How to get your kid to love school

The more reading I do, the more I maintain that homeschooling is the best education option. Along the way, I’ve been talking to my family about this, and I’ve introduced Kolya to some kids who are homeschooled. He is curious about it, but also a bit puzzled. ‘But I need to go to school, mom,’ he tells me afterwards. I am surprised.
‘But you told me lots of times you hate school,’ I say, ‘So I want you to know that if you want, you can stay at home.’ Nope. Adamant.
‘We have projects at school.’ (You can do projects at home, I say.) Still adamant. ‘We have a giant art room at school.’  (We can make a bigger art room at home too, I say.) No, no, no.
‘I need to go to school,’ he says, ‘AND I need to have home days too.’

So at the moment, K is very pro-school. More so than me. I’m somewhat placated that it’s Montessori, with short school days, and with no homework or tests at this stage. I am glad, though, that we’ve shifted towards a recognition that school is something he’s choosing freely, from some real alternatives. It’s also helped to be realistic with him that this choice comes with a bunch of responsibilities (getting to bed at a reasonable hour, getting himself up and ready in the morning, and falling in with some of the stuff he’s less keen on – circle time, say). I’m frank about saying that I wouldn’t choose it… but K is nothing if not a bloody-minded Taurean sort, and choosing the opposite of what I’d choose is one of his favorite things to do. 

More challenging is the matter of home days. Last week we declared Monday a home day and we went swimming instead. When I discussed it with a friend afterwards, she pointed out that approaching school flexibly doesn’t work, especially as kids move towards higher grades. If the teachers are committing to being at school on time every day, surely the kids need to do so too? And is it fair for one child to be allowed to take home days when others aren’t? I wondered about that a bit. Is it a bit like the workplace; can you negotiate flexitime even if your colleagues haven’t? Does it matter that this would be a little more complex for a teacher to handle than simply insisting that all the kids are there every day at the same time? Am I simply indulging my own preference for questioning authority and flouting convention? Or – perhaps – shouldn’t it be possible to work with individual preferences rather than seeking to squash everyone into the same regime?  

I work as a freelancer (and have done so for ten years); I work from home and I am my own boss. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I have a very flexible and playful attitude to workplace rules and conventions. I can’t help extending the same sensibility to schooling. My friend – who is involved in higher education in a highly institutional and bureaucratic setting – has much more invested in adhering to institutional protocols.

She also says she sees too many kids who treat university as a set of services for them to consume, as much or little as they want to, and have a very entitled attitude to the university as a “service provider”. What do you think? Do schools and universities provide services? Should the students have a sense of their own consumer rights towards these institutions, and what are they?

I’m still thinking about all this. I’m not quite sure how to put it all together. I do know that since the last home day (nearly two weeks ago now), Kolya has not requested another one (yet). In fact, I’d say he’s about as enthusiastic about school as I could possibly imagine. We are living with all the possibilities.

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About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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4 Responses to How to get your kid to love school

  1. David says:

    What an interesting post. My instinct is that indeed school and university are service providers – and that is certainly how I have dealt with universities as an adult. I realize that it is not conventional to think of schools that way also, however we (I) have pretty much always done so also, taking/sending Connor overseas whenever we felt that would benefit him etc – despite objections from the schools. If they are not service providers, then what are they?

  2. My concern with giving choice to opt out when it works for him is what would happen when he has a challenge in school or life? I’ve seen with my children, their desire to quit when a teacher is challenging them but when they overcome it they realize that teacher was the best person for him or her. If your child wants to go to school and your ever not sure sure whether they are giving him everything he will need, supplement. There were times when I knew they had excellent teachers but when I felt the school was deficient I always supplemented when they got home.

  3. Blokeschool says:

    In Australia, at least, I believe universities are very much service providers. They themselves don’t pretend otherwise.
    In my (overly long) experience as a student, and my (relatively short) experience as an educator, I have noticed a definite shift away from genuine learning as an objective, and towards achieving the narrow goal of exam/assignment results. This might just be my increased cynicism as I get older, but I don’t think so.
    I feel that schools have a greater obligation than universities. Yes, they are service providers of a sort, but I wouldn’t treat them with the same amoral disregard I hold towards universities. This is partly because they lay so much of the foundation that structures a persons life, partly because most people have little real options in which school their child attends, and partly because they are compulsory. It is not an obligation they often fill very well, admittedly often for reasons beyond their control.
    It is the desire to circumvent this problem which is the main driver behind our decision to homeschool our children.

  4. paslilith says:

    I think that “home days” would actually work better in the higher grades. Let’s say he wants to go to regular school for band but you can do a great job teaching him English. He could attend part-time just for the classes he wanted to be a part of. I think at the earlier grades it could get difficult, however, because let’s say something is assigned Monday and due on Tuesday. If he wasn’t there for Monday, he’s likely to catch flack from the teacher on Tuesday.

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