School ADD Isn’t Homeschool ADD

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I hesitated at the heavy glass doors of my son’s school. I’d cheerfully walked in these doors many times. I volunteered here, served on the PTA board, joked with the principal and teachers, even helped start an annual all-school tradition called Art Day. But now I fought the urge to grab him from his first grade classroom, never to return.

I’d come in that morning hoping to discuss the angry outbursts my son’s teacher directed at several students, including my little boy. But I entered no ordinary meeting. It was an ambush.  Sides had clearly been chosen. The principal, guidance counselor, and my son’s teacher sat in a clump together along one side of the table. Feeling oddly hollow, I pulled out a chair and sat down. Since I led conflict resolution workshops in my working life, I was confident that we could talk over any issues and come to an understanding.

I was wrong.

The counselor read aloud from a list of ADHD behavioral symptoms my son’s teacher had been tracking over the past few weeks. My little boy’s major transgressions were messy work, lack of organization, and distractibility. The teacher nodded with satisfaction and crossed her arms.

No one who spent time with him had ever mentioned ADHD before. I breathed deeply to calm myself. I knew it was best to repeat what I was hearing in order to clarify, but the counselor barreled ahead, saying they had a significant “ADHD population” in the school system who showed excellent results with medication.

After giving the teacher kudos for dealing with a classroom full of children and acknowledging the difficulty of meeting all their needs, I tried to stand up for my child (although I felt like a mother bear defending her cub from nicely dressed predators). I said the behaviors she noted actually seemed normal for a six-year-old boy, after all, children are in the process of maturing and are not naturally inclined to do paperwork. The teacher shook her head and whispered to the principal. The counselor said first grade children have had ample time to adapt to classroom standards.

I asked if any of my son’s behaviors had ever disrupted the class. The teacher didn’t answer the question. Instead she sighed and said, looking at the principal, “I’ve been teaching for 15 years. This doesn’t get better on its own. I’m telling you this child can be helped by medication.”

When I asked about alternatives such as modifying his diet the teacher actually rolled her eyes, saying, “Plenty of parents believe there are all sorts of things they can do on their own. But students on restricted diets don’t fit in too well in the lunchroom.”

There was no real discussion. No chance to bring up her teaching style. No opportunity  for better collaboration between home and school. A conclusion had been reached without consulting me, my husband, or a mental health professional. My son required one vital ingredient in order to flourish in school: pharmaceuticals.

As I stood at the door, my heart pounding in distress, I vowed to solve this problem rationally. I told myself such an approach would help my child and other misunderstood students. I made it all the way to the car without crying.

Over the next few weeks I took my child to all sorts of appointments. A psychologist diagnosed him with ADD (no H). Her report was tucked in a stack of handouts from a national non-profit organization known for its ties to the pharmaceutical industry. An allergist diagnosed our little boy with multiple food allergies including almost every fruit and grain he liked to eat (my research showed that diet can indeed affect behavior even for kids without allergies). A pediatric pulmonologist determined that his asthma was much worse than we’d known. In fact his oxygen intake was so poor the doctor said it was likely our son would change position frequently, lift his arms to expand his lungs, and have trouble concentrating. Right away I started the process of eliminating allergens in his life and following other advice given me by these professionals.

I also read about learning. I began to see childhood learning in a wider way as I studied authors such as Joseph Chilton PearceDavid Elkind , James Hillman, and Bill Plotkin. I talked to other parents who described managing ADHD using star charts, privilege restriction, close communication with teachers, and immediate consequences for behavior. Many told me their child’s problems got worse during the teen years. Some described sons and daughters they’d “lost” to drug abuse, delinquency, chronic depression and dangerous rage. One woman told me her 14-year-old son was caught dealing. The boy sold amphetamines so strong they were regulated by the Controlled Substance Act—his own prescription for ADHD.

And I spent a lot of time observing my son’s behavior. Yes, he was disorganized with his schoolwork. His room was often a mess too, but only because he had so many interests. I saw no lack of focus as he drew designs for imaginary vehicles, pored over diagrams in adult reference books, or created elaborate make-believe scenarios. I knew that he was easily frustrated by flash cards and timed math tests, methods that did little to advance his understanding. But I also knew that he used math easily for projects such as designing his own models out of scrap wood. And of course he was distractible. He resisted rote tasks as most small children do. Their minds and bodies are naturally inclined toward more engaging ways to advance their natural gifts. Mostly I noticed how cooperative and cheerful he was. He didn’t whine, easily waited for his own turn, and loved to help with chores. As a biased observer I found him to be a marvelous six-year-old.

Resolutely I tried to make school workable. I let the teacher know how my son’s allergies and asthma might impact his classroom abilities. I shared the psychologist’s report. And I tried to explain my son’s stressful home situation. In the past year our family had been victimized by crime, his father had been injured in a car accident and left unable to work, and several other loved ones had been hospitalized. His schoolwork may have reflected a life that suddenly seemed messy and disorganized.

The teacher, however, only told me what my son did wrong. She was particularly incensed that he rushed through his work or left it incomplete, only to spend time cleaning up scraps from the floor. She did not find his efforts helpful. In clipped tones she said, “Each student is supposed to pick up only his or her scraps. Nothing more.”

My son’s backpack sagged each day with 10 or more preprinted and vaguely educational papers, all with fussy instructions.  Cut out the flower on the dotted lines, cut two slits here, color the flower, cut and paste this face on the flower, insert the flower in the two slots, write three sentences about the flower using at least five words from the “st” list.  I’d have been looking for scraps on the floor to clean up too, anything to get away from a day filled with such assignments.

It took almost two years of watching my child try to please his teachers and be himself in two different school systems that were, by necessity, not designed to handle individual differences. His schoolwork habits deteriorated except when the project at hand intrigued him. He appreciated the cheerful demeanor of his third grade teacher even though she told me she didn’t expect much from him until his Iowa Test results came back with overall scores at the 99th percentile.  Then she deemed him an underachiever and pulled his desk next to hers, right in front of the whole class, to make sure he paid attention to his paperwork rather than look out the window or fiddle with odd and ends he’d found. That’s where he stayed.

When he was eight years old I took my children out of school forever.

Homeschooling didn’t “fix” everything for my son, at least right away. I made many of the same mistakes teachers made with him. I enthusiastically offered projects that meant nothing to him, expecting him to sit still and complete them. And I saw the same behaviors his teachers described. My son sat at the kitchen table, a few pages to finish before we headed off to the park or some other adventure. But every day he dropped his pencil so he could climb under the table after it, erased holes in his paper, found a focal spot out the window for his daydreams, complained as if math problems were mental thumbscrews. I used to lie awake at night afraid that he’d never be able to do long division.

Yet every time I stepped back, allowing him to pursue his own interests he picked up complicated concepts beautifully. I watched him design his own rockets. He figured out materials he needed, built them carefully and cheerfully started over with his own carefully considered improvements when he made mistakes. I realized his “problem” was my insistence he learn as I had done—from a static page. Homeschooling showed me that children don’t fare well as passive recipients of education. They want to take part in meaningful activities relevant to their own lives. They develop greater skills by building on their gifts, not focusing on abilities they lack.

The more I stepped back, the more I saw how much my son accomplished when fueled by his own curiosity. This little boy played chess, took apart broken appliances, carefully observed nature, helped on our farm, checked out piles of books at the library each week, memorized the names of historic aircraft and the scientific principles explaining flight, filled notebooks with cartoons and designs—-learning every moment.

Gradually I recognized that he learned in a complex, deeply focused and yes, apparently disorganized manner. It wasn’t the way I’d learned in school but it was the way he learned best. His whole life taught him in ways magnificently and perfectly structured to suit him and him alone. As I relaxed in our homeschooling life he flourished. Sometimes his intense interests fueled busy days. Sometimes it seemed he did very little— those were times that richer wells of understanding developed.

I sank back into worrying about academic topics during his last year at home before college. Although his homeschool years had been filled with a wealth of learning experiences I suddenly worried that he’d done too little writing, not enough math, minimal formal science. My anxiety about his success in college wasn’t helpful, but by then his confidence in himself wasn’t swayed.

His greatest surprise in college has been how disinterested his fellow students are in learning. Now in his sophomore year, my Renaissance man has knowledge and abilities spanning many fields. Of his own volition, he’s writing a scholarly article for a science publication (staying up late tonight to interview a researcher by phone in Chile). Self taught in acoustic design, he created an electronic component for amplifiers that he sells online. He also raises tarantulas, is restoring a vintage car, and plays the bagpipes. He’s still the wonderfully cooperative and cheerful boy I once knew, now with delightfully dry wit.

My son taught me that distractible, messy, disorganized children are perfectly suited to learn in their own way. It was my mistake keeping him in school as long as we did. I’m glad we finally walked away from those doors to enjoy free range learning.

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182 thoughts on “School ADD Isn’t Homeschool ADD

    • This comment came via a contact form. It’s a must read!

      My son would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s if that had been around when he was younger. He had all the symptoms, and teachers couldn’t figure him out. In first grade we were called into The Meeting by the principal and teacher because he wouldn’t follow their math rules: he needed to say “1 bear plus 2 bears equals 3 bears” (he just wanted to say, “the answer is 3” instead of having to do it the “number story way). There were other things, of course, which he needed to correct in order to fit in. We changed teachers and managed to finish the year.

      However, I could tell by second grade that things weren’t going right. I pulled him out the first week of school. During our subsequent homeschool years, he was “behind” (by government standards) in everything except math, but who cared? He was learning. He and I worked together (we read every subject/book out loud until he was around 15). He couldn’t write well, but I wasn’t concerned. I was told more than once that he probably wouldn’t finish high school, even as a homeschooler.

      He did finish and ended up majoring in math at a small private college in town. He never saw a B (3.99 GPA due to one A-). He was chosen by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to do a fully paid summer internship. Then NASA tapped him for another paid internship where he solved a problem they’d been working on for ages. After that he received something like 10 offers of full-ride graduate school scholarships to major universities such as Purdue, Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota and more. He decided to take the room/board/tuition scholarship to MIT where he is currently studying.

      Another one of our kids flatly refused to do regular schoolwork. All she wanted to do was read. And read. And read. Apparently it worked. She graduated summa cum laude from college and was the commencement speaker (wait–aren’t homeschoolers supposed to be shy and timid?). She is in her last year of law school at George Washington University (in DC) where she earned a full scholarship.

      We have other kids in the family who have also not fit the mold, but have also done well. Amazing, isn’t it?

      If you go to page 13, you’ll see a write-up about our son (it also appeared in the local Duluth, MN, newspaper).

      Vicki S.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Thank you. My only comment is that I have dealt with ADHD my entire life, and I still deal with it. Had I have had the attention you were able to bless your son with, I believe it would have benefited me greatly. This is a fact. It is a trait, not a condition. It cannot be “treated” or “cured” the same way blue eyes or red hair cannot. It is just part of who we are. Finding a way to handle these situations where we are dictated that there is only one way is seriously funneling our capabilities. I wish to start a school system that’s not standardized, specifically for hyper attention spanned children designed to provide a more open environment, one where the child can be able to conquer problems from any approach, until the answers are correct. After all, if you were to build a bridge from point a to point b, and I was to build a bridge from point b to point a, we would still have a bridge. I lack the knowledge and funding to do this however, so it will remain a pipe dream until I am able to understand business better. My name is Eran McCarter. Please, connect with me on Facebook, and if there are enough interested parties, I will write up all of my experiences from grade school through the 10 years I did in the Navy. I want to talk about this further. Thank you

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this story. That you loved your son so much to take him out of a situation that was so harmful to his unique person brought tears to my eyes. I wish all children had this opportunity. It’s simply amazing what children will accomplish when they are guided by their interests and given plenty of time to immerse themselves in their own projects.


    • I’m the slow learner Christina! I was so sure that I could make schooling work for him, to his detriment.

      In no way do I discredit teachers. I know so many passionate, engaged educators. It’s the system they (and students) are trapped in that’s the problem. As you say, children (and all of us really) can accomplish amazing things when given ample time to immerse in interests. I note in my book that there are pioneering educators who show us that this can happen in a school setting, such as Democratic Schools. Time for the slow wheels of awareness to roll in this direction…


  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! My daughter will only be 12 weeks this coming Friday, and already I am seriously considering homeschooling. I have such a low regard for schools these days, and I get a lot flap for that. I grew up with the public message that “Teaches are Heroes,” but more often than not, they act as small-fry dictators, bullying their students, whispering secrets into school administrative ears, and intimidating and frightening parents. Your scenario is the exact scenario I am afraid will happen with my daughter. To be perfectly blunt, I live in Ohio, and recently we voted down a Bill that would have done away with negotiating rights for teachers. My husband is Union, and as the wife of a Union worker, I voted against the Bill. However, I did so under protest. I think it’s too easy to get a teaching degree these days, just as I feel it’s too easy to get a nursing degree, and now our market is flooded with terrible teachers and ignorant nurses. I know people look at me with knitted brows when I speak out on this issue. I am accused of “not understanding what they go through,” but believe me, I do, and my conclusion is that we have too many ignorant people handling way too important an element for America.


    • It sounds like you’ve had bad experiences with teachers, as my son did. I suspect many of us start homeschooling as a reaction to problems with schools but I believe the problem is really the whole structure of schools and not the teachers themselves (although as you noted, there are some soft apples in every barrel). To me, it’s important to speak up about necessary changes in a way that’s most likely to bring about that change rather than simply being negative. Teachers are actually some of the most vocal advocates for changing the worst aspects of our rigid, test-based system. You may find, if you choose homeschooling, that you get all sorts of great ideas from teacher’s blogs and education books, you never know! What you will find is that homeschooling itself shows there’s a kinder, more creative, more engaged and natural way of learning unique to every child. I wish you the best on your journey with your little one.


    • Too easy to get a nursing degree? Ignorant nurses? What a joke. You sound bitter, full of sour grapes. Your daughter is only 12 weeks, and you know it all, huh? I’m lucky, my children have amazing teachers, they do what I could never ever do. I think homeschooling is great for some, and traditional schools are great for some. But I would never badmouth two careers like that. Very misogynist too, I note. Sounds like you have some serious issues that you need to examine. You should homeschool, because you would be a teacher’s worst nightmare — not because you’d be advocating for your child (as a parent with a child with severe special needs, I’ve had to get lawyers involved for educational purposes), but because you have a huge chip on your shoulder. Twelve weeks and you have it all figured out. You don’t even have a child in school, do you? I have three, and have had them in schools in different states, I have a gifted child, a SN child, and a “twice exceptional” child, so I’ve seen quite a bit. I also work with other parents to help them advocate for their children. For someone who calls others ‘ignorant’, you fit the definition of the word PERFECTLY. You speak of something you know absolutely nothing about, and with enthusiasm.


      • TY… I was reading along quite nicely till she said “nursing is easy”….. Check the records and you will notice that a BSN is in the top 5 most difficult degrees to complete with more class hours, tests, exams, practicums, and clinical hours than any other degree out there.


          • LPN aren’t even nurses. Just saying. There are ASN and BSN. My mother is a nurse and so is my fiance. Nursing is not an easy career! Nor is it easy to get the degree. While I was in college I can remember my nursing friends crying over tests. It was hard core! If you got like three C’s on tests you were out of the program and had to start over again. (That’s tests, not classes.)

            On another note:
            I was homeschooled my entire life! I highly recommend the experience for others and plan to repeat it if I am blessed to have children in the future. However, I also recognize that it is not for everyone. (That being said, I believe with proper training and understanding anyone can choose to homeschool.)

            In addition to this I must stay that I am a teacher. I went to school to be a teacher and it was not easy! I think my mother and the mothers of my childhood friends did a great teaching, yet I know that I’ll have even more resources as a trained teacher than they did. I am angered by teachers that don’t care, give up easily on students, etc. Yet be careful not to lump us all together!! I think that there needs to be accountability for teachers, however we also need to make sure that they are not forced to be political puppets. I see a lot of this! It should be understood that teachers are under horrific pressure to achieve. And those pressures often do not allow teacher to consider individual differences. The pressure to teacher to standardized test is really high!


            • LPN’S aren’t even nurses?! Licensed Practical Nurse? Wherever did you come up with that B.S.?. That is insulting to those of us who went that route;I’ve worked hospitals,nursing homes and my favorite,private duty pediatrics. You know,the ones with trachs, ventilators,oxygen,drsg. changes,transfusions, liver& intestine transplants,etc. More than once I was told they preferred an experienced LPN over a new RN. Be careful not to lump us all together!!


      • You know, she didn’t include her entire life history in that comment. Obviously she has some connection within the nursing field to pick that particular profession to critique. My mother is an RN, graduated from nursing school in 1988 and has repeatedly said that the newer nurses she encounters have received less of an education than she did, and she is frustrated with the lower standards. Her particular nursing program made no allowance for underachievement. If you got ONE test score below an 85 you were out of the program. ONE. That is no longer the case at her particular university. Furthermore, Heidi did not pronounce herself an expert in child rearing, as you have so vehemently attacked her for. It is YOU who comes across as bitter and full of sour grapes by attacking somebody with such vitriol because she expressed an opinion about her encounters with teachers and nurses.


        • I had an aunt who was an RN. She taught college classes in nursing and sat on the boards of several Midwestern Universities. She told me that the standards for nurses had seriously declined over the years too. The students entering the program were ill prepared for the upper level science and math courses.Many of them had little exposure to self direction and self discipline. But isn’t that what we are discussing here? How today’s educational climate is impacting us? What can we do to change it?
          An interesting side note: My aunt told me her students were required to earn a perfect score on their med exams in order to pass her course. Why? Because the patient may not have a second chance at life if the nurse made an error or did not catch someone else’s error. Some of her students told me at her funeral that they hated her as students, but once working, thanked their lucky stars they had her as their teacher.


      • I recently graduated from a college that had a nursing program… Kibblet, even the teachers admit that they have had to “dumb down” some of the classes and lower the standards over the last 10 years. The government changed how they are teaching the kids to do math and read…now those same kids are struggling to grasp some pretty basic concepts. Like it or not, just about every position in America has been dumbed down over the last 100 years. I an not sure this should surprise anyone though; this is what happens when you stop valuing family, religion, and education.


        • Education, yes, but what does family and religion have to do with it? Religion especially – in my experience teachers who are too religious tend to be worse teachers. There are people who want to teach Creationism in school – they value religion, and the cost is children’s education.


      • This is a really old comment, but as someone who has worked fairly closely with healthcare workers in the medical field (I was admin), I have seen that there’s room for improvement on the knowledge of medical assistants and LPNs, if not RNs too. For instance, in the allergy notes on patients’ charts I once saw a notation that the patient was allergic to sulfur. Impossible; you’d die. They meant sulFA, an old-fashioned antibiotic that predates insulin. Another example in the allergy notes: the patient’s reaction to a substance was recorded as “whelps.” So we’re growing puppies on our skin now, huh? Interesting.

        And as someone who’s battled with nutritional issues and weight issues for years I can attest that even MDs are more ignorant than is safe. I found out through my own experimentation that I’m one of the almost 50 percent of the population who would go blind on a vegan diet; I can’t effectively convert beta carotene to vitamin A. I told my new primary care physician about this and *she had never heard of such a thing,* even though there have been studies in both the U.S. and the UK to that effect and you would *think* a doctor would consider it their job to know about such things. Given the symptoms I suffered, I wonder how many women have had to have hysterectomies because no one ever told their doctors that menorrhagia can be cured by natural retinol administration–as has been done in developing countries since the mid-1970s.

        Never, EVER assume someone knows enough to do their job just because they have a degree in something. All the degree means is you passed your classes with a C or a D average. And you don’t know, going in for an exam, whether you are getting that C/D student or the magna cum laude. Good luck with that.


      • On my remark about sulfa, I meant penicillin, not insulin. And this is what I get for trying to comment on something like this with half my brain engaged elsewhere.

        Besides, you can’t be allergic to an element. You can only be allergic to a protein. Yet another sticking point, I guess. (Similar reactions to non-protein substances are more properly called “intolerances.”)


      • Did you know that if you pursue a BA in Math Education that you don’t have to take as many of the advanced courses as those pursuing a BS in Mathematics? That’s because the Education programs often lower their entrance requirements in order to make their student quota. So, guess who gets into K-12 classrooms and teaches your children math? The ones who know the least about it. (This was confirmed in my mind when I asked about teaching a Geometry course for teachers who needed a refresher on the subject. I was told no — the teachers wanted to be taught by someone with an Eduation degree. They didn’t want the class to be “too hard”.)


    • Seriously??? You think it is too easy to get a teaching degree and that we are flooded with terrible teachers and ignorant nurses? What on earth gives you the right to make that call? Because you have a kid? Because you heard another parent too consumed with how amazing their child is to realize they are not “creative” they just can’t follow basic instructions given to them in a classroom. Get over yourself and show some respect for teachers and nurses who dedicate their lives to care for others and deal with self righteous parents like yourself.


      • I am also a credentialed teacher and know the ups and downs of teaching and that teachers can be extremely good and extremely bad – no shame in this – it is exactly like other professions. I homeschool my two boys at the present and both have been in public school and will be again at some point; there is value in both systems and each are valid life experiences. Our motto is “Use what works best!” and sometimes it is homeschooling and sometimes it is public schooling. One of our sons had the absolutely worst public school teacher you could imagine and two years later the absolutely best public school teacher you could hope for (homeschooled inbetween) and so is life – good and bad – which is what our family is learning: You don’t stay in the muck and you don’t stay on a high, but learn from both! We are in many ways grateful for the awful teacher- because of the experience with her we homeschooled for a year and tried public school again a year later and hit the lottery with the most fantastic teacher! C’est la vie!!!


      • Maybe she remembers having been in school. I attended something like five school systems in thirteen years (including K). Yes, there are good teachers. There are also ignorant teachers. As I said in another comment here, you could certainly be getting the magna cum laude when you are in the care of a university-degreed person, but you could as easily be getting the C or D student.


      • Yes, it is easy to get a teaching degree. And before you go off on me too, I have a Master’s degree in education. I was in a great undergrad program touted as one of the best in the state. And I still think it’s WAY too easy to get one. And because of that, by and large, the schools become populated with mediocre teachers–ask the good teachers–they’ll agree. I remember taking the Florida teacher’s exam. I came out of that exam furious that I’d had to study 4 years to take it. So much was pure common sense and lower level ability testing. And no, I’m not particularly brilliant. What horrified me were all of the people standing outside during the breaks lamenting how hard it was! THAT was scary. After teaching middle school, high school, and college, and then reading “Better Late than Early,” I decided my children would never darken the door of a government school. The system is broken. The statistics and the real-life evidence prove it. No, the teachers aren’t entirely to blame, because in my experience, a decent teacher, when left alone, will do a great job. The problem is all of the peripherals that gum up the works and the inferior teachers who do a terrible job. And we have all experienced too many of those. I think the system would improve drastically if the teachers were required to major in their subject matter and minor in education, instead of the other way around. Then we could weed out all of those who don’t even really know their subjects. Ok, off my soapbox.


        • Your solution sounds to me like a step in the right direction. What really transmits enthusiasm for a subject is another person’s love of it and passion to share it.

          Majoring in a subject and minoring in education wouldn’t work at the elementary level, where teachers usually take on all subjects but art, music, and phys ed. When my father was an elementary school teacher, there was less oversight and no standardized tests beyond the Iowas. As I point out here,, giving teachers the freedom to innovate. Of course the best teachers, IMO, function as facilitators of a child’s learning—lighting the way toward new insights and understanding, making resources available, and staying out of the way as the child charges ahead. That’s one reason I love homeschooling and Democratic education.


    • Heidi,
      The biggest surprise of my entire life was graduating with my teaching degree (very easy), and working in a public school. ALMOST NONE OF THEM remotely are about kids. I am completely honest–only 2 special ed teachers and one guidance counselor, and our awesome principal too gave a crap). My son “had no self-control” as he tapped his pencil one day. He was “falling behind fast” as he didn’t want to do 5 worksheets–FIVE–per day in one subject. He was punished with no recess after being “too slow” in his work. He lost recess for THREE WEEKS.My daughter was fondled by another Kindergartner in class and NO ONE believed her because there were no witnesses. Yes, I am serious. I yanked them out and never looked back. GET THEM OUT NOW.


  3. I also pulled my son out of public school…my only regret is that I made him finish the 4th grade in public school. I realized that I was watching my son be destroyed. Everything that was most important about him as a person was being destroyed. After pulling him out, there was no magic that suddenly made him a star student. What did happen, was that he became a life-long learner. When he started college he experienced the same shock to find that other students were not engaged in learning.


    • I’ve been reading some blogs by grown homeschoolers and unschoolers. They often say the same thing, that they’re shocked to find how disengaged their fellow young adults are for any sort of learning. It’s not just in the college classroom, it’s across the board.

      My young adult offspring, like these bloggers, are actually driven to learn and master a whole range of subjects. Once they get going they’re on a roll. Recently one of my sons became interested in his Swedish heritage. He’s reading several books on ancient runic poetry and myths, learning how to speak Swedish, teaching himself stone carving techniques so he can carve runes into granite slabs (really hard to find granite slabs for Christmas gifts!), making rune amulets out of iron, and talking to Scandinavian friends via forums. He manages to fit this in while taking a very demanding course load as an engineering student. All my kids are like this.


    • My daughter, home-schooled since 3rd grade, decided to try out public high school this year as a freshman. It has been a big disappointment to her. She started of enthusiastic, but quickly discovered that her desire to actively engage in her learning was ridiculed by fellow students – and not always appreciated by teachers (they do not like being corrected!) I am happy that she has decided to leave at the end of the semester. I told her she could leave earlier, but her sense of responsibility makes her want to take her mid-term finals first. I can’t wait to have her home learning the ways she does best with other home-school kids who appreciate her learning style (which rarely includes a work-sheet or 30 of the same algebra problems every night).

      On another note, Laura, this post closely matches what I went through with my son when he was in public school per-k. What i nightmare. His teacher decided with the first two
      week that my son was ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder). They even brought in a social worker!! I took him into our wonderful pediatrician who told me to get
      him out of that class immediately before the teacher could harm him. We took him out and never looked back. Is he on the same track as other kids his age? No, but he is a
      good kid. Who loves to be hands on, build things, create things, and cook things. He plays piano and tennis, is learning computer programming from his dad, and surfs. He plays well with older kids and younger kids. I worry a lot about his math and writing abilities not being up to ‘standard,’ but I sometimes am surprised when he blurts out answers to complicated math problems or writes an engaging, detailed short story on his own (even if the grammar is not quite perfect), or creates whole worlds and games with his programming skills.


      • Thanks for sharing your experiences Boo. I do know a few homeschoolers who went back to public or private school and got a lot out of it, but many more who were sorely disappointed by the peer pressure, disinterest in depth learning, emphasis on testing, and anonymous feel of an institution.

        Your son sounds like he’s doing exactly what he needs to do as he learns and grows. It warms my heart to read about kids who are free to be themselves.


    • Me too! My son was broken by school. The magic that is gone may never come back. He DID learn, though–all the four-letter words, about divorce and why a lot of his friends don’t know their Daddy or live with Grandma because Mom’s in jail, etc. Oh yes, he learned a LOT. =(


  4. Thank you so much for your story! I too was ambushed by my son’s school. The administrator simply crossed her arms and scolded me, “If something is not done immediately, the problem is only going to get worse.” I said,

    “You are absolutely right!” I then took my child’s hand and walked out of that God-forsaken place forever. It is now our 4th year of home education and the whole family is thriving. I too am seeing the self-taught, learner-led enthusiasm my children have for so many subjects. I’m inspired and encouraged by your story and congratulate you and your “marvelous six-year old.”


    • I wish I’d acted as quickly as you did Chris. I stuck it out thinking I could make our schools better. But I have to agree, seeing a child’s enthusiasm for self-led learning is a delight. That’s how we’re all supposed to be!


  5. When I read this, what you and so many parents are going through with ‘call letters’, I hear and see and resonate to tears which don’t just spill, my mouth and throat
    trembling, feeling the anguish and worries about one’s flesh and blood son, the rigidity of
    arms crossed against every response offered, the efforts willing to do what is necessary
    to bring truth to light and do everything one can without yielding to pharmaceutical protocol,
    and the growing strength in the midst of it all, bringing
    clarity of understanding what is best needed for one’s child. And acting on that.
    Learning, together, as you went along. God Bless you all, all ways!
    I’m a grandma, my children grown, but I will buy this anthology for local libraries,
    and wonder if you will do an e-book of it? Inspirational and nourishing truth,
    outcomes bearing great fruit 🙂
    Thank you,
    heart-hugs, Mar


    • I assume when you say anthology you are referring to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise, the anthology Laura’s story appears in. It is available right now at 30% off cover price from It will be widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) beginning February 1st, and can be preordered now. It will also be available as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, and other formats beginning Feb. 1st. I love your idea of donating it to libraries. I donated a copy to my local public library already!


  6. I am writing this through tears, my heart resonating and cracking a little bit more. My son is six and in 1st grade (having been unschooled for his first 5.5 yrs) and I have been told by his teacher that she has never encountered behaviors like his before and that she thinks he needs to be tested.

    I teach at the school he goes to and I’m only working for the income. Even though our stories are not identical I see so many similarities.

    Thank you so much for writing this. School starts back tomorrow and I am terrified. I feel cornered and I can’t see any options. I want to be our happy unschooling family again.


    • Tabytha, I’m so sorry. I know what it’s like to feel cornered by circumstances. Even if you don’t see options, you might take a few moments to brainstorm a whole spectrum of possibilities.

      ~Include where you and your son are right now and ways to make school work for him while an unschooling spirit continues in his home life.

      ~Include possibilities of unschooling him while working. (I know parents who work full time and manage to homeschool using all sorts of approaches such as flexible schedules, help from extended family, forming cooperatives with other homeschooling families, working from home, etc.)

      ~Include your wildest dreams, like living on the road or moving to another country or joining a cooperative living community.

      These possibilities may present themselves to you in unexpected ways. Writing them down is one way of opening yourself to this.


  7. This is so lovely to read. My 7.5 year old and 5 year old have never attended school, nor do I have the motivation to send them nor do they have the interest in it. My 7.5 year old draws detailed diagrams of robots he wants to build, Mario Kart games he wants to design, and even maps of places he imagines and “make[s] up in [his] own brain!” They both taught themselves to read and can spend hours in the world of books. We make weekly trips to the library. They are currently exploring the world of Minecraft games with their dad, mining and building and crafting worlds to explore. Thank you for this reminder about why I have chosen to keep them out of school.


  8. I appreciate this story and do believe that the public, test driven system does little to promote discovery learning in students. I will say as an educator myself that this is as frustrating to many teachers as it is to students and parents. I am not sure that the answer is to pull students out and run from the issues. We need to unite for a change. I also have to question the scene of the meeting. It has been my experience that as an educator, I am not allowed to diagnose a child as “ADHD”. I am after all, not a doctor. I can tell a parent that their child is having trouble with organization and with attending to tasks. I am curious as to where this has taken place.


    • I know that teachers are frustrated with our public (and private and charter) test-driven system. I hear about this from teacher friends and those in my family who are teachers. I read passionate articles and blogs written by teachers. I write articles about educational change for several publications. Recently I wrote in this blog about my father’s experience as a public school teacher, back when teachers were given the freedom to teach as they chose and offered some steps that can be taken to remedy the problem, including links to great publications by progressive educators. In no way am I bashing teachers. They do a heroes job in often impossible circumstances. Those circumstances must change. No matter how much we seem to learn about positive change, it doesn’t seem to happen. A recent book came out highlighting the differences between US and Finnish schools. Here are some key elements:
      ~more creative play, no standardized tests
      ~no private schools or charter schools, no free market involvement
      ~teachers esteemed, not held “accountable” for student performance
      ~all children given free meals and services
      ~emphasis on equality, not competition

      I personally am not a run from the issues person. That’s why I kept my kids in school far too long. My oldest was in his teens when we made the decision to homeschool. What he faced in school was FAR worse than my third child, who is the subject of this post. I may eventually work up the courage to write about his situation, which is what truly pushed us into homeschooling. As I mentioned, I worked tirelessly as a school volunteer, on boards, as well as teaching conflict resolution to school systems during this time. I was doing everything in my power to change the system. It only got worse. It saddens me now that I didn’t homeschool my children much sooner. Every day, what homeschoolers and unschoolers do changes society. (I have an entire chapter about this in my book.) Homeschooling shows what can be accomplished without the rigid dictates of an institution. I don’t believe it’s running from the issue. It’s making a strong, involved, ethical, and very personal decision for one’s own children.

      As to your final question about the scene of the meeting. It took place exactly as noted. My children, at the time, were students in an award-winning suburban school about 25 minutes away from Cleveland, Ohio. The teacher, not the best example of her profession, was antagonistic and insisted my child had ADHD. According to the psychologist, she was right. But in the case of my son, those symptoms were largely a manifestation of certain structures imposed on him by school or school-like expectations at home.


    • Where teachers really need to unite is in learning about foods and how the poisons are causing these issues, further aggravated by pharmaceuticals. Vaccine trigger many of these learning disabilities too but the poisons in food seem to worsen the problem. As long as people remain ignorant about white flour, sugar, dyes, hydrogenated oils, fake sugar, processed foods, vaccines and legal drugs – nothing will ever change.

      Another place teachers should ignite is to get the politics and political correctness out of textbooks. They are misrepresenting history by leaving out facts, sugar coating truths and blatantly lying to dodge honest accounts that are politically incorrect. Science is taught as facts when most of it is only theory. That is why our homeschool family will not use a textbook for any subjects outside of Math and Grammar. The texts are a real problem these days as the content is very much driven by industry lies.

      Thanks for sharing your story, too many parents share similar stories these days and the problem is greatly ignored because of industry greed.


      • Always read skeptically when someone militates against vaccines, which have saved hundreds of millions of human lives in the past 100 years.


    • No one is “running” from the problem. We are leaving a broken system in our locality. Maybe where you live is peaches and roses. Not here. I am in Virginia, in a county that is the least-funded and has many failures, from the top down. I have a Master’s degree and am working on my Ed.D; I am positive I am doing the right thing. Group learning is NOT the only way, nor is it the best for every child. And I know very well we are not to diagnose, mention meds, etc but IT HAPPENS. They did it to me right there in the same ‘meeting’, complete with the rolling of eyes and arms crossing…and I knew they weren’t supposed to. I was one of them!! I know what goes on behind closed doors, and how teachers make fun of kids in the teacher’s lounge because I was THERE. We are never going back, I can do it myself. And I AM sure.


  9. What a wonderful article! My younger brother is exactly the same way, he was never actually diagnosed, but because we were homeschooled he was able to follow his interests and now he is going into the Sea Cadets, and just graduated from boot camp. He had drawn many comic books, fought many imagined enemies, and is going to be a successful and happy adult despite “childhood issues.”
    I am going to homeschool my own baby (due in July), even though my husband works for the public school system (actually, he is hugely supportive of this BECAUSE he works for the system) mostly so I can have a child who learns at his own pace, follows his own interests and dreams- because that’s as much the purpose of learning as any. Learning how to dream and how to use your own imagination is as crucial to life as how to do anything else.


  10. Honest. Brave. Spunky. Grounded. Kind. …and so much more. That’s how I see you, and from your description, sounds like you guided an amazing son to being nearly grown up! Kudos to you, and to free range learning! I share your book every chance I get. It is so inspiring!


  11. What a great article. We’re on our 3rd year of homeschool. My daughter 7 and son 4. Both kids attended preschool for learning to play and be around kids their age. My son still goes 3 days a week and we homeschool the other two. (I was homeschooled from 7th grade and up) I read your article seeing this as my sons future. He is highly delay on his speech and hates to sit still. But when you stand back and observe you see the high intelligence waiting to show/prove to everyone. Its always refreshing to read uplifting homeschool stories to remind us why we do this. TO GIVE OUR CHILDREN THE VERY BEST WE CAN GIVE THEM! Thanks for posting your article.


  12. I pulled up and saw the picture..Exit sign..and started crying.. Child in 6th grade. The school is intent on destroying my childs character and integrity..behaving as if my child is the child they judge and i am wrong..knowing the child he is..I am just starting..have to withdrawl on 1/4/12. And let the homeschooling begin…Scared, excited..and I needed to cry. ..and enjoyed your blog, experience..I am not alone..and I can see my childs’ future by you sharing your childs’ success..thanks so much..


      • Thank you Laura, and to all who offered encouragment. Our homeschooling has begun. Already I find that I am not weary, instead only being tired. The attitude he received from school and the experiences he went thru, honestly, I don’t think I could have gone thru them with the same courage that he has shown. I am so glad that is over. I am going to journal these experiences from my viewpoint to truly put them behind me. I found a wonderful sitter, I work during the day, and we are doing this in the evenings. And my son loves her already. This all came together truly thru God’s hand. I only had to have the courage and just do it. And now we are experiencing a new way of life and it is wonderful.


    • Stacy,
      The first year is always the scariest. Trust your heart and the fact that you know your son better than the educational system does. Have fun learning about what interests your child. Homeschooling is a lot of work, but learning alongside your children is such a blessing and a LOT of fun too! 🙂


  13. Glad you found a happy, engaged path for your children! My kids are happy and engaged in school, but I have always figured that homeschooling would be an option if they weren’t. I think having a lifelong love of learning has to be the goal, wherever they are.


  14. WOW wonderful story. While I dont personally relate to the struggles you and your son had, I do relate to the homeschooling part! I have never put 3 of our children into the public or private system and could not imagine sitting across the table from the teacher and principal as you described…way to go not punching them out! Feel pride for your son, and I don’t even know him! ROCK ON MOmma!


  15. I am sitting here-in tears-I have a child-whom you just described. I needed to read this today-as we begin our daily school at home. Thank you!!


  16. Some sixteen years ago, in our local elementary school, a fifth grade teacher was talking to some of us parent volunteers about the one kid in her class that would have to be medicated to continue in her class. She was a respected teacher and most of the kids liked her, however, that one kid, didn’t act like the others and she was compelled to get him on “meds” so that he would stop disrupting the class. We knew his parents, and we never considered him to be any different than any of the other kids. Several of the teachers agreed with her, as though they knew more about the situation than even the doctors that the parents finally took him to. As parent volunteers, we were stunned that the teachers could weld so much power over our kids in an attempt to control a classroom in the easiest manner available.
    Good for you for seeing the problem and doing something positive for your son.


  17. I too tried working through the system. I believed that if I was not part of the solution-I was part of the problem. I volunteered at the school. That opened my eyes. I have never seen as many emotionally needy children. I met so many children who were starving for attention from someone who loves them. I don’t mean that they were a little whiny–I mean that their lives were so stunted and so narrow that they clung to any attention and acted out to get any attention they could. They were unable to carry on a normal conversation that demanded that they listen and respond to ordinary give and take. For instance, “what is your favorite color?” “Do you like music?” They would stare blankly unable to process what was expected. They would gather around me and just want to be touching me. When I took notice of what they were wearing or how their hair was fixed and complimented them–they had no idea how to respond. They know how to text. They know how to work all kinds of technology, and can discuss what some anime character did and said two weeks ago–but cannot tell you what they like, nor discuss why an anime character did or said something. The system is broken.


    • Your description is tragic N.K. It sounds like something more essential is lost in these kids than can be blamed on any school system. Whether schooled or homeschooled, every child needs unconditional love from infancy on and a life balanced enough that they have time to be in nature, time to play, and time to daydream. Sounds like these might be elements that are missing here.


    • You are exactly right. It’s like visiting a miniature prison camp. Very sad. VERY. And the teachers continue to yell and complain about them…


  18. Homeschooling does not change the child’s own unique learning styles, but as parents we can optimise learning because we have the time, patience and love for our children, otherwise a child might just get lost in the system of trying to press them into molds and make them standardized.


  19. WOW. That’s all I can say. I am a home school mom to my 10yo twins. The decision was made before they were born and I fought my husband, family and friends tooth and nail that this is what I am doing. Most of them now see that it is the only way. My daughter is ADHD and my son has Aspergers symptoms, though very mild. He builds rockets every day too :-)…

    My kids would NEVER cope in public school. Although they’d love to have more friends (they do have lots), they do not ever want to go to a school, because they love the fact that they are already a term ahead of their peers (first 4 grades were too emotionally draining due to financial and other issues as you mentioned above to fast track them).

    You did the right thing staying away from pharmaceuticals and thanks for the allergies tip. I think my daughter may have allergies too and will look more into that. She does the stretching and yawning thing in class and snores in the night too. Currently she is taking a range of tissue salts for nerves and anxiety and overall well-being and it seems to be helping a bit with the sensory integration issues.

    Congratulations on a job well done!!!


  20. I think homeschooling is fantastic, but it’s not always that bad. There ARE some amazing teachers, and schools out there. I have one child, a junior in public high school, who has ADD, and is in all AP classes, and college classes with the local community college. She enjoys school, and is looking forward to college, and grad school. My middle child has had mentors, and lots of support and accommodations for his disability, and is in all honors classes in middle school. My youngest has severe disabilities and has one on one care, the therapies he needs to be as independent as possible, and plenty of time with his typically developing peers. All 3 have different needs, interests, learning styles, and yet are still accommodated wonderfully in our public school system. However, in our old system, it was awful. It really depends on where you are.


  21. I went to some award winning schools in North Olmsted. I wonder if I met some of the teachers that you are talking about. I was a “gifted” child and hated school. I believe that my experiences are, in part, why I now homeschool my own children. We even tried a private school with small classes and more individual learning styles, but the best place for our children was home with me. We are not running from the problem, we have found a perfect solution to our problem. I am the best teacher for my children. Period.


  22. Back when my oldest son was in 1st grade they didn’t have the ADD label.His kindergarten teacher was a bit older and wiser:When it rained and she was the last to get a movie for the kids to watch during recess, she ended up with Hamlet…my son got engrossed in it, so after recess she let him watch the rest of it! She let him sit in the very back of the class, so he had ‘wiggle’ room when she taught.She told me to have him tested outside the school system, because at some point they were going to test him. She knew. I had him tested, the psychologist said to me “either he’ll drop out or school will ruin him, he’s too creative for it”. In 1st grade the teacher told me constantly about his ‘problems’…he didn’t listen during book reading (which I found odd, at home we were on the 3rd book in the Narnia series!) I asked what they were reading, opened the book and saw “the duck goes quack quack”….so I told her-he’s just bored with it, he knows a duck quacks, it’s not interesting. He stared into space while she talked to the class, I asked what he’d told her..she said “I didn’t ask him! He’s a child!”…so I asked him, he said “I’m bored, so I’m thinking”. He didn’t sit still..I knew that, it was valid, but the problem with that was that he didn’t learn when he sat still! At home he’d ‘sit’ upside down in a chair twirling his legs like helicopter blades while I read to him…he’d remember the whole thing. But if I made him sit still, he couldn’t remember anything I’d read. I asked if he could get behind the bookcase to listen while she talked,so his wiggles wouldn’t disrupt, that was the only solution I could think of. It was a bad idea apparently.It came to a head when she held him in from recess for not finishing a paper, which at the time in California was not a choice that she could legally make, so I told the prinipal if it ever happened again, I’d take it right up the ladder.That was the end of any ‘good’ relationship I had with the teacher, and she said he was ‘retarded’ and she wanted him tested. I said he reports he’s just bored, if they didn’t bore him it would work better. She insisted on testing, so I said okay, I had test results already. He got tested. We went to the meeting, Psychologist, Teacher, Principal and me. The psychologist opened with “Well, I must say, after observing him in the classroom and testing him…well his IQ is 165, he’s not retarded and I have never in my entire career seen a student SO BORED !”…The teacher’s jaw dropped and the principal actually laughed! I took him out of school shortly after that. Being a single mom, I had to work, but even though our schedule was unique…who says you can only learn between the hours of 8 and 3!! He’s an artist, he’s a musician, no I can’t say he took the college world by storm, he didn’t go…he did tour the country with his band and he works as an artist and he’s one of the most interesting people you could talk to…with a very dry wit. After he was grown and married, I got married again and sadly my stepson had the label ‘developmentally disabled’…the school said he’d never get past a 3rd grade level and could only hope to live in a group home. We didn’t pull him out of school, my husbands family includes a teacher, and they all clung to the schools diagnosis.But really the school was just passing him on from grade to grade and I actually caught them on changing his test scores so he could pass onto the next grade…that was interesting!! I on the other hand saw things in him, and worked like crazy with him…he was a little slower to catch on, it took 3 months to teach him to do laundry. He needed to do things in a certain order, or he lost his place and forgot the rest of the steps…things like that, too much work for the school.By the time he graduated he was in several regular classes, he held down a job, he learned to drive and got his license (he’s never gotten a ticket or had an accident!) and he rents a house with ‘normal’ friends of his and holds down a regular job…none of them know anything about his school years, he doesn’t have a label with them, he’s just a guy. That is what he always wanted. We had a surprise baby, when we thought I was really too old for that, and now he’s free schooled/unschooled/whatever schooled at home. He’s got that creative thing going on and he wiggles like crazy…so I just never bothered even trying school with him. I feel sorry for alot of the teachers, they really would like to teach something other then test answers to comply with ‘no child left behind’….it’s sad that in trying to ‘fix’ the schools, they picked such a horrible way to do it, because more students are getting truly left behind and not really learning anything other then how to take those tests.


    • So true Aadel.

      Sadly, the tools that formal educators have been given are simply cookie-cutters so that they can reproduce the identical end-product. That approach might be successful if every person were made from the same lump of dough! 😉
      However, we are all unique with varying levels of interest, enthusiasm and approaches to learning. I love the differences I see in my children. 🙂


  23. I am very glad to see that a child can learn “on his own” – although to be honest, I’m still not 100% sold on anything like “unschooling” or letting the child dictate how he spends his time completely. If my son (who does sound a bit like this) would actually show some excitement and motivation to do anything other than play a certain computer game or talk about Pokemon I’d be more inclined to give him the go ahead. But it seems that we first have to teach children what is useful in life, not? I can’t just sit back and hope he will one day wake up and realize he’s going to have to earn a living and support a family and you can’t do that playing video games (well ok, most people can’t.) (BTW, we have very limited computer/video time and don’t even have regular TV, so it’s not like he actually does this a lot. Maybe that’s why he’s so fixated on it, because it’s a treat?)

    My son is 10 yrs old and also loves to read. A “problem” with this is that when he’s assigned reading about history he just keeps on going – he doesn’t stop with the 2-5 pages he’s assigned. 😉 Unfortunately I don’t know how to manage this type of learning, as I am a very by-the-book type of person. Help?!?


    • I think children are drawn to master what is useful when given the opportunity. They want to see adults doing meaningful and interesting tasks so they can model themselves after those adults.

      They want to see how their communities work and to be involved as much as possible beyond the limitations imposed on children

      They want to pursue their own interests as far as their curiosity takes them and face their own challenges on their own timetables, richer for learning from their mistakes.

      They need to play, daydream, run around, ride their bikes, pal around with buddies, and act on what fascinates them. This seems like fun and it’s true, at the heart of it learning is so engaging that it IS fun.

      If you can, let him indulge in that urge to continue reading in his history book. If he’s interested, help him find more resources on the topic (project-based books and sites, documentaries, models, foods from the era) that he’s free to use as long as his curiosity holds. This is how learning “sticks,” when the learner is engaged, interested, and seeking answers to his/her own questions.

      I understand your concern that he’ll need to grow up and earn a living. It’s actually possible to learn all the math, reading, and science he needs through his interests alone if you chose to pursue an interest-led style of homeschooling. In fact that’s what top educational researchers recommend, specifically allowing students to learn any subject through what interests them (for example, a child who loves baseball can learn history, science, math, and language all within the topic of that sport). IMO, there’s no need to limit your homeschooling lives together to one specific style. There are all sorts of forms of homeschooling. You don’t have to declare yourselves unschoolers or unit study homeschoolers or any other style. It’s important to find the balance that works for you, your son, and your family. Chances are it will continue to change and adjust as your son grows older. I write a lot about this in Free Range Learning.


    • Hi Michelle,

      Delight-led learning can be done all sorts of different ways. Find something that really piques his interest (perhaps what era you are learning about in history) and then expound on that. Unit studies work well for us. But no matter what method you choose, it has to be something that works for you and your child. Our approach is more eclectic. Math, English and Language Arts are not totally delight-led (we do textbooks for math because that was my least favorite subject in school and I don’t feel that I could adequately cover what needed to be covered without that accountability) but Science and History we choose what we want to study and we throw ourselves into that wholeheartedly. I have found that when what we are learning about greatly interests my children, the more useful information they retain. 🙂 Learning is more than just memorizing facts and figures.

      And you would be surprised at what kids absorb! Our study of the solar system had my kids spouting facts about the universe to whomever would sit still long enough to listen. 😉 That’s when you know that they grasped ahold of that subject and it stuck with them..when they want to share their new-found knowledge with anyone they can.

      So with reference to him reading ahead, I say let him! 😉 (I always read ahead in!) And add fuel to that fire of learning by taking him to the library and checking out some books that are about what he is studying in history. We LOVE our library!

      It takes guts and determination to follow your heart rather than a textbook, but if you are already homeschooling, you possess these qualities. 🙂

      You can do it!


    • Read about the Robinson Curriculum. Even if you are not in need of a new curriculum, go there and read about it. That will help you understand the concepts of unschooling better. I don’t really unschool…I just don’t teach. My kids are their own teachers. They have assignments and they get them done before they are allowed play time. I am only there to check their work and find alternate ways of explaining Math when the video (we use Math U See) doesn’t work. Often with math, just seeing a different method will make the first method click. I don’t call what we do unschooling, I just call it “self education”. My 7 year old is still reading with me there to help, but once she’s a better reader, she’ll be self educating like my 12 yr old does. I usually allow him to write about whatever he wants, so when he writes his essay – it’s a least a subject he enjoys talking about.


    • Unschooling is not letting them do what they want all day–it’s about following their talents and interests and being unafraid to not follow a government-style pace or curriculum. My son would play Minecraft all day if I let him, but we don’t do that. And we are unschoolers. It’s more about learning to follow your own path and trusting yourself as opposed to trying to act like a classroom teacher. Teaching a group is nothing like teaching one on one.


  24. Thank you for writing this! I haven’t had this experience exactly but I know if my youngest had been oldest enough to start school (she missed the cut-off by 3 wks), we would’ve gone down this road. Thankfully, God had a bigger plan and we started homeschooling our other children full time before she was “school age”. She falls into the same type of situation and resists classic education but will tell you anything you want to know about her interests (mostly history). God’s given us unique, wonderful children and it’s sad that the education system, who is supposed to help is discouraging these wonderful kids.


  25. Thank you for this article. It was shared with me by a friend that I contacted regarding homeschooling. My 4 year old son recently started preschool in the school system. Having been a speech therapist in the schools prior to staying home with my children I have a wonderful relationship with his teacher and the preschool coordinator. He is a very intelligent, strong willed child and I anticipated some adjustment time needed in the classroom but what we (the teachers and I) have experienced has been completely unexpected. My son has exhibited behaviors ranging from defiances to OCD as well as some aggression which have carried over into the home. The teacher and coordinator suggested that we meet for dinner (a neutral place) to discuss what was best for him. We reduced him to just 3 days per week and he currently has a behavior plan that requires the teacher to recognize what triggers his behaviors and remove him from the situation prior to a negative behavior. She has been wonderful and he often goes on and on about how Ms. Penny walked around the school with him or took him in the hall to do a puzzle. He is doing much better in the classroom but requires removal about 6 times per day. He was also tested and ADD with OCD tendencies is highly suspected. While I am encouraged at how well he is doing now, i know that this kind of assistance will not occur in a school age classroom and that medication will be suggested. I am not completely against medication if he truly needs it to be successful but he is so young and may outgrow so much of this on his own. After discussing my concerns with the preschool coordinator, she agrees that he will struggle in the kindergarten classroom and suggested that I look into homeschooling him for a couple of years and see how he does. As I began to consider this as an option, I became overwhelmed at the possibility of teaching him the wrong things or not enough. I have been very encouraged by your article as well as by the comments of your readers that he can successfully guide his own education. Thank you


  26. My heart literally ached reading your son’s story. In many ways it paralleled my story with my own son (now almost 20). We entered kindergarten knowing he was going be a handful for any teacher. ADHD was mentioned early on. My husband, a mental health professional literally grieved at the diagnosis having witnessed many children coming through their offices. For me as I began to devour books and anything I could find to understand this “label” began to understand myself. Wow, that’s why school was a bit of a challenge for me years ago! LOL I volunteered myself silly. Many people thought I was employed by the school system. I met with teachers, principals, and even our school superintendent trying to affect some sort of change in how we teach these often brilliant misunderstood children. Most of my attempts were completely futile. So frustrating for my son and myself. I finally hung up my cynical PTA hat for good a couple of years ago.

    I think one of the last straws for us was in high school when teachers who had him in their class for 55 minutes a day tried to look at me and tell me in their expert opinion how they had my son all figured out! They were terribly wrong and it made me furious at the additional labels they were piling on him. My bright, quick learning, easily bored, unorganized, creative, musical son had been convinced he was worthless and certainly not college material. He was a statistic waiting to happen (self medicating with drugs, alcohol & sex). We attended one of these ambush meetings .. my husband went to this one last meeting with me certain he could help them see reason. (haha little did he know). After all, he was a 20 year mental health professional who was now the director of the county Mental Health Center. As we sat in the meeting, with our son, hearing how terrible of a teen he was we felt so defeated. My husband attempted to give them a very graphic illustration as to why “accommodations” were needed and not should not be seen as special favors or giving our son an easy way out. He reached over and took my reading glasses off my face and told those educators that I could try and try to read something placed in front of me but without the accommodation of reading glasses no amount of effort would allow me to read. I wasn’t being defiant, I wasn’t being purposely difficult, I simply required glasses to read. It went straight over their heads. I thought it was brilliant.

    So following a dismal start in high school and seeing his feel more and more like a failure, I removed him following his 10th grade year. We began homeschooling to try and simply finish high school. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t easy. I could have kicked myself, for not having pulled the plug on public school years earlier. In may ways we “un-schooled” for a few months. I felt as if I had to reprogram him into seeing all of the good he had inside.

    Shortly after we removed him from school we sat in a small group meeting with some friends from church. We were watching a video of a minister talking about how much money is spent each year on self-help books, seminars etc… efforts to “fix” our weaknesses. He said many of those efforts then led to depression and discouragement because it never seemed like the weaknesses could be fully fixed. He then began to tell us that God had gifted each of us with unique strengths and if we were spending all our time working on weaknesses and neglecting our God given strengths not only were we feeling defeated because we couldn’t fix the weaknesses we were then even not feeling great about our strengths because they were so neglected. It was like a lightbulb went off. I realized every single day I sent my child to public school all that was ever focused on were the negatives. How he didn’t fit in their box. I also realized that by pulling him out of school I now had a unique opportunity to began to nourish and celebrate his strengths.

    We got him finished with high school and long story shorter (sorry …) he left Jan 8, 2011 to begin studying worship music ministry in Sydney, AU at Hillsong Leadership College. He successfully finished his first year and came back a new person. For the first time EVER, he felt good about school. He had succeeded and had experienced teachers and professors celebrating his strengths!!! He felt so successful that when there were times he had assignments and work that needed to come from areas that weren’t his strongest, he still succeeded because he was so full of success in his areas of strength!!!! He leaves in just 2 weeks to start his second year. I’m grateful and thankful to have finally learned how to help him best. (my secret dream his for him to become so successful as a musician that he would some day accept some type of an award and in his speech say that he’d like to thank all his former public school teachers for all he’d learned except he couldn’t because they had almost killed his dreams instead! – yes I’m a terrible mother, LOL).

    What I’ve learned and try to share with other moms is that you should trust your instincts because many times mothers do know best.


    • Thanks for sharing your experience Jennie. You’ve hit on a really important point. Each one of us is given a whole array of strengths. Building on those strengths allows us to grow more fully into our gifts. Focusing on our so-called “weaknesses” in an attempt to help us progress at an even pace doesn’t necessarily build on our gifts and may weaken us further. What we resist, persists.

      When our unique and uneven development is honored, it tends to augment (eventually) those areas that aren’t as strong. This is true in learning but also in social, emotional, and physical maturity. I’ve seen this happen over and over in situations where children’s own timetables are respected.

      I may have a child who doesn’t fit in the school mold because she seems to need constant movement or a child who prefers to spend most of his time in solitary and imaginative play. This girl’s energy can be expressed in play, dance, using tools to build, horseback riding, reading while in a rocking chair, helping out with chores, climbing trees, all sorts of ways. As her active nature is fulfilled, she is more likely to relax into reflective moments when she’s open to quieter forms of learning. The shy child may feel most comfortable drawing, reading, playing make believe. Feeling safe can help him respond from a place of strength built in himself from all those hours of self expression, helping him to more easily interact with others.


  27. Wow! Aside from a few differences and the fact we aren’t able to homeschool and put our son in private school after two years in public, there are so many similarities! From the food allergies, the staff insisting medication would help…. I was actually told by the school psychologist, “If you won’t medicate him, I can’t help him!” That was in April of 2nd grade, after daily bouts of tears, on my part and his, having his desk moved away from everyone, facing the wall, with his back to the white board so he couldn’t see the math lesson being done on it…. We put him in a private school with classes half the size of the public school. He still has issues staying focused in class, is easily distracted. It isn’t the perfect answer but we’re in a better place than we were.


  28. How enlightening. We have decided to let my daughter (who is exactly as you describe your son to be, the oldest of 6 and I have homeschooled her all her life) “free range” as you call it for the first time this year. It has been amazing to see what research she delves into leaving math behind as a conscience choice that she won’t need it when she’s a homesteading farmer when she grows up. But the biology of creatures from mold to horses has captured her mind. I’m amazed by her and the fights between us have come almost to an end. Thank you for this post. I needed this.


    • I suspect she’ll come to realize on her own how much she’ll need math as a homesteading farmer. What we do on our little farm requires all sorts of geometry, estimation, accounting, weights/measures, simple physics, and many more applications of math. But she’ll come to it out of necessity and delight, and through this come to truly understand it.


  29. Like so many commenters, this is my story too. I endured three years of public school with my son that included frequent admonitions to have him medicated. I was so determined not to, but three years can really wear a person down, especially as I watched my sweet, curious, creative little boy grow more and more anxious, depressed and start defining himself as a “bad kid” as he continued to get in trouble on a daily/hourly basis. As a single parent, homeschooling wasn’t an option, but literally the night before I was going to give him the first dose of ADHD medication, I read a book about Sudbury Schools and how kids with ADHD generally thrive in that kind of democratic, child directed, free learning environment. In minutes I located the Sudbury school in my area and arranged to take a tour with my son. From the moment we set foot on campus, we were both in love, and he’s now been attending school there since the beginning of the school year. The changes I’ve seen in him as a result are phenomenal. The longer he spent in public school the more angry, anxious and difficult he became. I watched my little boy shift into an eight year old sullen teenager. But once he started attending our local Sudbury school, all of that faded away and he became so joyful again, and so curious and interested in everything now that he’s once again free to explore and to be himself.

    Paying for a private school education is not easy, even at a Sudbury school where tuition is generally quite a bit cheaper than traditional private schools and financial assistance is generous. But for my family, where homeschooling is sadly not an option, it has been so, SO worth it.


  30. Here, here! I love reading these tried and true stories of homeschooling. After twenty years of homeschooling (and another 11 or 12 to go; we have ten children), it took a while to see the “world acknowleged” fruits of our efforts, and while it was good to get the pats on the back when our oldest (home taught, k-12) son graduated at the top of his college class, an entrepreneuer, the president of every club he joined, etc., etc., we’d known for a long time that home teaching produced children of another caliber entirely — with qualities so foreign to the conventional-minded that they have no bar to measure our children against. And it’s not because they’re brilliant, mind you. We believe that, because our kids have been brought up without peer dependency, they are free and unfettered to be ethical, caring, confident, and creative. Everyone of them has a mind of his/her own — and is unafraid to use it. We are constantly asked, in fact, how it is that all of our ten chldren are leaders. And what do we do to get them to apply themselves so well? The answers is that in our homeschool environment, there is just simply nothing holding the children back from being themselves — and no reason they can’t reach for any star they want to grab.

    Thanks for a great post! Blessings to you and your family, Laura!


    • I love the way you put all of this Lisa, especially this: “There is simply nothing holding the children back from being themselves–and no reason they can’t reach for any star they want to grab.” Every word rings with the same truths we’ve discovered. Thank you.


  31. I am so encouraged by your article, and most of the comments here. I began homeschooling my son this school year. After a challenging preschool, and difficult kindergarten year, I felt God was leading me this way. I wrote out a proposal and convinced my husband to allow us to try it. I am trained as a teacher, have Master’s Degree in Reading Education. I felt that would totally prepare me to teach my son at home. Unfortunately, I may have been mistaken. I am trained to teach a certain way, and it is so difficult to do “free range,” as you call it. I also tend to teach in the way I learn best, which is by reading and writing. I am not rambunctions; I like to sit still. When he bounces around, it makes it soooo hard for me to keep reading to him because it is so distracting to me. I am afraid the won’t learn what he needs to. But, then the struggle to learn what he “needs to” is so horrible and draining that I just want to give up sometimes. He has terrible tantrums and just gets soooo mad. I think I am also still a little concerned about what others think, including my husband. We were both overachievers, and somehow homeschool seems odd. I am more interested in doing what my son needs than being “normal.” I’ve been slowly learning that “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So, thank you just for writing your experiences and helping others be “weird.” I am encouraged by this, and look forward to reading more of what you have to say! My God bless your efforts!


    • Welcome to homeschooling Elizabeth!

      Some homeschoolers find their children easily learn, as you do, through reading and writing. But it sounds like you’re very aware that your little boy has his own way of learning, one that he needs to assert through his body (“bouncing around”) and his emotions (tantrums). There’s a wonderful book, The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning, by Sally Goddard Blythe that gives a clear case for a whole body approach to learning. It explains, for example, how expecting a young child to “sit still and pay attention” is counterproductive. The child can’t do both!

      It also sounds like you’re aware that you’re still finding your stride as homeschoolers, especially while it still seems “odd.” That’s one of the beautiful things about homeschooling. We can change and adapt according to our child’s needs and abilities, watching as learning unfolds even if it does so in ways that are very different than mainstream education. You aren’t alone. Many of us walk in your shoes. I’d like to share a passage about trust from my book, Free Range Learning:

      “As we begin to trust that our children are learning we start to relax. This process takes time, sometimes years, because most of us who are parenting homeschooled children were not homeschooled ourselves. WE have a mindset about what defines education based on our own background, even if we fully intend to change those experiences for our children. Most of us need evidence of achievement to help us recognize that our children are learning, especially at first. Gradually we see the strengths our children are developing. We acknowledge the uniquely pruposeful way they are maturing as they explore, argue, question, play, and participate in the world around them. Parental intuition is at work as well, letting us know on a gut level that our children are not only okay, they are thriving.

      “As we truly relax in our homeschooling lives, something nearly magical starts to happen. We not only demonstrate trust to our children, we feel it. We are more centered. We are better able to be joyful and present to each other without the constant pressure to meet school-like expectations. That makes all the difference. Through these eyes of trust we are more readily able to see, really see, how much learning is taking place.

      “Trust goes the other way as well. We raise our children with confidence that learning will unfold. In doing so, we not only empower this natural process, our words and actions also teach our children to trust themselves.


  32. This could describe my 6 year old perfectly. She is and does everything that you mentioned. I had the privilege of observing this behavior in a close friends child and she was confronted by the school as you were, insisting that medication was the answer. I knew that day would come for me. My otherwise brilliant, but distractable child didn’t have the emotional maturity or desire to sit in a classroom all day. Trying to learn from others’ mistakes, I decided to hold her back a year and let her start Kindergarten at nearly age 6 – as a homeschooler. She is flourishing. We sometimes have to do her work in 20 minute spurts, take a break, or allow her to embellish her work in some way, but it works! She is already testing years ahead in her reading and math. I am so glad we decided this. It isn’t easy, but neither is the ridiculous regimen demanded by the public school system. The last thing I wanted to see was her spirit quenched and her opinion of herself destroyed by people who told her she had a “problem”. We’ve also had numerous friends tell us they believe she has Asberger’s and that we should get her diagnosed so she will get “help”. I am reading on how to “help” someone with Asberger’s, but most of it is what we already do to manage her behavior issues. I believe she will outgrow them. I was the same way. My Mom did this for me, and I did. And I’m thankful.


    • It’s interesting how much faith people put in labels isn’t it? Faith in ourselves and our children, like the faith your mother showed in you, is a brighter path forward. Welcome to homeschooling Rachel!


  33. LOVED this! We homeschooled all five of our kids at one time or another, depending on the child and the school that was available to them. They are now in their 30s so it was a long time ago. When people would see us out and about during the day and ask why the kids weren’t in school I would tell them, “They ARE in school. The world is our campus and school is in session 24 hours a day!”


  34. Wow! This is just what I needed to read right now. Our lives have been anything but normal the last years due to so many circumstances so out of our control. As a result relaxed to unschooling has been path. Reading such things as this makes me feel less stressed and quite refocused on the truth of our chaotic reality. Life, regardless of circumstances, can not stop learning. Being surrounded by so many that go the common route, it is a breath of fresh air…..a cold glass of water in a desert, to read something such as this and have my perspective once again renewed. So, THANK YOU!


  35. I loved the comment about how kids on restricted diets don’t fit in well in the cafeteria. How have we become a society that if you don’t bring Oreos and Cheetos in your lunch everyday, you aren’t popular. My son too was diagnosed with A.D.D. We are working through lots of possible ways to help him medication free. He is in a great school now, but when 5th grade passes and he goes to Middle School I am already concerned and considering homeschooling at that time. I think i will enjoy reading you site. Thank you.


  36. Many of the ‘complaints’ about my son in elementary school were prized qualities as he went through middle and now high school. I remember crying as well in my car . He also played chess and was happy, cheerful, and helpful. He is now a graduating senior going off to a prestigious university and a great young man. I know your post will help a lot of people and wish I had access to something like it when he was little. I am not philosophically opposed to medication if necessary, but not so mediocre or downright bad teachers can have what they think would be an easier time. There were teachers who took his energy and passion and used it to benefit the class- (keeping notes of class discussions to later make a news show, etc) or to help them (alphabetizing things or finding sources on computer, etc). I could write more about a lot more about great and poor teachers but you said it beautifully. Your posts will help a lot of people. i know my son has an interesting perspective on those early years. I wonder what your son thinks.


  37. This is very much like how I was in school, also in Ohio (Wooster), also in “good” schools—bored out of my MIND, getting into lots of trouble because of it—sorry, teachers! : ) Everything was utterly infantile!

    I was 5 but could count anything (couldn’t do math yet only because I hadn’t had the opportunity, but when I encountered it, everything in the book was a foregone conclusion), read 5th-grade-level stuff very easily, & read the college dictionary for fun, but the school allowed me into only 2nd-grade-level reading, 1st-grade-level math, & kindergarten everything else. I actually had to sit through a ½ hr of Letter People every day & have 3 YEARS of phonics lessons! When I transferred to a different school, only 1 yr of acceleration was allowed, & so I was forced into the same 4th-grade reading course (identical book even!) I had just completed with a perfect grade, & so at age 8 went on strike in reading (to no avail). The same teacher had SRA cards to be read, with questions to be answered, during free time. Of course, I was forced to start at the ridiculously low 4th-grade level. I read furiously through 2½ grades’ worth in 1 yr, trying to reach the level where things would not be terribly easy, but never made it.

    Throughout school, there was only about 2 grades’ worth of grammar spread out from K–6 (& no more grammar ever) & not a single lesson in world history.

    I had never been instructed to learn any arithmetic facts & so, not knowing this was necessary, counted to solve my math problems & I was fairly fast at it, so teachers didn’t suspect anything unusual. By jr. HS, math got more complex & I couldn’t keep up. By HS, I was lost in math & my mind had stagnated so long that I hadn’t progressed in reading level more than 1 yr over the course of NINE; I couldn’t understand any textbooks more than very vaguely. I had no idea this had happened or what was wrong. No matter how hard I worked in school, I had a C average. I’d study for tests & got a result the same as if I hadn’t, so gave up on studying. I was being driven up the wall by my mom every time (lots), she said, “You’re so smart. Why don’t you get better grades?” because I had no idea. Finally, at the age of 30, I figured out how everything had gone wrong.

    My daughter started reading at 20 mo. old, & spelling at 2 yrs old. She begged for reading lessons though at 3½. I started teaching her with McGuffey Readers, i.e. hard ones, & had to start at the 4th-grade level since she already knew all the words up to that point. By 4½ she begged for the Latin lessons I had planned to start her on maybe in K, maybe in 1st grade. We got to indirect objects in ½ a yr & had to stop only because she couldn’t write more than a little yet & began to have trouble holding at once 4 ideas in 2 languages all in her head. At the time, she was also working on a “2nd–4th-grade” logic workbook & reached the 8th-grade reading books by age 5. Needless to say, now at age 6 she has never set foot in an institutional school, & never will, until possibly college.

    We don’t do the unschooling thing (she needs some more outside direction), classical instead, but are very casual about it. We sleep in, : ) don’t rush but start as soon as we can otherwise be ready, she practices a few catechism answers (already knows all 10 Commandments in any order!), then we have a little arithmetic, a little Latin, & a little spelling or penmanship. At first we had the Latin lessons being pretty easy for writing, just labeling her drawings, coming up with exciting new words, like Latin for “bouncy castle.” : D We use Rosetta Stone now & Latin is definitely her favorite subject. For math we are using Ray’s Arithmetic & Khan Academy, for spelling, the Blue-Backed Spelling, & for penmanship, the French cursive method, because it’s ergonomic, easy to learn & write & read, & pretty. We’re taking a break from readers since they require prev. knowledge of history at this level & are reading just a variety of classic lit., on no particular schedule. Anyway, homeschooling couldn’t be better!


  38. I began to become seriously interested in home schooling when I met my older son’s first grade teacher first words to me were not “Pleased to meet you” or “I am happy to have your son in my class” or anything close to it. Instead, she said, “I have read your son’s file and I know about the problems he’s been having.” Seriously, I wish I had the guts to tell her what I was thinking, which was “Are you effin’ kidding me? That’s how you greet the parents of your students?” Unfortunately, it took another three years before I could convince my husband that this was the right thing to do, but when my son was up until 11 p.m. at night trying to complete his homework (he was in third grade, mind you, not high school), he finally became interested in an alternative.

    I teach courses online for a large, for-profit university where most of the students are products of underperforming public schools like the kind profiled in “Waiting for Superman,” and I can relate to your comments about college students not being engaged in the learning process. Most of my students are not prepared to do college-level coursework, but instead of rising to the challenge, they try to get away with the bare minimum. Heck, I would be happy if they did even that much. Instead, they usually do less than the minimum requirements then complain about their poor grades and some have even accused me of being out to get them. I strongly believe this attitude of teacher-as-adversary instead of seeing their instructor as an ally in their learning stems from their negative experiences in the public schools.

    This is not to say I am completely anti-public school. My younger son is severely autistic and really does need the expertise of his teachers and therapists. Fortunately, they are very sensitive to issues such as special diets. So there are a few good ones out there!

    I also wish my English professors were kind enough to refer to my writing as “curious verbiage”! Compared to some of the feedback I received, especially in grad school, I would have considered that high praise! 😉


  39. I found a link to your post while searching for homechooling help (trying to figure out where to begin!!)….it had me in tears. This is my son….absolutely brilliant, but failing in school. We have been talking about homeschooling the kids for years and now my son (diagnosed with ADD) started 5th grade and is seriously struggling. SO many tears, anxiety, meltdowns and heartache just over schoolwork that completely bores him. No matter how much I discuss things with the teachers, nothing changes or helps (although last year his teacher was amazing!)…they all seem to just give me a smug grin.
    We have made the decision to pursue homeschooling but I am at a lost as to where to even start!!! Trying to read all I can an hopefully can see my kids blossom instead of turning inside and watching the self esteem dwindle.

    Thank you for your post!!!


  40. Every comment here tugs at my heart. Sharing what we and our children go through helps empower every one of us to make the choices that work for us. I feel so blessed to have started this discussion.


  41. My husband and I have been struggling with one of our sons for 2 years. He is currently in 2nd grade and 7 years old. We consider him to be exceptionally bright. He can draw cars with such detail that one would expect the car to jump from the paper into reality. He likes to read, and does pretty well at that. He says he likes math but is currently in extra tutoring at school for math, so maybe that is why.

    His teacher complains that he is always distracted. He daydreams constantly and doesn’t listen to instructions, so when the rest of the class is working, he doesn’t know what to do. My son says the boys in his class do not like him and some of the boys call him bad names, but the girls like him.

    He holds in his emotions a lot and seems to take a lot of grief at school from teachers and boys alike. It also seems the teacher sometimes singles him out because of his lack of focus.

    I believe my son would benefit from home schooling but I’m scared that even with a MBA I won’t be able to handle properly educating my son AND running a start-up business that consumes so much of my time during the day. I wish there was an easy answer. I feel it’s one or the other unless I take him into the office with me.

    At the same time, I think he might need some extra mommy time and be ok with going to work with me every day (it is my own business so he can do that). I could make it work by giving him his own office with a desk and “work” to do every day. But he is only 7. I can only expect so much from a 7 year old. This just drives me nuts not knowing what to do.


    • I think your son is showing you the many ways he excels. And I think your heart is telling you that he could use more time with you, more time to be himself and let his gifts unfold. But like so many of us who spent our childhood and young adult years in a top-down instructional system of education, you may have a hard time believing that it’s possible to guide his learning while also attending to your own emerging business venture. We’re led to think that “real” education means full-time adult attention keeping a child on track within an approved curriculum. That’s not the case throughout the vast majority of human history. We’re a successful species, in part, because children have played freely and learned by asking questions and modeling their behavior after a variety of adult role models who guided only as far as the child’s interest indicated.

      Sorry, I’m droning. What I mean to say is that your message so clearly states that you know this—-your son isn’t flourishing intellectually or emotionally at school. That’s the known variable. The unknown is how well he’d do homeschooling. There are many many ways that working parents adapt homeschooling to their busy lives. Spending time at the office may sound constricting to you, but to him it can open up another world. He might spend part of that time at his own desk doing work of all sorts as well as drawing, playing games, doing hands-on projects, building with Legos, even helping you with orders. He might also spend some time each week with a relative or another homeschooling family. As long as he has some time for free play, time for friends, and time in nature it sounds like he’d have a well rounded homeschooling life. Why not give this unknown variable a try?


      • I approached my husband regarding this subject last summer after a long conversation with my adult daughter (who has no children). My daughter swears by home schooling after seeing a friend of her’s do it with a child who was not flourishing in traditional school. She told me how the child was testing well above his “grade” level, and I was quite impressed. When I told my husband he immediately said he didn’t think I could handle it. That was the end of the conversation.

        I am going to bring it up to him again, and also sent him your article to read so that he can see from a first-hand account of the trials and tribulations of either choice. I do feel my son would be better staying at home with me, IF I can get on track with a teaching “schedule” myself.

        My other son is in Pre-K right now and is doing great, so I don’t want to take him out. He was with me full time until Aug 2011. He needed friends and socialization, so he is where he needs to be.

        Thank you for the great story, and for responding. I have to do some research on how to even begin this process. 🙂


  42. I have a Niece (a 4.2 gpa) and a nephew who have Aspberger’s and both have attended Landmark College in Vermont. This is a college geared towards children with Aspberger’s and other autism spectrum disorders. ( I loathe calling them disorders when these children are so far above us on an intellectual level) I think we are the ones who have disorders. Landmark College should be the benchmark for all kids who “learn differently” but are so bright yet so misunderstood. The medicate in order to educate philosophy has to go… is it any wonder why we have a generation of children addicted to drugs when it’s all you see on television and is being “required” in the public school system? Your son sounds like my niece and nephew who also graduated Landmark last year and my nephew who has been diagnosed as a high functioning autistic (he is 6). Thank you for sharing your story… we can learn from these children and teachers like your son had should sit up and take notice lest we decide that they are the ones who need to be medicated…


  43. This is such a wonderful post, and it reassures me to no end.

    My daughter was in pre-school at age 3 and I thought everything was going just fine. Her teachers always said she was a joy to have around. Then one day, out of the blue, I came to pick her up and one of the teachers beckoned me aside with a stern look on her face. She said, “I think your child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Her behavior is unacceptable. If something doesn’t change she will be expelled.” I was stunned. I asked what had happened. Turns out that my three-year-old had been uncooperative and didn’t want to go outside when it was time to go outside and had a tantrum. I gathered up my child and her things and we left.

    We never went back. I realized that I had completely lost trust in her teacher. The fact that she was willing to apply the label of Oppositional Defiant Disorder on her (despite the fact that she was not a mental health professional), for a single incident involving fairly common three-year-old behavior, and threaten to expel her, made me completely aghast. My husband and I agreed to take our daughter out of there and not ever subject her to that teacher again.

    After we notified the program that we were withdrawing our child, her teacher called me several days later, and said I had gotten everything wrong, that actually our daughter was no problem whatsoever and that I must not have heard her right, and to please have her return. I said, “This is not what you told me before. This is a complete reversal. I don’t understand how I’m supposed to trust a word you say.” I stuck to my guns and refused to send my child back.

    There have been a few times when I’ve questioned whether I should have “stuck it out” and worked it through, but mostly I feel like I did the right thing in getting my daughter out of that environment and away from such toxic labeling. We are joyous homeschoolers and my daughter, now nearly 5, is bursting with creativity and loves to read, play, explore, garden, sing, hang out with our homeschooling friends, and all kinds of fun stuff. Nobody else has ever accused her of having any sort of behavioral disorder. She is outgoing, kind, and friendly. When I read your account of trying so hard to make it work with the school, all the meetings, all the testing, only to wish that you had taken your son out of school years sooner, it really helped me feel better about taking my daughter out at the first red flag.

    We live in a culture that seems increasingly bent on labeling and heavily medicating children and adults as “sick” or “crazy” or “disordered” whenever they show behaviors that are inconvenient and don’t show “proper” deference to authority. I think this trend is appalling and is a form of insidious social control. The true psychopaths, in my opinion, are running the huge corporations and the huge government bureaucracies and just about anything “institutional”. I was labeled and medicated for many years myself, as a child and as an adult, and I feel that I was enormously harmed by my experiences. All it took was that stinging reference to Oppositional Defiant Disorder and I thought, “You know what? Over my dead body will you be taking my full-of-life child and labeling and medicating her to make your life easier and to make her fall in line. I’ll show you oppositional and defiant– a version that is a completely rational response to your abuse of power.”


    • Jennifer I wish I’d had a chance to talk to you, or anyone who was homeschooling, back when we were going through this. I really could have used some perspective. Honestly, I didn’t know a single homeschooling parent. When we made the move from public school to homeschooling it felt like moving to a foreign country. It made me realize that we, as homeschooling parents, need to speak up. To let our choices be known, because out there are others who want to take the leap but have no idea where they’ll land. Your daughter is fortunate indeed.


  44. When my son was in the second grade,I came to school to bring him a gift he had forgotten at home for a friends after school birthday party. I knocked on the door asked the teacher to give it to him, as he’d forgotten to take it.” Well she says that doesn’t surprise me”! I believe your son has ADHD. He forgets to write his name on his paper quite often and just yesterday, during our pizza party, he fogot where he left his slice of pizza!( I later fund out his friends had hid it to play a prank on him). I was shocked by the teachers words. These were the only reasons she gave me for her “diagnosis”. He was a good student, always did his work, always got very good grades, never a behavior problem, yet she decided to label him ADHD, with no mental health background in her educational training! I read books on ADHD, talked to mothers of kids with the disorder, talked to my sister who was a teacher and worked with ADHD kids. I could find no reason to think my son was ADHD, and my sister said, “That teacher doesn’t know what ADHD is!!!” So I did nothing as far as having him seen by specialists. Didn’t have much respect for that teacher after that, but he got through the year and the next year I requested that my next son not have her for a teacher. My son went on to excell through grade school ahead of alot of his classmates in math, math timetests, spelling, reading etc. He was on the honor roll every time all through junior and senior high and graduated in the top ten of his class. He is now in his junior year at college. THANK GOD I chose not to pay any attention to that narrow mided teacher. There are teachers, that should never have been teachers…EVER!!


  45. He sounds just like my son. We tried meds. He didn’t like them. We couldn’t home school, I worked. I bought all the Usborne, Eye witness, Dorling Kindersly,old highschool books,National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Reader’s Digest & he watched History channel along with all other learning channels. He is an “Absent minded professor”, the psycologist said of him at the end of 3rd grade & is shut down & not challenged, change school districts.
    He had a vocabulary of a 21 year old. I home schooled nights & weekends.

    He is an awesome 25 yr. Old in Diesal Mechanic school, getting all A’s & 100 percent attendance.


  46. Wonderful article. He sounds just like my daughter. But my daughter has been homeschooled all her life. She won 4 medals at the Canada Wide Science Fair in 2 years, has her own website and has finished her first semester at university with a 3.8 GPA, while also winning NaNoWriMo. I totally know what you mean about disorganized learning. But learning should be messy. If it isn’t then probably no learning is actually going on. Learning changes our brains, increases the neuropathways and grows us in new ways. And all of that is messy.

    I am so very glad you trusted in your mother instincts and refused to medicate your son. Bravo! And now I’m going to pass this link on to my friend who is struggling with a son, just like yours. I call him a future leader of men, but she is frustrated trying to do school at home. She will be blessed reading this.


  47. Oh thank you for this. I have a six year old that has never been schooled, but I have zero doubt that I would have been similarly ambushed by such a meeting already, had he been. You have affirmed my desire to and belief in letting him lead and I will follow, strewing and supporting him as he learns in his own unique way.


  48. Go homeschoolers! 😀 I was homeschooled my entire life. Please, just make sure you are actually teaching not playing. As a teacher I am angered when teachers make over generalizations about homeschoolers being “poorly educated.” However, I meet these kids in my classroom on a regular basis. Parents who have “homeschooled” until they just got tired of it or a family member talked them into enrolling their child. While it makes me angry that teachers often characterize homeschoolers as uneducated it makes me even angrier when I get a student that the parent made no actual effort to educate. I teach at the high school level and recently taught a student who’s mom decided to “homeschool” him in the fourth grade. She simply took him out of school and did nothing. He wasn’t self motivated to complete the work himself, she found no alternative ways of educating him, involved him in no projects of programs, and in the end he showed up at my school at 16 with no further education since he had left in the fourth grade. I’m still a big advocate for homeschooling and plan to do it in the future.


  49. At least you took your son out in third grade…it took us until the middle of 8th grade to finally take him out and never look back! Similar story…assessments by experts, school meetings, trying everything, “nothing” working…looking back we realize what was working was our son’s refusal to give in and comply with a system that simply didn’t support who he was and what he needed. It took us that long to realize the problem was the system…not him.

    And then he “taught” us about natural learning and unschooling by refusing, as your son did, to follow any schedule or set curriculum. Somehow we were able to finally disconnect from the common wisdom about schooling and go with our love for him and our ability to see his talents and gifts outside of the conventional model. He is now 26 and a thoughtful, caring young adult, employed with dreams for the future, and a wonderful girlfriend and set of friends.

    Our daughter was more of a student and had some options but she chose after 9th grade to leave and school her self. At 22 she has just finished the first draft of a novel to be the first in a trilogy, has worked since she was 16, is independent, in a great relationship, and happy with her choices.

    My spouse has blogged about all this and more at his blog (he also posts his blog pieces as diaries on as leftyparent…gets lots more feedback there). We’ve read, written and discussed so much about natural learning, democratic schools and alternatives that it’s hard to watch what’s going on now in the conventional model. We’re members of AERO ( which puts on an annual conference for supporters of all kinds of alternatives.

    Those of you considering this way, have hope! There is so much out there now through the internet, organizations and people who have blazed the trails that you will have all the support you need…just do the research and reach out. And trust your child! Put aside your assumptions, your fears and trust that your child really will tell you what they need…and then support them. We were terrified for a few years after we first took ours out of school 13 years ago but now we are thrilled that we did and know through experience that it works.


  50. Laura, as a man who was once a boy and as a lifelong “ADD’er”, I can certainly relate to your Son’s experiences in school. My Mother e-mailed me this post along with the comment “This is exactly how I felt when you were a student.” God bless the Moms of ADD and ADHD boys!

    I am curious to know what your opinion is of the effects of home-schooling on community-building, especially in a day and age when schools are virtually segregated in most American cities.

    I am a product of what was a 70% African-American public school system(I am caucasian, and the system is now 90% African-American) and, while I did not excel academically, I did received a superb education in the area of “The Real World”, i.e., spending eight hours a day with people from all walks of life — the same people that I would live and work with in my community as an adult.

    I now manage a family business with 58 employees, almost 40% of whom are African-American. My public school education played a large role in the hiring of these individuals. I feel that creating a diverse workforce can go a long way towards bringing communities together.

    Of course, we must all do what is best for our children first and foremost, but doesn’t that include teaching them how to live with others? And, more importantly, as we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. this week, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if homeschooling, private schools, parochial schools, etc. are what he and so many others envisioned in the streets of Selma and Montgomery and Jackson and Birmingham almost forty years ago?

    I am not here to condemn home schooling. I just want to know if these things are taken into consideration and, if so, how we justify them. Is grasping an academic concept worth isolating our children from one another? Please discuss.


    Liked by 1 person

    • You ask an important question. I spend quite a bit of time on this concept in my book (Free Range Learning) both discussing the research as well as the experiences of homeschoolers around the world, because for many of us it’s actually the opposite of what you suspect. Schools are the ones segregating children both from the life of the community and from people different from themselves. Even within schools there’s segregation due to peer culture and the stratification of achievement tracks and labels.

      As homeschoolers we join together with each other out of shared interests, out of a desire to help our children learn about the world around them, and out of a real need for friendship. This eagerness to enrich our children’s lives puts them in contact with a huge variety of ages and interests they wouldn’t experience in school, helping them establish friendships that are rarely possible in the tight peer culture of school. It allows children to observe, talk to, and model themselves after adults in the work-a-day world. It opens them to all sorts of rich relationships that cross so-called boundaries of age, class, race, religion, and ability.

      One parent in my book wrote about her homeschooling group. She said it included people of different faiths including born-again Christians and Wiccans, it included children with physical and developmental disabilities, and that the children easily played and learned together, gladly incorporating different abilities and beliefs in a way that brought tears to her eyes, because her experience in school was one of cliques, bullies, and relentless pressure.

      In my family, my children have established longstanding friendships with people of all ages, from all sorts of different cultural groups, and are unhindered by the kind of insidious racism, lookism, and materialism that pervades our schools. I’m not saying our experience is the same as every homeschooler by any means. I think you have a point that is relevant to the lives of all of us. We live in a wonderfully diverse world. I see homeschooling and the best forms of alternative education as ways of opening up the world to children, helping them to celebrate and learn from that diversity.

      Here’s how we can engage kids (both schooled and homeschooled) more fully in the community

      And here’s how to connect kids (and adults as well) via their interests, whatever they might be


      • You certainly have a way with words, but I must say that the evils you mention regarding typical school settings — materialism, peer groups, etc. — are a microcosm of the world we live in. Should we then place our children in what is, comparitively, a bubble, thereby pretending that the world is a perfect place with no materialism and no social cliques? You mention the negatives of a social school setting — how about the positives? How about making new friends, being involved in extracurriculars such as athletics or music, learning state-of-the-art concepts under highly qualified teachers who are very good at teaching ALL types of children, etc.? These are the things that are going on in my local public school system. I know that there are other public schools where this is not happening, but I also feel that public schools in the U.S. too often get painted with a broad, negative brush. As home schooling, private schooling, and parochial schooling grow, we move farther and farther away from fulfilling the beautiful things we are capable of as a society. I appreciate this discussion.


        • I think we’re actually on the same side here, my Public School Warrior friend. We are looking for what helps foster the strengths each child possesses in the best way possible. I’m not, never have been one to decry schools or teachers. My father, aunt, and grandmother were caring, dedicated public school teachers. I also know that many of today’s teachers feel trapped by the test-heavy, zero-tolerance, anti-joy trappings of today’s schools. I’m particularly alarmed by the growth of charter schools, making education a profit-run business on taxpayer dollars at the expense of students. When a system no longer functions in a way that is useful and intelligent, people respond by finding a more functional, useful, and meaningful way to proceed. That’s how society advances. Homeschoolers are, in this sense, advancing the concept of education as we perceive it.

          It’s not a new idea. Throughout the majority of human history young people learned outdoors, at home, and in the community. They weren’t separated out by age in a building designated for instruction but instead learned as they were ready and able. Research continues to tell us that isolating them in a wholly top-down instructional environment, especially one that is indirect and unrelated to their interests and personal lives, isn’t the best way to foster learning. Worse, the grades and test scores they are so relentlessly judged by are not actually predictive of adult success.

          To me, school is the real bubble. Homeschoolers are free to engage in “extra-curriculars” and learn state-of-the-art concepts and spend time with friends. They don’t need to be “strengthened” by a vicious and stratifying peer culture but they’re hardly in some imaginary perfect world by being out of school. Research shows that homeschoolers are more likely to be engaged in cultural activities as well as volunteer work (both in the real world). Because they learn and grow in ways that are unfamiliar doesn’t mean this is a choice that is wrong for society. The beautiful things our society is capable of can only be enhanced by individuals who have diverse backgrounds, including those who grow up without the sameness imposed by curricula, tests, and school bells.


  51. I wonder if there are alternatives to home schooling and public schools? My experience being home schooled was not good.

    Some background: My mother was a trained as teacher in the 1930’s. We lived in several foreign countries, due to my father’s career as an American foreign service diplomat, in the late 1950’s. There were no schools for American dependents in a couple of the countries we lived in. My mother attempted to teach me the basics. It was very difficult for her because I was probably an ADD type child, which back then was unheard of and thought to be a parenting problem. She tried very hard and apparently I learned something.

    I wonder if home schooled children have socialization difficulties later on when exposed to the big bad world? I don’t know and that’s why I ask.

    Our daughter did very well in the public school systems in southern Michigan. We found the system to be very good and the staff genuinely interested in all students. Students with problems were not ostracized and were helped. Yes I am defending the public school systems I’m familiar with.

    I certainly don’t envy anyone employed in public schools. They have very difficult jobs and I can appreciate when the frustration levels reach the boiling point.



    • Learning the basics but not having the benefits of friendships sounds like you got the worst of school, at home. Your experience is very different than homeschoolers of today no matter where they are in the world. Even in ex-pat communities, homeschoolers meet up with and enjoy activities with all sorts of friends.

      Many people ask about socialization. In fact, entire books have been written to refute the myth that homeschoolers suffer from a lack of socialization. We’re all been raised to believe that spending much of the waking day with same-aged children while an instructor urges us to keep quiet and get our tasks finished on time is normal socialization. It’s not. Play is the normal realm of children. So is observation and imitation of interesting activities. And so is the formation of meaningful and rewarding friendships based on conversation, shared interests, and fun. School doesn’t give children much time for normal socialization. Unintentionally it often fosters unhealthy relationships based on peer pressure, bullying, and conformity.

      I don’t decry schools or teachers, I just want to see them change in ways that help all children. And yes, there are alternatives to homeschooling and conventional schooling. They’re called democratic schools.


  52. Such a great post. I experienced that same bit of panic as you did before my homeschooled son entered college. Did I do enough? What did I miss? But just like yours, he is enthralled with the learning and mystified that students are so bland.


  53. I felt like I was reliving my days with my oldest son and his troubles in public school. I have had both positive and very negative experiences with public school. We now homeschool and we love it. Thanks for sharing your experience.



  54. Thanks so much for this article! So many things in it resonated with me and brought a tear to my eye. My 5-year-old daughter was recently Dx with ADHD. As a child development specialist, I knew from the time she was a toddler that something was “off.” I waited and watched, wondering if the concerns were simply caused by her own developmental pace, temperament, effects from a birth mother who smoked pot and cigarettes throughout her pregnancy, or a combination of those things. She eventually started OT for sensory processing disorder but other concerns persisted. When she started Kindy this past fall, it wasn’t long before I heard from the teacher – can’t sit still, talking too much, can’t remember instructions, etc. Well of course, I thought; going from a high-quality, developmentally appropriate preschool to the equivalent 5-year-old boot camp with nothing fun to do is a big change! We were lucky that the teacher was eager to hear her history and open to my suggestions. However, her impulsivity began affecting her peer relationships; she began saying very hurtful things to her classmates unprovoked, and they began to shun her. Coaching, reminders, rewards and consequences from the teacher did not help (not that they ever do),so I finally caved and agreed to try meds. I was terrified that my animated, bright, quirky, creative little girl would turn into a zombie. The first day I gave it to her I was sick to my stomach. However, the meds have turned out to be a blessing. She is on the lowest dose, and it’s just enough to take the edge off so her impulses are under control and she can focus on her work during the school day. There have been no “bad” reports from school since and my daughter has made some friends in her class. I’m not saying meds are for everyone, but it seems that my daughter is the kind of child for whom the meds were made.

    I don’t like the public school system in general, and I don’t see it getting better, only worse. There is no way the system as it is can truly offer support for individual needs. I wish I had the option to homeschool and allow my daughter to learn about things in which she is interested in creative and meaningful ways. Maybe one day when I’m not the bread- and benefits-winner in my household I can offer my daughter something better.


    • I’m glad this solution worked for you. Meds of all kinds certainly have their uses, the problem in our culture is over use and inappropriate use. I have a friend with a son who had such serious problems that many days she longed to put him (or herself) in an institution. Eventually they found (through an elimination diet) that he had some major food intolerances, the kind that weren’t picked up by allergy testing. Even with those modifications he did best in school on a low dose of medication. Everyone is happy. Thank goodness we can all make the choices that work for our families.


  55. Wow I stumbled into this post searching for information and your story left me breathless and inspired. 🙂 I have a 6 year old boy whom I ignorantly put into first the public school system for preschool and then a private parochial school for kindergarten. The same story could’ve been written by me. My husband and I decided to homeschool him (and his younger siblings) from here on out by the second semester due to the similar issues in a school setting. My son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, has heavy Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms (couldn’t receive full diagnosis since he had speech problems, which most Aspies do not), ADHD, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction at the age of 4. A lot to swallow for parents but I always knew he was special little guy from birth and daily he never fails to amaze me in ways I never thought imaginable. We were led to believe that regular school was the only answer and they could do this and that and blah blah blah. It was all like a great big lie. The meeting at the beginning of the school year promising much left us so disgusted by Christmas time, we knew we needed a change. A big one. We got to thinking about homeschool after we realized how much better our son does at home, because we know him, we know how to handle issues, and our life is happy and peaceful. His father and I have worked endlessly to make sure we figured out what worked and what didn’t for him over the years. After all God gave him to us and he’s our responsibility was the attitude that I always took, no matter how bad a meltdown was or how frustrated I became. Once I let go of the notion that regular school was normal and the right thing, just because someone with a super fancy college degree said so, life became fun again. I approached his developmental autism pediatrician about homeschooling also and she was overjoyed. She told me that it was a brilliant idea and wished me luck because she is the first to say the parents always know what’s best for the child, the doctor is just there for advice. Wow that was flabbergasting to say the least. I am happy to say homeschooling is awesome and what bliss! The kids are happy to be home with mom, and my son shows me daily how to do lessons creatively. Your post is very helpful and thank you so much for telling your story. They are many of us out there just like you were.


  56. Pingback: Deborah Fry » Blog Archive » Parenting News You Can Use! January 26, 2012

  57. I can’t believe that I found this post today. Exactly what I needed to read as we start our third week of homeschooling, after pulling our daughter out of sixth grade at a public middle school. Her school wasn’t terrible, but it was not designed to do anything but teach her to be someone else. My beautiful, kind, loving girl who knows tons about animals and robots was put in remedial math, diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s, and surrounded by reminders of what she wasn’t instead of being celebrated for who she is… I will add that in some ways, those “labels” have really helped US as a family understand how Sarah processes information and best relate to her, but at school, they were nothing but an albatross that it was hard for anyone to look past.

    As I said when I wrote on my blog today after reading this (, I’m not trying to be critical of ANYONE’S choices for educating their children, including public school. But I’m incredibly thankful we have the freedom in our family to choose the path we’re on. We are richly blessed. 🙂


  58. Laura,
    Thank you for this article. I am sitting here as a home school mom who loves her children dearly and wants the best and only the best for them. We’ve never been “unschoolers” but rather have used an eclectic approach of curriculum, real books, internet, DVDs and a LOT of unit studies. When they were in grade/middle school it worked well but now with my daughter heading into high school (she’s a freshman) I have changed many things about how we approach school.

    My son, like yours, was/is a messy student. He is now 13 and his handwriting is still ATROCIOUS, seriously, it’s bad. It takes him hours to finish written assignments but I KNOW BEYOND DOUBT that he knows the material. When verbally challenged he nails it.

    When he entered kindergarten, he was almost immediately labeled as a problem. He wasn’t interested in his work and yet he knew the information. I am in the textbook on early ADHD research, one of them anyway and not by name. No, seriously, I am. My doctor and my mother worked together to find ways other than medication but I can tell you that school was no walk in the park for me and that I fell through the cracks by and large. Don’t misunderstand me, I had some amazing teachers, loved them and owe them a lot, but as whole the system was not designed for students like myself. I was a square peg being forced with pressure and banging into a round hole. I believed for a number of years that I was stupid because I had to work so hard at it, only to realize later in life that I was a self learner and learned in my own way at my own pace.

    I knew, could see where the school was headed each time a new “incident” came up. What I saw as typical behavior for a young child was not acceptable in the classroom and with that many students who can blame them? He didn’t want to sit still and do redundant boring work, he wanted to take something apart or make up and illustrate his own comics and stories. When his divergent thinking raised seemingly unrelated questions, he wanted answers. I pulled him to start homeschooling before the school could stick a label on him; I simply didn’t want to see him go through what I did. His older sister was in school ahead of him and excelling. She asked to come home as she watched my journey with him. We’ve now been home schooling for several years. His behaviorial issues through love and support and careful parenting are gone. He is well rounded and adjusted and very social, loves to talk with others regardless age or back ground and usually has everyone laughing with his insight and unique view of the world.

    Now at 13 my son is so smart and so great at a number of things and yet his work is terribly messy, he’d rather be playing music, illustrating his own work, designing his own cars or reading a book on collectibles and history than doing his “school work” which I am trying (beating my head against a brick wall) to be more formal with as he is approaching high school and says he wants to attend college. Something that for myself, I swore I wouldn’t do because of my horrible experience in public school. I now feel differetly and wish I had, may yet now that I better understand myself.

    How did you find the balance, how did you not worry that he wouldn’t be ready? I am soo frustrated and yet the kid is bloody brilliant! I know this but how will others if he is messy and disorganized and still has hand writing more like a grade school/ middle schooler?? And this despite HOURS of practice? I know, I know, I’ve been there and wore the label and should understand him and I do but I also know what he faces once he steps out there on his own and while I am finding my own niche and learning to pursue where I excel, how do I help him do the same? How do you know when you aren’t asking enough or are asking too much?

    My daughter I am confident is ready for what lies ahead, as much as any of us ever are. She does well with books and with setteling down to a task, her brother not so much and yet they can have in depth discussions on a number of topics and modern politics and world history and he is right there with her. Is this the conundrum every home school mother of a “unique” learner faces? Thanks for the encouragement, we are hanging in there and trying to find our balance.


    • Your life/kids/concerns sound SO much like mine. My daughter has always been the organized, neat, linear one. My son (the one diagnosed with ADD) and his two brothers (also the creative messy types) are not and despite parental efforts, probably never will be. That’s okay. The linear education approach doesn’t see the value (and punishes) those innate differences. But kids who seem unfocused, unmotivated to advance in mainstream ways yet easily absorbed in their own interests have their own remarkable gifts, for one thing, as a new article tells us they have sharper brains

      I am convinced that what your son is learning as he plays music, designs cars, reads, illustrates, whatever, is building exactly the traits and skills necessary for lifelong success, as explained here

      How I found balance was different for each of my kids. My oldest, I have to admit, I imposed a great deal more in the way of school-like homeschool work. Which he resisted mightily at times. I regret that now, because I learned from the younger three that they went forward with zest and retained what they learned when headed in the direction of their interests. I’ve also learned that messy handwriting is almost entirely irrelevant in terms of college where work is typically typed. I’ve also learned that areas I thought they they needed help were pulled up as they matured. For example, one of my sons wasn’t interested in anything to do with the written word. He read a lot, easily held his own in erudite conversations as your son does, wrote eagerly only on special interest forums but put minimal effort into more academic writing (to me as a writer this was hard to understand) and yet in his first year of college he discovered he loved writing, aced his classes, and for a time planned to be an English major. Another of my sons had little formal math and yet now is an engineering major with a minor in physics, getting straight A’s, which he credits to all of the hands-on work he did in building computers, repairing cars, working around our farm, generally doing applied math. I guess what I’m saying is trust that your son learns exactly as he needs to. Expose him to the school work you think is necessary but know that the ways he pushes himself may very well be the most pivotal to his emotional and intellectual growth. I write a lot about this in my book.


  59. Laura,
    Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Some days are harder than others and yesterday was one of those for us. We are learning as we go and feeling our way through the maze that is home education. It can be easy to get bogged down, lose focus and forget why we started this journey in the first place. Sometimes we need people to remind us that we don’t have to figure it all out in a day and that we are on the right track if we will just hang in there. Thanks again.


  60. Pingback: ADD at school but not at home? | Learning Revived

  61. My oldest was the same as so many others on this list. Daydreamed, had lots of inventions to make, messy handwriting, in first grade could already read science books yet the teacher demanded he read in sequence the beginning to read books (we saw the principal quite often about his not being “engaged”), the list went on and on with constant threats of putting him on Ritulin (which was the “in” medicine at that time). Only his 3rd grade teacher seemed to relate by having a bucket of KNex’s available for the kids who finished their assignments or let them keep reading something if they wanted. At the end of 5th grade my very bright son thought of himself as “stupid” and I pulled him out of the school system. Within a year he had caught up in math and all the other subject hat he had ignored. By high school we had moved and found a wonderful homeschool charter school that allowed him to take science classes with labs. He received 2 perfect CA STAR test scores, one in science and one in U.S. History, got 5’s on AP tests, took college classes as a high school student, became an Eagle Scout, and most of all regained his love of researching things and learning. He’s an avid reader, speed demon the way he pours through things. If I had to do it all over again, I would have Only homeschooled. I only wish we could continue to follow this successful approach through college for a degree (yes, there are online college degrees, but I don’t believe they are thought of as highly as the brick and mortar schools).


  62. Thank you for sharing. This post is almost exactly what happened to me and my son, except I didn’t take the plunge until this year and he is in 7th grade. I am now wondering how to open him back up, in a sense. He is very smart and very creative, but now he is hesitant to create and explore as much as he has in the past. I wish to deschool, but I am not sure how to make learning more fun, again. Well, it sounds funny to say these things out loud. We have some great experiences learning together when we go out in nature, but I want to encourage him to do more of it at home. Does your book about free lance learning address children that have been in school for a long time?


    • He hasn’t lost his smarts or creativity, and it’s heartening you have great experiences in nature together. It sounds like time to encourage him to explore his own interests. We started homeschooling when my oldest was a teen too. I was very slowly letting go of the school mindset myself. I’m not saying I entirely let go of academics, but I let my son steer what he did through the lens of enthusiasm. In his case, he got his ham radio license and cobbled together his own radio from mostly used components. He worked on a model railroad layout for a nearby museum with other volunteers and read a lot about railroad history and train design. He lay on the couch catching up on science magazines and Steven King books. He took on some bigger projects around our little farm (helping build a bridge, for example). During that first year of homeschooling I remember he became very fond of backing up his opinions with facts to prove his point. Looking back, I wish I’d been less worried about proving what he was learning and having “school work” to show at the end of the year. Free Range Learning has quite a few pages devoted to teens, but the resources and activities in the entire second half of the book are also relevant to those pivotal years. Check it out of the library and flip through the back for some ideas.


  63. Hello
    I am in the UK and have just removed my 6 year old from school. I thought she may have ADD but, now having been with her for 3 weeks I can see that she just learns differently. It was good to read that there are lots of children who are disorganised, shoddy, messy and a bit ‘out there’, just like my child. It is interesting to note that these type of children end up, generally speaking, being the creatives and lateral thinkers of our society. i am convinced that the powers that be do not want this and, hence, teaching is generalised and standardised. I guess thinking is not allowed any more!


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  65. Wow you must be one proud mother! And your son is so lucky that he got a mother who understood his needs so well. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story with us 🙂


  66. This post could have been written about my six year-old son, who probably has ADHD. I say probably because we couldn’t afford the $900 the psychiatrist asked for an official evaluation, and he has elements of other conditions that are often confused with ADHD or occur concurrently with it. Now that we’re homeschooling, it doesn’t matter. We don’t need an official diagnosis in order to facilitate an education that meets his individual needs.

    Out of 12 in-class assignments per day, he was finishing 2-4 of them. On the rare days the teacher said she “helped him individually a lot” he finished 6-8. What did he do with the rest of his time? Refused to do his work, fidgeted, and cried. I would help him for an hour after school every day, and aside from requiring some repetition of instructions, and some whining when something was “too hard,” he usually quickly and happily made up 3-5 hours of work in that one hour.

    I like your title, “School ADD Isn’t Homeschool ADD” because that’s how I felt about our son. While obviously we knew about his attention difficulties, since they also caused problems at home, the person the school was describing only had a superficial resemblance to the person we knew at home. I was baffled at how differently his teachers described him. I considered asking to sit in on class, if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity of how it was even possible to allow a child to reach a state where he cried for hours a day.

    Anyway, a little over a month ago he had a particularly difficult day with a substitute, and my wife had a difficult day with our daughter’s school. It was the last straw. Between my hour after work and my wife’s 3 hours getting ready for school and driving to and from school, we figured we may as well use that time to do it our own way.

    We filled out the withdrawal and cover school enrollment papers online that evening, without even having an idea yet of what we were going to teach our kids the next day. We’re still finding our homeschooling groove, but we can already see a positive change. The first thing our son said every morning that first week was, “I want to write!”

    Liked by 1 person

  67. I love that you had the ability to be there for your child. It is a great success story and showing of lifelong learning we all do. I only worry sometimes about the grouping these types of stories do with the label of ADD (or ADHD). This is a broad spectrum category, too broad, and one child may be able to thrive like our son, but others may not lucky. Don’t get me wrong. I think too many are labeled and pushed aside or pushed to medication for all the wrong reasons, but there are times when it is the medication that helps when other things have failed. For me it’s like home birth. I gave birth at home twice. But I would never consider needing to have a hospital birth bad if someone needed it. Conventional medicine is life saving in it’s place. It’s the rush to assume it is the fix all that is the problem.

    Thank you for all your wonderful words. You never cease to engage me.


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  69. I almost felt like I was reading my own story that I hadn’t written yet! My son too started to fall apart (according to his teacher) in the beginning of 1st grade. She was immediately telling me he was behind in reading. I was like “Did 1st grade just begin!??” Nothing made sense to me except for the fact that I knew my child and I understood his complexities and I wasn’t willing to strip him of his individuality so that he could go to free public school. I brought him home and suffered through the first grade with him. I wasn’t cut out to home school and I thought I’d get deeply depressed having this rambunctious boy home all day with me. It took me a while to settle in and figure out how to best teach him. Now he’s in third grade. Because I let him pursue his interests, he reads at about a 6th grade level. He needed to read in order to play his favorite game Minecraft on the computer. Therefore, he challenged himself because he was very interested in learning his new game and being competitive.
    Also, I introduced the Action Bible to him. These stories came to life with amazing illustrations. He LOVES reading (as long as there are pictures!) Now he reads over an hour every single day.
    He also LOVES the piano. He has begged me for over a year to take lessons. We haven’t been been able to afford lessons. I had a friend give him one free lesson and that sparked his interest even more! He now plays songs he makes up and sings as he plays.
    He’s also very athletic! He does every kind of physical activity you can imagine: skateboard, scooter, gymnastics, dancing, football, etc. I believe allowing him to do all these things he WANTS to do and the ability to learn within the activities is the way for success for my son. Not making him fit inside of this mold they have for ALL kids. Not all kids struggle within the four walls. Those classrooms suit some kids just fine and they thrive. But for some children, like mine, it is the death of their personality and creativity. I am so incredibly thankful I have the ability to be home with him. We have made many sacrifices as a family in order for this to be possible, but it is well worth it.


  70. This sounds so similar to my life right now. My son is 7. I too have had it but the only thing stopping me is fear. Fear that I wont be able to teach the essential to read, write do maths enough to go to college. Fear that he is just like me and if he stays at school he will struggle and if I teach him he will struggle. How did you teach the basics? As they simply arent interesting but they are needed in any walk of life, which I am well aware of as I was 15 when I learnt these essentials and it was a massive struggle.


  71. thank you for sharing this. My son is 6 and would be going to fist grade this year but I always had planned to homeschool my children. He could easily be diagnosed with ADD and I am glad I can easily stay home with him and homeschool him and his father is able to work from home even. Still sometimes I worry about my choice and reading this really helps me see that homeschooling is the right choice for this kid 🙂


  72. Wow, I was brought to your site by this post on another blog while I was reading through it’s archives! I am a homeschooler and was intrigued. But as I have this need to read all the archives when I find something I like, I am just getting back to it now after several days of working through the first few years of your blog. It has been eye-opening, inspiring, entertaining and a blessing to read. I am looking forward to reading all the rest of the posts up to the present, and am planning on checking out many of the other things referenced here and your farm stuff as well. I am not surprised at the volume of posts that have resulted from this one, it is a sad reality of the present day school system. I am in Canada and I feel the same as most of the people who have told some of their stories on here. I am grateful to have found your site!


  73. Came by this randomly as I was researching home schooling. I am a physician and my husband has rather severe ADD which wasn’t diagnosed until I realized he had it when I went through medical school. It was the epiphany of a lifetime. I thought, “holy shit, you’re not lazy and uncaring, you have ADD!” It saved our marriage. After years of counseling, things are much better. We’ve learned to accept it and work with it, and I’ve come to believe ADD is vastly undiagnosed. Failure to diagnose my husband practically ruined his adult life. If I wasn’t an OCD control-freak, he wouldn’t have had the stability he needed to work on himself. Anyway, our struggle has instilled a deep fear regarding our five year old son, who is as classic a case of ADD as one can imagine. I’m not a fan of diagnosing ADD early, but it’s obvious in my son’s case. We’ve already seen my son’s self esteem start to decline in his public kindergarten class. He is saying things like, “I wish I had a different brain,” or “I can’t listen because everyone is talking too much,” or “Sometimes the squirmy wormies (what he calls the distracted part of his brain) stop me from hearing and my teacher makes me sit with her.” He’s aware that he’s not like the other kids, and I believe the public schools simply aren’t designed for a child unless he or she is completely average. I have no intention on starting him on medication anytime soon (though I believe stimulants are an incredibly useful tool for teenagers), but I think a home school option is going to let him flourish. Our primary road block is my husband, who is afraid his ADD will prohibit him from being a good home teacher. I am trying to find ways of homeschooling without burdening him with being the teacher.


    • When my son was diagnosed, I realized my lifetime issues with distractibility, restlessness, and procrastination meant it was my problem too. I remain convinced that ADD is more a mismatch to today’s world than something wrong with a person.

      An ADD parent can easily provide a resource-rich, hands-on learning situation. It’s important, though, to remember that the mismatch between the way your son learns and his kindergarten environment is structured can be perpetuated at home too unless you allow learning to flow more naturally in your homeschooling lives. That means a parent acting as a facilitator— a person who answers questions, encourages investigation, and fosters wider inquiry.

      Here’s an article about getting past the “school mindset:”

      Here’s an example of the many ways math can be learned via enthusiasm:

      The second half of my book Free Range Learning is packed with all sorts of ways to more naturally learn every subject, if you’d like more ideas.

      Wishing your family a world of wonders on your homeschooling journey!


  74. Your article is wonderful and supportive of the struggles we and our special needs children face. All three of our children have special needs. Our oldest is autistic and has dyslexia. Our middle child is severely ADHD and has dyscalclia. Our youngest is autistic, has high anxiety, is mildly ADHD, and has dysgraphia.
    After we pulled our oldest two children out of public school and we began to homeschool, it rapidly became clear that unschooling was our family’s best choice. Our children have been given the opportunity to find their own individual paths. Our oldest is working on his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. As a teen, he competed in a robotics club, was an active member at our local Intel computer clubhouse, and learned to program his own video games and he learned quite bit about coding.
    Our middle child volunteered at our library, reenacted and was a docent at a living history museum, videotaped community events and edited the footage into short films, completed a nine month internship at a radio station where she write news articles, assisted with interviews, and edited sound clips to play on the air. She was heavily involved with our local community theatre, both on stage and behind, and she taught a homeschool theatre class for two years. She is currently in college studying sociology and journalism.
    Our youngest was a born musician. He has played piano by ear since he was six. His goal is to write music for video games. He has also self taught himself html, programs his own video games, and he is a video game trivia nut. The child is a walking encyclopedia.
    Unschooling has been a wonderful experience and, tthough we have had many stressful days as we all deal with their special needs, our good days have definitely outnumbered the bad ;).


  75. I would really like to know how to really home school a child with adhd and more because my son has it. I have another son who has odd and more and tried to home school him, but papers don’t work to teach my kids. How can i teach my kids and get them out of a public setting that isn’t suit for them, that has no knowledge of how to teach adhd children? Tips would be great. great story.


    • Hi Sunrise,

      Rote paperwork (or screen work) may not work for your kids, but a heavy dose of them aren’t they the best way for ANY child to learn. Many homeschooling parents don’t buy a curriculum or sign up for online educational programs at all.

      Here’s a post about getting past the school mindset to free up learning.

      And here’s an example of approaching math, a very school-ish subject, in freer and more engaging ways.

      I wrote the 300 page book Free Range Learning to answer questions like yours. It shows parents how to facilitate a child’s natural drive to learn and become the most capable person her or she can be. The first half is about learning itself, the second half is full of open-ended ideas for sparking that learning.


    • The main principles are: give him lots of breaks for physical activity, let him wiggle when he’s thinking, let him work on things that are personally interesting to him, give him a few days for new topics to “sink in,” and give him rapid feedback on areas that are difficult for him.

      For example, my son hated reading and writing “school stuff,” but loved it when the topics were superheroes, ninjas, or robots. He does math on the computer because otherwise he will do an entire page wrong and not realize it. When we introduce something new, we pretty much plan on him not being able to fully pay attention at first, but it works its way into his brain, and a few days later he’s primed to learn it.


  76. Lovely post, it was just re-posted today on a FB homeschool group. I feel you on all counts. We homeschooled our son all the way – he would surely have had similar experiences to your guy. I am so glad your son has marched onward and upward to his Renaissance man existence. Mine is similar ) Honoring the individual spirit of kids rocks.


  77. Beautiful post! My oldest has ADHD and I’ve never agreed to medicate. I can’t imagine that she would be the creative woman she is today if I stifled her imagination at a young age. Dance was the solution for us and it made her concentrate but be able to move. She’s a talented artist and dancer!


  78. I will say, the experience she described in no way represents the experience that I’ve had with our school while dealing with adhd in Mason. The principal, teachers, counselors and others from the school district have been our biggest source of support and have never suggested a diagnosis or treatment. They are open and supportive to whatever course of treatment we decide is best and have made every resource imaginable available to us to use including child behaviorists, nutritionists, extra tutoring, etc. Homeschooling or even private school isn’t an option for all families and finding a good public school in a good district can make all the difference in the world. I do think that if outnumbered and overworked teachers get to decide who has adhd and who doesn’t then it’s bound to be inaccurate. I have adhd and am thankful that I do because as an adult I learned study skills, organizational tricks, and dietary tips that help me balance the busy thoughts and the creativity that come with it but also helps me support Mason who also has it.


  79. This is a really typical conversation in public schools. Yet the questions parents are often times not asking is if any of these professionals have a medical degree and a license to practice medicine. The teacher with 15 years of experience teaching is a highly qualified teacher, not a doctor. Pointing out symptoms, giving an opinion what those symptoms mean and suggesting prescription medication is practicing medicine. The school psychologist is not a psychiatrist and a psychiatrist is usually the only one in such situations who is qualified to give a diagnosis and prescribed medication unless they have practical nursing degree wit their psychology degree, which some have. Parents know it’s wrong and yet are so bamboozled by this style of railroading that they don’t even realize how great a transgression this type of meeting is committing. In the U.S. 9 percent of school age children are medicated for ADD. In France less than 1/2 of 1 percent are. The significant difference is that France addresses the symptoms differently and are not being pushed by cost saving policies to prescribe medication that is harmful for the children and profitable for the pharmaceutical manufacturers that influence the diagnosis process in their favor. This is a horrific trend and yet we keep sending our children to these institutions trusting them to be looking out for our children’s best interests.


  80. Thanks for the article. We share the same situation. My son has a love for outdoors and the traditional path of school was very difficult for him. He would go to school all day and then spend 3 hours each night doing homework. Most of the time the tasks would end in tears on his and my part. I then realized after switching school: public and private, then using sylvan that what I was doing was harming him not helping him. His self esteem was getting low and he felt different. We also tried medications, and yes he could concentrate better, but he felt that he could not be himself. He told me he felt like a drone with no emotions. We made the decision and pulled him out to homeschool. I have now been doing it for a year and I have my son back. So we focus on some of the basics but in short increments. Then let him explore topics he loves. I am so thankful every day we made that choice!


  81. I am both a public school teacher and have been a homeschool mom. It is great that you had the education and resources to choose homeschooling for your son. I was in a similar situation. I now struggle to know how to handle kids who need that level of individualization in a class of 30 when we are all held accountable for a certain scope and sequence via state testing. I teach high school English, and I have children in my classes who sound a lot like your son , but I can only differentiate certain things. For them, it’s not the things that would truly engage them like choice of literature.


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