According to a brief internet search, homeschooling rates have DOUBLED in the last year or so. I'm not terribly surprised. And this year, we're officially joining them. We've honestly been unschooling since schools closed in March 2020, though my son was still enrolled in his amazing pilot charter school.
We love his school, they're open to go back in person, and my second kiddo is entering kindergarten. But we're staying home, and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. I've had a lot of people ask me why, so I thought I would just write up a post for you all.
Please keep in mind:
- this is simply my family's experience and reasoning
- I don't think you should or shouldn't homeschool because that's your choice
- every child has unique strengths and challenges
- so much about school depends on where you live and the resources available
I'm not homeschooling AT anyone. This has always been our backup plan since my oldest started kindergarten, and this is just when we decided to switch.
How Did We Decide to Homeschool?
We went back and forth a number of times, to be honest. Kindergarten was a wonderful experience for my oldest. First grade was a mess because of a disastrous one-time administrative transition. He had 3 different teachers, 3 principals, and was bullied that year to boot. We asked if he wanted us to pull him out that year, but he said no.
Then, of course, the pandemic happened.
Distance learning was a terrible fit for my son: he can't do group Zoom calls, and he struggles with online work. That's no one's fault, it is what it is. Luckily his school, again, is awesome, and updated his 504 so that he didn't have to do any of that. He simply met with his teacher and the counselor for a one-on-one Zoom each week, and we emailed them to keep them up-to-date with any projects he did.
Other than the scheduled calls, we were pretty much unschooling already. He did a few academic progress assessments with his teacher, and he's above grade level for everything, so she wasn't worried. (Again, this is simply our experience and isn't good or bad. It's just where my kid is.) So when it came time to talk about going back to school, he was happy to continue what we were doing.
If His School is So Great, Why Not Send Him Back?
My oldest, like most kids who have access to resources and support, is incredibly curious and loves to learn. However, he's a very advanced reader. He prefers to dive deeply into chosen topics, and struggles to follow anyone else's plan than his own.
His school is very flexible with this, but there are limits. Navigating groups of kids, even in small classes like he had, is a challenge. In a perfect world, he would go to school and have a class with only 2 friends where they could study what they wanted.
But that's basically homeschool.
He taught himself to read before he was 5 and reads at a very advanced level. (I take no credit for this except for the genetic part.) He doesn’t need to attend 3rd grade for that. Math he can pick up. Our major reasoning for sending him to school in the first place was for social skills and being exposed to topics that we might not bring up on our own. Academically, we know he will be fine no matter what based on his personality and our home environment. (You don’t have parents as nerdy as us and escape unscathed. 🤷🏼♀️)
Knowing that even a small class environment was challenging for him meant that he wasn’t able to gain those social-emotional skills if he was dysregulated -- you can’t learn when you’re in fight-or-flight mode. If we both worked 9-5 jobs and needed to send him to school, I would keep him where he is. But we don't!
What Helped Us Decide to Homeschool?
We literally just made a pro and con list.
Pros of Going to School:
- We love the school and they get more funding if he's enrolled.
- Exposure to topics we might not bring up.
- Increased opportunities for social interactions with a variety of kids.
- Time apart from siblings to do their own thing.
- He might get services at school once we finish his IEP.
Cons of Going to School:
- Getting through the day takes all his energy. After school and weekends are spent recovering.
- It takes a ton of executive function to get out the door in the morning, and a lot of extra driving time for me.
- It's hard for his teachers to adapt to his asynchronous reading level, and he isn't patient about work that's too easy for him. This could cause him to act out if he's bored and isn't helpful for his classmates or him.
- Spending time with kids he doesn't like is stressful for him (more than average).
- He's actually done more handwriting voluntarily at home during the pandemic than he ever did at school.
And most importantly, he said he wants to homeschool. Even when he was being bullied, he chose to stay, but being home this year has been good for him. We've really only seen 2 other families since schools closed, and we know a lot of other homeschoolers already when we’re ready to socialize more. One of the families we've seen is his best friend at school, too, so he sees her anyway.
He loves museums, and it’s easier to go during the week when they’re less crowded. He can be outside as much as he wants, and we have more access to nature than at his school campus. When I told his teacher about our plan, she replied, genuinely, that it sounds like a perfect fit for him--not because the school doesn’t want to accommodate him, but just because it would allow him to thrive.
I know some people would say that he "needs to learn to handle adversity and people he doesn't like," which is true. But he's 8. I would prefer that he be allowed to bloom in an environment that supports him so he can gain confidence in himself before that happens.
What About Kindergarten for the Middle Kid?
My oldest is going into 3rd grade, and my second kiddo is 5 and starting kindergarten. My youngest is 2.5 and thinks she's going to "be in brother's [kindergarten] class," and who am I to argue?
The 5-year-old wants to stay home as well. He's been struggling with anxiety (not just due to COVID), and while I think he would likely thrive after an adjustment period, I'm not fighting to get everyone dressed and in the car just to drop off one kid and take two home with me! At this point they're also so used to being together (even though they fight all the time) that they don't like being apart from their siblings. Again, they would probably adjust, but why force it since we don't have to?
He's very different from my older son, and when we first talked about homeschool, he asked me to print him worksheets. I did, and he asked me to tell him when it was "homeschool time," and he did the worksheets, then put them in a special folder.
Of course, two weeks later he decided that he was done with homeschool and "never wants to do it ever again." 😂
Kindergarten is mainly to help kids adjust to being students and what to expect at school. Even if he decides to go to school eventually, I'm not worried. He will figure it out if that time comes.
What Curriculum Are You Using?
We're not. We're unschooling. (If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll explain it in the next section.)
My kids find transitions at school and having to follow someone else's plan challenging. I have no desire to recreate "school at home," or, honestly, make things harder for myself. Knowing me, I would love to dive into research on every single curriculum and unit study and Outschool class in the universe, but I would never be able to choose. If I did, my kids wouldn't do it simply because it wasn't their idea. So I'm skipping all that.
A lot of people with ADHD need structure to thrive, but my son is not one of them. Honestly, neither am I. We focus on having a loose plan for the day so the kids know the sequence of events, but timing is flexible. We go to the library a lot. The kids do arts and crafts projects on their own. They asked to learn to cook this year. We've made videos. They do nature studies in our backyard when they feel like it. I just follow their lead.
Last year he was into pirates, chickens, Lord of the Rings, Legos, Dungeons & Dragons, gardening, and mazes. More recently he’s been focusing on painting, art journaling, cartooning, Totoro, origami, climate change, and history.
What is Unschooling?
People often think about homeschooling as “doing school at home.” They think, “I couldn’t do that because I’m not a teacher.” But unschooling isn't about teaching, it's about acknowledging the ways that we learn all the time, not only when someone stands up and tells us something.
If you’ve ever questioned how the information you learned at school applied to the real world, you’re halfway there. Unschooling is the idea that we’re always learning from daily life. We use math when we cook, sew, play games, rearrange furniture, shop, price out new flooring, or build a chicken coop. We write letters, stories, comic books, notes, grocery lists, and wish lists. For kids who resist what feels like busy work, it makes a lot more sense.
It’s also entirely child-led and based on trusting our kids to know what they want and need. There’s no curriculum to research or lessons to plan. By letting children choose what to explore, they stay curious and motivated to learn. So many kids burn out on school because they aren’t interested in a subject or topic and get bored. Think of all the “jokes” about how terrible school is, and all the books for kids that age that reinforce that idea.
Are You Radical Unschoolers?
No, we're not radical unschoolers, though we know some awesome families who are. "Radical unschooling" is a particular approach that gives kids autonomy over as many decisions in their lives as possible. This includes what to eat and when, when to go to bed, how much time to spend watching TV or playing video games, etc. Because my kids are neurodiverse, they need more support in certain areas. They don't get unlimited screen access, because we've tried it, and they can't regulate themselves. I don't think screens are bad, they're just not a good fit for us for more than a few minutes a day. My kids also need structure around mealtimes and bedtime, but they’re part of the process to decide what they need.
That doesn’t mean they can never take a class. I signed up for an online art journaling course with my friend Shawna this summer for myself, and my kids decided to join me. The little two declared the weekly video lessons “boring,” but my 8-year-old loves watching them in segments and applying the techniques that I’m learning as well. It was simply his choice to participate.
What Resources Do You Suggest?
This isn't going to turn into a homeschooling blog by any stretch, but I do love sharing what I find helpful. So here's a small handful of resources that have helped me so far.
- The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart isn't about unschooling, but no matter what approach you use, her advice on following the "spark of curiosity" was helpful. I was worried that I would be annoyed by her perfect homeschool life, but she shares the mistakes she made as well.
- Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers (SEA) on Facebook is a large, helpful group. There are spin-off groups for off-topic chatter, by age (pre-school, middle school, high school), gifted, vegan, LGBTQ, and book clubs.
- Unschooling Every Family: Embracing Neurodivergent and Disabled Learners on Facebook is a fantastic resource for unschoolers of ND kids. The group is run by veteran unschoolers, and while they have firm boundaries around topics, they understand that neurodiverse kids have different unschooling needs. They also have robust group files.
- I do follow some homeschooling Instagram accounts, but a lot of them are religious, which we are not. So here are a handful that I enjoy.
- I’ve had a homeschool/unschool Pinterest board for years, just saving things that look interesting. Some are more structured than others, but I wasn’t sure what I would need.
- My oldest in particular loves nonfiction, especially encyclopedias. He particularly loves DK Encyclopedias on all sorts of topics. It’s been a great way to introduce something broadly, then follow his lead on what he wants to learn more about.