Before my kids were school aged we opted out of school entirely. That’s right; my kids don’t go to school. They have never gone to school.
As someone who has spent 12 + years in traditional schooling, then studied to become a teacher (graduated with a degree in Behavioral Science as an adult), then spent time in schools on the educator side, I knew things were not what they seemed. Common sense told me our traditional school model was not beneficial for kids. Or for learning.This is not why I opted out, though. I chose not to send my kids to school because I could not reconcile my children going from having the days they were having- ones where they lived in relative comfort- to ones that eliminate comfort entirely.
Comfort is needed for real learning.
Here are 5 reasons I do not send my kids to school:
1. People learn when they are comfortable. Being told when to eat, drink, pee, move, stretch, and take a break does not foster learning. When one’s bladder is full, one thinks about relieving it. When one’s stomach is growling, one thinks about feeding it. When one thirsts, one thinks about quenching it. How often during the day does one need to eat, drink, pee, move, stretch or take a break? What if one has to wait to have this basic need met- how much longer does that leave one focused on getting said need met- instead of learning? How much learning can actually happen in a school day? Not much in my opinion. This is one reason my kids don’t go to school.
2. Basic human rights. Regarding #1: The needs listed above are basic human rights. Knowing that someone else would control the basic human rights and needs of my children on an arbitrary or irrelevant time table did not sit right with me. This is another reason my kids don’t go to school.
3. Real learning cannot be scheduled. It is absurd, in my opinion, to think that children will learn on our schedule- that fractions will make sense at age 9 or the Civil War will feel relative in fourth grade. The idea that we can compartmentalize learning never made sense to me. I understood early on that learning could only happen when the mind was ready and desired it. School seemed like a waste of time, so we opted out.
3. Power tripping and arbitrary rules do not foster learning. I get it. Partly schools have rules because there are so many kids who have to be “kept in line”. Otherwise, chaos would break out. Many of these kids (RIGHTFULLY!) cannot sit still long enough for the teacher to get through a lesson. It could be pretty distracting in a second grade classroom if every kid got to get up and use the bathroom when they needed to. This could be distracting in a 10th grade classroom, too. This kind of order may be necessary in a school/classroom setting, I don’t know. I do not believe it is conducive to learning, though (see #1). So this is another reason my kids don’t go to school.
4. Kids want to learn how to act in society. Punishment. Embarrassment. Added homework. Shaming. Withheld recess. While these things may teach children that they do not want to get in trouble, none of these things teach children how to act in the world. When kids are with adults who are kind and invested in them they can learn appropriate behavior while keeping their worth and self esteem intact. This does not happen at school and is another reason my kids don’t go.
5. I do not want my kids’ learning interrupted. Okay. This one I did not understand at the time, but is a big reason I continue to opt out. My kids are now 8 and 10. How many times I have watched them get wildly into a topic or connect a dot that I did not realize they were connecting- one I never could have connected for them because, you know, I am not inside their mind. How many times has it seemed my child is mindlessly watching a YouTube video only to have them bust out with some concept that I did not think young minds were capable of (or interested in) understanding! Had I tried to demand we learn multiplication or practice handwriting because it was 10 on Tuesday morning I would have stopped the real learning that was taking place.
Your kids don’t go to school, so you just do school at home?
Now, with all of these reasons for opting out of school and so much focus on learning it may lead readers to believe that our entire day is spent pouring over lessons, books, and worksheets. After all, if one does not go to school they do school at home, right? No.
During our process of of opting out of school we opted all the way out- completely out of separating learning from life. During the process of realizing the school model does not foster learning, I understood that the brick and mortar school building was not the problem. The issue is the way we understand learning as a whole.
So when I say we opted out, I really do mean all the way out. Instead, we choose for our children’s lives to be full of learning all day every day. We do not use workbooks (unless they want to). We have no formal instruction (unless they ask for it). We have no planned “lessons”. Instead, we answer questions, provide materials and resources, visit places and people, google, share resources that may be interesting to our children or support a topic they are spending time on, google, play games, cook, bake, google, volunteer, or chat (just to share a few) (oh, and did I mention google?). Much of this is done snuggling on the couch while eating a snack. Click here for more on how my (and many other) children learn.
There are so many more reasons we opted out of, and continue to opt out of, school. While we had a messy start, this life of LIVING together with our children is turning out to be a gift we never could have known to ask for.
What made you opt out of school for your children? Are you thinking of opting out? What made you consider it?