Sending (Most of) My Kids to School... Again

Happy Rose after her second day of school
I talk about homeschooling a lot. In person but especially here on my blog. I've written about why I homeschool, how I homeschool, what unschooling is, how it works, corrected misconceptions about unschooling and homeschooling. In short, other than frugality and gluten free, homeschooling is one of those things I'm most well known for...
So imagine people's surprise when they heard that starting September 1 of this school year, I only have one kid being homeschooled - my other three are in school. I've gotten a lot of shocked reactions and questions from friends in person and on Facebook about my decision to send kids to school, and while others are telling me I don't owe anyone explanations, as someone who is pretty vocal about the unconventional schooling choices I've made I can understand people wanting to know what made me change my mind so I don't mind sharing.

From the start, whenever anyone asked me how long I planned on homeschooling for, I told them we'd take it one year at a time, evaluating whether or not it is still working for our family. And I've done that consistently.

When my older two kids, Lee and Ike, were 6 and 4 years old, we did send them to school for a year and I wrote about why here. The main reason was that we live in a non English speaking country yet speak English in our house and socialize predominantly with other English speaking expats and our children with their children. Because of this our children have not picked up the local language simply by living here, so we sent the boys to school to learn the local language. In that year my oldest, Lee, managed to learn the language (enough of a foundation that we have been able to build up on that) and we then pulled him out of school and resumed homeschooling him. My second son, Ike, did not manage to pick up the language at all, so we took him out as it wasnt having the desired effect. That extreme difficulty in acquiring another language is what led us to get him assessed and led to his autism diagnosis. Since last school year Ike has been in school in a special school for kids with high functioning autism, where there is a very small student to teacher ratio and he gets lots of one on one help, therapies, an individualized education plan, etc... And he's advanced a lot just in one year (and now can speak, read, and wrote in our local language even if not amazingly).

But the three other kids were still home.

I'll admit something - when Ike was a baby and toddler he was very challenging and I didn't think parenthood got harder than that. And then my youngest child, Rose, was born and I learned just how exhausting and emotionally draining parenting can be. Rose is a ball of creative and destructive energy and I'm convinced she's a sheer genius and uses every ounce of her energy and brains to think up new ways to 'make trouble' and challenge me... I literally have not been the same since she was born, in many ways feeling that I've been coming apart at the seams since then.... And have been counting down the minutes until she was old enough that I can send her to the public school system here, that starts at the age of 3 here.... So I can have a little breathing room. This September 1 was the first time she qualified since she turned 3 in March, two months after the cut off date.

We decided to send Anneliese and Rose to school firstly to learn the local language- we thought it better for them to go to school the same year, and also for me to catch my breath.
Though Anneliese is right at the cut off date and we could put her in first grade this year, we figured it better for her sake to put her into kindergarten where she'll be the oldest and it'll make the transition easier.

Once we made the decision to send to school it was only the start of a headaches because of bureaucratic issues, and what we were looking for in terms of schools, etc... The school we ideally wanted to send to didn't work out for various reasons and then we were left with a few different options that didn't appeal to us for various reasons, and at a loss of what to do. Fortunately we discovered a school that met most of our criteria of what we were looking for, only it isn't local, isn't in our town. It's in the closest part of the city nearest to our town. There were issues there too - while there was transportation from where I live to the school on the return trip it only left after the preschool/kindergarten day was over. However there is an after school program that usually costs a lot of money that my kids could go to until the time for their ride, and just our luck this year the city made a ruling that everyone gets it discounted - I pay roughly 25 dollars a month for each kid and it includes lunch (which hasn't started yet... And if it does the question is if the food is gluten free... But I digress...).
Though this wasn't our original choice of school so far I'm really happy with it, and probably it's even better for our family than the one we'd ideally wanted to send to.

The girls are adjusting as well as I can expect. Anneliese, who has been wanting to go to school already for months is having a great time and comes home each day excited and singing the songs they learned, and I'm slowly teaching her words to make her day easier (like how to respond in the local language when kids take her toys). Rose is adjusting well enough. I knew she'd have a harder time as she's younger and more attached to me, but she seems to come home happy and goes happily most days. It's a process and I'm working with the girls' wonderful teachers to try to help the girls adjust smoothly.

So now it's just me and my 10 year old son Lee at home. And we're mostly unschooling other than putting a large emphasis on improving his grasp of the local language especially in reading and writing, and bringing his level up to that of the native speakers of the language.

Well what about unschooling? Do I not believe in that as the ideal anymore? And how do I reconcile that with my sending 3/4 of my kids to school?

Here's the thing.
I still believe in unschooling. I still believe that is the ideal... In an ideal world.
But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where everyone has imperfections, things don't necessarily go the way they want, and things are hard. Unschooling is ideal when done properly, but proper unschooling takes a lot of hands on energy and time from at least one of the parents, and the more drained you are, the less energy you have to give everything to unschooling. I've been so drained that I haven't "strewed" a lot, I haven't taken the kids on fun trips much, I haven't done so many of the things that makes unschooling such a fun and hands on learning experience. That doesn't mean, by a long shot, that my kids' education has been neglected. My kids are still very advanced in certain subjects and on par in other subjects... but it's just exhausting me and taking a huge toll on my mental health, and at this point in time I can't continue to do it for my girls... My son, on the other hand, is much easier to unschool, as he's old enough to be capable of learning a lot of things of his own accord, being able to read and research things on his own. Unschooling preschoolers takes a lot more energy and mental strength.
I do think, though, that even without unschooling 3 of my kids I can use the principals I learned in unschooling to make their learning experience better, and to be a better parent.

The biggest thing I've learned from unschooling is, number one, to accept that there are multiple types of learning in the world, and to value all of them and not just the standard book learning and schooly subjects, but to notice how different things teach you different skills. When my kids watch movies or play games I don't look at it as garbage, I look at the educational value in them all (even just learning to have faster reflexes- that's a skill, or strategic thinking in games). (And if there really is something with ZERO educational value-theres really very little of that, even "non-educational" games are educational in certain senses- or if its educating in a negative way, then I stop my kids from watching/using that, but those things are less common than you'd think...)
And another big aspect of unschooling that I am trying to carry over is that motivating kids (and people in general) to want to do things is far more effective than forcing them to do so.
And finding creative solutions to work with your child's nature and personality and desires instead of fighting against them.
And to teach by example.
I will continue to do these with my kids and keep on using these skills and views that I've learned even with my kids in school... Luckily Ike's school seems to work in an unschooling manner with individualized education because it is special ed, and so far I'm liking what I'm seeing in my girls' school.

And as for Lee? He may yet go to school- I have a truant officer breathing down my back about getting him in school- either send him to school or pay for an extremely expensive test that I can't afford (and am morally opposed to being forced to do) to get formal permission to homeschool him... We'll see what happens. Right now the truant officer knows what my criteria for schools a re for me to even consider sending Lee there, and there's nothing possible that is an option at this time, so who knows what will happen... (I have two schools in mind where I'd gladly send Lee, but they're currently too full, and he needs to get to a higher level in the local language before they'd accept him. Which is what I'm planning on doing now anyhow.)

And as for next year? I have absolutely no idea what the schooling situation will be like for my kids next year. Could be the girls will be home again. Could be all my kids will be in school. Could be a mix and match. But we reevaluate our children's education every single year. And midway through if necessary.

So that's that. And now when anyone asks me "Hey, what did I miss? Your kids are in school?!?!?" I'll just link them to this post.

Anyone here homeschoolers that ended up sending their kids to school afterwards, or for a time and then returning to homeschooling? What was the reasoning? What type of reaction did you get from people?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. i've seen a lot of alternative schooling of families, end up sending their kids to formal school. they seem to lack in areas other kids aren't. maybe the small nuances kids pick up by being w/other kids is the key?

    1. They'd have to do a study comparing, with a control group. Its hard to know- maybe the "nuances" they're missing comes from being in a non conventional family and not from being homeschooled? It could be that families who homeschool are a certain type even before being homeschooled and the kid would be the same even in school. Who knows? Correlation or causation?

    2. Yes, and sometimes the child is homeschooled because, for whatever reason, formal school doesn't work. A child on the autism spectrum, for instance. To successfully argue that formal school provides socialization or whatever in a way that homeschooling cannot provide, implies that all kids who are formally schooled are successful. I doubt that's true.

  2. My gut says that you are going to receive a huge response to this post. Stay strong. No one else is in your shoes. No one else knows your kids or their needs as well as you. Make the best decision for your family and let other people make judgments for their own kids.

  3. Yes, I agree with you Anonymous. We unschool my youngest (older one has graduated college and is prepping applications for grad school). I notice my child lacks those nuances! For instance, when she went to an audition/application only camp this summer as the youngest child to ever win a spot there, she did not pay attention when kids occasionally snubbed her for being young or totally uncool or too sincere or smart, and she did not think about how to be the center of attention all the time. She was there to learn and she walked away loving most kids and not feeling at all troubled by the kids who did not like her.
    Where ever she goes I get compliments from the moms of kids on the spectrum: they speak about how caring she is for EVERY child in the group. Even if she finds someone annoying (and she does sometimes) she is the opposite of a bully; she tries to find something they have in common, and sometime subtly displays how to handle social situations they find anxiety provoking.
    Too bad I did not send her to school, maybe she would care more about what the alpha kids think and want. She would be more anxious and less kind, but hey, she could have been a winner :-)
    h.s. ema

  4. this year i have four in school, one being homeschooled. He's 11, and it's so much easier to tailor what needs to be done for one kid than for five.
    Haters are gonna hate.
    Those too timid to homeschool will not homeschool.
    You do what you need to do.

  5. My oldest homeschooled all the way through, he started community college at 16 and is now a senior in college for computer science. My daughter decided at 14 she wanted to go to highschool, so she did. It was a much harder adjustment for ME, as a leader in our homeschool community and a founder of a co-op. I felt like I failed,it took me a long time to get over that feeling. That said, she wanted to go to school because she plans to be a dr. and she wanted the AP classes and higher level things which were easier to do a school. She graduated top 10% and is premed/neuroscience at college now. :) Youngest decided to follow in her footsteps and also started school in 8th grade. He is currently in 10th and although he loves the social aspect and also takes AP classes, he doesn't love the school experience overall. I tell him all the time he can quit and start community college like his brother did, but he says no, he will finish high school. Other homeschool moms get it, it is your identity, and suddenly it isn't. It tool me a long time to come out of that way of thinking. I found it very common in the homeschool community when kids start school and us moms are "displaced" for lack of better word. I agree you have to do what is best for YOU at this time.

  6. I identified with so much of what you said. We tried homeschooling one kid, a kid on the spectrum. I had all the overwhelm and exhaustion you described and put him back in school. Subsequently, all my kids went to school.

    I think homeschooling and unschooling work just fine for some kids, some parents, and some circumstances. I just think that it doesn't always work. :)

  7. The mainstream schooling system is a nightmare for many children on the spectrum. I wonder if not compelled to go to school how much better off they would be in the long term by not being bullied by peers; not being excluded from play and all those 'nuances'; and not having to try to fit in and comply because you have to. Would these children be less anxious, more confident and content with themselves without the formal school system? Looking back, I now see schooling as a construct for teaching young ones to tow the line and learn their place with maths, language and curriculum thrown in.

  8. I have a friend who put her daughter back in school after a few years of homeschooling. In school, she wasn't grasping math; homeschooled, she had the time to focus on arithmetic and finally get it. Time was really the factor for her. She went back to school as an older child and things went well after that.

  9. You be you girl. I think your doing great with your choices.

    When my little one was in kindergarten she was a handful. Sent home 20 times during the school year. Was even asked if I could possibly home school her. I mentioned to the teacher that asked that I'm a data entry clerk, not a teacher and I work 12 hours a day, so how would I do that? The teacher shut up after that. Then we got her tested...ADHD. After that, my child could do no wrong. All her "emotional outburst" were forgiven and she was placed in a small class setting until high school.

    In high school in my little part of America, they take away the small class setting and throw in a para pro to help the teacher with the "special needs" kids. Took my child about 6 years to finish high school & get her diploma. Weird tho, she never attended 11th grade, just skipped it and was instantly a senior because she had so many credits built up. Now she stays at her grandparents house and my mother finally stop asking the question "why doesn't she want to do anything?" After living with them for 4 years, they know why.

  10. I'm glad Rose is in school and is enjoying it. She sounds like a handful!

  11. You are doing well by your kids, keep it up. You know what is beast for your kids and your family.
    I mostly homeschooled my ADDer, but my Mom homeschooled a few years and he went to public school for grade 12.
    He is a brilliant writer and math has always been a struggle. He was finally diagnosed with dyscalclia. Math dyslexia. With homeschooling, he was so successful, they never considered the diagnosis.
    All you can do is your best,and you are doing it.

  12. Penny, just wanted to say I really admire your honesty. You are so right that we do not live in an ideal world and need to work with it. May G-d help you make the best decisions for your children. Wishing them (and you!) a successful and happy year at school!

  13. My kids are ages 16, 21, 27 & 29. I homeschooled for 25 years until the youngest went to public school in 8th grade. The next year he started at a military prep school where he lives - away from home. Talk about a huge adjustment!!! But it was what that child needed. He is doing so well. Kudos to you for following what is best for your family.

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