High school’s not too late to start homeschooling

This is an email I received recently:

I love reading your posts. You have some frank, insightful ideas. My daughters have enjoyed all of their education in Montessori schools which we have all loved. They have had a lot of control over what they learn and how they learn it with no homework or tests which is important to me.

My oldest is an 8th grader this year and wants to go to public high school next year. She is convinced she wants to go to a bigger school to make more friends (and probably boys). I don’t like this idea on so many levels but I’m torn. Is she old enough to decide how she spends her days? Even though she has no idea what she is really talking about.

I would like to homeschool for high school. I have reservations though. Most homeschoolers around us are Christian conservatives and are serious school-at-home types. We would not fit into that. I’m not sure how she would make friends her age which is her biggest fear.

And–sort of related–she wishes to be a dolphin trainer. I’ve found an intense training school in Florida she could go to at 18 for 9 months. Animals have always been her passion and she definitely has a gift with them. She has been volunteering at an animal shelter since she was 9. Do we encourage this as a career plan even though the average salary is 18-20 k?

Lastly , it isn’t easy to find such a great supportive group as you have for homeschooling older kids. Do you know of any great blogs written from that perspective?

This father brings up a lot of interesting issues, and I thought we could all answer his questions. But, since it’s my blog, I’ll go first.

Kids can’t choose when they don’t understand both options.
I don’t think an eighth grader can necessarily decide not to homeschool. All the kid has ever known is school, and that’s probably true of the parents as well. So you are asking kids to choose between the known and the unknown; something has to be absolutely scathingly terrible for someone to choose the unknown.

Some of the kids who most need to get out of school are the kids who like it the most: The kids who are great at school. Or the kids who love to socialize. Maybe the kids who love sports. These are the kids who most need to get out of school, but they don’t know an alternative, so how can you expect them to come up with one?

Research tells us that high school is terrible for kids
In an article publishing in New York magazine, Jennifer Senior discusses a wide body of research to show that high school is infantalizing and demoralizing for teens.There is no reason that kids cannot choose what to read or think or do with themselves. They are old enough to fight in a way. They are old enough to drive. They are too old to be in our school system. You could get a Ph.D in child development if you read every primary source in Jennifer Senior’s article.

It’s Complicated is a great book by Principal Researcher at Microsoft and Visiting Professor at New York University danah boyd. The book is a phenomenal compendium of data to show that high schoolers crave time away from their parents to do what every teen since the dawn of time has done:  separate themselves from the adults who protected them. But boyd finds that while technology assists kids in growing up in normal, healthy ways, school holds the kids back and drives them (literally) crazy.

The best part of danah boyd’s book is the review area on her Amazon page. There is a long long list of respected publications raving about her book, followed by a long list of self-identified high school administrators and teachers saying she is an idiot.

High school doesn’t make career paths, so homeschool can’t be worse.
When you think about what are paths lead to successful adult lives, none of them involve school. School is not putting your child on a clear path to success, so don’t bother worrying that you do not have the key to that path at home. What we do know, however, is that alternative, non-school paths open more doors for kids as they enter adult life.

The photos on this post from photographer Ellie Davies make me think of the process of creating a path. Not just the gorgeous, clearly defined paths (up top) but also the the dark path we should never have taken, strewn with shards and sharp objects, like this one:

What makes this good art is that it reminds us that all paths are beautiful because they are what we chose.

So maybe your child will choose their own path and it will be a path of little pay. But no job pays so little as high school, which monopolizes all a student’s time and pays nothing. So maybe just take joy in the fact that your child is learning how to forge their own path. Because really, what else is there to adult life?

37 replies
  1. Julie
    Julie says:

    I wanted to be a veterinary nurse (rather than a vet) but was told it wouldn’t be “intellectually stimulating enough”. In the end I did a biology degree I detested and took years to find out what I really wanted to do in life.
    Looking back, who knows where being a nurse could have taken me? No career decision is set in stone and at least I would have been doing something I knew I wanted to do.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “I would like to homeschool for high school. I have reservations though. Most homeschoolers around us are Christian conservatives and are serious school-at-home types. We would not fit into that. I’m not sure how she would make friends her age which is her biggest fear.”

    You would like to homeschool your daughter. By what method would you homeschool her? Would it be self-directed by her with guidance from you? I ask because from the above, it sounds like you’re trying to find a homeschooling group that is structured to some degree like the Montessori school with which you’ve had experience and good luck. You state that your daughter’s biggest fear is not making sufficient friends her age. Her friends don’t have to be her age. That’s a school model. Also, even though there’s a greater chance of making friends in a large population such as in a school, I would think she really only needs a few good friends. Maybe even a few boys. If you’re homeschooling, you’ll have the opportunity to get to know her friends even better than if she went to school. At least, the opportunity is there. Also, I think there may be a lot more driving (chauffeuring) involved in your future. If homeschooling doesn’t work out, there’s always school which she thinks she wants to attend. Then she’ll find out first hand if it’s agreeable to her. Sometimes it’s hard to know the right path until you’re on it. And if it’s not the right path, it’s possible to make a course correction.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I homeschooled my last semester of my senior year of high school back in the 90’s. I really enjoyed it and I had significantly more time in the day to focus on what I was interested in, at the time it was competitive swimming. After I found my groove, I wondered why I hadn’t always been homeschooled and was a little resentful that I had to deal with all the teenage girl drama bs and boring, long days shifting from class to class learning essentially the same things every year for so long.

    As for the conservative christian folks, that’s just naturally going to be a part of the homeschool community but you can find some that aren’t conservative at all depending on where you are regionally. In my area, the groups that I affiliate with are all-inclusive with lots of unschoolers and non-religious folks (like myself) included.

    If she is looking for friends, there are other ways than homeschool groups to make friends. Maybe she can make some friends in an animal rescue club, or other nature type meetup group. If you live in a city, there should be more opportunities other than homeschool classes she could participate in, you just need to dig a little deeper, or even ask if businesses would be willing to accommodate her.

    Good luck to you and your daughter! I would definitely request some input from her, but she should know all her options. I’m not sure if that age is the best to start shutting her out of decision making, it could backfire and lead to some rebelling.

  4. mh
    mh says:

    Homeschoolers in my area are not as monolithically Christian as they are individualistic. Part of that is the facts of life in the Mountain West. Most people Do Not Care about your particular brand of weird (be it religion, or funny socks, or chicken rental, or shakespeare.)

    Homeschool parents here love to see all the kids charged up about … Whatever.

    We belonged to a science co-op last year – most families were homeschooling for non-Christian reasons. (For example, severe allergies, farming, intensive sports training, kid running a business, spite, vegans, severely disabled sibling, bad schools, student’s very technical interest in power generation, older sibling was bullied, parents are gay, vague sense of “wanting more,” student’s very technical interest in Indian pottery, parents are hippies, parents are doctors, parents are immigrants, parents are older and aren’t going to put up with the baloney in schools, and us – we homeschool because we travel. )

    There will always be homeschool methods you don’t agree with… There will always be homeschool families you don’t want to associate with… Just like anything else. Christians are not necessarily the only people homeschooling in your area. They may be the most visible and organized, but if you look to associate yourself with families that share your values and whose children are happy individuals, you will find them.

    Homeschool is freedom.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      My favorite part of your comment was the list of non-Christian reasons for homeschooling: Surprising for both its diversity and poetry.


      • mh
        mh says:


        That’s interesting: when I was typing it, “vegans” auto-corrected to “Vogons.” Talk about poetry!

        (Have a glad and creative day, all you INTJ homeschoolers.)

          • mh
            mh says:

            Is there something *necessarily* wrong with being friends with a family that is both a homeschool family and Christian? Apart from just “ick,” which is what is coming through.

            In your experience as a Montessori school family, have you had an opportunity to meet many homeschoolers?

            If the “overwhelming majority” of homeschoolers in your area are Christians, is that 75%? 80%? 99%? When was the last time someone counted? The media presentation of homeschool is often false.

            Look, any culture, seen from the outside, is weird and hard to understand. People are marvellous and interesting (even though I’d prefer to keep most of them at arms length, but that’s just me.) Give people a chance. I’m not trying to be aggravating, but dismissing an entire group of people based on some shorthand “those people” isn’t something I’m going to go along with.

            The email Penelope posted came from a parent who seemed intelligent, open minded, and thoughtful. That type of parent is unlikely to create a homeschool environment of incuriosity, intolerance, or inactivity.

            Homeschool is freedom. It’s surprising and fun.

            And the people you’ll meet!

            An airplane mechanic who weaves paisley tapestries
            People who love – love! – compost.
            A Vietnamese boat person who will hold your child spellbound while she tells of her escape and leaving all her family behind, and how she has spent 40 years and a fortune to bring them to America, one by one.
            A house painter /amateur geologist.
            An Alabama hog farmer / calligrapher
            A dog breeder who sings
            A deaf pilot
            An oregon fisherman who carves living trees.
            A soldier who turned 1/3 the floor space of his house into a model railroad and lets in autistic kids, for the joy of it.
            A CPA who helps disabled vets start and manage businesses
            Piano tuners who sculpt.
            A forest conservationist with a plan for bark-beetle infested wood.
            The librarian who knows everything about adobe brick construction
            An engineer who planted wheat in his lawn instead of grass, and now he photographs the wildlife that browse outside his windows.
            A neighbor with nine cats who will help your child with tricky robotics questions.

            And all of them take time to engage your homeschool child and open up new worlds for them.

            People are just interesting.

  5. Purva Brown
    Purva Brown says:

    YES! I’ve always wondered why parents think children who have never been in a school can make the decision to be there. They have no idea what it’s like. And especially in high school, which is the time kids are truly preparing and getting closer to professional life. There are so many options. Why choose to imprison yourself for the day when you can be out learning?

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      I am friends with the woman who posed the question. Her son has attended the high school for all four years, so she does have a very good idea what it will be like.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


        What is your friend’s greatest concern? The career earning potential of 18k-20k? Whether her daughter has the capacity to make intelligent decisions about what to do for high school? Or that the homeschool community is less than ideal?

        Does the mom know her daughter’s mbti? That will help with the career advice.

        No homeschool community can be 100% everything that we want, and unless these conservative religious folks are super snobby and exclusionary then she has nothing to fear. They can provide a good base to get started even though it sounds like your friend is more like an unschooler. The biggest hurdle is getting started unschooling. After that it is whatever you want it to be.

  6. mh
    mh says:

    Cool photographs in this post. Where is that woods?

    Beautiful trees. Are the ferns and crockery Photoshopped in?

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I love the photos too, so much so that I went to the website and read that these are forests in the UK. She says this about the setup …”Making a variety of temporary and non-invasive interventions in the forest, my work places the viewer in the gap between reality and fantasy, creating spaces which encourage the viewer to re-evaluate the way in which their own relationship with the landscape is formed, the extent to which it is a product of cultural heritage or personal experience, and how this has been instrumental in their own identity”

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Totally! I have always found there to be something “magical” about the forests in the UK. As unschoolers, we plan to spend some time over there in the near future (once the youngest is less impulsive) and do some exploring!

  7. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    hello all, I am the parent that posted this question to Penelope. I never dreamed she would make it a blog. How exciting! I’m thrilled to be getting all this fabulous input from you all who I consider such great resources on this topic. I will try to answer some of the questions that have been asked.

    We live in a rural area so options are somewhat limited. Although there are a couple good size homeschool groups they are made up of folks that pulled their kids out of (or never put their kids in) public school for religious reasons. Therefore they are not opposed to the traditional school format and that is generally what they follow. I have nothing against Christian conservative and can respect their values much more then the lack of values my son has experienced at the local public school but the problem this creates is that they tend to do a very formal curriculum school-at-home and are therefore are not available for other activities and most of them do so through elementary school then send their high school age kids to local Christian high schools. So this leaves my daughter with not much opportunity to meet a few friends. I do believe a 14 year old girl needs other similar aged friends. They get each other better then others could. She has a 10 year old sister. They used to play all the time but over the last year she has pulled away bc that type of play just doesn’t interest her as much.

    Although I agree people only need a few friends, I am an introvert. She is an extrovert and feels the need for more. Plus I have had her in a very small school her whole life where she really only has 2-3 friends so she is craving the opportunity for many kids. She already volunteers at an animal shelter, during the summer reading program and is in a local children’s theater. All those other kids go to public school so they tend to know each other. Probably part of what makes her feels she is missing out on something.

    I totally agree she has no idea what public high school would be like. Even though my son (who is getting ready to graduate) tries to tell her not to go she knows she isn’t like him and thinks she would feel differently ( and as every 14 she knows everything) She is a young, fairly innocent 14 bc of the sheltered environment that I hand picked for her to date. So I am constantly debating, do I just be the parent and say this is what’s best for you whether you like it or not? Anyone who has had a 14 year old knows she could make all our lives miserable if she wants to prove her point. I could send her and hope she hates it but what if she doesn’t? I am opposed to so much about public high school my list would be too big and you are all aware. I know most of you have young children so maybe you just don’t know what you would do. I wish I could find such a group of peers for me online with older kids too.

    My career question was sort of separate and appealing to Penelope’s career blog. Do we as parents support/encourage her to pursue a field that is clearly her passion even knowing she won’t be able to support herself on when she is an adult?

    Thanks again to everyone for all your thoughts and input. I feel like I am in an intense information gathering stage and there aren’t that many people who can really help me look at all sides of this so I really appreciate this forum.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi Rachel!

      Why don’t you try homeschooling first so that she has something to compare to before she tries public high school? There is no harm in testing out the waters for a semester or even a year to see if it works, but there could be harm in moving to a high-stakes, pressure-fueled testing environment filled with hours of homework on a nightly basis.

      Do you know her mbti? Some extroverts want to do something meaningful, and others want to earn lots of money. Depending on her personality and general outlook on life will determine what career advice you should give her.

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:


      Just support her. She’s 14. It’s likely that, by the time she’s in college, she’ll want to do something else. Most people don’t end up doing what they said they wanted to do at 14. Smile at your daughter and tell her you’re so happy that she takes an interest in life and how you’re so excited to learn about dolphins with her. Most 14-year old girls aren’t interested in things like this; be grateful.

      Regarding $18-20k/year, whatever. That’s a good point to raise when she’s 18 and you’re discussing the expectations around your paying for her college. For now, set the foundation for that conversation by letting her learn about money in practical ways, like giving her a limited allowance and having her work for money while paying for things herself. That’s a very natural and non-judgmental way for parents to help their children understand long-term financial trade-offs. And it’s important that you handle this gently because there’s nothing worse than a 14 -year old girl and her mother fighting over things that won’t end up mattering. I have a childhood friend who comes from a solid family who, at ages 14-18, said that she wanted to be an artist. Her mom (who really is a very good mom) gave her the hardest time about it, telling her she’d never be able to support herself, she’d be poor and unhappy and worried all the time. Her mom discouraged her, and she became anxious and would cry about it privately to me all the time. When she was 17, only a few months before applying to college, she woke up one morning and realized that she wanted to be a nurse. Luckily she had good grades in science, and with the help of an internship, she was accepted into a nursing program at a small college that fit her perfectly, and she’s now an incredible ER RN. All those years of worry, turmoil, and tension were totally pointless.

      Take your daughter out of school and enjoy the last 4 years of doing life together and mothering her that you’ll probably ever have. Learn about dolphins together, have fun, and watch her grow up. In 4 years, let her know that you’re so excited for her future and that you won’t be supporting her post-college. Penelope is right, of course. She’ll get the joy of choosing her life, and you’ll get the joy of watching her.

  8. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I am leaning toward telling my daughter we are going to try homeschooling for one year and if she really doesn’t think it works for her she can go to high school. Her argument is she wants to start high school when everyone else does bc that is when social groups are formed and she will be on the outside if she doesn’t start then. Plus, I think she will be a PIA the whole year to prove her point and then say “see I told you it won’t work and I’m not happy”.

    I think she is an ESTJ but I’ve found most personality tests aren’t really for kids. Lots of questions about work place settings. I haven’t come across how that would make her feel about earning a lot of money or making a difference. Right now she sure is a girly girl who would like an unlimited budget to spend on clothes and such. She recently pointed out how “rich” people would be if they didn’t have kids. I replied with “but how sad”. I think it’s her young perspective and what is important to her right now but do I need to be more hard line about how she won’t be able to support herself? She says she will marry someone with money so she can do what she wants and save the animals. Nice plan but what if that doesn’t work out or what if she has 3 kids with him and he leaves her? I don’t want her to be one of those woman who is stuck in an unhappy marriage bc she can’t afford to leave. Can you tell I’m a huge pragmatist and planner?

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:


      I’m totally empathizing. It’s so hard to worry about one’s child- to see her temperament and know that there may be challenges ahead. You’re obviously a very conscientious parent. :)

      No. Do not be hard line about how she won’t be able to support herself. She is talking to you about things she finds interesting. She’s not coming to you from a pragmatic frame of mind and asking you how she’s going to make it work. Acknowledge what she’s interested in and bond over it. Deal with pragmatics pragmatically by demonstrating cause and effect in her every-day life.

      And your daughter is right: She can marry someone who supports her so that she can take care of the animals. So, talk to her about what to look for in a husband in order to make that happen. Too many parents make the mistake of telling their kids not to bank on that, that they’ll have to support themselves and that they shouldn’t expect to have the life that they want. And then parents wonder why their kids sell out by marrying people whom they’re totally incompatible with- they missed their opportunity to have an influence where it really matters, and their children pay for it forever. Penelope has a good post about that:


      Also, why are you negotiating with your 14 year old? Just tell her that you’re doing home education and that you’re excited, and that she can see her friends when they’re off of school. Maybe she’ll resent it for a while, maybe she won’t. But high school is a waste of her life and you know it, so take that off the table.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Hi Rachel,

      She’s 14. That’s not that young anymore. Be happy and glad she is being open with you. There is obviously a trust there and that is most important. Reciprocate, and let her start making decisions for herself, better now than when she has left the home and makes mistakes without the safety net. Discuss her decisions and reasoning. Let her try multiple things. There are no ‘sure’ courses, but unconditional support will go a long way to allowing her to believe and learn from her choices herself. Saying her wants are unrealistic or not what you would do or projecting your personal fears will only bring resentment. It’s not the time to put on the fear brakes, it’s the time in her life to learn from her decisions.

      And look, friends are where ever you look for them- good friends tend to have similar interests and outlooks. The School setting often tricks people into thinking the world happens to you and is provided for you, versus going and getting what you want and need. ‘Friends can only be found in school’ ‘education only happens in school’ ….so maybe take this opportunity to allow your daughter to start making a proactive life, be supportive, and trust that she knows where she is headed.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      That sounds like a great plan, and I totally get the information gathering thing.

      If it helps your daughter, I am highly introverted and attended three different high schools. One private and two public, and I never had a hard time making a group of friends. But, all I really wanted was to not be noticed by the mean girls and survive the daily grind of school, that literally prepared me for nothing.

      There are some books that helped me type my kids without needing to give them a quiz. An estj is probably going to want to have a big career. That may mean she will end up being with a company that focuses on animal welfare. She may find that animal foster care would be a good outlet for her.

      I understand wanting independence and security, it sounds like she will be all of those things. I can tell by how thoughtful and engaged you are that she will be fine. I’m in a city, not rural, but I imagine it would only take a little time to get a teens group going, you could start a book club or something geared for homeschool teens. Just an idea.

  9. JDVT
    JDVT says:

    My two cents:

    I am also homeschooling in a rural environment with about a 50% Christian conservative split in our homeschool community which has been somewhat devisive.

    I have a lonely son who is looking to connect to more peers.

    Homeschooling does not have to be all or nothing. I am looking into having my son attend public school for phys ed and maybe chorus. Then he gets a glimpse into the union school, and a chance to find a few friends.

    And we’ll go from there.

    Enjoy your journey, Rachel!

  10. Dana
    Dana says:

    “There is no reason that kids cannot choose what to read or think or do with themselves. They are old enough to fight in a way. They are old enough to drive. They are too old to be in our school system.”

    As the mom of a high school drop-out who should have been homeschooled had my fear not gotten in the way … YES!!!!

    My son is now 20, and working as a pizza delivery driver. I wonder what he could have been if fear wouldn’t have hindered me.

    Now I just hope he will find his way …

    Don’t let fear hold you back!

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