Free-Range Kids?

I am in the middle of a huge decision and it doesn’t have to do with nutrition or chemicals, but what to do with my 6-year-old daughter and school.

I feel pulled in so many directions, it’s really hard to see what is what.  Here is the story: she was at a wonderful school last year for one year of nursery and kindergarten. We loved it, she loved it, and she couldn’t wait to get there in the morning. That school was creative and engaging, and fun (still is).  But, it had some issues. One, it was 30 minutes away, and it meant that I was driving 2 hours back and forth every day for her to go there, which I happily did when things were going well. Two, there was an issue with a “troubled” child, or a “child-in-crisis”, and it directly affected our daughter. Ultimately, the school decided to remove that child, but not without first putting our daughter into harm’s way. It’s certainly complicated, but we left the school because we didn’t have faith in the administration to support the kids, and the families of the kids, that were in the direct line of  “the bully”, and it no longer felt worth our commute time. That was important to us, because what if something were to happen again at the school, would our daughter have to endure months of “abuse” with the school brushing it off because our daughter has a smile on her face?


We decided to look elsewhere. Now, I should point out that I never considered public school for our daughter. That’s me, not my husband— he follows my lead when it comes to school though. She is a very bright and creative child. I want her childhood to stay innocently in her creative mind. Whatever she wants to do in her life when she grows up is up to her; at this time she loves music, art, fantasy play, reading, stories, and she has an elaborate, intricate mind that creates complex games and stories. My feeling about public school is that children should conform to this small window of what is considered “normal” developmentally for a particular age. If a child is an experiential learner who has great concentration to do in-depth studies of whatever interests her at that time, then worksheets, homework and spelling tests are going to bore her to tears. I worry with No Child Left Behind that schools concentrate too much on test scores— and that takes care of all the fun taken out of learning.


We found another independent school, much closer, perhaps more traditional than her first school, but we felt that was a small sacrifice for a shorter commute and a stronger administration.


I should also point out that we can’t necessarily afford these schools but as with everything that is important to me, I find a way to sacrifice something else. Our daughter is worth it after all.


I’m impractical— although well-meaning.


This school year, unfortunately, hasn’t had a smooth start. Because of that, I am fretting that we (or I) made a mistake sending her to this new school. I’m sure the school is great, just like many public schools are, but we’re not feeling too happy, and our daughter isn’t too happy, and so the tuition that we can’t “really” afford, doesn’t feel worth it. I could go into all the details of why we’re not happy, but I won’t. Bottom line, we’ve had 3 meetings so far with the teacher for various reasons and we’re just 2 and a bit months in. My husband and I don’t believe that any of these meetings are really about our daughter because, as her teacher says, she is fully engaged, an avid participant, and has made lots of friends. So, we’re unhappy and our daughter is dragging her feet and saying she doesn’t want to go to school. Ch-ching— there goes our money down the drain.


Now, I have to decide what to do next.

Here are the options as I see them: keep her there and hope for improvement, pull her out and enroll her in another school (mid-year— yikes!), or pull her out and try home schooling.


Here’s where I am at: I’m going to look at the public school, it has a great reputation after all. I’m obsessively thinking about how to home school. I’m even considering sending her back to her old school, although I’m not sure that’s a possibility.


I watched this TED talk video on “unschooling”, I’ve never really thought much about it before. Anyway, since I’m already thinking about home-schooling this video fed right into my path. There was a term the speaker said that I love for my blog: free-range kids. Imagine that?  Fits…Right…In…With…Me.



I’m not this uber-smart lady. I’m disorganized, lack time-management skills, and tend to be lazily inclined. It would be a challenge for me to teach my daughter, but I could do it. The biggest hold back for me though, is that my daughter is a very social kid. No matter how many classes I signed her up for, or even if I found a network of like-minded home schooling families, it would never be the same as having a choice of whom to play with at recess, and my daughter always mentions that she plays with at least 7 kids at recess.


Maybe she doesn’t need that though?


Isn’t it better to have a close-knit set of friends that you can really trust? Building meaningful relationships makes for a happier, supported life. Home schooling doesn’t have to be isolating. There is a very proactive home schooling network where I live, and the social and academic activities within it are abundant. Another advantage, I would say.


I’ve  been fantasizing… Just imagine being able to cater your child’s education to exactly (or as close as) what he or she and you want.


It would be a challenge for me to stay motivated, and I would have to be more disciplined. I’m willing to do the work though.


Here’s where my fantasy starts: I would get some chickens and a wood-burning stove. We would have responsibility: feeding and tending to the chickens and cleaning the coop daily, we’d save money on heating by burning our own wood and both of those things could be learning tools, in more ways than one. We could have fun with math by setting up a “store”, and learning budgets, and get some math cubes or something similar and build. I could teach her real history— or at least “the people’s history”, which I’d like to learn myself. We could learn history and social studies through literature, we could learn philosophy by asking questions, And, science? Well, it’s never been a strong subject for me, but why not learn science through food and how to grow your own? It’s just a matter of getting a book and finding a fun way of teaching it. We could cook together (math and science), we could make our own cleaning products (math and science), we could do yard work together— there are lots of learning opportunities. We could sew doll clothes and she could help me make hats. We could get up every day and go for a long walk or bike ride after breakfast, and she could do swimming lessons or dance, gymnastics, or kung-fu or karate, or circus arts. I would sign her up for a great art class, and she already does piano and Spanish classes. We could volunteer at various organizations. And, we could take off for a few days and go the museums in New York City. Heck, there are great museums here in Massachusetts.


I could handle, certainly, a public school curriculum, when she’s older she could write papers on subjects and stories. She could have her own website— it would probably be more fun than mine.


Here’s another issue I have with a big public school. We (I) are raising our daughter to make responsible choices when it comes to eating and media among other issues with kids today. She doesn’t eat fast food, or candy— but we make special treats in healthier versions. She doesn’t watch any television— but we have family movie night. I would say we are raising her with an alternative lifestyle, and we are happy with that decision. If she goes to a school where there are 550 students enrolled, then does that make her the outcast or minority?


Everything I write about here is my mission to move more to an alternative, unconventional life, isn’t this right in line with it? Maybe, I don’t fit into a conventional, public school system (I never did).


My fear though, is that if I pull my daughter out of “society”, it could negatively affect her. That doesn’t have to be the case though either.  I don’t follow what the mainstream dictates, why should it be any different with my child from the food we eat? Maybe home schooling is a natural progression for someone pulling away from conventional ideas.


Our “home school” could have all her stuffed animals and toys sitting in the group while we read and learn. That’s okay with me as long as we get out and socialize. Can you imagine how happy she would be to have her favorite monkey, “Ruben”, raise it’s hand to ask about the subject we’re studying?


Here’s where I am at this time, I am going to tour the local public school, I’m waiting to hear back from her former school to see if that’s a possibility, I’ve reached out to a local home schooling network, and I’m researching and researching what the possibilities are. At this point, it doesn’t feel like this new school is the right fit for us, or worth our hard-earned and well-stretched dollars. We’re not making any rash decisions here, but the idea of free-range learning is very tempting.


What are your experiences? Have you struggled to find the right schooling for your children? What works for you?

Posted on: Frugally Sustainable, Homestead Barn Hop, No Ordinary Blog Hop, Monday Mania, Tuesday Greens, Natural Living Mondays

18 thoughts on “Free-Range Kids?

  1. Mine’s too young for us to have gotten to this stage, but we plan to send her to the public school and supplement with activities and learning at home and in the area.

    • Thanks for commenting, Becky. That’s why I want to explore the public school to not exclude it without looking. But, full-time school and a lot of activities are too much for my daughter. She does two extra curricular classes right now, which feels like the most she could handle. She still needs lots of time to decompress and play at home.

  2. I’ve taught private piano lessons for years – starting 10 years before we had children, and my eldest is nine. There were definite ‘trends’ that I noticed in my piano students, although they certainly weren’t true of every child! By and large, the kids that went to public school had the least respect for their parents, and were the most peer-dependant. They also had the most difficulty seeing the connections between subjects. (For instance, I’ve had more than one student that, when we talked about note values and how many 8th notes you’d have per minute if the metronome is set at quarter = 60, say, completely straightfaced, “Oh… I only do math in school during Math Class. This is Piano.”)

    The private school students were generally better behaved, and had more respect for their teachers’ and parents’ authority, but still had trouble with cross-subject synthesis.

    My homeschool students were generally much more interested in their parents’ opinions, input and much less peer-dependant. I did notice that at times, if some of them were stuck for an answer, they’d just give up until it was given to them, but this was certainly not the case across the board. Understanding the impact one subject could have on another was not generally a problem. They were also less concerned about what other kids thought of them, and more interested in how their decisions and opinions impacted their own lives and their families’.

    With our own children, we have decided to homeschool. I saw how much my public-and-private students were held hostage to their school’s schedules, and the depth of the influence their peers had on them, and it was an easy decision to make. That said, if I wasn’t part of an incredible homeschooling moms group, and if I didn’t have three moms in particular that have all taught multiple kids K-12 that I can go to with questions, I’d probably have given up by now. My husband is very supportive in the sense that he loves what I’m doing, but I do all the actual schooling.

    I think the single biggest factor in keeping myself motivated has been knowing children from many different families of various educational backgrounds (public, private, homeschool) that are years older than my own, and watching how those children have developed. The majority (although not all!) of the kids that fit my category of “I’d like my kids to turn out like that when they’re that age”, come from the families that homeschool. There are exceptions, of course. Parental involvement is the biggest factor, regardless of educational choice. But the kids that are home all day get the ‘quantity time’ that results in the most ‘quality time’.

    My kids aren’t angels, by any definition. My eldest in particular is very social, and would love to have mutiple recesses a day with many friends. But at his age and current development, I feel that that amount of relatively uncontrolled social life would be like feeding him all the sweets he wants; he’d love the taste, but the long-term effects wouldn’t be ideal. Moderation is the key. And the key to the moderation is for me to teach him at home.

    I wrote for much longer than I had intended! Sorry to spend so long on my soapbox! I hope that you find the solution that works best for your family. Whichever way you jump, I highly recommend finding mentor moms that you can go to when stuff (and there’s always some variety of stuff) comes up.

    God bless!

    • Thank you very much for your valuable insight! I’m working on meeting with other home-schooling families and keeping my mind, ears and eyes open to whatever comes my way. It’s interesting what you say about your eldest and that recess is like access to all the sweets he wants. I can see what a big influence peers have on my daughter. It didn’t even occur to me yet that home-schooling would be another advantage for that.

  3. I have to smile….in the beginning of your post, as i am reading, I immediately think, oh, she needs to read about unschooling! Lol…then you got there! And your dream day….we live that day in, day out. We’re eclectic/unschoolers, vs straight up unschoolers….but our belief is that education happens all day long, not just when we “do school”.

    Example, tuesday I went and voted, then had appointments the rest of the morning, so we didn’t “do school”. At supper, kids asked daddy if he voted….and we spent the next 45+ min discussing elections, candidates, voting, the electoral college…..and answering what felt like 400million questions. My children learned….w/o needing to be “schooled”. They were interested and engaged, and asked thoughtful questions. They knew the election was coming up, but they are young enough that we didn’t get into the politics of it yet. There’s enough time for that later.

    As far as you worrying that being pulled from society negatively affecting her….um, it seems society has done an excellent job of already negatively affecting her. Why put her back in that environment? If she is negatively affected at home….her safety (you) is there to protect her, and help her work thru the issues. If she is hurt again at school, who is her safety? And will you ever know some of the things she deals with? (my mom sure did not.)

    I’m sure your head is spinning….there is much to ponder and think through. ;) Best wishes!

    • It’s nice to hear from un-schooler that recognizes my issues! I’m not crazy about the name though! It’s certainly an interesting idea. I suppose that if I do decide this route that it will be a process and change along the way.

      You make a good point. I haven’t gotten into my issues with this year, and only skimmed over last year, but you are right that my instincts have told me that my daughter shouldn’t have to face such adversity at such a young age. She is a joyous child and bursting with creativity and her love for learning shouldn’t be squashed by boring worksheets.

      My head is definitely spinning, and of course with any change there is always the timing of it.

      Thank you!

  4. Powerful piece! For us our local public school has worked out amazingly well. I am always watching and ready to change if my kids seem to need it but I think we are just really lucky to have a set up that works well for them. Best wishes on your journey!
    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday.

  5. Oh, the schooling issue. Gack.

    We had issues in our public schools and ended up paying for private Catholic school (the only other option in our area, even though we weren’t Catholic and didn’t go to church anywhere). Our oldest daughter—the logical, driven, book-devourer—thrived. Our equally bright youngest—the creative, social, hands-on kid—did ok, but school was still a tough fit for her. That proved to be the case right through high school.

    I wish I had known more about home-schooling and also had set ourselves up financially so that I could be home at that time. I would highly recommend researching something outside of public schooling for a whole host of reasons. Do you follow any homeschool bloggers? There are a lot of seasoned homeschoolers right at NOBH where I found you. Thanks for sharing there, by the way!

    • Hi Kim,

      I just found the the NOBH, so I will have to check it out more! I have been reading all sorts of things: forums, curriculums, unschooling, etc, etc. It takes over your life when your kids aren’t happy!

      I know plenty of people are happy with public school, but I really don’t think it’s for me, or my daughter, she is like your youngest, but also loves books— but all on her own terms. I’m really looking just for being open to all ideas. The funny thing is, I’ve had two appointments for a tour and I’ve had to cancel both times… like the universe is telling me something…

      I will look at some homeschool blogger’s sites to get more ideas. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Hi, I found your blog through a comment you left on Monday’s SITS Day Blog (Kim @ Momamusings). Your whole thought process here sounds a lot like mine did when we were deciding to homeschool, although I never actually put my oldest in public school for K. She’s in “1st” now . . . meaning she’s six and we’re in our second year of homeschooling, although grade level isn’t all that critical when you are homeschooling. :-) My daughter did two years of preschool and LOVED it. Even the “negative” parts tended to go right over her head, and she always had a smile and couldn’t wait to go. But then it came time to enroll her in public school and . . . ugh. Thoughts of standardized tests, bigger classes, spending all that time learning “the system,” not being able to address her specific interests or have one-on-one time, the cutting of physical education, art, music, etc. Ack! I can relate to what you are writing here. I think I wrote like a dozen posts agonizing and analyzing my homeschooling decision. (I still write a lot about homeschooling, but my posts are usually much happier now.) Anyway, we are also fascinated by unschooling, although I don’t think I would exactly call us unschoolers. We are very relaxed child-led homeschoolers. And it’s working. Best of luck to you as you wrestle with this decision. And stop by if you’d like to “chat” anytime. Take care.

    • HI Valerie,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I feel exactly how how feel. I’m not sure my daughter’s “mind” fits into the “system” and I would love her creativity and imagination to grow awhile longer without feeling the need to change who she is to fit in. I’ve been reading about unschooling and it’s not the path I want to take at this point, but certainly child-led interests— so maybe that’s an eclectic unschooled? I still want her to get educated no matter what we do. I will definitely check out your site, thank for stopping over and commenting!

  7. I’ve been meaning to comment on this since I got the email notification.. :)

    Do any of your public schools have a gifted or magnet program that your daughter could be tested for? Public school for me up until 3rd grade was pretty bad… I thrived on the social aspect of it, but I was never challenged intellectually and got bored easily. I had teachers that got frustrated with me when I asked so many questions and when I would finish “extra credit” projects in a single night. My parents noticed it and my 3rd grade teacher recommended I get tested for placement in a gifted program.

    Hands down it was the best schooling experience I could’ve had at that time. I was with a contained group of about 15 kids, almost entirely through middle school and somewhat through high school (since the program dropped off in 8th grade) — that may or may not be a good thing. We did have exposure to the “regular” kids at school, but to this day they are some of my closest friends.

    The gifted program was an environment where I was surround with kids just like me: a passion for learning more, a high level of curiosity, and the need to be intellectually challenged and stimulated. Because the program was geared towards us, we learned more material at a faster pace, as well as did all sorts of unique projects (building a golf course having to do with different countries, building our own bridges, constructed a website having to do with a book we were reading (which, 12 years ago, was a big feat), raising money and supplies to actually build a Japanese garden for our school, role playing such as immigrants arriving at Ellis Island).

    It was definitely a great experience and it provided more than the average public school education — in fact, once I got to high school and college, I felt less challenged than I had since I had begun the program.

    Anyway, it was just an idea to throw out there! :)

    • Hi Jenny,

      Thanks for coming back and sharing your story! I don’t know if there is a gifted program around here, it’s something to look in into, but she’s only in 1st grade, so maybe a little young for something like that. What a fantastic opportunity for you,it probably changed your life. I would love for my daughter to remain stimulated and challenged throughout her childhood (er, and life).

  8. Oh that’s a tough spot to be in! We are lucky to have really great public schools right by our house, so (assuming our son doesn’t need/ want a different path) we’re planning on going the public school route. I have a lot of friends who homeschool (teaching a whopping 13 kids among their homes) and they’ll tell you it’s the very best choice for them. I worried with home schooling that while I like the idea of giving my son one-on-one education, letting him have the wiggle-room to explore subjects he’s interested in, he might lose out on some of the social aspects of establishing relationships with kids his age without mom there to supervise everything. The only (semi) helpful advice I can give you is what my mother always told me: “You have to stick it out”. I would hang in there for the school year, see if there is any marked improvement with her new school, and have alternate plans (returning to the old school, starting a home-based program) tentatively ready on the side lines.

    • Hi Tori,

      It sounds like if you decided to homeschool that you have a great network all ready— with mixed ages, too! It’s been a month since I wrote this post so it’s been a process since then. We actually decided to pull her out this past weekend. We saw no improvement in the classroom environment and we saw our daughter’s well being diminish. I’ve always been wary of certain advice, while well meaning, there are times where the best thing to do is “get out quick!” ;-). We have certainly stuck it out in other situations but we had red flags popping up all over the place here. I know what you mean about mom always being there to help, but young kids should have role models for how to handle situations and they will learn, with help, how to handle themselves with support. I’m big on support. My daughter is very independent but I don’t need her dealing with uncomfortable social situations on her own.

      Thanks for commenting!

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