459 comments

My Son is Ready for Early Retirement

Like father, like son?

Like father, like son?

I suppose I can’t blame him, because this IS pretty nice. It’s Monday morning, and I just dropped him off at school, rode the mountain bike and trailer back home through the deep and fluffy remnants of the latest snowstorm, and settled in with this laptop and my sunny, empty house to compose my thoughts for you. Greg Reitan is playing some wicked Jazz piano in the background via Pandora, and my belly is nicely satisfied with fine coffee and a bowl of almonds. The rest of the world is out commuting on an icy highway or dialing into the conference call while seated in the cubicle. This is the life for me.

But is it the life for an eight-year-old?

Although he has made it to the second half of second grade with great success, my boy has softly been singing an underlying chorus of “I don’t want to go to schooool!” since long before Kindergarten. The song fades away on the good days, because there are occasional bits of learning and he has several great friends among his classmates. But then he gets a taste of freedom again, like the two-week Christmas holiday that just ended an hour ago, and it reminds him of how much more he enjoys not being in school. Our holiday together was a beautiful blur of late nights, family board games, friends, movie nights, adventures at the creek, sunshine, drawing pictures, and making songs with Ableton Live and elaborate automated buildings in Minecraft. When he realized it was truly over last night, he cried so much that he had trouble getting to sleep.

I can’t blame him, because this feeling about school and organized activites in general tends to run in my side of the family. I remember finishing the nine-year sentence in my own small town K-8 elementary school wondering if I had learned anything during the entire session. High school became more interesting because of some inspiring teachers in Science, Math, and English (and because of the girls). And Engineering school, while painful, was motivating because I knew there was freedom and an excellent paycheck waiting right at the end of the tunnel. But since finishing that whole affair, I have never looked back other than to marvel at how different than me the folks who pursue graduate degrees and PhDs must be. A brilliant nephew of mine finds himself in a similar boat: my sister described his school years as “A quiet rebellion of boredom”, although he has awakened now that he is among other whiz kids in the Computer Science program of his country’s top university.

Some of us just really enjoy our freedom, and we use that freedom for constant learning of the things we really want to learn, and creating the things we really want to create. This is surely why I quit even the relatively free environment of the corporate office: to get all my time back for truly self-guided pursuits. And I suspect this personality type is common among the Mustachians as well: you don’t have any trouble keeping yourself busy, the only issue is freeing yourself from the busywork that others keep assigning to you.

But how do we handle it when a kid discovers this obvious source of joy less than 3000 days into his life? Under the current regime, the poor lad is scheduled for about fourteen additional years of school, at which point he’ll to need work and save for another decade to earn his financial independence. I could allow him to cheat the system by setting aside a trust fund that made work (and school) optional at any point, but I do not want to deny him the soul-building satisfaction of good old-fashioned hard work, and the incomparable advantage of having to work for what you get.

But at the same time, there is surely some benefit I can pass on from this clearly advantaged position. Compared to my own parents at a similar stage in 1982, Mrs. MM and I have much more secure finances, one child instead of four, unlimited free time to spend with him, and the resources of the Internet from which to pull knowledge. There are thousands of other parents of bright but slightly bored kids reading this who might have some ideas. With so many advantages, it would be a cop-out for me to just leave my son to follow exactly the same path I walked 32 years before him, without at least questioning The Rules.

We would not be the first people to do so. I was recently inspired by this TED talk by Ken Robinson, which eloquently explains that despite its best efforts, the school system does tend to crush creativity. Adding to that idea, there’s this ambitious 13-year-old lad that did his own TEDx Talk about a self-guided “Unschooling” or “Hackschooling” education.

By now you’ve probably learned that a formal university education is only one of many paths to a good life. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were dropouts. Free and inexpensive learning spots like the Khan Academy and Treehouse abound. My own posts on jobs without a degree are some of the most widely read on this site. Heck, there is a 23-year-old college dropout staying in my guest suite right now, who founded his own successful company several years ago which now allows him to lead a life with greater freedom than I had at that age. He’s here to have an adventure and to learn new skills, in a completely non-academic environment. But all this still leaves the question of how to motivate your very young kid without denying him the benefits of school.

So we don’t have the answers yet. My boy is excited that he has gained admission to a special program within the school that allows kids in this situation to leave class twice per week and gather with a special teacher to cover more interesting material. We could try an Unschooling experiment next year, spending a portion of it living in another country (I’m partial to New Zealand myself, and then perhaps Ecuador the next year). The regular school is well-run and has the best intentions, but learning formalized material in a big group is very slow and is bound to leave a certain portion of the kids spending 90% of each day waiting for what is next. Or missing recess because some other kids were talking when the teacher had declared that talking was not allowed. And the charter and private schools I’ve encountered around here all seem to emphasize even more academic rigor and discipline, rather than more freedom to roam and learn.

Unfortunately, I think that purely hanging around at home would be unsuccessful. We could learn much more quickly, but there are only three of us here – not enough people to provide a truly rounded social education. Plus there is the selfish issue: both my wife and I benefit greatly from having a few hours on weekdays to do our own things. After all, this blog is not going to write itself.

What do you think? Have you encountered this problem with your own children?

Ideally, we could gather and form communal unschooling environments with five or six cool kids, and the problem would be solved. I could teach them writing and carpentry, you could teach them filmmaking and math, and some of our other friends would handle the sports, physics, chemistry, and whatever else they want to learn. We’d take plenty of field trips as well.

The more conservative standardized-test-loving government officials and administrators of the world might frown upon us, but we’d probably end up with a batch of very creative, happy, and motivated young adults, which is really the primary job that we sign up for when we produce these fine little creatures.

  • MonicaOnMoney January 9, 2014, 5:15 pm

    I can certainly relate because at times I wanted to stay home from the endless years of school. But my parents disagreed and so I went to school. Even college like society says. But I agree with you and many many people are quite successful and rich without degrees. So I say go for it. I would consider other school options for kids too, like traveling for a year.

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  • Marcella January 9, 2014, 9:48 pm

    Consider perhaps that a little bit of unhappiness is actually very good for your son. Have you had a look at this very interesting piece?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/308555/

    “Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.”

    Basically it suggests that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we depriving them happiness as adults. If kids don’t learn to be resilient in the face of normal frustrations in life as kids, they can’t do it as adults. Assuming Junior MMM will also be a fine mustachian, doesn’t mean he won’t need to be resilient when things in life go wrong – in relationships, in creation of his own wealth…. in all sorts of things.

    That doesn’t that mean that he has to experience frustration and unhappiness by staying at school…. but it’s probably important he experiences it somewhere.

    Think about your own journey, the strength, fortitude and deeply rooted beliefs you have been able to develop into your mustachian philosophy. Do you think that some of the ‘hard stuff’ you went through first helped form that?

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  • ordaj January 9, 2014, 10:34 pm

    MMM: This might be of interest to your plight:

    http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/free-thinkers/

    Reply
  • Quinten January 9, 2014, 10:40 pm

    It is always so interesting to me the events that lead me to a specific article or blog posting. This evening I just finished watching a special on PBS about Mr. Rodgers and afterwards started reading a book I had just purchased on Understanding Waldorf Education. For some reason as I set the book down I remembered my friend recommended your blog to my wife and I with the intention that we would find it interesting and inspiring as we come across as like-minded mustachians. What was odd was how relevant your recent post was on the PBS special and the book I am currently reading.

    Your recent post about your son returning to school after break and the Ted-x video of the Hackschool mentality has really struck a chord. I teach high school students in a very traditional public high school. I, like many of the students, am at times uninspired and uninterested in all of the different initiatives that are required by local and federal law. While reading this book “Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the inside out” by Jack Petrash I realize education must be approached from a diverse and multi-faceted perspective.

    It sounds like you are already providing you son with rich educational and creative opportunities at home. This is more than you can say for many households across America. One thing I think a traditional schooling environment offers to young people is the social interaction and diversity that is so crucial. If you experiment with these other “unschooling” opportunities I would be excited to hear about their progress. I think the idea of traveling and exposing young people to new environments and cultures is such a rich opportunity. However, I would always keep in mind the importance of like-age social opportunities in your son’s developing years. Good luck and thanks for the informative and thoughtful blog.

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  • Julia Bloom January 10, 2014, 8:53 am

    Researching school options in my community of Loveland, CO, I found this intriguing option involving apprenticeship, part-time public school, customized learning, mentorship: http://e3learning.co

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  • Kathryn January 10, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Have you checked out SOLE learning? (self-organized learning experience). You can download a toolkit from TED.com, and the talk by Sugata Mitra is worth watching. We’ve downloaded the toolkit for our home computer and I’m interested to see how our kids like it.
    http://www.ted.com/pages/sole_challenge

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  • Mr. Grump January 10, 2014, 3:50 pm

    Great Article! The Grump’s haven’t had to deal with the daily grind of school for Baby Grump as he just celebrated his first birthday but it would be wrong to say if we didn’t want something more for BG than traditional school offers. We just relocated to Brussels, Belgium for a short term work assignment and found out the children only go to school for half a day here on Wednesday’s. How awesome would that be as a youngster? My wife mentioned that a lot of people at her office work from home on Wednesday’s so they can be there when the kids are home. This might be just the fix you are looking for MMM. Keeps the kids in school but allows consistent time outside the classroom for you teach your kids what you want them to know.

    As I said, we just moved here so I may reading the situation completely wrong but the way I understand it sounds awesome.

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  • Nina January 10, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Several years back I read several of the studies comparing (public) Montessori and (public) conventional schooling. While Montessori averaged better than conventional by most measures, the differences were modest. Guess what the strongest determinant of educational achievement was in the study? The family environment. Kids family life matters more to their education than anything else. Junior MMM will flourish in any environment.

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  • Christine H January 10, 2014, 5:08 pm

    MMM, I love your blog, which is funny in a way, because in many of them I am so *not* like you — e.g., I will *never* be as logical as you are (I am definitely *not* engineer material), and I am definitely not at planning with money as you are–although I”m not terrible, and, I’m getting better (thanks in part to you).. But one of the ways in which I feel *very* much like you and your wife is that I also have an 8yo son, so I can relate to many of your posts. And I *so* totally relate to this post. My son, who goes to a wonderful (Quaker) school that is about as far away from the “standardized” school you can get, even he did not want to go back to school once it started. I so *totally* love your idea of a teaching cooperative! :-) I’m in! (and my husband, who is an EE and who can fix about anything and loves [most] of what you are doing with your house), would be, too. Sigh….only problem? We live in central PA! But wouldn’t it be fun if you had enough people in your area interested to start a schooling cooperative?!

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  • Petunia 100 January 10, 2014, 5:44 pm

    I suggest you look into homeschooling. Connect with some local homeschooling groups and see what is available in your area. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    It’s been a decade and a half now, but off the top of my head, these are the classes my daughter took from credentialed teachers during our homeschooling years. (These were all on-going classes, lasting one semester or more):

    1. Science. Complete with microscopes, test tubes, etc.
    2. Creative writing
    3. Spanish
    4. P.E.
    5. Social Studies Enrichment (California History one year, World History one year)
    6. Music Appreciation
    7. Band (the recorder one year, flute the next)
    8. Art (this one wasn’t taught by a credentialed teacher, but an actual local artist)
    9. Keyboarding

    Through our local junior college, she would also take “college for kids” classes. Again, off the top of my head:

    1. Puppet-making
    2. Dogs (care and breeds)
    3. Star Gazing
    4. Tumbling

    Through our loosely-associated local homeschool newsletter, we were one of the families who started a weekly play meeting in a park. We heard about and started attending the once a month “homeschool skate” at the local rink. We enrolled in a weekly gymnastics class. We did various field trips, to a wildlife rescue, a turkey farm, a restaurant, etc., etc.

    There were more choices, opportunities, learning, and socialization than you can shake a stick at.

    All of this is in addition to the learning we did around the kitchen table at home. I’m sure I am leaving a lot out.

    If it’s not for you and your family, that’s fine, but don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand. Homeschooling does not limit children to whatever their own parents can teach them. Really.

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  • Betsy B January 10, 2014, 6:41 pm

    We started homeschooling our 2 oldest (10 and 7) just one year ago as an experiment. We were motivated because we relocated in the middle of the school year and the new school would not consider them for gifted/advanced placement (only one testing date offered per year and they had missed it). My husband was previously a (fantastic) public school teacher before he decided to become a SAHD.

    My kids had been successful in good public schools. They were ahead but enjoyed learning– no behavioral problems. Occasionally complained of boredom (especially with those math worksheets!). They both read well above grade level and my 10 year old sounds like your son in the way that she devours books.

    We thought homeschool would be something temporary until we got settled. But we all find it VERY hard to consider going back to classroom education. In particular, we can’t figure out how we’d have time! We see our neighbor children leave at 7AM, return at 3:30PM and still have an hour or more of homework!

    Our very loose schedule is 1 hr each weekday of math, 30 min writing, 20-30 min music. We do a lot of science and social science as part of our daily life (I’m a scientist). One afternoon per week they participate in a math team and another afternoon in a science olympiad group (with many of the same friends at both). Reading is constant so we don’t schedule that explicitly. The whole family is very involved in sailboat racing and they also spend many hours on the water practicing with another group of buddies.

    Honestly, since we started homeschooling most of our days really ARE the way you describe Christmas vacation. We often let the older kids stay up to play board games with us. We take time in the evenings to cook new recipes together or work on building projects. We go to friends homes for dinner on weeknights (esp other homeschooling families). I do work full-time but when I get home it feels like “school vacation” because we have the luxury of time– pretty much all the time!

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  • Megan January 10, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Does homeschooling undermine the very notion of free public education? Education ought to be available to all, and appropriate to all. It holds the potential to equalize our unequal society. Why not figure out how to collectively make education more relevant and interesting to children, rather than what we are currently doing? If you want your child’s education to be more relevant, why not work to make it so, rather than drop out?

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    • Joseph January 13, 2014, 1:13 pm

      Why would homeschooling undermine the notion of free public education? It certainly doesn’t affect its availability. Also, when it comes to it being able to equalize an unequal society how does teaching the same thing in the same way to 50 children who all learn differently equalize them? Doesn’t that just tilt the scales in the direction of those children who learn best in that type of environment? The best way to equalize an unequal society is by making knowledge availabile to all and to allow it to be pursued in which ever fashion best fits. Homeschooling IS working to make your child’s education more relevant. It is not “dropping out.”

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  • Money Saving January 11, 2014, 6:47 am

    MMM,

    Have you looked into an Montessorri schools in the area? They are awesome (I went through them as a young lad), also I remember the Google founders also went through Montessorri. It is basically self-paced learning with some lesson structure that frees kids to explore their own creativity and interests without all the bullshit that comes with Public Schools…

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  • Robert January 11, 2014, 7:28 am

    Junior ‘stache certainly won the ovarian lottery. Make sure he understands how lucky he is.

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  • Shannon B January 11, 2014, 8:21 am

    MMM

    My son is turning 7 and in the 2nd grade after skipping a grade. In Oct we pulled him from public school, after he freaked out due to being unhappy there. He sat in a desk all day, did worksheets and tests, and had 15 mins of recess a day 4 days a week (the 5th had no recess at all). Coupled with 1 hr a day on the bus, a 7 am bus pickup time and him having already mastered all the 2nd grade objectives, and we had a very unhappy family. It was affecting everyone.
    We homeschooled through Dec and it became obvious that it wasn’t a working solution for us either (I work unpredictable hours, my husband stays at home, and we have a 3 and 1 yr old also). We were not able to provide a structure where he wanted to learn at home. There was lots of combative behavior to any attempt to teach, lots of playing with the little kids,TV, video games, and reading. Lots and lots of reading, which has always been his strongest suit, but the things we wanted to work on we’re really not happening.
    So this last week we enrolled him in Montessori. It is basically going to keep us from retiring ever, but it was something we had to do for everyone’s sake. I was a big proponent of public school, but I don’t know any more. I’m hoping that my other children can attend public school for as long as possible (k-1 is essentially still like preschool in many ways and not so structured that it seems to make kids nuts), but I’m cringing at the thought of needing to possible pay $30k a year at some point for private education for 3 kids. It’s a depressing thought.

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  • Lindsey January 11, 2014, 11:31 am

    Wow, your blog has really taken off….so many comments already and the post is only a few days old.

    I taught adolescents and adults for 8 years. One of the fundamental problems I could not figure out how to remedy was that formal schooling seems so disconnected sometimes from the skills we need to survive and thrive. Your son has a lot of advantages. Another one that you could encourage which may set his little MMM neurons on fire is to focus on acquisition of a second language. Spanish seems the obvious choice considering your description of the school he currently attends. This may entail a whole family journey into attempting to become fluent (if you’re not already?) over many years of practice and study. Truly fluent, not Encino Man style:)

    Moving to a Spanish-speaking country was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and I hope to do it again when my husband and I have children. It is not an easy thing to do, in large part due to the realities of culture shock and the desperate poverty that many people in Spanish-speaking countries face. The experience seems like it would fit into the type of life you and your wife are building together. From a financial standpoint, my move to Honduras for a year cost me less than some people spend on their annual cable bill because the cost of living is so low there. I learned so, so much regarding what waste and excess are (among other things) and it had a profound impact on the way I’ve chosen to live my life.

    Happy writing and thanks so much for the blog!

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  • spiralingsnails January 11, 2014, 2:54 pm

    I’m in the “I was homeschooled, I loved it, & we are now homeschooling our own kids!” category. But I don’t think homeschooling is the best option for every parent, with every child, for every school year. I would suggest that you look online & try a meet-up or two with the homeschooling group(s) in your area. Maybe the sort of people who tend to homeschool in your city will send you fleeing, or maybe you’ll discover that there’s already a thriving co-op of like-minded parents you could easily join. You’ll never know unless you try!

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  • Lynn January 11, 2014, 3:00 pm

    I felt that our public school was lacking in the enrichment area, so I got my daughter into a classroom where the teacher agreed with me. I volunteered in the classroom once a week with my own “enrichment program”. There are plenty of example programs to be found online. I worked with the top 4-6 students in my daughter’s class, while the teacher worked with the rest of the students.
    Also, when your son turns 9, find a First Lego League team for him to join. (Or start one yourself.). This is an incredibly rigorous program for 9-14 year olds (and I suspect it is right up MMM’s alley.)

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  • Roch Naleway January 11, 2014, 7:55 pm

    I am a big fan or early childhood education. Kids need to learn how to acquire knowledge. Once they know how to learn they can become their own engine of success. It provides the operating system for kids to build upon.

    The second ingredient is the community that kids, teenagers, and adults are exposed to. It does not need to be perfect, but needs to be good enough to provide exposure to ideas, concepts, and expertise that a specific kid may be interest in. Given access to information and community via the internet there is a whole lot more access to good resources than ever before.

    The last piece to the puzzle is practice, practice, practice….I don’t mean dumb or meaningless repetitive work….I am referring to having the chance to work on topics and problems that kids are interested in and acquire tons of know-how over time.

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  • AZ Mom January 12, 2014, 3:35 pm

    Our kids were home schooled, attended private school and public school. Both graduated at the top of their class. I don’t think there’s an absolute answer here: different types of schooling can be right at different times. Our oldest had the devil’s own time learning to read– we would make a little progress and then hit a wall and boom! Shut down time. Had she been in school, this might have turned into a real problem. Since she wasn’t, it didn’t. Once she figured things out (about April of “first grade”) she was off and running and never looked back. Home school can be great like that, but it is terrible for PE or any pursuit the homeschooling parent is not good at (music and art in our case). “Real” school wastes tons of time on administrative nonsense but can expose kids to new people and interesting ideas. If you’re homeschooling, you’ll need a community to augment your deficits. If you’re using the school system, you will need to augment its deficits – more field trips, more hands on learning (cooking, carpentry, gardening). There’s a happy medium in there some where. Let us know if you find it.

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  • David Wendelken January 12, 2014, 4:34 pm

    Being able to put up with boring instruction and master boring material in the company of boring people is a majorly important life skill.

    If you aren’t preparing your son to do that you are doing him a disservice.

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    • Ed Symanzik January 12, 2014, 5:32 pm

      That strikes me as a very un-mustachian point of view. One of the main reasons to retire is to free ourselves from boring material, boring people, and boring lives. If the instruction is boring, move on to a different subject or find a better way to learn.

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  • La Tejana January 12, 2014, 5:22 pm

    Love the post! I currently teach high school and see that many students needs are not being met by a traditional school setting. Teachers do the best they can with the time and (very often small) amount of resources given (and then go above and beyond by purchasing their own) but with large classes, standardized testing, and our culture’s putting high importance on grades/GPA, it can be difficult to challenge students on a “deeper” level (not that it is impossible or not done, just difficult). My colleagues and I were actually just talking at lunch this past Friday about how in school we learned to “play the system”, meaning we would complete assignments at a more simple level to receive a higher grade than by selecting more challenging assignments/taking a risk with a project/paper that might result in a B instead of an A.

    Playing the system can be a good thing because the ability to do so can help in other aspects of life from getting in to college, to landing a promotion, etc. But it doesn’t always allow for deeper cognitive thinking.

    Yet I digress…parents have a huge influence on their child’s education and no matter what you and Mrs. MM decide to do, I bet that your son will grow up to be a very open minded, deep thinking individual!

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  • Louise January 13, 2014, 7:38 pm

    Elementary is a good time to experiment; my kids are the poster children for how much it really doesn’t matter what you do at this age.

    My son started into the UK school system at 4, as is the norm there, then at 7 went into a French-speaking local school when we moved to Switzerland. At 11, we found out we were moving to the US, so he was then homeschooled for 8 months to try and fill in those 4 years of English writing he hadn’t done, and to add those peculiarly US concepts like the standard measuring system and its associated reliance on a deep knowledge of fractions. He’s now 13, having a terrific public middle school experience and getting straight As in all honors despite having done most of his elementary education not in his native tongue. His teachers always seem to comment on how mature he is, but he still has a great social network of geeky on and offline friends his own age.

    My daughter did Swiss kindergarten (utterly non-academic and play-based, quite Montessori-ish in its approach) and arrived in US 2nd grade barely able to read in English. Her teacher in 4th grade just today handed me a report card with an A in Language Arts, so apparently not starting ‘education’ (ie, with a pencil) until several years later doesn’t matter in the long run.

    So you can be confidently eclectic at JMM’s age, and vary your approach, and know that it will all come out good in the end. I wholeheartedly endorse the ‘go live overseas’ thing, but don’t just assume international school is the way to go! And I loved our period of homeschooling, where we could usually condense 6 hours into less than 2 – it’s startling what can be achieved with just one bright, motivated kid; so much of school time seems to be crowd control and herding cats. We used an online system for the bare bones, and supplemented with textbooks, novels, TV documentaries, outings, and talking, talking, talking the whole time.

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  • David January 13, 2014, 8:21 pm

    I think the school system is just designed to create more slaves to serve the few people that own all the corporations. I never learned anything about investing or money management at school. I never learned anything about getting free. I learned standard concepts like I have to work till 65. I learned that I must always salute the military industrial complex and never question it. Etc, etc. I learned that I should not save more than 10% of my income and that I should spend the rest.

    I learned that I cannot survive as an artist because that is not practical and I should not do what I want to do. Yep, I was a fool for a long time. Then through trial and error I learned how to invest and how to live cheap. And I learned how to be an artist and do what I want to do. Nobody at school encouraged me to think this way. I learned all this through books and sites like this one. Basically, reading and writing were the most beneficial subjects (along with typing).

    I am grateful, however, to live in a country where it is safe to think different without being beat up or imprisoned. That is one thing worth fighting for. I am grateful for all the food here and the clean air and relative spaciousness. We are darn lucky.

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  • Sam January 13, 2014, 9:34 pm

    Food is more expensive than the US, but I think in season fruit and vegetables are cheaper.

    From my experience, the prices are comparable with any other developed country. It’s only probably expensive if you are buying pre prepared convenience food.

    I reckon it’s quite good here in NZ, I remember a wee while ago I was up at the ski field, and I was saying to this Aussie guy, ‘It’s quite funny, you see this weekend I’m up here skiing, and then next weekend I’ll be out sailing’ he reckoned it sounded like a pretty rough life :)

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  • Deborah January 14, 2014, 12:04 am

    The alternatives presented appear to be 1) continuing with “normal” education 2) Trying an alternative formal education method (such as Montessori or Steiner schools) 3) Homeschooling of some sort.

    One of my bosses once said that “normal” education of his children had made him mix with a wider set of people than he would ever have mixed with otherwise and done things he would not have done otherwise (like helping put together playground equipment) and resulted in him being a broader person (he also said that he found people without children to be much shallower). This would go for the children as well as the parents. MMM has very close ties with all the people in his community, so maybe this is not a consideration – but maybe it is.

    Alternate formal education usually attracts a more uniform set of families and students – reducing the breadth of ideas that the children bring to school with them. Also, some children thrive in these schools, and others don’t. My brother’s two children went to a Montessori school – one thrived, one hated every day of it.

    Homeschooling in its various forms will not provide the day in day out rubbing of shoulders with other children that the other forms of education do. At a recent school reunion, one girl remarked that she traveled to school on the train with Mary, attended every class with Mary, and somehow all that rubbing of shoulders made them lifelong friends. Attending formal school part time or homeschooling together part time may not provide the level of rubbing shoulders needed for this type of friendship. I know I never had friends like this – but I blame that on moving schools (I attended 7 over the years) and never being around other children very long.

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  • MBZ January 14, 2014, 8:28 am

    We send our kids to a Sudbury school: http://www.sudval.org

    You have one outside of Denver: http://www.alpinevalleyschool.com

    Yes, you have to pay tuition. It varies from school to school. But it’s a form of social and academic education that is quite outside the mainstream and one that has been extraordinarily wonderful for our kids, who have been going to the Framingham school since 2007.

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  • Jenna January 15, 2014, 8:46 am

    Sounds like your son may be in a gifted program? We had that in school, where we would leave the classroom for certain time periods and get to work on independent study projects. Basically, we would pick a topic we were interested in, learn about it in a mostly self directed way and then complete some type of project to share what we’ve learned. This program ran all the way through high school.

    I think some of the boredom gets eliminated in high school when you have classes that teach at different levels (e.g. AP, honors, regular). Two things helped with the sitting and waiting around – having a book to read (I enjoyed reading) and for in class work I would help other kids with theirs. If you can explain concepts in a way your peers understand then that also ensures you know it well. If he doesn’t enjoy reading maybe he can pursue other quiet independent projects while the other kids complete their work – drawing, computer work, etc. Or maybe he needs to skip a grade?

    Reply
  • Yank in the North January 15, 2014, 4:16 pm

    Though I’m quite late to this party, I just want to say that as an American living in Canada, I had to chuckle at the variety and quality of responses to this post. It is so typically American to want to innovate, break with convention and experiment with alternative forms of education. And it’s typically American to focus on individual needs and all our special snowflakes. This is not to judge; it’s a culture that has helped build a country of confident, independent-minded innovators, but anything can have extremes. There may be no right answer to this question, just “whatever prepares children best for their life’s work and integration into society.”
    Canadian education seems to be, in line with the general culture, a little more sensitive to group needs and a little more conformist – preparing kids to work in the Canadian society of consensus.

    Otherwise, as a parent, I can say with confidence that 99% of kids will report periodic boredom and dissatisfaction with school (and life) at multiple points, in particular after returns from vacation. It invariably passes. If it persists, then we have to find out what it means … probably not boredom per se, but something else that might need to be addressed. But we shouldn’t get alarmed or rise to the bait every time we hear the “B” word or there’ll no end of it. Instead it’s an opportunity to help the bored one examine that uncomfortable state a bit more closely and learn how to make the “boring” situation more interesting — without simply walking away as the default. My 2 cents, but then as older parents who came of age at a different time in the child-rearing canon we never felt obligated to provide our kid with a boredom-free childhood.

    Reply
  • Walter January 15, 2014, 9:20 pm

    Interesting discussion and comments.
    Boredom and creativity is related. Have you asked what he might want to do in class to “alleviate” the boredom? He is never not going to have periods of boredom so teach him methods to reduce it. Maybe he should sketch pictures while in class. Or write little stories or image how he would teach the class (I did this a lot in my classes). Boredom is a stimulant for the imagination.
    The other things that have worked with my son of 12 is constantly engaging him in discussions and arguments (being defined as having a set of thoughts in cogent manner that would convince me to change my mind).
    Sports has also been super healthful as is engages him in failure when he competes which is a great learning tool as a feedback loop but to also develop the mental maturity to handle losing gracefully. Sports also produces growth hormones for the brain which helps with development of the brain and of the memories.
    Sorry for the rambling.

    Reply
  • Lua Wells January 16, 2014, 8:25 am

    Just want to recommend another short TEDx talk about unschooling, called “Skipping School” in which I talk about my now grown unschooled kids: http://youtu.be/23jVmKXk2I0 If you try unschooling, I think you’ll find that your son will spend time on his own interests, and you’ll still have time to do your own thing. You’re right that you’ll want to find a group of like-minded homeschoolers and unschoolers to hang out with sometimes, but you don’t necessarily need to organize formal classes, (unless you just really want to) at least not now while your son is so young. He’ll be learning through books, and the computer and tv and games, and various kid friends, your adult friends, and outings…

    Reply
  • Derek January 16, 2014, 2:45 pm

    Its a tough problem and one of the (many) reasons we decided against having kids.

    I grew up poor but had no tv so up until about middle school I had no idea what I was “missing out” on. I played outside with all the neighborhood and school friends and when weather was no good we got creative indoors. I was way ahead of everyone around me scholastically and also did the “gifted program” which sounds like the one your kid is in.

    As soon as kids around me were old enough to understand consumerism, life took a big turn for the worse. Kids were cruel based on clothes etc and if you followed the herd or not. The only thing that got me from middle school to high school were the basketball and soccer seasons. I had no close friends and only a few passing friends because I was decent at sports(not great)

    School was horribly boring and unchallenging(scholastically) and I hated it. HATED it. College hit and I was still uninspired so I dropped out and my life has been on easy cruise control ever since.

    I’ve had all kinds of jobs- mostly in the $17-20 an hour range (except for 6 years when I owned my own business and made fantastic money but hated it) but I had done everything I ever wanted to do and more before I hit 35 with no financial worry whatsoever.

    I’m not retired in the sense that you are, but by my definition I am- I have a job I enjoy and will do forever and have more than enough free time to do the things I enjoy with my sweet wife (who works three days a week)

    While you studied hard at college and got a high paying job and kept expenses low, I dropped out, got a lower paying job and lived in a bronco(then upgraded to an old suburban) for 5 years and my expenses were almost nothing

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that school may not be entirely necessary? I know this is an approach that is… unique? But you are unique parents.

    I view my time in middle school and high school as more damaging than helpful- especially creatively as you mentioned, but it also tried to force me out of the belief that I could be happy with nothing. That I must fit in and have all the physical trappings to be happy.
    I feel like kids naturally want to learn and will gladly do so (especially with influences like the ones you and your wife obviously are) You might try just pointing him in the right direction with homeschooling schoolwork and he could probably teach himself..

    This could be a horrible idea, I don’t know – but that’s what I love about brainstorming – something that sounds like a terrible idea right off the bat could be terrible, or it could gets the brain working in a different direction that leads to something cool.

    In any case, I don’t spend much time on the internet (we don’t have tv or internet at home) but I was excited to stumble across your blog. It’s encouraging to see people such as yourselves out there!

    Reply
  • Jeanne January 17, 2014, 6:08 am

    What are you waiting for? : )

    My youngest son, now 16, is last in the homeschooling nest. One of the others is in college studying software engineering and another has graduated from college and lives and works independently in a job he likes and learns from.

    Yesterday was a full day with our academic co-op with enough traditional school work to parse out over the next week, but today he’ll be snowboarding in our beautiful mountains.

    Come on in. The water’s fine.

    Reply
  • Mark G January 18, 2014, 7:56 am

    Thank you for the article. I have twin 8 month old boys and a family full of educators so this is something I have spent some time thinking about over the years and definitely more recently. One of the main things I think this points to is the struggle of realizing we want a good education for our kids but an innate understanding that the standardized group learning and “more” academic rigor is not always a good thing.
    You express this well when you say that “and the charter and private schools [you’ve] encountered … all seem to emphasize even more academic rigor and discipline, rather than more freedom to roam and learn.”
    One way or another you seem to have come around to a much more liberal arts and rounded learning concept which is not always applied in the k-12 regime. An interesting book that discusses a lot research regarding this is “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. It doesn’t provide all the answers but I think it shines some light on a few good paths forward in how our education system could be changed and how we think about educating our own kids in this modern day.

    Cheers,
    ~mark

    Reply
  • Nathan January 18, 2014, 8:14 am

    The bad news is, there is no “one size fits all” solution, because all kids are different. The good news is, if you apply your Mustachian “think outside the box and try different things until you find something that works” philosophy to little MMM’s education, you’ll figure something out in no time.

    Keep us posted. I’m curious to see what you come up with!

    Reply
  • Beth January 20, 2014, 10:11 am

    I’m a teacher and a soon-to-be mother, and I’m seriously considering homeschooling my kids. I am so disheartened as a teacher by the current environment in schools. I don’t know what the demographics are in your area, but we live in Chicago, and generally large urban centers with lots of poor people or people who are not white have to put up with a lot of standardized testing hoopla. (Well, middle-class white people deal with it too, but it’s not the same level of hysteria to drill and test prep and measure that stuff). The only reason I’d want to keep my kids in public schools is the chance to interact with kids who come from different backgrounds: I have a feeling a home-schooling co-op would be full of people who are a lot like my me and my husband.

    Good luck deciding what to do.

    Reply
  • Nimrod Aviram January 26, 2014, 3:30 am

    If you have a college or a university nearby, you might want to ask yourself if you can get your son in at an early (like, really early) age. A lot of universities have programs for this, and no, this is not only for geniuses. He can simply roam the campus and learn whatever he wants for a few years, or start his career earlier.

    Reply
  • Sarah M January 30, 2014, 9:16 am

    It sounds like you already know what’s best, and what your son would like. You just want your free time free of interruptions. I get it.
    I have a 6 and 4 year old and we’ve always homeschooled. You won’t believe how much you can fit in, and learn yourself when you homeschool. I have 2 hours by myself in the morning (6-8AM) uninterrupted, a quiet time in the afternoon when both kids are separated into 2 rooms playing by themselves for 2.5 hours. Once they’re in bed, my husband and I have a few hours of time without them, too. It’s still free time, it just looks different. The rest of our time, spent together, looks more like your son’s 2 week Christmas vacation. Sure, there are some days where I’d really rather ship them off to school, but for what? My own time away from them; the free babysitting.
    Sarah M

    Reply
  • Mariah January 30, 2014, 10:46 am

    I’ve just recently discovered your blog and have been nodding along with your posts, so I should not have been surprised to see you mention unschooling. Our family has been doing this with our kids since birth, they’ve never been to school (other than brief stints at a play-based preschool), and they are now 9 and almost-12.

    Without writing a book on the subject I can tell you this. First, the lifestyle our family leads is exactly what you speak of in your book. I could no more stand the rat race myself than I could submit my poor children to it. Six hours a day of schooling (to learn what they can learn in one hour a day) followed by extracurricular activities (aka: all-the-things-they-really-want-to-do) and homework (aka: a total waste of time) and busy weekends to try and recoup some family time…? No thanks. Homeschooling is a wonderful lifestyle – no rushed mornings, home-cooked breakfasts, lots of family time, we get our errands done during the week when nobody else is around and stay home on weekends hanging out together on our little acreage in the woods while the rest of the world crams the shops, parking lots, and parks.

    For your questions about socialization: anybody who tells you this should even be on your radar as a homeschooler has either (1) never homeschooled or (2) hasn’t seen homeschooling since the 1970s. We live in a relatively small town, and we’ve lived in a big city, too, and in both cases there are more social activities available for our kids than we even feel like participating in. Trust me when I say this will be the least of your concerns.

    Despite common misconceptions your kids will find lots to do, be creative and investigative, follow their passions and interests, because that is what kids are programmed to do. Oh, they may need a bit of down time (aka: deschooling) when they first get used to the idea that they, and not some government curriculum committee, get to decide what learning has value and what learning doesn’t have value. But I’m betting with what little I know of your family values your kids will be starting their own blogs, investing their pocket money, trying their hand at entrepreneurial pursuits (my own 11 year old just got paid a 3-figure commission for designing a website for her grandmother), and other ways of living in the “real world” and be miles ahead of their peers come graduation.

    Finally, yes it is nice to have that “free time” while your kids are in school. Rest assured my husband and I get plenty of it as well. Our kids are 9 and 11 and have been independent learners for many years. We make ourselves available to help them with their projects (we loosely follow Project-Based Homeschooling, which you might wish to Google as there is a whole blog with lots of info about homeschooling), but mostly they do their thing and we do ours. When they were younger we hired homeschooling teens to come and babysit a bit, but time flies with children and it isn’t long before you can leave them at home for brief periods to go out for a run, etc.

    All I can say is that homeschooling is a perfect fit for your family. I encourage you to give it a try, if you haven’t already. You will never regret it.

    Reply
  • Matt Smaus January 30, 2014, 1:19 pm

    In the greater Seattle area, we have a host of programs designed for home schooled kids. The result is a sort of modular education — kids and/or parents can choose from a variety of programs and experiences to piece together a customized education. You can teach your kid reading and arithmetic 2-3 days per week, have them learn at a co-op for a day or two, and spend a day or two in wilderness awareness training, or in a teen writing program, etc.

    I hope to throw my own program into the mix, an educational farm where kids can enroll 1 day per week to pursue their own projects in livestock or gardening work, cheese-making, etc., while learning about economics, ecology, history, and sociology through the lens of agriculture. We might, for example, do a comparative study the history of China and Rome while planting a rice paddy and harvesting a wheat field by scythe.

    At a price point of $2300-2600 for a full 33 weeks (1 day per week), would you send your kid there?

    My dad, who isn’t as romanced by homeschooling as I am, nonetheless believes that the future of education is modularity. Find a way to do something unique and well, throw it into the mix, and let kids choose you. Do it rigorously, make it creative. I hope that structures come increasingly into play that will facilitate this sort of shopping around, a sort Educational Exchange.

    Reply
  • Jessa Carpenter January 31, 2014, 2:44 pm

    If you want to move to North Carolina and start growing food too then I’ll teach your kids chemistry and counseling and we’ll have law, engineering, and programming too.

    My partner and I are going to be moving soon, mostly to create the lifestyle that we want and to surround ourself with the people we love (and their children). Great post!

    Reply
  • Tom February 7, 2014, 7:01 am

    Homeschooling is simply fantastic. Both our sons, one 26, the other 32, homeschooled their way to independent thinking and hard work. We lived in the country, so no “socialization” resources lived nearby — as if the Internet didn’t exist. But it does, and our kids found their peers there… peers often much older, wiser, and amazed at the potential they found in curious youngsters with a passion for learning and voracious appetites to feed their passions.

    Both went to good colleges and were top performers. But more important, after college, they have shown entrepreneurial spirit and an independence of mind that made them junior mustachians before I ever knew such a thing existed. So my answer is hell yes! If you want to harness the true potential of a child and make him or her passionate about learning for the rest of their life, homeschool as soon as possible.

    Reply
  • Paula February 7, 2014, 12:21 pm

    MMM family, have you considered road-/world-schooling? See, for example, the adventures of the Millers: http://edventureproject.com/. I met the family last year here in New Zealand and am inspired to apply your principles to do something of the same for our kids.

    Reply
  • Vanessa February 7, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Just have to chime in here and say good for you guys for keeping an open mind and exploring educational options for your son! We’ve homeschooled our two boys from the beginning (they are 10 and 7 now) and we follow a literature-based self-directed approach (lots of quality literature for history and language arts, no textbooks). As for friends, both boys are heavily involved in parks and rec sports and take science classes (taught by passionate scientists!) weekly. They also participate in nature science field classes, similar to the experience Logan shares in his Ted Talk. We enjoy a lot of free time together as a family. Due to being a frugal badass himself before marrying me, my husband bought our first home in his 20s and saved up, so although he’s not yet retired, he is able to work very flexible hours and often takes Fridays off and is home nearly every day by 4:30pm to play with our kids. I’ve stayed home with the boys from day 1.
    Homeschooling seems very Mustachian to me. Not only do studies show that homeschooled kids are likely to be leaner and eat better, they also have an opportunity to learn how the world works and develop real-life skills. Mine have been helping me meal plan and grocery shop for years now. Both boys make their own lunches every day. They’ve spent hours surveying nearby construction and ask any plumber/repair person who they come into contact with during the week what they are doing and how they do it. They exercise for hours each day. Our oldest is now skiing every day and working on math/computer programming/reading in the evenings. He’s working on his first novel. Our youngest rides his bike for hours and works hard building jumps and editing movies that he creates with friends while riding these jumps.
    I suspect that you will find more reasons to explore self-directed learning/unschooling in the near future, and I’m willing to bet that someday we will see a future MMM post on how homeschooling can save money (no need for preschool for either boy- they learned to read easily when they were ready, one at 5 and the other at 6 and my oldest was required by our state to take a standardized test in 3rd grade and came out 4 grade levels ahead in language/reading and a grade level ahead in math). Preschool costs a fortune and for us it was completely unecessary.

    Reply
  • EB in AZ February 10, 2014, 12:19 pm

    Though I am too old for early retirement, I am an avid follower of this blog. I love the optimism, the emphasis on frugality and the take-down of consumerism. I agree with MMM that the best things in life ARE free.

    But this blog entry does raise some concerns in my mind. Earlier, in the entry about “Avoiding Ivy-League Preschool Syndrome,” MMM wrote that he and his wife were excited about sending Little MM to the local public school, where 40% of the kids come in with English as their second language.

    Now it turns out that Little MM is under-challenged in that environment. Which raises the question: is it just clownishness that has some people thinking they have to buy the more expensive house in the “better” school district? Perhaps their children really do get some significant academic advantages out of access to those schools.

    I am not against home-schooling, but as MMM points out, it is huge time commitment on the part of the parents.

    Reply
  • Chris Wharton February 17, 2014, 8:16 pm

    I love this article, but I have a caveat to register. I wonder about these same issues as I have a 10-month-old who is bright and curious and who I hope will learn to see through the artificial systems people consign themselves to.

    However, there is a real type of freedom in the heights of academia, from undergraduate through graduate education. I hold a PhD and am a professor at Arizona State University. I also run my own successful start-up company that was built in part out of the unique line of research I developed at ASU. Although this intellectual adventure is formalized as a job, I go to the office (or work from home when I like) and explore topics of great interest to me, with no forced direction from above. Then I go test my ideas in the marketplace of potential funders, and if they are good, I get funding to do studies and literally create new knowledge. Finally, I go tell policy makers, practitioners, and other scientists about what I learned in the hopes that my findings have a useful impact on society. PhD students and masters students have the chance to participate in this same process. Even undergraduates have the opportunity to explore in ways that are astounding. When else in your life are you situated among a collection of truly brilliant, curious people studying an endless variety of topics, using state-of-the art facilities to do so? And when else do you have the opportunity to work directly with these folks in research and other activities? At ASU, we even have a strong investment in entrepreneurship, so that students have the chance to take what they learn in the classroom and see if they can develop marketable ideas. Successful students can leave the university not only with a degree, but perhaps with a job that they themselves created.

    It’s an absolutely fair criticism to level at universities that we’ve overemphasized the ‘need’ for a degree to be successful. That’s crap, and it’s stifling. But it isn’t a bad option either, even for those who value the type of freedom you often describe on this blog. Hell, I work full-time, but I work from home or other comfy places more often than I do an office. When I’m not teaching smart (and sassy) students in the classroom, I’m writing original ideas down to get published and disseminated for others to use and improve upon, and I do this work with nearly no oversight. So long as I am a productive scholar (my ideas are worth funding and publishing, in other words), I am left pretty much alone. And although I am not job-free (yet…I’m hugely inspired by this blog!), I do have the entire summer and many holidays to spend with my kid.

    And for kids considering college or alternative paths, I guess the take-home is that one can easily just ‘do school’ (as most kids do), going through the motions just for the degree, in which case the process will not be a creative adventure. However, if one reorients what it means to be at a modern university, the sky’s the limit.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 17, 2014, 10:27 pm

      Thanks Chris.. a truly badass perspective and I admire what you do! For anyone with the interest and drive to follow in your path, I highly recommend they do so – sounds like a great life.

      Reply
  • Stephanie February 19, 2014, 9:37 am

    Hi Mr. MM!
    I have a 2 & 3 yr old and I am dreading the day they go to school. People are already telling us: “Oh, Link (my son) is going to school next year, how exciting.” But we’ve already decided that he’ll be going at 5 and no sooner.

    The thought of them going to school has given me many bouts of anxiety mainly due to the fact that both my husband and I dreaded school, albeit for different reasons but still…what if our disgust of school has infiltrated our kids DNA and they must suffer 20 years of the same fate!?! Ahhh!

    I’m very interested in your answer to this (your) question: “But all this still leaves the question of how to motivate your very young kid without denying him the benefits of school.”

    For now, my husband and I are wokring on our own businesses to leave our “bridge” jobs and looking into a Waldorf school in the Public system (we’re in ottawa) when our son is ready to go.

    Love your blog! (And Mrs. MM’s ‘stash!)
    Stephanie in Ottawa ON

    Reply
  • Stacy February 27, 2014, 3:10 pm

    New MMM reader here and I am loving all of your great posts. I can already see that my biggest obstacle to Mustachian success is my childrens’ education. Today’s public school model of “one size fits all” learning doesn’t work for me, so both my boys have been enrolled in Montessori school since pre-K (my oldest in now in 7th grade). We do this at great financial cost ($12,000/year including our financial assistance package). Plus we drive 35 miles, four times a day (yep that’s 140 total), to get our kids there and back. All that gas $$ adds up! I wrestle with these costs since they are what stands between us and a more rapid financial independence, but I can’t skimp on something so important. So I’ll keep working my 9-5 drudge a little longer than I would otherwise (and keep canning my own food, shopping at thrift stores, living without a cell phone, etc) until I can be added to the Mustache hall of fame:)

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2014, 6:32 pm

      Man, sounds like you are a dedicated parent, but I would move cities, states, or even countries before I’d drive even 40 miles a day. Or homeschool.

      Reply
  • MarciaB March 9, 2014, 7:34 am

    My sister homeschooled and she repeatedly emphasized to me that the choice isn’t all or nothing between home and public schools. And that your child(ren) need different things as they grow up, and you respond to that as you go along.

    You make a choice one year at a time for each child.

    And because you love that child and want to do the best for that child, by definition you will make the right choice(s).

    Reply
  • Sarah March 21, 2014, 7:17 am

    Our 7 year old daughter is super frugal not just with her money and her stuff but also with her days at school. She really sees the value of how learning from one day connects over to the next day and that if she takes a day off she will miss stuff. She is the opposite of most kids and has seriously even demanded to go to school sick as a dog.
    We live a pretty unusual existence, I am from NZ, hubby from Sweden, we live in France and my hubby works over the border in Germany. I am not sure if being trilingual (and currently working on her German) has anything to do with her love of school or if we are just really lucky. She decided to turn vegetarian at age 3.5 of her own free will so infact, maybe she’s just a super cute random freak! :o)

    Reply

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