This is a photo from the photographer who was at our house yesterday. Not that having a photographer at the house is unusual—we have one here every so often—but this one, Paulius Musteikis, was different. He was sent by a magazine publisher the first time, but he came back because I asked him to. Most photographers come from New York or Los Angeles, but he’s from Madison. So close!

So as we got to talking, I learned that today was the first day of homeschooling for his eleven-year-old son.

I congratulated him and offered for his son to come to the farm and visit any time. But also I asked the question I love to ask homeschoolers: “What was the final straw? What happened that made you think it’s insane to keep going to school.”

Paulius told me about one Sunday he was playing in the snow with his son. They brought tools to the playground and started chopping ice into blocks. It was getting dark but his son wanted to stay late, in the dark, and finish.

Paulius suggested they do just the chopping and then Monday, at recess, all the school kids could all work together to build something.

His son said they can’t do that because they’re not allowed to touch the snow.

That’s right. We live in Wisconsin and kids are not allowed to touch the snow during school recess.

Paulius said he had no idea playground rules were like that, and the more he asked, the more he learned how little his son was allowed to do at recess. On top of that, his son was becoming more and more checked out during the school day, to the point that teachers were calling conferences.

His final straw was the  realization that his son got no time to play, and his son was not able to focus. The combination was too much.

A pattern I notice is when parents take their kids out of school and start homeschooling, they have pretty much no idea how to homeschool but they don’t think they could do worse than what the school is doing.

I had that sense when my son tested two grades ahead in math and reading and the school said they had no obligation to teach him at his level. Is that legal? I’m not even sure, but I was sick of fighting legal battles for my other son’s IEP, and I knew I didn’t want to send my son to teachers who were arguing with me over whether they had to teach him anything.

I tried to make plans when I started homeschooling, but I realized quickly that the plans were only to make me feel better, to give me the ability to point to what I was accomplishing. Because really, those plans did not benefit my sons. They didn’t need my plans, they needed respect and freedom to craft their own plans.

That’s the hardest part about homeschooling, to give up the idea that your kids need to be told what to be interested in. Most parents figure that out in stages.

Stage one: parents figure out that their vision for their child’s education is not happening because their child is not thriving.

Stage two: parents figure out that they are working too hard at homeschooling because kids can make their own path.

Stage three: parents leave their kids alone.

This last stage is when parents become evangelists for homeschooling. Because the right goal is crystal clear by then. But those first two stages are so so hard, that it looks, from the outside, like homeshooling is the hardest path a parent can choose.

That’s why the stories that force parents down that path are so fun to hear.