What I Force My Children to Learn, Or Not

In a recent post, I discussed the nature of learning and growth with children. As a follow-up, I’d like to share my thoughts and our policy on how we’re approaching this issue of making our children learn something.

In a hurry? Read the digest version.

The Fundamental

First, the obvious. Forcing anybody to do anything isn’t ideal, and is to be avoided. We as parents don’t make up rules just for the sake of having an authority over our children. We reluctantly force our children to do some things only because we feel that we must.

What My Children Must Know

That said, I do force my children to learn some things. The big themes that immediately come to mind are:

  • Safety/Health. Need I say more?
  • Social manners/etiquette. We definitely do enforce these. It is important to learn appropriate behaviors in public and even within our family, so they are not being disruptive, disrespectful, or making someone else uncomfortable.

Now that may not sound like much, but when you’re dealing with an almost-2-year-old boy, that takes up surprisingly large chunk of our interactions with him! 😉 From keeping him from running out to streets to making sure he doesn’t rip pages out of a library book, we are constantly watching, guiding, shaping and coercing behaviors out of him.

We believe that this heavy-handed involvement, especially in early childhood, is essential to their growth. Some parents go lenient because when they kids are young and cute, it’s easy to overlook and forgive their misbehaviors. But trying to shape them later will be much harder. The idea is to instill good habits, even before they can reason, by constant and reliably-enforced conditioning.

But really, we’re mostly talking about common sense stuff. We don’t let them get loud or obnoxious in public. My wife sometimes has to leave stores because my son doesn’t cooperate. 😉 We don’t let them cross streets on their own. They like to run ahead of us, but they have to stop and wait.

What We Don’t Force Our Children to Learn

Now, we do identify that there is a foundation to all education — the must-knows. But our definition may be much smaller than those conventionally thought of: literacy and fundamental math. These two are the absolute building blocks to everything else they learn.

But here is where we divert from conventional thinking. We place no mandate on when they must learn these basics.

We believe that they will naturally develop a desire to learn them in their own time.

Are we naive to think so? Perhaps. But we believe children are naturally learning beings. Curiosity is a built-in mechanism, not an add-on. So is their desire to grow. My son, for example, loves to try on my big shoes. My daughter constantly talks about how big she is. Children revel in recognizing their growth, the increase in their reach.

What we question is this idea that they must learn how to read by 1st grade, for example. Who decided that, and for what reason? We all know that children develop at vastly varying paces.

Or using examples brought up, here are some other things we didn’t force our children to learn:

  • Stop breastfeeding. My daughter quit when she was 18 months, completely unprompted. My son is still at it at 20 months, and has no sign of stopping. 😉 We know children much older (usually boys) still breastfeeding, in the circles of natural-centric parents.
  • Potty-training. We do create an environment in which they are likely to think about using the potty — like when it’s warm, letting them hang out at home with nothing on the bottom — but no forcing. If they say they don’t want to, then they don’t have to.
  • Eating. Again, we encourage, but we stop when they say no. But we do forbid eating of junk food or sweets, especially before meals.

When we think of these behaviors or gaining knowledge, the only reason we can think of to force them to comply at a certain time is to conform to the larger society — keeping pace with others, saving our face in public, saving them from peer pressure or ridicule, and so on. We don’t recognize these as valid reasons to stress our children and rob the fun out of the inherently fun activity that is learning and growing. It’s like reading the end of the book without letting them enjoy the middle.

Now, one unfortunate but valid reason I can think of is the work-load of us parents. For example, there may come a time when it becomes difficult for my wife to continue breastfeeding my son — like if we have another child before he’s through. If that’s the case, I’m sure we’ll wean him. We have beliefs, but they are not absolutes. We as parents have to consider the good of all of us, including ourselves.

But we fundamentally operate from the point of view that forcing is undesirable and to be avoided. Children are senstive and fast-absorbing beings. We try not to dull their senses or rob their joy of learning.

By now you may have guessed, but it is our plan to homeschool, and more specifically, employ a philosophy called “unschooling.” The Wikipedia article is an excellent overview — I hope you take the time to read it, in the light of what many of us are discussing in the personal development/self-improvement circles. We believe that by staying out of conventional schools, we can allow more natural, individualized pace of learning and growth to take place.

I must admit, I was rather shocked when my wife brought up this rather extreme-sounding outlook, but as I reflected upon my own growth and removing of road blocks, and seeing the evidence present in my children, I have come to really embrace this philosophy and I am so excited that my children have the opportunity to grow in the environment we (well, my wife primarily) are going to create for them. Imagine growing up in an environment where there’s not much forcing, and no conforming to arbitrary standards! That said, as with “no forcing’ philosophy, if my children decide that they do want to go to school, we will support that desire as well.

What Do You Think?

Parenting issues bring up strong opinions — naturally so. In fact, I hope it does. We parents ought to do what we believe in!

Please know that it is not my intention to judge and condemn all school-goers. I am simply sharing my personal view on the issue of learning and growth, and some conclusions I reached for myself after exploring the issues present in my own life.

Now it’s your turn. Please, share your views — agreements, disagreements, questions, concerns, anything.


  1. I found myself nodding vehemently as I read your post, so you can definitely put me down as agreeing. If you have the luxury of being able to homeschool or unschool, then I say “go for it!”

    As a former teacher, I witnessed so many children being labelled as “failures” simply because they didn’t conform to the norms. This puts pressure on the child and pressure on the family and often leads to huge problems. My only caveat, and I’m sure you’re aware of this, is that we should surround kids in print, read to them from when they are babies, talk to them, write with them, model reading and writing being wonderful, enjoyable activities – so that when they are ready to read and write, they have a background of positive experiences.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Welcome to OBV! Pleasure to have you, and thanks for the affirmation!

      Yes, we do read to our kids A LOT. More than we’d like to, really. 😉 There are many trashed books around here from overuse, but even then, we can recite them from memory….;-)

      I am excited for them, as they won’t have any external, arbitrary standards to meet, at least not when they are young. They can learn and grow completely on their pace — guided, not demanded.


  2. I don’t think school is the enemy here. I know a lot of people don’t have faith in the school system and they just blindly send their children there because they don’t know what else to do.

    Maybe some parents had a bad experience in school. Perhaps they think that school is a necessary evil. I don’t know. All I know is that parents need to be involved in every aspect of their child’s development.

    If the student doesn’t try his or her best, their education will suffer. If a parent doesn’t support them in this, they will suffer as well. I think a proper education needs to be a three-way partnership between student, parent, and teacher. This is what truly works.

    I am a teacher myself and I care deeply about every child’s learning and development. I do my best. I constantly seek to improe myself and my methods. But I can’t so this alone. I need to have the student and his or her parent onside as well. This can’t be stressed enough.

    Teachers are professionals. They need to be trusted. Unschooling sounds like a new-age fad. Some of the ideas are sound but I don’t believe this is a good practice from what I have read of it so far.

    Chase March´s last blog post..Kids Aren’t China Dolls

    1. Hi Chase,

      Welcome to OBV! That said, I’m sorry this post may not have been the right entry for you into my realm. Please know that I do appreciate your comment and your opinion.

      “All I know is that parents need to be involved in every aspect of their child’s development. ”

      Indeed — I believe it’s a mistake to believe that schools and teachers are the ones doing the education. Real education begins at home!

      I do believe that you sincerely care for your students, and that you are a professional. I’m not saying that schools are the enemy at all.

      We do believe, since my wife is an educator herself, that we can provide superior education at home — and when this is the case, then home school provides a more natural and unforced learning environment. This is not a knock on teacher’s ability or commitment, but when you have a classroom of 20 or more students, it’s really not physically possible for you to tailor each subject to each student’s learning style, is it?

      But then we do need schools, and we do need to work with teachers, as home schooling is definitely not for everyone. I wouldn’t advocate it universally at all — only to those parents who are interested.

      I’m certainly glad you believe in what you’re doing! We wouldn’t want teachers to be any other way.


  3. Since I am not a parent, there is very little I can say on the subject. I’ll leave that for those who do have children.

    Though, I’ve heard of very positive outcomes from homeschooling, and thus I see nothing wrong with it at all.

    The only thing I’d like to add is that making fun of others, is perhaps, epidemic in schools. And frankly, I think parents should drill into their children from day 1, that you don’t make fun of others. I just don’t understand how such behavior can thrive. I think it’s despicable and has no place in schools.

    Bamboo Forest´s last blog post..Top 7 Fun U.S. Presidential Names

    1. Hi Bamboo,

      Indeed, bullying is an epidemic — but bullies are victims, too. They’re simply channeling out hurt, boredom and imbalance they are given. Victims create more victims, and the circles of hurt spread.

      The best revenge comes down to what I said earlier — live a life that exemplify your values, and raise great kids if you have any.


  4. The value of homeschooling totally depends on the commitment and skill level of the parent in charge of it. There are many homeschooling communities and organizations to support homeschoolers and to expand the resources and experiences available to them. Homeschooling can be a wonderful thing or it can sabotage you kid if the parent is undisciplined and not fully committed.

    As far as forcing your child to learn certain things, you can create an environment where learning is valued, fun, and beneficial to kids. This will increase the desire to learn. But I do still say that kids need to struggle through some learning and working through tasks that wouldn’t have chosen. This is real life. We all have to struggle through things we don’t want to. We have to persevere through discomfort and boredom. Kids need to learn this which is something they would probably not choose. They need to learn delayed gratification which would probably not be a choice. Kids want things right now. As a teacher, I have noticed the kids who are more successful and happy in life are those who have developed these skills. The ones who haven’t are more wrapped up in “the now” and their belief that they shouldn’t have to struggle or wait to reach their goal or the outcome of what they are doing.

    1. Laurie,

      I think where we disagree is on much finer point than it may seem. I agree with pretty much everything you said. And yes, we are very active in the local home schooling communities. And I also agree that home schooling is not right for everyone. We’re doing it simply because my wife is interested and able.

      “But I do still say that kids need to struggle through some learning and working through tasks that wouldn’t have chosen. This is real life. We all have to struggle through things we don’t want to.”

      I do agree that learning can sometimes be a challenge — and kids should experience the joy of breaking through and persevering some growth pain. Hopefully they will see that there is reward waiting beyond momentary discomfort or frustration.

      That said, I’m not sure about the benefit of making kids do stuff they are not interested in. I think you used taxes as an example — while I agree that not everything we do is fun, but even in taxes, we have vested interest in doing — or should I say, we’d rather do it than face the consequence of not doing it?

      There are plenty of things we do in life that’s not exactly fun. But I think we do them because we find motivation somewhere, if not within then externally. And I’m sure we’ll have plenty of occasions for such not-exactly-fun-but-beneficial things for our kids to do.


  5. Ari, we have some of the same core values. Safety and etiquite are two of the big ones for us as well. We have a daughter who is 2 and a son who is 9 months. As for the literacy and math, our daughter has taken to both extremely well. She counts to 20 and has already started adding small numbers.

    It is funny that you talk about potty training. We didn’t force our daughter. Every once in a while we would take her in and let her see what it was all about, and like you, let them go free around the house in the attempt to lessening the comfort of having a diaper on. Finally about 4 days ago, she told me she needed to go potty and since then we have only had 2 accidents, one of those while she was taking a nap (our fault we didn’t wake her up to go), but never the less, it was quite easy.

    As for the schools, our daughter is in K-2 at a local church. We looked around and combed through about 30 schools to find the right one. It has 8 kids and 2 teachers in her class. That being said, we took a look at the entire year plan and it looked good, plus they had the funding to be able to support, which was a big deciding factor of not homeschooling for us. I wish we could home school, that way we instill our values, but second best is the place she is at now. They are right on track with most of our values and were willing to oblidge with some of ours, which was very nice to know.

    All in all, I am right with you on this post. Very well done!

    Sal´s last blog post..Mass Hysteria Starts At Home

    1. Sal,

      Welcome to OBV, and thanks for sharing your personal experience!

      Yes, your experience with your kids sound remarkably similar to ours. For my daughter, potty training was NO struggle — one day she decided to go, and there was little problem after that. Counting to 20 at age 2 is quite impressive!

      And it sounds like you sought out a way to educate her in a way that you can believe in. That’s really what this is all about — being committed and involved, and seeking out methods that you really can believe in. For us it was home schooling, but it sure sounds like what you got started for your daughter fits your values.

      I hope you come back and see us — I look forward to getting to know you!


  6. @Chase: I agree with you. My mom was never involved with my school, other than making sure I made it there on time and had my homework done. She taught me early on that the ball is in my court. My education is my responsibility and I need to make the most of it.

    My daughter on the other hand, we are actively involved with her school, helping out where we can, but giving her the room to grow and learn as well. We are actually taking a trip to the pumpkin patch next week, and my wife volunteered to help chaparone the kids.

    Also, I don’t think it is the teachers that most people blame on the inside, it is the other children, the ones who are pulling guns on the teachers and acting out. I know some of this is not the child’s fault, but at a point they are able to make their own decisions and know the difference between right and wrong. Since the parent’s can’t blame it on the other children or their parents (or don’t want to stir that pot) and can’t blame it on the walls of the school, unfortunately the teachers get the heat.

    Our reasoning behind being selective is values. We would much rather instill our own set of values and morals in our children rather than have someone else do it, especially since we don’t know what their values are. This is why we decided to have my wife stay home with the kids rather than put them in daycare.

    Sal´s last blog post..Mass Hysteria Starts At Home

    1. Sal,

      It is hard,the issue with other kids — on one hand, we do realize that the world is not all made of nice people, but yet, we hate to see our children get hurt by others. The way I think of it is, when do you throw your kid into water and say “sink or swim?” The question is not of if, but of when. We do have to let our kids go on their own, but before we do, we want to teach them how to swim first. A lot of kids are strong and adaptable and do learn to swim on their own, but that may not be ideal. We’d rather teach them to swim well in safer waters, and then when they are ready and desiring to, set them free.


  7. Ari, interesting thoughts. Since I’m not yet a parent, I don’t know what I would do about a lot of things. It’s not that I have not thought about it all, just not in this detail. I had not heard of unschooling until very recently. I think it’s an interesting concept, but I don’t know that I would do it. I don’t know. Really I think it’s all about balance. Somethings just need to be “forced” or enforced IMO, and some things don’t. It just takes A LOT of wisdom and knowing the child to know what to “force” or enforce and what not to. All I know is I don’t know because I don’t have any kids yet.

    I have a good friend whose mom works in child development somehow. She stresses about how it is really good to give children choices. Present the consequences to them and let them choose. I have seen this work beautifully!

    Well, that’s my two cents for what’s its worth considering I’m not a mother.

    Jennifer´s last blog post..An Experiment on Thinking

    1. Hey Jennifer,

      Well, if you do plan on being a parent one day, it’s good to think about it. But it’s also good not to have firm plans and ideas, as that’ll help you be open and respond to what your child needs. The first child is always an adjustment — there’s inevitably a gap between what you thought parenting was going to be and what it actually is.

      Like the rest of life, parenting is an endeavor you want to be very conscious of, and make all decisions based on your values. Knowing you, I think you’ll do great. 😉

      Yes, giving kids choices is something we do quite often. Very effective in helping them figure out the lesser of two evils. 😉 Now my daughter gives me choices: “Daddy, either read to me or play with me!” 😉


  8. Hi Ari
    I totally agree with you on the teaching respect and good manners. I think it’s the one vital thing a parent can pass on to their child because it will set them up for life and I for one am a sucker for someone who is respectful and polite.

    My daughter is not about to be told or taught anything. ANYTHING! She is Miss Independent and when she decided she didn’t want to wear a nappy any more at 2½ that was it. We didn’t do a thing! She took everything out of our hands!

    I think homeschooling really depends on the child and shouldn’t be ‘forced’ just because it’s what the parents want.
    My son is extremely sociable and at the age of 4 was desperate to learn. he started teaching himself to write and sucks books up like sponges. School suits him down to the ground and he positively thrives there. He loves it.
    And I was so pleased to read Chase’s words. she is right, parents do need to step up to the mark and get involved with their child’s schooling and not just sit back and expect things to turn out OK.
    Here in England I think teachers have become very jaded with constant government intervention, league tables and enough paperwork to disappear under for a year!
    “I care deeply about every child’s learning and development. I do my best. I constantly seek to improe myself and my methods.” I wish the world was filled with teachers like you Chase!

    Tara´s last blog post..We used to have a sense of humour in this house

    1. Hi Tara,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

      I do hear that girls tend to do better with potty training — I’m yet to hear of a boy who pulls the same stunt as your daughter. Have you? My son is nearing 2 and has no sign what-so-ever of being interested in using potty.

      No, homeschooling is not for everyone, and we don’t mean to force it on them, although we did agree that that’s how we’re going to start. And we have an agreement from our daughter as well. They can try school if and when they want to. We believe that we can provide superior learning environment within our family, but it’s their life.

      The idea of homeschooling does sound like we’re stuck at home isolated, but that’s far from the truth — my family is very active in the homeschooling community and they get together and do their own version of preschool once a week, and go on field trips once a week. They’re so buy being social! My daughter sees the same group of kids 3 days a week, so she has friends.

      Indeed, it was heartening to hear about Chase’s commitment to teaching — that’s how we want our teachers to be! If our kids do decide to go to school, we’ll seek someone like him, for sure.


  9. Hi Ari,

    Education should start at home. Some parents don’t think so though. They expect me to do everything. I am one teacher. I can’t teach your child everything, neither can the schools. As a parent you have a very important job. I can see that you recognize this. And I’m glad to see that.

    Chase March´s last blog post..Put Your Kid on That Bus

    1. Chase,

      You’re right that home holds the foundation for kids’ education — and it starts way before they get old enough to attend schools, doesn’t it?

      If a school is rendered ineffective, the cause may very well be the parents. And there is not much a teacher or a school can do about it (even when they’re getting blamed).

      Something’s wrong with this picture, but I’m not sure what the solution is….


  10. Thanks for the vote of confidence Ari. I’m sure we’ll do great as parents, even though as you said the first child is an adjustment and a learning period. It will be a little crazy I’m sure. I laughed so hard when I read about your daughter giving you choices. Soo funny!!!

    Jennifer´s last blog post..An Experiment on Thinking

    1. Hey Jennifer,

      Oh yeah, my kid gives me choices like her mom, yells at me like her mom, demands my help like her mom…. it’s like I have two wives! ahhhhh!


      I’m sure you’ll make great parents. You’re too thoughtful not to be.


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