What I Force My Children to Learn, or Not (Digest)

Note: This is the digest version of a longer essay.

In a continuing discussion about children and learning, I’d like to share my family’s view and philosophy on this matter.  It mainly deals with what we force our children to learn, and what we don’t.

The Fundamental

First of all, we recognize that forcing is undesirable, and is to be avoided if possible.

What My Children Must Know

That said, there are some things that are so important that they must know.

  • Safety/Health. Need I say more?
  • Social manners/etiquette. How to be an undisruptive, respectful citizens of the society.

In the toddler stage, we spend a lot of time shaping the kids’ behaviors.  They really boil down to these two fundamentals.  We do believe that we need to instill good habits while they are young — as opposed to being lenient when they’re young and shaping up later.  So we’re very involved.

What We Don’t Force Our Children to Learn

On the other side, we don’t force a lot of stuff, less so than conventionally expected.  While we do believe that reading and basic math are fundamental to all learning, we don’t place a mandate on when they must learn them.  Similarly, we don’t force our children to grow in some other ways, such as stop breastfeeding, potty training, and eating of healthy food.  We do create environments where these things are likely to happen, and we do encourage, but we stop when they say no.

We believe that children are naturally learning and growing beings, and we allow for them develop desires for these growths naturally.

We plan to at least start out by homeschooling (or more precisely, unschooling) so they will not be exposed to arbitrary standards and pressure to do or learn certain things by certain deadlines.  Oh yes, we do recognize that those type of things exist in real life — but we believe that by not forcing when they are little, they’ll more quickly develop resources to control their own behaviors and meet mandates if they are presented with one.

Learning is supposed to be fun!  We don’t want to rob it from them.

That said, as with “no forcing” policy, we’ll certainly support their decision to go to a more conventional school, if they choose to.

What Do You Think?

Education and parenting stir a lot of emotions in us, as it should.  We should all be doing what we believe in!  Please share your thoughts, agreements, disagreements, or questions.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.


  1. I don’t remember being forced to do anything. My mom’s way of teaching us has been to appreciate, show joy and share with others every time I do something right. I don’t think force would ever have worked. I would look out for times when I could skip compulsory things and never do them whole heartedly.

    I completely agree with shaping kids and teaching them good habits early on. Even if it means that what you could do yourself in 5 minutes is going to take 1 hour (like putting toys back in place), it makes sense to invest time in this.

    Avani-Mehta´s last blog post..Why Is There Pain And Suffering? – Hal Urban’s Story

    1. Avani,

      I take it you approve of your mom’s teaching style, and like how you turned out? 😉

      “I would look out for times when I could skip compulsory things and never do them whole heartedly.”

      My point exactly.


  2. Thanks for the digest version, Ari.

    I think the schedule set for learning isn’t always on target. We are all different and learn at a different pace. Forcing a child to do something because you think he should by that age isn’t always reasonable. I think that sometimes it’s necessary though. We’ve recently done some forcing and it’s turned out well.

    My stepson was homeschooled until last year. He’s 14 now. We recognized that we weren’t going to be able to teach him some of the skills he needed pursue his dream to be a politician. These skills were mainly social, since he has always had problems socially. So we put him in the best school we could find for him and he loves it. Initially, school was something we forced on him, but we knew it was a hurdle he’d have to jump at some point. He used to be afraid of other children. We tried going to homeschooling groups, but he would never talk to the other children. He’d always shut off and have a lot of anxiety about going to them.

    When we told him we were going to enroll him in normal school he through a tantrum and was angry and constantly complaining about it. We didn’t surprise him with the idea. We’d been mentioning it for an entire year before and trying to get him to think of the idea positively, but he still didn’t react well. We make sure he was very involved in the process of picking a school. We talked about what might happen in school a lot. Last year, he went to school.

    Now that he has he says he can’t imagine not having done it. He grown so much and gained so much independence. My point is that sometimes you do have to force them a bit. Sometimes the only way to get them to face their fears is to push them into it. This time it worked for us, but I’m the first to admit that it doesn’t always work.

    This comment is crazy long.

    Lovelyn´s last blog post..The Pursuit of Happiness

    1. Hey Lovelyn,

      Boy, I got you to write a pretty long comment, huh? 😉

      Thanks so much for sharing your personal story, and I do agree it sounds like this was a place where a bit of pushing the back was needed. I think we may do something similar if we recognize the same thing — our child wanting to pursue a direction but is blocked by fear. It’s a gamble, though, I’m sure you know. It could have backfired, too.

      Every child and situation is different, and I’m sure we’ll cross that hurdle if and when it comes up. As I said to someone else, we do teach them how to swim before we throw them into water — but at some point, they have to go and jump in and swim on their own. Sounds like you guys dealt successfully with that transition. Hopefully we’ll manage it as well.


  3. Ari,

    I agree with you. There are some values that you must teach children from the beginning. You can’t wait until they are 9 years old to be taught that they can’t scream on the floor when they don’t get the toy from mom. These basic principles in life can be taught without violence, but by demonstration. How many times do we see a mother carrying on in a grocery store at the clerk, yet they wonder why their child is screaming too?

    Great post!

    Kimmy´s last blog post..Ocean Of Perspectives

    1. Hi Kimmy,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for your comment.

      Values are one thing where we really have to teach at home, aren’t they? It’s unfair to expect schools to teach that. Besides, kids are watching — and absorbing our examples. My daughter yells at me the same way my wife does. 😉

      We are pretty hands-on in terms of communicating good and bad behaviors, and we do get mad at them when they misbehave. But we try to make it clear that what’s unacceptable is their behavior, not who they are — so once it becomes clear that the message was delivered, the anger stops right there. We’re not perfect but we’re think we’re sending consistent and clear messages.


  4. The thought of raising kids has always been a frightening thing to me. I am overwhelmed by the fear of messing it up. I agree with the safety and etiquette part of your article. Those are incredibly important. I think my problem would be letting go and letting them be free. I would be so worried about something going wrong that I would force them to do all that I think is right, which is obviously not healthy for their growth. I realize now how brave my parents were for letting me be so free when I was younger. I am grateful for that.

    I look forward to hearing more about your parenting techniques in the future.

    – Jack Rugile
    Simple Sapien

    Simple Sapien´s last blog post..Hidden Addictions Part 1 – What Is A Hidden Addiction?

    1. Hi Jack,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for being honest here. 😉

      I tell you what, before my first daughter was born, I was afraid I was going to drop the baby. I mean, I drop a lot of other things. 😉 But when I saw her the first time, I felt an overwhelming sense of confidence in her — I thought, “uh, she’s well made. She’ll be all right even if I drop her.” And to this day I have never dropped either of my kids. 🙂

      It sounds like you had good parents, though. I’m sure you’ll naturally model them when your turn comes. You’ll learn to let go, because your kids will want you to and because you love them. Parenting can be quite overwhelming, but it also has the potential to be an overwhelmingly joyful endeavor. I used to worry, too, that while my kids are too young to recognize how much work they are, I’d feel resentful and unappreciated — well, that didn’t happen either. As difficult as they are, I love being a daddy to my little kids. And I know I’ll love being a dad when they’re teenagers, too.

      OBV is not exactly a parenting site, but its focus on growth and learning do lead occasionally in this direction. I hope you stick around — I look forward to getting to know you!


    1. Hi Kristi,

      That’s good to hear. Home schooling is definitely challenging, but it’s rewarding, too. What you’re describing about school’s way of educating is something we’re leery of as well. Home schooling does have a variety of styles, from basically running a school at home to free-for-all, unsupervised play time (if you do that all day, that’s not homeschooling, that’s neglect).

      The challenge lies in constantly observing and adjusting to kids’ interests and growth, and coming up with materials/activities appropriate for them. For this reason, my wife’s going to employ some curriculum — not to follow it to a T but to have some stuff to draw upon.

      The reward comes from knowing that you can custom tailor every aspect of your child’s education based on your values, convictions and observations. Teachers care, of course, but they can’t possibly care as much as parents can. (Well, some parents don’t care, so in that case teachers are their next best defense) Being in the driver’s seat of your child’s education is very important.


  5. I think you’re doing it your way according to what you value and that’s admirable. I also was a very hands off dad as far as leading them in a specific direction. My former wife and I engaged our daughters in frequent lively conversation and supported every wild ass dream they had. All turned out very well. Kids just need basic boundaries and plenty of room to grow into themselves.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Leveraging Community

    1. Hi Tom,

      You sound like my dad. He was a “let’s sit down and talk” guy. And he was a great dad.

      Yes, this is all about finding an approach that you can believe in. To each his own. It’s pretty hands-on now because the kids are little, but we’re very much looking forward to loosening our reins when they can reason and think for themselves. It’s starting to happen with my daughter.


  6. Wow. This is a bit of a subject huh. I’ve read the article several times and I’ve been sitting here with my hands on the keyboard, ready to comment, for about 10 minutes. I’m not sure I can say this and it come out the way I want. Oh well.

    Being forced to learn, i.e., learn to read by first grade, learn to add and subtract by 2nd grade, was really the only way I think I would have ever learned. I think if I had the choice to learn math “when I felt like it” I still wouldn’t have started studying it yet, and I’m 35. It never would have been fun to me. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but, didn’t “forcing” knowledge work for years prior to now? Sure it’s not as fun I guess, but I think if we don’t force a little, then they will ever desire to meet a deadline or even see it as necessary? Very interesting subject. Now, ya’ll let me have it 🙂

    Scott´s last blog post..This Just Makes It More Interesting

    1. Hi Scott,

      Welcome to OBV! Yeah, I suppose this was a bit controversial as your first foray into my realm. Thanks for diving head first into uncharted water!

      First, let me ask — do you use any math in your life right now, beyond the very basics? I don’t. So all the times I spent studying algebra and trig and other math, it wasn’t really relevant to me. Every once in blue moon I find an occasion to have to figure out, say an area — like how big a circular room is, for example — and I have to look up how to do it. Am I dumb? I may be so. But I’m not suffering for it, as my life doesn’t need that knowledge.

      But would I have learned the basics, if no one taught it to me? Yes, I believe I would have, and it’s hard for me to imagine that you wouldn’t, either. Adding and subtracting? It’s hard to get by life without it.

      And when you see a need for it, I’m sure you would have learned it fast and efficiently.

      That’s what I believe, in waiting for kids to see the need to learn. Sure, not everything we have to learn is fun. But they should see the benefit — either internally or externally. And from it comes motivation to learn, and with motivation, learning becomes more effective and efficient.

      I do agree with you that forcing worked to get us this far — but if we plan on continuing to evolve as a society, then I think it’s a habit we should shed. Don’t get me wrong, we do some forcing — like safety information. But treating everybody like a toddler you can’t reason with, and force-feeding information not everybody wants or needs, doesn’t seem like an evolved way of educating to me. But that’s not teacher’s fault, at all. I’m questioning the system that is schools — and many people are, too. Drop-out rates, literacy problems, bullying — clearly, schools work well for some but not for others. Politicians and administrators are sweating over this, but I think it’s us parents who have the most at stake, and we should be the instigators for change.

      Anyway,thanks for being a good sport, and being honest — I hope you stick around! I promise I have more agreeable topics, too. 😉 I look forward to getting to know you.


      1. Oh, I dove. I think I may have hit my head on the bottom though 🙂 Controversial, I wouldn’t think so. Only if we make it. It’s opinions, and you know what they say about those. I think it’s very very interesting to read others thoughts and ideas on the subject. I’ve even had a couple of “Humph” thoughts throughout the day.

        Do I use math? Yes. I’m a Network Engineer so math comes up from time to time. Not an abundance of it though. I see your point as far as relevancy to you, and probably to a large portion of us out there are the same. I understand the whole idea of “I can get the info I need.” I’ve always thought tests were kinda silly anyway. I mean, in life, as you say, you can use any book…uh..google…that you want to find the answer or lead you to the answer. I got that.

        Adding and subtracting? Yes. I agree here as well. I guess I agree quite a bit but there is always that “but” at the end that brings me back to…naahhhh not for me.

        The scenario that keeps playing over and over in my head is this. Let’s say my child, who is 13 now, had decided that she didn’t want to learn math yet. At this point in her life she wants to I dunno, flip hamburgers for the rest of her life. No need for math there. “Ok, then we’ll just teach you what you want to know then you can get the rest as you need dear, is that OK?” Uh, duh, to her, of course it is. Besides. She’s 13. She’s old enough to make those decisions on her own. She’s full of experience. (sarcasm) So, ok. We go with that.

        Fast forward to 12th grade. Start of her “senior” year. We take her on a trip to the Space and Rocket Center. She get’s in one of those cool simulators. Has the time of her life. Is mesmerized by the whole idea of space exploration now. Not just the exploration, but she wants to build the rockets and…you see where I’m going. She has no desire to flip burgers any more. She wants to be a Rocket Scientist. I know, it’s one of those “probably not going to happen scenarios,” but I fear the possibility.

        She must go through college now. Hasn’t had a lick of Algebra, Trigonometry, Chemistry, Calculus. But man, can she add. How far off course would she be now?

        Remember. I’m not knocking anything or anyone ok. I sometimes come off as being a jerk, when it’s the farthest thing from my mind. Great conversations! I’m liking it!


        Scott´s last blog post..We stare at weblogs, what do cats stare at?

  7. I have a 12 year old that does not always learn on the school’s schedule. I have watched my child struggle in some subjects at school and the cause more often then not was because he was simply not interested at the time. Then, a year later he might want to know everything there is to know about the subject.It would make sense that he would learn better when he is interested in the subject verses forced learning on the public school time table. Not all children can learn on demand, I have living proof of it with my child.

    This approach your talking about it very similar to the Montessori method, which by the way I am a big fan of. My middle son was able to attend a Montessori pre-school that he loved, however my youngest was not able to attend the same school due to the school relocating. I believe had my youngest had the opportunity to be in a Montessori school he would not be the same student he is now.

    This approach may not work for all children, I guess it would be up to the parent to know if it would work for their child or not.

    Tracy´s last blog post..don’t miss the little things

  8. I think your idea of doing homeschooling early is good. You can shape your kids early. As they get older, say junior high or high school then let them go for it. By then, you have all of the basics ingrained and their time with you will be impactful through the rest of their school years.

    Linda´s last blog post..FDA Needs Labeling

  9. Forcing kids to learn things…a foreign concept to me, for a lot of reasons. I knew how to read before I hit kindergarden, and math I did well in all the way through Calculus. Do I use it now? Subjective question – subjective answer: I catch myself using math THEORY all the time. Math, at the end of the day, is problem solving. Seems to me, that’s what life is full of.

    However, as a mother of 3 children, each six years apart in age, I find myself a different mother to my 15 y/o son than I was to my now 21 y/o son, and I’m sure that evolution will continue with my 9 y/o daughter. Many of my ideas and opinions on education have changed in the 21 years I’ve been a mother and some have remained the same. None of my kids seem to have the voracious love of formal learning that I have, but then maybe they do – maybe they just don’t display it the same way I do. School was my very favorite thing as a child. Not so for them.

    All three go to public school (deplorable as that is these days) and my oldest dropped out of high school after a 2nd try at 10th grade. He’s limited now by the lack of a diploma, but only if he pursues traditional ‘get a job’ avenues. He’s got an above-average IQ and can take anything mechanical or electronic apart and put it back together in better shape than before. My hope is that he takes that unique set of skills and aptitudes and runs with it and creates a living doing something he loves that makes great use of his uniqueness.

    There are many things I’d ‘do over’ if I could with my oldest where his education is concerned, but when he dropped out, I made a major life change that I know is making a difference for my younger two: I work from home in my own business(es) doing what I love, which allows me the time and flexibility to be MUCH more involved in their education than I was able to be in my oldest’s. I am sometimes the ONLY parent present at school-related functions, particularly in the elementary school where my daughter attends. With both kids, though, I know and communicate regularly with ALL of their teachers, the school administration and staff to the point where I am also the only parent who never requires a Parent/Teacher conference, because I am so much in the loop.

    I know better than to try to homeschool my kids because I get way too frustrated with their willingness ‘not to know’ things. Drives me up a wall and leaves me wondering, “Where is your sense of curiosity? Don’t you wonder ‘why?’ on things?” They might, but not as much as I do. (Note: it somewhat sucks to be my kid, I’m told, because I tend to be all up in their business, too, with my wondering of ‘why?’ but that’s a whole other story!)

    For me, what’s working is to be actively involved and supplementing their learning at school with learning at home in ways that appeal to the individual child…something the schools are not as equipped to accommodate as I am. So they’re being ‘forced’ to adhere to arbitrary schedules of learning at school, yes…but they’re also being ‘forced’ to learn here at home, although they don’t feel that as much because I’m able to sneak it in on them better than the school can. 🙂 The difference I see is meeting them where they’re at instead of requiring them to be at some arbitrary place with respect to learning. If I could give them all 3 a shot of curiosity, it would be a whole lot easier for both me and the schools. 🙂

    Check back with me in 20 years to see if this made the difference I’m hoping for. 🙂

    Suzanne Bird-Harris | vAssistant Services´s last blog post..Project Powerful and Positive

    1. Hi Clem,

      Welcome to OBV! Glad to hear you’re involved in the lives of kids close to you.

      We do spend a lot of effort having to learn what we do not wish to learn — and it can be taxing. Learning what we want to learn not only is easier, but the process feeds you.

      It just seems like more efficient way to go, don’t you think?


      1. Absolutely. It falls right in line with the practices I have adopted in the recent years of my life…authenticity, being genuine, and honoring my mind and body when they tell me that something just doesn’t “feel right.” It’s a fine line, because I DO believe there is some level of being uncomfortable that is required for continued growth and development. But at the same time, I firmly believe that there are things we try to do that go against the very fabric of our being and feel just downright wrong. It’s those things that I do not believe there is any value in trying to push through. Every experience is not right for everybody. Well, we’ve drifted a little off topic….but what fun! Thank you, Ari.

        Clem Gigliotti Jr. – Power On The Web´s last blog post..Understanding Ecommerce and Merchant Services

        1. Hi Clem,

          Yes, there’s a lot of value in listening to yourself — and that sometimes gets de-emphasized, in favor of listening to other “experts” and people with “helpful” intentions. It takes personal security to do this, but I think ultimately, we know ourselves the best. It’s important to learn to trust that.


  10. I teach my kids ethics and values but don’t think I am cut out to do homeschooling for my kids. I am not even sure that it is allowed here in Singapore as formal education is considered mandatory. Fortunately, my daughters’ school is one of a kind. It stresses a lot on moral education, becoming responsible kids and on holistic learning.

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post..Can You Read My Mind?

    1. Hi Evelyn,

      Well, homeschooling is not for everyone. It’s just one of the methods you can choose. The important thing is that you stay involved and choose educational methods that you believe are the best for your kids — taking the time to think and research and find one that you can believe in. I’m sure your kids will be great!


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