Homeschooling and the Under 8 Crowd

Posted by Jen Garrison Stuber

Email of the Day:
Mom One: I heard once they enter school (which my son has), they have to stay in school, even if they are younger than 8…. does that sound accurate?
Mom 2: I heard that, too.
Parents who wait until 8 are more likely (in my personal opinion) to have a child that’s far behind their peers and will have a harder time catching up rather than homeschooling them from and earlier age. It is considered homeschooling whether the child is a few months old or 18 years old, you’re teaching them important things essential for a successful life as an adult. Homeschooling starts whenever you consider it to be homeschooling. Don’t go by the “state attendance law” that’s merely a suggestion.

Answer:
Mom One — ABSOLUTELY NOT.
The school can’t hold your child hostage until they’re 8.
Compulsory attendance attaches to a child who is 6 or 7 and is enrolled in school. That is, you can’t just sign up for school and then not go, it’s too disruptive to the classroom.
If you withdraw a 5, 6, or 7 year old from school, they revert back to being educationally free. Then, at 8, you sign a declaration of intent and begin homeschooling them under the law.
Mom Two —
you have really little wee ones, and you’re feeling all this pressure to formally instruct them. This is perfectly normal. And in a few years, assuming you decide to homeschool, you’ll look back in wonder that you ever felt this way. And that’s okay — so many of us thought that, too, before we started. It’s perfectly normal and simultaneously foundationless.

Homeschooling in WA has a very narrow definition. It’s from 8-18 (because of compulsory attendance).

You can absolutely do anything you want with your 0-8yos. You can formally instruct them. You can unschool them. You can let them be kids. It’s completely up to you.

Here’s what we know, because every last shred of scientific evidence points in that direction: children do not benefit from early instruction, children whose parents wait have no difficulty in “catching up.” Funny story: a few years ago, the legislature tried, for a third year in a row, to lower the compulsory attendance law from 8 to 6. The sponsoring legislator got up and made an impassioned speech — he had, as his example, a 9yo girl who had not been homeschooled. She had been, for all intents and purposes, educationally neglected. She couldn’t read, didn’t know her numbers, had had no enrichment at all. They threw her into a 4th grade class, and it took — and here, he kind of teared up — it took her an entire 6 months to get caught up with the rest of the class. At which point, watching over the internet, I thought, “Dude — which side are you testifying for? Because you just told us that all the work, K-4 takes 6 months to master if you’re 9 and have never had any schooling at all.”

Compulsory attendance law is not merely a suggestion. It’s our law. You’re free to do anything you want with your <8yos, and then you have to decide to send them to school or to homeschool them. The difference (between homeschooling and the things you do before 8) is crucial because so many people think that you *must* do formal instruction with children under 8, and they have a child who really needs time to grow and do the important work of childhood (play), and they're frustrated and making themselves and their children miserable trying to fit into this preconceived notion of "schooling" being between 5 and 18. If your wee kidlets love "schooly" things and worksheets and all that -- awesome. Rock on. Do as much as you like. That's the beauty of our compulsory attendance law: WA knows that wee little children are very different from each other. But if it's not working for you -- you don't have to start any kind of schooling -- including the part of homeschooling where you have to follow the homeschooling law and actually homeschool (qualify, declare, cover the 11 subjects, test or assess annually, keep certain records) -- until they're 8. If you're under 8 in WA and your parents haven't enrolled you in school, you're as educationally free as you were at 0-2, and 3, and 4. ~Jen GS