.

      • Catherine Thiemann
        Catherine Thiemann says:

        Super helpful! My son was conventionally schooled through 7th, and now we’re in our second year of home/unschooling. He is thriving at home, and he has no intention of going back to high school — but I want to make sure he’s prepared for college if he decides to go. I love your approach to creating a transcript. Thanks for sharing this great resource.

  3. redrock
    redrock says:

    Completely independent from the type of schooling or non-schooling up to the age of maybe 15 or 16… many, in my completely uneducated guess from years of observation, do not end up in the field they wanted to when they started college or university. The vast majority will pursue a different field (I am not talking about the job market – if you think job market paleontology is most likely not the way to go) once they see all the different stuff out there which they did not even know existed. So, if the inclination is to pursue more of natural science type field – a good foundation is useful. For paleontology, a smattering in biology, geology, math and such is probably a good idea – but it also opens the path to become a petroleum engineer. What I am saying is that there is a lot of cool stuff out there, and many scientists are not singular in their pursuit of topics and fields throughout their career. Switching from physics to biophysics to molecular biology or MRI imaging is more common then one thinks.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    Until recently I realized that your homeschooling posts are so tiring because you were born and have lived in such a different tier than I.

    I have never had anyone model big careers to me. Growing up, landing a “good job” was being in an office rather than working in the fields. And having a steady paycheck.

    I can see how unschooling a child with parents that are big shots when it comes to education and career can be so beautiful and yield amazing results that are impressive for those who deem success to be career and wealth. For those who feel middle management is the pinnacle of success the story may be different if unschooling a kid.

    I think that’s why many commenters think it’s absurd that you’d invest so much money in things your kids want to do and you believe is good for education/life. Because most of us are from a much different tier or social caste. If you shoot for Ivy League and I think that Ivy League is so ridiculously out of my…uh…league. And how preparing a child to want and achieve entering into one of those schools is so exhausting and it would require that my entire life revolves around supporting that goal.

    This blog is so insightful. And I am beginning to think that if some things don’t make sense it may be mostly because you are from a much different ecosystem than mine.

    If I were homeschooling I’d think that there’s no timeline to reenter the mainstream path because I value “real life” experience over sitting in a classroom. So I’d encourage my kid to get a GED and then, if he was so inclined, go to a good state university. Then go on and use all the beautiful experience from unschooling to make a good life for himself.

    But I can now see that if my worries, or even if it was possible, for him to go to an Ivy League school then I would need to start since preK in preparation for that road. I can’t tell if this is a blessing or a curse, to have been born and lived so poor that the idea of Ivy League and big shot career is a dream way out there in the stratosphere. It can be a blessing because it doesn’t cause pressure in my life but it could also be a curse because by the time I realize I would want to do something like we are way way way too late. We’d be competing with kids that prepared from the womb.

    Right now I am kinda eh. It’s a beautiful day out there.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I don’t think anything is truly out of reach – I have many colleagues (including myself) from more then modest backgrounds who are now well-respected often internationally recognized leaders in their respective academic fields. It is in my opinion wrong to think only ivy league schools cut it – they are very broad in their excellence, but many other schools are excellent in specific areas and can well compete with the Ivy’s in those areas. If we accept that only those with an Ivy League education can ever become a successful leader we limit ourselves to one very specific narrow way of life. And I think there is more to success in life then being a CEO of a fortune 500 company.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I agree! I think there’s more to success than just that!

        I remember being super driven and wanting some fancy job that would for sure show ’em that I wasn’t a no one. You know, all the people that make you feel less.

        Now that I am really happy (like deep seated, feeling secure happy) it’s hard to put myself and my family through the grinder for some lofty goal. I still want it from time to time. I get scared that at 26 I am building a family and not a career and that I will always be stuck and I will be boring. Or that people will think I am boring (to be honest I think I am fantastic ha!).

        I just don’t know how to be driven by other than hunger and fear and insecurities. Right now, what drives me is my family. Knowing that nothing is for sure and that we may die suddenly. It’s nice knowing that as my child grows there’s be a point when he doesn’t want me to be glued to him 24/7 and then at that point I can have chunks of hours to retake the course I was on. Less ferociously driven though (I used to abuse my body and chug red bull and not eat for the sake of being skinny and getting stuff done because I was going to get ahead no matter what!).

        Sometimes I think “gah! did I start a family too early on?”

        Then I see women in their 30’s having to use treatments and face the uncertainty of maybe not realizing their desire of having children. It’s comforting to know that one day the children will grow and I can still work on a career. Or something modest. Or something. Anything really.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      I interviewed for Harvard. I come from a non Ivy family.

      During my interview they wanted to get an idea of what I would specialize in upon acceptance.

      Call me unprepared but I didn’t know yet what that would be (my major). I mentioned interests (non academic) and winged it.

      Throughout the interview they continuously came back to specializing. I remember they mentioned that most students had a ‘path’ prior to acceptance.

      So I would think, Ivys would appreciate an applicant that had a specialty to build on once there. Which makes a great case for unschooling, since that gives you years of time to prepare for a specialty and have a portfolio to back it up (if the child decides ivy is the way to go).

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I love this comment.

        I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately for different reasons. You have to convince them that you are worth a spot in their very limited schools (a bit above 2500 students per year) and that you’ll make them look good (that’s if you’re not someone from a long line of Ivy’s that donate money to the school).

        I do think that unschooling or homeschooling is more ideal in preparation for that kind of path. And for real life in general.

        But if you’ll be prepared of that you need parents whose manner of thinking is conductive to a child discovering and following what they are made of and what they are good at. Penelope did a post about it recently. How childhood is about getting focused on what you are good at. If my parents had been more helpful in that area I think a lot would be different for my brothers and I. But their own parents were bare minimum (roof, food, love – sometimes) type of parents.

        My hope is that I can help guide myself into discovering self reliance and what makes him happy. And of course, what he’s good at. Or at the very least, practice in resilience and the deep seated self assurance that he can figure out anything that comes his way. I think that’s important. Even if I fail to understand how to help him discover and form a path towards our typical understanding of success.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      This is such a reassuring comment for me, and timely! Between the trendspotting post and the unschool a kid in school post, I have swung back toward being a believer that public schools are necessary and good.

      Kids turn out like their parents, and just as you can see with kids who go to public schools its usually the ones with more educated/career-centered parents who fare better, if every single child in the country was unschooled tomorrow, the results would look the same. Those kids with higher social class parents would do well, those at the other end of the spectrum not so much.

      What is key to levelling the playing field, and extending an opportunity to some willing, is public school. Public school is what exposes kids to other adults with different backgrounds, other kids from other social classes, field trips to places they may otherwise have never gone, and has resources available they may never have known were available.

      My nephew will probably drop out of the ninth grade, and I have fretted over whether this is important, if school is so terrible why be so gung-ho that he stay? But now I feel for him it is absolutely utterly important, school for him is where learning, joy, new experiences, potential friends, and interaction with adults lies. He needs that, I need to keep being the pushy aunt!!

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I think it’s pretty clear that public school is very good for underprivileged kids. But it’s wastes time for kids who have parents who are very involved in the kids’ lives.

        Public school levels the playing field who are playing at a disadvantage. For other kids, they don’t need to spend their childhood helping to level playing fields. It’s too big a sacrifice. If parents want to contribute to leveling the playing field they can adopt a kid, they can give a lot of money to poor kids, they can volunteer time. Whatever. Give your own time to leveling the playing field, not your kid’s time.


          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Yeah, that article’s a real piece of work. I think what I love about it the most is portraying the act of sending your kids to a public school in the wealthiest suburbs of New York as a form of charity. That ought to prepare the kids to engage in many more acts of fake charity, like orphanage voluntourism.

            And now, from a less privileged perspective, the response.


        • Jennifa
          Jennifa says:

          Agreed, but it is tough to tell a kid who desperately wants to quit school, you need to keep going because you are ‘underpriveleged’ and these other kids can get homeschooled.

          I am not really trying to make huge generalizations, I am trying to reconcile two specific instances in my own life, where my sister homeschools, to great success, and my other neice and nephew go to school, unsuccessfully. The huge elephant in the room is parenting, but how do you tell the kids your parents are rather ignorant and you’re better off disengaging from their world views as soon as possible?

          It is a conundrum for me, (my husband always tells me to just write off the kids), but as a responsible adult related to them I feel I have an obligation to point out certain things, and try to live as a positive example.

          This blog is great and insightful, but sometimes so depressing when all I see is an ever-expanding gap in society. The high school my nephew attends is actually rated highly, but as they brag about their graduation percentages, I can see why. They seem to be literally trying to shove out the lower performing kids in the ninth grade. Maybe if they can get all the quitters to quit early then they are not counted in the numbers? Which just makes me crazy, because of all the kids there, he needs that high school education and opportunity the most.

    • Chris M
      Chris M says:

      I support your comment.

      Your discussion reminds me of someone I know who seems to empathize with every good cause out there and does her best to support them. Recycle, reuse, organic, free-range animal raising, quality homeschooling, handmade but high quality clothing, handmade (but insanely high quality) everything….

      And all those causes ARE the right thing- we should all consider and manage our impact on the world and people around us… BUT at this stage in humanity all this is a luxury of the upper middle and upper class. Her husband makes a fortune to support it all. Without that financial support the ‘save the world’ causes get lost underneath the necessity of simply struggling to survive on menial wages in a world that wants to kill or cripple you at every turn.

      I’ve seen both sides of the tracks and I know we all want the best for our children but I find it peculiar the new wave of Ivy League is a game that starts so early and is still supported by people with much more means than those they might say aren’t trying hard enough. What’s the point of lofty goals when you don’t have the means or network to reach them? Was George Bush a specialized or well-rounded genius who was nurtured from birth toward the Ivy League? I can’t say but I doubt it, yet he DID in fact go to both Yale and Harvard. The womb did less to support him than his parents money and connections.

      I agree that given the right parents who are intellectually capable of guiding young ones to college, incredible things can happen, but it’s narrow to discount the fact that they have to have the means first. For many families, homeschooling is more luxury than public school.

      On the idea that public schools squash creativity and individuality, I have to disagree. I believe the environment (e.g. hanging out with the same children who are exposed to the same media/entertainment) seems to do that more than the institution itself. Many are susceptible to that, even as adults (e.g. see the millions of pictures of what people are eating on Facebook or the funny cat videos on YouTube). Creativity is internal and if a child or adult is willing, it will find it’s way regardless of the setting.

      As a creative person who absolutely hated the rigors of high school academia (fear not, I did get a grad degree), I have to give the system high marks for implementing the concepts of structure, discipline and competition- those things which intuitively seem detrimental to creativity but are absolutely essential to focus creative minds towards completing work. If one is creative, they will create but they often need something to rein all the ideas in and toward a goal.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      karelys, your comments really are the best.

      Please keep writing! Your voice always inspires me to look at the world in a new and wonderful way.

    • Aadel
      Aadel says:

      I think it is kind of silly to generalize parents who unschool and homeschool as rich and well-educated. Surveys have shown that most homeschooling families live well within and below the median income range. Most have some college education, but many only have a high school diploma.

      My family was blue-collar. My father is a farmer with a tech degree in large engine mechanics. My mother is a nurse. I grew up knowing that if I wanted to go to college, I would have to get scholarships or pay for it out of pocket. Ivy league was a pipe dream for my kids in my small rural community.

      And I ended up homeschooling/unschooling my kids because I didn’t think education equaled success. Even college education. My husband and I neither one hold a college degree. I am working towards one – started taking classes 10 years after graduating high school. We are not going to encourage or discourage college for any of our kids – but rather help them map out a plan for what they want to do. If that includes college (which it seems like it might for my oldest) then there are definitely alternatives to the traditional entrance exams and cramming for credits.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This is kind of what I was already thinking/planning for. It makes logical sense too, 8th/9th grade is really when you want your academic records to start being rockstar-like; if you are even at all interested in going to an Ivy.

    So use the time before then to focus on other things that you need to couple with the academic side to be competitive. If SAT/ACT scores really are going to be what they (admissions) look at for homeschoolers, then really we can spend all the time practicing to ace the tests later on. Kids that want to go to college will already have that motivation to do well, so we can assist them by putting them in classes or hiring tutors to get them to score high on those tests.

    Also, having a compelling story or “hook” should be a lot easier to put together being unschool. I mean, your son loves paleontology so you guys do camps, digs, and zoo trips and the other wants to play cello and he goes to a good music academy, they have the hook already to work with. You are on a good path.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      After commenting back and forth I like the idea that by 8/9th grade kids need to be focusing on whether or not they’ll be going to some sort of university and do something about it.

      I think that if unschooling/homeschooling has served them well, by then they have a pretty good idea of what they want and now it’s a matter of logistics.

      I remember being 14 and being so super secure that I wanted to do something in the field of psychology. At the time I only knew of counselors. Later I learned more about it. My strong desire for that came from reading books as a kid that my dad had laying around the house. They were not academic books, they were probably something between academic and self help books.

      Once I moved to the USA and learned English very well high school did seem like a waste of time. I wish someone had granted me the desire to get rid of classes that required time and just let me put in the hours and work towards a degree or at least internships/volunteer work that would help me figure out a specialization.

      Also, maybe it’s the culture I came from, but by 15 I already felt like an adult and a lot of us were expected to act like one. So it’s very possible but by the time kids know what they want out of life it’s also a good time to work on logistics on how to get there.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I like your last statement, school is preventing teens from growing up. I think most of us felt like adults at 15/16, wanted a part time job, a car, and some responsibility. School gets in the way of that and makes those things seem irrelevant. I remember resenting high school, being forced to take classes that I had no interest in, and being treated like I was still a 4th grader with permission for bathroom breaks during class and having to have a note to show in case someone asked why I wasn’t in my class. When I went to college is was all the same classes as high school, but you were treated like an adult… you got to choose your classes and choose to not show up if you didn’t feel like it! I honestly feel I could have went to college right after 8th grade…. if only I had been homeschooled, ha!

        • LIsa
          LIsa says:

          Any strong student could go straight to college out of high school. My 14 year old easily tested into college level writing even though his middle school didn’t provide much writing practice. The main point of high school then is warehousing before they are old enough for college, or extra practice for those who need it, or opportunity to take classes to get top grades to get into top school.

          My 14 yo is not socially ready to do college full time and he likes the sports and social opportunities at high school. So our solution is he’ll take many electives at high school, plus math and science. He will take English, writing, health, and history at community college one evening a week or online, which will give him both high school and college credit. He should have an AA & Bacc Core requirements completed by the time he finishes high school. His high school has an open campus and is in a college town so he’s treated with respect by the teachers and can come and go from school as needed.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            There have been kids younger than 14 that go to college and have done fine socially. I know you are talking about your own child, but not everyone is the same or needs the same thing. Some do well and others might not. I do love the set up you have going for him and it sounds like he loves it as well.

      • Joy
        Joy says:

        Have you seen Logan LaPlante’s TED talk? It’s on “hackschooling” his education. I think he’s 12 in the talk and really amazing. This is what our kids are capable of if we let them.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          I have! he’s pretty awesome. A lot of commenters put him down as a “precocious kid” but I think most of us were like that at that age. We would have been even more so if people fanned the fire on curiosity and self confidence rather than trying to tear it down.

          My experience was “why do you think you know anything? you are a kid!” it was said so much so that I ended up believing it. Many others were more stubborn but they can be social outcasts if they don’t have parents or a social group that will insulate them from the rotten tomatoes thrown their way.

  6. Melanie Plum
    Melanie Plum says:

    Your posts always bring comfort to me as a first year homeschooling mom of a very bright 7th grader in a very small town in a rural state–different path here is a great understatement.

    But now this post brings me great discomfort because we are so close to that benchmark and have just begun the homeschooling journey. And I remember an earlier post about how it’s best for homeschoolers if they are passionate about music, athletics, or have started a start-up. We are none of those things–no rhythm, two left feet, wouldn’t know what a start up is here. But what she is is bright, creative, well-read, friendly, and a humanitarian. But none of that will get her into college as a homeschooler I now fear.

    So, I guess what I’m asking, based on this post, is: do I return her to public school next year, or the year after that? In a public school system in a state that is ranked last in education? Have I doomed her to a life in a dead and dying town, settling for mediocrity?

    Ugh…now the doubts of having done the right thing rear their ugly head again.

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth says:

      There are more options out there than you think. Seventh grade is a great time to start talking to her about options and what she might do. If you decide she needs a high school transcript, there are options like BYU’s independent study program (is.byu.edu which is a lot less expensive than Standford’s online high school). For those of us in more urban/suburban areas, there is also early admission to community college, although that may not be an option for you. But you should also check out colleges you might be interested, and see what they say for homeschoolers. A lot of them care primarily about test scores, so getting ready for the SAT or ACT may be a priority. But really, there are a lot of options between public school and pure unschooling. And more and more of them are accessible wherever you are.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the answer is, clearly, you don’t put her back in the school. I think that’s what brings all homeschoolers together – we don’t have the perfect right answer. We are just unwilling to continue to pretend that public school is anywhere near the right answer. If you search for the right answer, you may as well be somewhere where you might, in fact, stumble upon it. And you’re doing that.


  7. Jim
    Jim says:

    High School is not an either/or proposition. We’ve had a music-focused “curriculum” at home (three homeschooled boys) for years (four to five hours of music daily). Next year our oldest will go to high school part-time (while we maintain homeschool status), but only for a couple of hours – math, language arts, maybe science. The rest of the day will be spent continuing to pursue the path that we laid out years ago. We will use high school to the extent that we need it to meet our needs. I’m comfortable with my kids not having a complete transcript as long as what they do have is strongly academic. Add that to the attractiveness of the “hook” that they develop (athletics, music, whatever) by not being in school all day and they are probably fine for college. If they do well on the SAT then it’s a no-brainer.

    I look at it as a winning proposition: We still run the show and pursue our goals but now I don’t have to be responsible for math and writing for my 15-year-old.

  8. LIsa
    LIsa says:

    I would assume there will be no jobs in academia for paleontologists. So this plan concerns me. Also academia is a difficult environment for aspies because it is full of people with challenged social skills thus not enough people to carry the ball in ensuring good communications and relations. It leads to major dysfunction at all levels of administration and within departments.Then there is the affirmative action issue which makes it impossible to fire people who really need to be let go. Also one really has to ask if universities will exist at all in 20 years, and whether a country that is 20 years past peak oil will really be spending any effort at all on paleontology.

    How about accounting? I think it is problematic to choose one’s career based upon what one finds interesting. I’m speaking from experience here, I’ve got higher ed degrees I’m not using. Sometimes it’s best to keep one’s interests as hobbies, and that will only become more so as resources become increasingly limited.

    • cheddar
      cheddar says:

      “… academia is a difficult environment for aspies because it is full of people with challenged social skills thus not enough people to carry the ball in ensuring good communications and relations. It leads to major dysfunction at all levels of administration and within departments.”

      I thought the usual advice was that academia was a great place for aspies for the reason you mention — faculty meetings are dominated by quirky and sometimes dysfunctional people and it would be hard to argue that another quirky person couldn’t find a home there.l

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Agreed, it can go both ways. But if someone can’t cope with a lot of chaos and dysfunction, due to sensory or anxiety issues, then academia can be quite difficult, particularly for faculty. The leaders have little power and everyone wants their own kingdom and many are quirky so it can lead to a chaotic environment. The dysfunction is at all levels. I worked successfully in jobs as a coordinator and writer, under senior level faculty who managed all the politics and difficult issues. But I now love being an entrepreneur.

  9. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    A couple things stand out for me:
    “Iris Even…She deals with totally fascinating families – kids who are recording artists, actors, athletes, and models.” Models? What is so fascinating about that? I can’t think of anything more un-fascinating.

    “For now I feel secure that I can get him to his goal, a Phd in paleontology. But if I can’t, I know I need a new plan in eighth grade.”

    What makes you think you will figure out whether you can or can’t by eighth grade…what if you feel secure through say 10th grade, then realize you can’t? And, where does the idea come from that it’s YOU that needs to be getting your child to his goal? Doesn’t the child (moving toward being an adult) need to get himself toward this? Do people really think of what PhD their kid is going to have when their kids are still this young? I mean, I am making sure my daughter is exposed to lots of STEM stuff, and I tend to push science, but in a very general sense…of course, she is still much younger than PT’s son.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Yeah, but most people aren’t crazy.

      Paleontology is a good and typical fascination for a little boy. Homeschooling means he has plenty of time to watch documentaries on netflix and play with toy dinosaurs. But as many people here have pointed out, a PhD in paleontology 20 years from now might be a very expensive hobby. Is there a noticeable line between persevering and perseverating?

      My 9 year old son is interested in math, science, and technology. Maybe he’ll have a career in that area 20 years from now. But if he does it’ll probably be in a specialty that doesn’t even exist yet.

      Or maybe he’ll end up a child care worker. Or a landscaper or mason. Or a doctor. I don’t care much as long as he isn’t an indebted liberal arts BA working food service.

      Some kind of plan is a good thing. But it’s somewhat silly to think that one’s elementary school plans are entirely relevant and will survive contact with the future. A flexible plan is the best idea. Elementary school is for reading, writing, and arithmetic, in order to give one the skills to pursue more specific interests later on. My career post-graduate school would never have occurred to me at all before college.

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        Curious, Do you advocate for elementary schooling? My MIL is totally freaked out that my son is not in school learning reading writing arithmetic. He was in two different public schools (one rigorous common core 5 worksheets a day writing, another abusive teacher with confusing class rules). He was learning fast but in a horrible environment both times. Now he’s unschooling and playing and free, which is still scary for me, but fun for him! (He’s 6 btw)

        This is excellent:
        Or maybe he’ll end up a child care worker. Or a landscaper or mason. Or a doctor. I don’t care much as long as he isn’t an indebted liberal arts BA working food service.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          There is absolutely no evidence that kids need to learn reading, writing or artithmetic at age six. Ask your mother-in-law to find some data that says kids need to start learning it at that point. The only data about what kids absolutely need to be doing at age six is playing.


          • Joy
            Joy says:

            If you need data on why you should wait until about age 10 to start academics you can look at Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book “Better Late Than Early.” They have a website too, I think it’s the Moore Foundation.

          • karelys
            karelys says:

            Most people who will rudely (lacking self awareness and how they hurt others) about things like your choices of education most likely won’t care to go out there and find data. They will pick and choose whatever confirms their bias.

            People who are scared of something new but still respectful and curious will say “well, it makes me uncomfortable but tell me more…why are you doing that? how is it working for you guys?”

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Jessica, I’d say that if you want to skip any one phase in schooling, elementary schooling would be the best one to pick.

          I think kids should all learn reading, writing, and arithmetic before middle school. My son does these things a lot as part of his 4th grade at home. I am not an unschooler; I make him do stuff. But I don’t make him do just the stuff I want all day and I don’t have a preconceived notion of what stuff he should be doing each month. He moves along fine, and at a greater speed than if he were in school.

          From my experience these past three years, I think the three Rs are really not hard at all to accomplish at home, and most of the difficulty at school comes from forcing the kids to all learn the same little parts of everything in the same order and at the same times, regardless of how ready the kids are. School becomes more crowd control with unhappy children than a happy easy learning environment as the kids are trained up in going along to get along and the memorize-regurgitate-forget cycle of public schooling. The three Rs seem difficult to school teachers because they make them difficult through their process. You could accomplish the same things in very little time at home, in part because you can recognize when your kids are ready to do things or not and do things at the appropriate time and speed.

          I agree entirely with PT that trying to push reading on kindergartners and first graders is a terrible waste of your time and theirs. Unless they have a specific disability, if and when they want to read they will. They probably won’t want to read unless you do. So the best thing you can do to encourage literacy is read books yourself. Read books to yourself and out loud to them. Get them good books. Worksheets are not necessary. My son loved graphic novels like Amulet and Dragonbreath at five and six, and just read a three hundred page YA novel cover to cover in four days.

          School math can be learned incredibly easily if they do it when they want to and are ready. At five and six school math is just repetition of the same simple ideas again and again as more and more of them get it. Those who get it first just have to sit there as all the rest get it. You can easily be a couple years ahead in a couple hours a week. The dirty secret of math is that it gets more fun once you get past arithmetic.

          Writing can be hard because there’s so much involved at the same time. When I realized that handwriting was getting in the way of my son’s thinking, we took a year off of writing and he worked on typing instead. Now he types very fast and can write four-paragraph essays with ease.

          No, the three Rs is not a good reason to send your kid to elementary school; it’s the least good reason to send your kids to school.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            Aren’t y’all’s kids themselves CURIOUS about reading, writing and math? These are not things I had to force on my (traditionally schooled but only in first grade) kid at all. I basically taught her to read before she went to school because she was interested in reading…she asks us math questions all the time and so we have conversations about adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, over real-life things…etc etc etc. I’d be worried if a 5 or 6 year old did not ask intellectually curious questions about math, was not interested in being able to read books or write. My kid liked to make books (i.e., write, for what it was worth at that age) since she was like 3….these seemingly “academic” things are all part of her play repertoire… so…what are we talking about when we say “play”?

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Gretchen, I think you have a misconception about there being a difference between you working on the three Rs with your kids and us working on the three Rs with our kids. Yes, our kids are CURIOUS about these things. Yes, we talk about math, and reading, etc. and yes they ask questions. In many cases it’s the inconvenience of this curiosity that led us to homeschool. So we help our kids to read, teach them math, feed them books, and tell them it’s time to practice their instruments. But you want to call this “academic topics entering into your play repertoire” in your case and “forcing” in our case, and that’s a spurious distinction.

            This does not characterize the difference between what you are doing and what we are doing. The difference is that in my family my kids or I decide to do things and in your family you pay someone else to make these decisions for you.

            I don’t use schools to take up most of my kids’ waking hours with their decisions. Being together with my kids all day long and solely responsible for their education means that frequently I am the one who decides it’s time to do some math, reading, writing, or music. I even pick the documentaries some times! You use school teachers to decide to do things all day long, and what’s left over for you after school and homework you define as “play time” so you can say you don’t do any forcing in that time. Fair enough; outside three meals a day, two desserts, and snacks in between, I don’t do any eating.

            “Making your kids do stuff” is what you’d likely do if you were with your kids all day long and you didn’t want to just sit back and ignore them as they played video games or dug holes in the yard all day. You could express the same concept as “keeping a schedule” or “having goals.” My kids are not much different from me. If I don’t have a schedule or goals or make conscious decisions about my activities, I’m likely to spend half the day reading and responding to nonsense on the internet.

            I just told my son to play the Dancla slower so he can work harder on the parts he’s still not getting right. Big forcey forcer that I am, I’m going to force him to stop and eat lunch in a half-hour. Then I’ll force the baby girl to take a nap while he reads a book. Will the forcing never stop?

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            I think you’re misunderstanding my point. My argument against unschooling/homeschooling would almost always be that you’re not “forcing” enough…oh well…

            But I think that my description of what traditionally schooled kid does at home matches a lot of what homeschoolers might do…just that my kid goes to school TOO. So in some ways I was agreeing that the 3 Rs is the least of reasons to send a kid to elementary school…

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            One thing I’ll add, though, is the idea of “working on” at home…which is kind of why I dig the school as school and home as home… you say “you working on the three Rs with your kids and us working on the three Rs with our kids” when we did it at home it wasn’t really perceived as “working on” it was part of daily life and conversation, almost occurring by osmosis so to speak, she sees us reading, she sees book, she’s curious and wants to read them too and make her own, her mind thinks through problems with dividing materials or food or whatever among people or characters as part of her play and there is the math… I do think that the formal, school side is important as far as being able to fit in to society, even if society is lame and sucks, people still have to be able to toe that line… I guess I was just observing that for some kids, the things some people consider “academics” ARE their play.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            People who think that writing is not something that needs to be worked at will never be good writers.

            It’s all a matter of personal preference. You are happy just having playful discussions with your daughter about the work she does elsewhere, secure in the knowledge that the part you find unpleasant is taken care of by someone else. I prefer to be involved in the work, because I love it and I can share my love for work with my children.

            Your daughter is very young, barely even school-age. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say on the matter once she starts having significant homework.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        Well, “Commenter” … again you miss the point. Just because something is happening naturally doesn’t mean it’s “playful” (or at least not in the pejorative sense you seem to use that word) and what is wrong with learning being “playful”? I think combining involved parenting with good public schooling is a good choice…I think many of the comments here reflect some really dangerous thinking and gambling with children’s futures… You seem to have some sort of chip on your shoulder about the whole thing, so I guess I’ll just leave it at that.

        • commenter
          commenter says:

          Gretchen, you come here and sling insulting presumptions, pejorative adjectives, and arguments of your superiority at people and then get in a snit when somebody points out your inconsistencies.

          Perhaps you might consider, as so many here have, whether you are participating in good faith with an unusually antagonistic learning style or just working off some aggression on a group of people you don’t know and won’t have to answer to later. I am one of the few commenters here who even engages with you at this point because I want to think the best of you.

          It is surely nice for you to limit your educational interaction with your daughter to the playful times. You seem upset to think this is what the “dangerous” unschoolers do all day. You try to assert that you are better than them because your girl also goes to school to do the work part. And then you get upset again when I point out that homeschoolers like me also do the work part, and want to argue that you’re better than us because you just play. You want to have your cake and eat it too and be nasty about it either way.

          This doesn’t seem like a reasoned argument at all. Before you worry about the mote in my eye, take care of the beam in yours.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            You strike me as excessively defensive, Commenter…I don’t see where I am coming off as saying I am better than anybody here…quite the reverse…I’m not “involved” enough in my kid’s education because I don’t homeschool…I was observing that kids learn reading and math at the elementary school levee through playing and interaction with their family, basically agreeing that elementary might be a better place to homeschool than older kids…

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Why do you think models are unfascinating?

      I find models to be really compelling.

      It’s crazy to think how much more engaged a viewer is when looking at a photo of a human interacting with a product than a photo of the product by itself.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        You’re speaking to the utility of the person as a prop, not the person themselves. A model *might* be a fascinating person, it would depend, the act of modeling, or just modeling, doesn’t, itself make for a fascinating person…

        • Jessica
          Jessica says:

          Modeling is not, at all, an easy or simple career. It’s demanding, grueling, and takes extreme persistence.

          You can replace “modeling’ with any other profession in your last sentence…

          it would depend, the act of modeling, or just modeling, doesn’t, itself make for a fascinating person…

          it would depend, the act of engineering, or just engineering, doesn’t, itself make for a fascinating person…

          it would depend, the act of accounting, or just accounting, doesn’t, itself make for a fascinating person…

          That said, I’m not sure why you are generalizing and demeaning models, that you personally pointed out, as being uninteresting.

          Do you personally know any models? Doesn’t seem like you do….

  10. Jay Cross
    Jay Cross says:

    I want to point out a convenient, inexpensive way for any homeschooling parent to prove their kid is college material.

    Have them take a CLEP test. It’s an $80 test with about 200 questions in a specific subject: English, Psych 101, whatever. Pass and you get three college credits before you leave the testing center.

    They are created by College Board, the same company that makes the SATs.

    (I know, I know: standardized testing, the horror. Don’t freak out.)

    CLEP tests are challenging. In fact, I doubt whether most “traditional” college students could pass one if they were forced to. But they are doable if you study properly, and they serve as irrefutable evidence that your child is college material.

    I would encourage any homeschool parent interested in college to look into this.

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      I agree CLEPs can be a good option for some students, but it is important to understand the limitations. Selective schools aren’t impressed with CLEPs. They do not carry weight for admissions. They consider SAT subject tests or APs more the standard. Many colleges don’t accept CLEP credits at all or won’t give credits for courses that are required. The colleges that will be pleased with CLEPs are already typically not very hard to get into anyway. CLEPs can be good for some students in some situations, but like anything else, not a one size fits all by a long shot.

      • Jay Cross
        Jay Cross says:


        CLEP is accepted in part or in full by 2,900 schools, including many that are selective. Wake Forest is a great example. I searched their website and found a 329 page PDF file with the following message buried deep inside:

        “Under certain conditions, especially well-prepared applicants may be granted limited college credit through the subject tests of the College Level Examination Program. Such credit may be assigned with the approval of the department concerned or the dean of business.”

        Here’s what that opaque statement really means:

        “If you’re smart enough to ask us the right questions and persistent enough to jump through some hoops, you can shave tens of thousands of dollars off your education here at Wake Forest. Seriously — just ask, and you’ll be shocked at this obvious yet widely ignored opportunity. See you in September!”

        • Barbara
          Barbara says:

          My thought is that students, including homeschoolers, are trying to get the best value for their time and money. For most students looking at selective schools CLEPs offer little. They simply don’t carry the weight of APs or SAT subject tests in selective admissions. Selective colleges are looking for students to demonstrate they’ve sought out challenge and have had rigorous study. CLEP doesn’t demonstrate that standard of rigor because it is largely viewed as a remedial test designed to help adult learners.

          Fortunately for students there doesn’t need to be guesswork about what will lead to credit. Colleges publish very clear lists of what, if any, credits will provided for particular scores on tests. These policies are available on college websites or, even easier, students can find all the policies together on the College Board website. What you do is just put in the college name, look at the applying tab, and the tests are easily listed. This is a simple and easy way to figure out if CLEP will make sense for your student’s goals. Best of luck to all with high school planning!

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          This is a great piece of info! I’ll look more into it. My sister moved here from Mexico and has a ways to go to overcome the language barrier. In the meantime I’m looking for ways to help her show that she’s college educated so that she won’t have to start from zero.

  11. Jay Cross
    Jay Cross says:

    Also, for anyone curious about the GED option Penelope suggested in this post, I am living proof that it works.

    I earned my GED after dropping out of high school and actually loved it. I remember finishing my test each of the three nights and thinking “this is it? why didn’t I leave sooner?”

    If you’re worried a respectable college wont accept your child with a GED, here’s what to do. Have them spend one semester at a community college. (I would recommend longer in order to save money, but one is all you need.)

    Once you have straight A’s on a college transcript nobody cares about high school anymore. You have proven yourself at the next level.

    As someone who left high school with a GPA below one, it was remarkable to get recruiting letters from Cornell after two or three semesters at a community college.

    Consider the GED option. It doesn’t close any doors whatsoever and frequently opens doors you never considered.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      Oh my gosh Jay! This is exactly what I have been thinking regarding my nephew. If you know you are going to drop out of high school, why not do it in the ninth grade? Why torture the kid with 10th, 11th etc, when in the end everyone knows he will take the GED? Then at least those years could be filled with something he likes. If you are a high school drop-out, it makes no difference if you dropped out in ninth grade, or eleventh, right?

      Two caveats that come to mind though, one is that just this January of 2014, the GED has changed. My mother, who is a GED teacher (albeit in prison) has stated she thinks none of her student will ever pass the GED again. Maybe.

      Second, intentionally dropping out and getting a GED seems to make some college absolutely necessary. Would you agree? Believing a kid that drops out of high school is going to have the wherewithal to go to college… its a leap of faith that may be too risky.

      • Jay Cross
        Jay Cross says:


        We’re speaking the same language about dropping out early. My parents forced me to stay for three years before I finally turned 16 and invoked my legal right to leave. I resented it throughout.

        Regarding changes, I am not aware of what specifically is different about 2014’s test, but if it’s anything like the test I took in 2004 I don’t see why a smart and motivated teenager couldn’t pass it. I seemed to always have a natural aptitude for test-taking. I loved the high stakes and competition. But from a purely intellectual standpoint, I don’t think it’s beyond one’s grasp.

        Finally, no, I don’t see the GED as making college necessary. Not at all. I believe in creating options, which is what my GED represented at the time.

        I would flip your analysis on its head: any kid with the drive and determination to test out of high school in three nights is going to be just fine in this world, including but not limited to being able to handle college.

        Thoughts? :)

        • Jennifa
          Jennifa says:

          Honestly I think it is difficult to judge whether a 14 year-old has drive and determination, if a youngster definitely has it, it is easy to spot. But judging a kid who can only grunt answers to questions, and sits in his room all night killing zombies…..there is no evidence so far that reveals any drive or determination.

          He is third in a line of drop-outs, his two older cousins, now 28 and 20, dropped out. The results so far are not impressive, no, not impressive in the least.

          I don’t know. I have trouble applying different rules to different people, but as uncomfortable as it is, it may be necessary.

          • Jay Cross
            Jay Cross says:

            Totally valid concern, Jen. I would only add one crucial thing:

            Sometimes a kid’s drives are seen as pointless or impractical and therefore ignored.

            I was constantly reading as a kid. I would read anything: brochures, junk mail (I loved studying the ads), my cousin’s Babysitter’s Club books, National Geographic, anything that was around. My parents didn’t regard that as anything more than an idle interest. It wasn’t going to get me a great job someday, so to them, it was just a pointless distraction from getting good grades.

            Maybe your nephew’s love of video games will spawn something bigger in his future. There’s no guarantee. But there’s no guarantee associated with graduating from high school either. If he clearly hates it, what’s the worst that could happen from trying something else?

          • Jennifa
            Jennifa says:

            We ran out of ‘reply’ buttons Jay, so I am replying to myself.

            But you are so right about the video games, it has potential, I have collected information on the computer club at school, intending to give it to him this weekend. But who knows? For me now, it is worth trying to lovingly shove him in that direction! :)

            As far as what is the worst that can happen…oh dear, I have seen the worst that can happen. It is a life-time of debt, running, evading, blaming others for your struggles, and hating ‘rich’ people. Oh yeah, and health problems and being a burden to your family. If your lucky it will not involve too many cockroaches, friends that steal from you, and sleeping out in the rain.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            “…a kid who can only grunt answers to questions, and sits in his room all night killing zombies…” this is not a healthy kid…just in case anyone is unsure

  12. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    It is great to find out you have time before you really need to worry about it. In my experience working with homeschoolers (including who enroll in highly selective colleges) most don’t follow such rigid approaches. For example, the linked school requires parents to document time for every course every week. That’s not something most homeschoolers are going to need or want to do. Fortunately there are a lot of ways homeschoolers can approach high school and it doesn’t have to be through enrollment in a structured program.

  13. Iris
    Iris says:

    I would like to clarify the schooling documentation referenced by Barbara. The School for Young Performers does not require parents to document time for every course each week. SYP requires the TEACHERS, who are paid employees of the school, to document sessions, topics covered, comments, etc every week via an academic report. These reports are sent to me, and, after they are edited and archived for school/state records, they are emailed to the parents of the student. It is the school’s job to keep track of the hours, curricular benchmarks, discrepancies, deficiencies, etc. Moreover, our families are highly involved in course selection and, more often than not, ask for new and challenging classes.

    Another commenter mentioned CLEP tests, which are great. I also recommend SAT II Subject Exams and, if possible, AP Tests. With strong scores, these demonstrate a firm grasp of the subject matter and an understanding of standardized testing.

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      Thank you for the clarification Iris! I noticed that parents receive notice of how much time students put into each course each week. Just curious the time logging done through time on task on the computer or do students record time and turn that in? It is always interesting to see how teens move from less to more structure and the way that process works.
      Best wishes!

      • Iris
        Iris says:

        Hi Barbara,

        Our students meet one-on-one with teachers; none of our courses are done online. With private families, the instructors come to the students’ homes for sessions; with recording artists, dancers, etc, the classes might be at home, at a studio, at a competition site or while traveling (yes, we have teachers that actually travel with pupils!). This is, in essence, 100% customized education under the auspices of a school.

        With best regards,

    • Katie
      Katie says:

      Iris, I’ve been looking at your school’s website for a couple of years now. I have a dancing homeschooler and we are talking about career paths and high school a lot lately. What I haven’t been able to find is any information on tuition, just that it “varies widely.” Can you tell me what tuition is based on?

      • iris
        iris says:

        Hi Katie,

        The tuition for The School for Young Performers varies because of a number of factors:
        1. school level (elementary, middle, or high school)
        2. type of school environment (in-home, consistent travel, or professional demands)
        3. level of study (regular vs honors/AP courses)

        The annual enrollment fee and teaching fees per hour are set rates; however, the number of hours per week fluctuates from family to family. When possible and necessary, we have found ways of making slight hourly rate reductions to meet a family’s budget. SYP has done this for a number of focused dancers and ice skaters; in these cases, yearly costs are comparable to NYC private school tuition ($35-45K/annual). Traveling families and recording artists, which require on-call teachers and crazy scheduling, end up with a much higher tuition bill. It is, though, ALWAYS outlined in the contract. There are NO hidden costs.

        If interested, please email me directly at iris@schoolforyoungperformers.org.

        With best wishes to you and your amazing dancer,

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I wonder what building an academic record looks like in 5-10 years. Learning and testing methods are constantly evolving in all age ranges. I recently read this article at Inside Higher Ed ( http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/02/19/study-finds-little-difference-academic-success-students-who-do-and-dont-submit-sat ) on a study comparing students who do and don’t submit SAT or ACT scores at colleges that don’t require these tests. Virtually no difference was found in the academic performance (measured in grades or graduation rates) of the students. The following was excerpted from the article – “The study — involving 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities of varying types — found that high school grades do predict student success. And this extends to those who do better or worse than expected on standardized exams. So those students with low high school grades but high test scores generally receive low college grades, while those with high grades in high school, but low test scores, generally receive high grades in college.”
    Learning how to learn and doing your best to master the material and enjoy it at the same time seems to be a worthy goal. If a student is able to do that, then they’ll be able to stay engaged and work through obstacles in their path. One of my nieces in college recently finished up her required physics courses on her way to an engineering degree. She told me it was hard for her because the instructor sucked. So I asked her how she was able to get a good grade. She said she had to rely on the textbook and course materials. I think all of us have been in that situation. It’s the motivation and ability to learn under less than desirable circumstances that will set someone apart from other people in an academic environment. I think academics are important and the way for the child to be successful academically is through their character development. Their character development is more often than not done outside the classroom or academic environment.

  15. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I had a conversation with my brother today. He dropped out of high school. The move from Mexico to the US was brutal for us all. I did great in the school environment but it was a killer for him.
    He is working on his GED and the program is helping all the kids get placed in jobs. So he had to take a CPR class and was so fascinated and telling us how the heart’s four chambers and valves work and how we all should stay away from energy drinks, etc.
    I was so happy to see him so absorbed by the amazing human body. This kid who could not live one day through school is essentially giving us a colleges class on the human body. Because he was finally interested. Because it applied to his life. Because he was there by choice. Because it meant his job.

    Oh I wanted to cry. Seriously.

    I love my brother. I think he’s so smart, caring, and fantastic.

    This conversation cemented even more my decision to unschool. I don’t want to wait until my kid’s self esteem has been through the grinder for him to start finding out what he’s all about and to start taking charge of his education.

Comments are closed.