This is a picture of my son on his first day of school after we moved to the farm. I like looking at old pictures of the boys because I have the feeling I had at the time of the picture. And the feeling I have is sort of a breathlessness. Which is what I felt after I worked so hard to get him to school, with what he needs for school, at the right time for school, and then he is gone…

I look at this picture and I can’t believe that I didn’t start homeschooling sooner. I missed so much time with him. One of the reasons I write this blog is because I can’t make up for the time I missed, sending my kids away every day. But I can help another family avoid doing the same thing that I did.

And you guys do that with me. Thank you.



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14 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    I really appreciate the time and thought that you put into this blog. It has definitely helped me to feel more relaxed about unschooling. I was reading unschooling books while pregnant and still kind of freaked out at the thought of trusting my daughter to get what she needs as she needs it. Actually, I still do on occasion, but I’m getting better about. My daughter is the same age as Z, so I feel I am kind of in the same mode.

    Oh how I recognize the slobber upon the shirt Y is wearing. We never did find a suitable chewy before she outgrew the habit.

    The first unschooling books that I read were Nancy Wallace’s Better Than School and Child’s Work: Taking Children’s Choices Seriously. I am currently reading the updated version of Real Lives eleven teenagers who don’t go to school tell their own stories edited by Grace Llewellyn. And I am awaiting her The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. And reading always unschooled Idzie Desmarais’s blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. (Makes me think of YMKAS.)

  2. Jill
    Jill says:

    Penelope did you stay home with your kids when they were babies and toddlers? I did, though I sent them off to school in kindergarten like most people. Your blog has always helped me feeler better about my choice to stay home with them, and give up a big career track. I liked your other blog so much that I follow this one. And I am really interested in education. In fact I am doing my b.ed part time.
    I agree with so much of what you say. The crazy rush out the door in the morning and the packing of lunches and bags and parking at the school is so stressful and I have had some of my worst moments with my kids at these times. I too was a top top student but felt like my education wasn’t worth much in the end when I found myself in a corporate career that didn’t suit me at all and I was too far along and in too much debt to change it. Alas, I get the whole homeschooling thing, but I don’t do it. School seems to be where my kids need to be and they seem to really enjoy it. I too loved my education, even if it didn’t serve me that well in the end. So I try to unschool while they go to school. We have unstructured after school time and I don’t put an emphasis on homework or grades at all. And I am home all summer with my three kids. So do you think we can have kids in school in an unschooly way?

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      Not that you asked me, but…

      A while back I probably would have said that yes you can unschool part-time. But now I really don’t think that it is possible. To me, unschooling requires a complete paradigm shift that requires unlearning everything that made school “school.” And that simply can’t happen with even one foot still in the system.

      Kids still get ranked and compared and judged and ordered around and lack even basic autonomy such as determining when they should eat or go to the bathroom. Knowledge still has a gatekeeper. These things are completely at odds to the unschooling philosophy which requires trust in the child to determine what will best help the child become the best version of who THEY want to be. It can be challenging even when one completely buys into the theory. If one is also backing a contrary way of being, I’m not sure how that could work.

      That said, I think that any unschooly attitudes you can muster to help mitigate the schooly mindset probably can’t hurt!

    • mh
      mh says:

      It sounds like you have a good base to work from. Unschooling part time, school part time? I would have said no, but now I think it depends.

      1) how old are your kids? Younger would be easier.
      2) can you defend them from homework assignments and stick to your guns against bullying teachers/contemptuous school employees?
      3) are your kids interests different enough from the mainstream that they are already considered “odd” at school?
      4) alternately to #3, are your kids’ interests naturally aligned with school subjects and pacing (a natural writer, math talent that tracks with the class and doesn’t want to go faster, tolerates worksheets and busywork, easygoing and like able?)
      5) are you relatively immune to criticism and guilt trips? Because teachers will do anything to secure your child’s compliance.

      I think a motivated parent can do just about anything. Decide what you want and see how it all plays out. I’d be interested to hear how it goes.

      • Amy A
        Amy A says:

        mh, You came up with a good list of criteria for putting one’s unschooler in school. Heck yes, to everything on your list–except #1, I disagree.

        About this:
        “1) how old are your kids? Younger would be easier.”

        I don’t think that younger is better. I think younger is very vulnerable, easier-influenced, more impressionable, and more susceptible to the conditioning that takes place in school.

        YMKAS has shared about her young child not being able to communicate the abuse she experienced in school until a few years later, after being out of the system (if she wasn’t taken out of the system, who knows if she would been able to identify what was wrong because it is so normalized in school and mainstream society).

        My older kid is considering going to the public high school for the experience and to take some pressure off (societal, her other parent, structuring her own studies, etc.). I feel like she is old enough and mature enough, self-aware, sure of her values, has self-respect, knows what her objectives would be for being there, able to communicate about things she encounters which are contrary to her and/or my values, etc. She could take the topics covered in school and use them as launching pads on her own time, in which ever direction she chooses.

        (She is also my kid who chose, on her own, to try 2nd grade at the public school; she did it for a year and went back to homeschooling. I remember asking her, “So, have you meet any friends in school?” She said, “Mom. I’m not there to meet friends.” She was there for studying, the curriculum and classes. I don’t think she’s ever been the impressionable type, to my relief, and is quite responsible; plus, I’ve always been quite open and clear about my advocacy around and with my kids.)

        Another point about younger unschoolers in school: I absolutely couldn’t stand all the crap I had to do as a parent for the school. You pointed to this on your list. I think this is hardly an issue in the upper grades of public school.

  3. jessica
    jessica says:

    I don’t really consider myself an activist about homeschooling, but I don’t have a blog so…. :)

    We had a pretty great day today. My kid met up with his friends and then went to an hour lego building class. I took the little one to an interactive puppet/music show. Then we walked around and grabbed lunch, stopped for a new jumprope, had a nap, went out to the parks and met up with more friends for use of the jumprope (boys love tug-of-war…who knew ;) and the fellow moms had a good nostalgic time holding the rope with all the kids jumping in between. We then ended the day with another set of friends for an impromptu soccer match on the green nearby. Sometimes things get so busy running around with kids in the city that I forget to reflect on the hustle and bustle of life. This blog helps me do that :)

  4. mh
    mh says:

    Yes, homeschooling makes you an activist. I’m usually a quiet activist. Mostly nodding and looking interested and nodding while people complain about their children’s school.

    I could tell them that homeschool frees you from the school schedule, the after-school demands, the no family time, the unreasonable wasting of time.

    I could tell them that homeschool leads to a better home life.

    I could tell them that, if I had known I would be homeschooling and how much better it would be,I’d have had two or three more kids.

    I could tell them about scholastic awards, community involvement, successes achieved.

    I could tell them about community mentorship have encountered, relationships developed, partnerships.

    Many people would rather tell me why I’m wrong. I’m ok with that. Just nod.

    People will see what they want to see.

  5. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    He looks a little concerned, though that may just be squinting into the sun behind you.

    I still have the pictures of my son on his first day of school too, all stamped 9/13/2009. He barely fills out his white uniform shirt, leans over under the weight of his backpack – the same one he uses today. It’s a series, with a range of expressions the same as those he makes today; the thing that’s changed the least about him is his face. Pride, hope, wonder, confusion, happiness, resolve, mischief…

    In front of him at the playground, I see the angry face of the boy who made his year and a half a living hell, and the faces of the parents who expressed shallow sympathy but did nothing. The face of the teacher who tried to help and got run out of the district by the principal who did nothing but lie, the faces of the teachers who looked the other way because they know how this works.

    It took years to get him back to who he is, a big, strong, brave, compassionate, confidant boy.

    I don’t think the school (or all schools) are 100% terrible. I just think they’re mostly sufficiently on the edge that it doesn’t take much to push them over. I do honestly wish I’d never sent my boy to school, but there’s no way to know then what I know now.

    Here’s the best advice I can give to parents considering homeschooling: if you and your kids have an awesome time together all summer, it doesn’t have to stop in September.

    We didn’t have that, of course. In terms of the time I missed, I missed far more before he went to school; I worked 60 hours a week, half of it out of the country. It was really only after he went to school and I dropped back on the hours that I began to know my son. The summer before he went to school, he was in daycare 11 hours a day. Yes, now I know how screwed up that was.

    I spend so much more time with my daughter at this age than I ever did with my son. I know her better, and know how different she is from him. Energetic, insatiable, defiant, headstrong, incredible social skills… I don’t know what challenges her childhood will hold for her, but they won’t be the same as his.

  6. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    My sister homeschooled her two girls from the very beginning, and through a good portion of elementary school. Now both are in middle/high school and doing so amazing, sometimes I can hardly believe I am related to them.

    For what it is worth, I believe their early homeschooling gave them such a good base, nothing could deter them now. Now they love school, but seem very in control of themselves, and their relationship with school and all that goes with it.

    My sister was an early childhood ed major, and always said you really “only have until they are 12”. It seems making the most of those 0-12 years is pretty important.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What a sweet post and such a cute picture!

    My daughter’s school experience was so brief, she quit Kindergarten, but the pictures are pretty sad to look at still. They show the face of a child who thought school was stupid. She refused to smile when I was taking her picture. Most kids on their first day are sad to be separating from their parents, or they are excited or nervous. Not her… she was kind of angry about the situation.

    Every so often I will take a peak at her baby clothes that I decided to keep for nostalgia, only a few outfits, like the cute striped pj’s she wore home from the hospital…and when I do that it makes my heart hurt.

  8. Marty McIntyre
    Marty McIntyre says:

    Two things I never wanted to do for a career; be a nurse or a teacher, and yet I ended up homeschooling my sons. My youngest I homeschooled til he started high school. Being home for all of that was the bedrock of our relationship. Nothing can substitute for being there, in the same room.

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