When you know it’s time to make a change.

Over the years I’ve written a little about my family and our schooling choices in this space. For the past five years or so, we’ve been homeschooling. We started pretty strictly but didn’t hit our stride until we embraced classical unschooling. We’ve been taking it one year at a time, each year looking a little different than the last.

Things are looking very different this spring: we’re not homeschooling anymore.

We haven’t always homeschooled our kids, and we’ve held our choices pretty loosely, trying to give each child what they need. My older three have been doing a cottage school (or university school, depending on where you live) for the past two years; my youngest started kindergarten at a school in our neighborhood last fall.

These have been good arrangements: they’ve been working for our family. But Will and I have been feeling for a while now that it was time to make a change.

To condense a long journey (that, I’m sorry to say, had moments of high drama, mostly on my part) into a few paragraphs: we started exploring full-time options a while ago. We wanted to get the lay of the land, but we didn’t feel ready to make the leap.

This year, we felt it was time. We made applications for the kids to start full-time school in the fall. They were admitted, and then the shocker: the school recommended they start immediately (as per usual, believing rolling admissions ease the transition). We had nine days’ notice.

After enough inner turmoil to fuel a Lifetime movie, we went for it.

The transition hasn’t been painless, but it has been good—far better than I dared to hope. And now that we’re largely acclimated to our new communities, schedules, and routines, I can see how much I learned in the process.

1. “Good for us” and “good on paper” are not the same thing. For well over a year, I envisioned my four kids happily ensconced at a local school not far from our home with a philosophy I loved. I could visualize our daily routines so easily. I thought about which street we’d choose when we moved closer.

But when we actually toured and shadowed and met with the administrators, it became abundantly clear that this school might be good, but it wasn’t a good fit.  (I wish I could tell you I didn’t completely freak when I realized we had to go back to the drawing board.)

2. Keep an open mind (and bite your tongue). A couple of years ago a friend I’d previously only known on the internet moved to town. She asked me my opinion about grocery stores and dry cleaners and hiking trails and … a certain local school. I told her unequivocally that I would never send my kids there, and I was pretty outspoken with my reasons.

Can you guess where my kids are enrolled now? Yep. I thought so.

3. Trust your people, trust your gut. When Will and I found out that my kids were accepted—and that we needed to decide quickly (9 days!) if we wanted to start them immediately, we quickly reached out to a small circle of people who knew us or our kids really well, friends and professionals that we had a history with, who’d helped us walk through big transitions before.

We didn’t ask, What should we do? We did ask, Help us think this through. 

We made lists, and asked ourselves lots of questions. We talked endlessly about our kids’ personalities. We imagined that the transition went well, or not, and asked ourselves why that would have happened. We asked what we would tell our best friends to do in a similar situation.

4. Mid-year transitions are more common than I’d realized. We were sure we wanted to make the switch, but we weren’t sure when. A mid-year transition sounded so disruptive, and highly unusual.

Yet when I started asking around, I was shocked to discover how many of my friends’ families had experiences such a transition firsthand, either because of a move or a transition like our own. A few teachers shared the inside scoop on the difference between onboarding a whole class in August and onboarding a handful of students in November or February. They were uniformly positive about the experience. I was flabbergasted.   

We decided to make the leap: my kids started full-time school about two months ago. It’s such a relief to be happily settled, at least for now. Real life is never struggle-free, and I’m sure we’ll have some bumps (or worse) along the way. We’re not planning on making any changes anytime soon, but we’ll continue to hold this choice loosely, trusting that if, or when, the time comes to make a change, we’ll know it.

How have YOU known it’s time to make a change? What did you learn from the experience? I’d love to hear your stories in comments. 


  1. Congrats on figuring out a new schedule and schooling situation that works for your family. I think parenthood may be one long lesson in learning that the phrase “I’ll never…” is often problematic!

  2. Allison says:

    We are currently going through a similar process. After homeschooling for the past five years we are working through the application process as we look toward sending our children to school this fall. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your process.

  3. Bess says:

    I love the idea of holding your choices loosely. My family – and that includes me – is not so good with change. We really do much better when we know what to expect and have a good routine going. But I think we would fare better if we could subscribe even a little to this particular idea…. It would leave us open to more new opportunities, I think.

    Good for you!

  4. I was never going to live in the South, live in a small town, or teach in a private school, because I know all things (she said ridiculously). I’ve done all three – all at once! – and loved it.

    Enjoy this new phase!

  5. Ashley says:

    It was high drama in our house when we decided to change day cares for one of our kids last fall. Nine months later? It’s fine, and I don’t know what I was worried about!

  6. Amy says:

    Oh my goodness! I feel as if I could have written this same post! We literally just went through the same thing, except we started at the beginning of the school year. Now, looking back, I can’t even believe that I was worried. This year has been such a blessing and, yes, the school I said my kids would never attend has proven to be the very best fit. We love it and we are so thankful that we made the change when we did. I love homeschooling and I will always look back on that time fondly. So kudos to you for doing what was right for your family, sometimes it takes a lot of courage and humility. Prayers for a great end to the year!

  7. Leisa says:

    I love the idea to holding your choices loosely. I am trying to do that, but I would prefer to have it all mapped out and know what is coming. I am planning on starting homeschool with my oldest soon. I would love to know what classical unschooling looked like for you.
    What a great way to ask those around you for their input, “Help us think this through,” what a great way to get an outside perspective. It can be hard to see all the angles and perspectives when you are in the thick of a decision or change.

  8. Corby says:

    My experience… I can plan and plan and plan (i.e. try to control everything) but in the end you just have to learn to roll with the punches. And sometimes those punches might hit ya square in the face but you just keep going.

  9. Oh, how interesting, Anne! I appreciate reading about your process with all its surprises and lessons. We have 2 transitions coming up this year: son finishing grade 8 and attending high school (in special needs class) this fall, daughter finishing grade 12 and planning for university. We are realizing that our daughter, because of autism spectrum issues, may need to go to university part-time, possibly online only. This is an adjustment for all of us, but we’re drawing on advice from her autism support teacher and others who know her and what she is (and may not be) capable of at this time. Staying open, realizing there is rarely only one *right* way, is essential — yet I find it very disorienting and scary (especially because I worry enough for the 4 of us in the family). So I relate to much of what you express here. Thanks for sharing, and all the best with this new phase.

  10. Anne says:

    I can see that being a very big decision. I’d have been feeling some feels, too. I’m glad things are starting off well.

  11. Katie Fox says:

    Oh man. I relate. For me, educational choices have been, without a doubt, one of the most challenging parts of decision-making as a parent. We’ve done private, homeschool, and now public school. We bought our house, in the neighborhood where we are, mostly for the schools. I thought it was going to be a great long-term solution. And now, after a wonderful start, I find that my older daughter is no longer thriving and flourishing there…she is in fact wilting and shriveling up. 🙁 After trying everything known to man to deal with the problems and make it work and find solutions, she is probably going back to private school this fall, a different school this time. And even though it’s a fabulous school, I am grieving the death of this dream I had, for all my children to go to the neighborhood schools…the simplicity of it all, riding their bikes there, etc. The idyllic childhood I wanted for them. Yet, it hasn’t been simple for her to be there this year….it’s been terrible actually. 🙁 So, I am learning that the best answers aren’t always the easiest or simplest or what we think they will be.

  12. Kandi West says:

    I related to this post so much. Not only are my children enrolled in the one school that I audibly said “never” to, but I now hold all of their future years, even future semesters loosely. We moved our oldest daughter mid-year in the first year of middle school. Private vs public can be the elephant in the room in any discussion in our city and I had always fallen on the public side for many reasons. It is easy to be sure of yourself when your 11 year old daughter hasn’t experienced it yet! Looking back, did I overreact? Yes. But 18 months later, she’s happy, healthy and becoming more confident every day. I’m not sure that would have happened had I left her there and that tells me I made the right decision. If I were making the decision today with this almost 13 year old though, the decision would probably look different. That’s why I hold decisions loosely. And I have two very different children, both girls, with very different personalities, strengths, and character traits in training. That has been one of the hardest things for me to let go of…the convenience and dream of the routine that accommodates ME rather than the one that accommodates two very different young women.
    I enjoy your thoughtful writing so much. It always inspires me to go deeper and live better.

  13. That’s so interesting! I never knew that schools were big fans of enrolling students mid-year, but that makes a lot of sense.

    Is it crazy weird to have all of your kids gone all day? That part of sending my kids to school does feel enticing (especially at this time of year, when homeschool moms everywhere are reaching the end of their ropes!)

  14. June says:

    when I opened my email, the subject line was just what I needed to see. My husband and I are considering moving to a different state for the first time in 13 years – it’s been the most difficult decision to process and to make, and I’ve realized it’s going to be much longer a process than any other decisions up to this point. Reading your post was so encouraging to me as I hate change, but starting to believe the unknown could be so much better than I think and possibly the best thing ever.

  15. Kate says:

    This is so timely – thank you! We are considering a school change for our 8 year old. He has the opportunity to attend a program that will be a great challenge for him but also a big change and he is no fan of change. I have been talking it through with lots of people and I will keep the phrase “holding this choice loosely” in mind as we go through this process.

  16. Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing. We just went through the process of choosing a school and enrolling our daughter for kindergarten. I freaked out thinking this was her school for the next 9 years (K-8), but I’ve since realized it doesn’t have to be. It is a good fit for her now. We can re-evaluate as we go. This reminder that things (and kids) change and they won’t be ruined by transition is really helpful.

  17. Karla says:

    Its nice to hear someone else schooling “loosely”. Over the years of raising 4 kids, we have homeschooled, public schooled, and private Christian schooled. All 4 kids have experienced each, but not always at the same time. We moved 12 times in 18 years, and adjusted course based on where we were living and what the child in question needed at that time. For one child, unschooling was the best option overall and has carried him to adulthood.

    Restlessness was the number one marker that it was time to make a change. Everytime. Hashing it out together and coming to solution always started with both of us feeling restless.

  18. “We’re not planning on making any changes anytime soon, but we’ll continue to hold this choice loosely, trusting that if, or when, the time comes to make a change, we’ll know it.”

    You are a wise woman! I tend to dig in and defend, and I’d like the change my frame of mind and hold choices loosely, especially those that involve my kids.

  19. Cheryl H. says:

    What, exactly, is ‘unschooling’? I’ve heard of it, but very little about what, exactly, it is and how it works, and the one time I did hear about it, the program made it sound like ‘unschooling’ is just another name for ‘kids never study anything they don’t want to, they only do stuff when they want to and never have to work if they don’t want to, never develop time management skills or self-control, anyone who does this is letting their kids push them around and is a lousy parent’. I don’t trust mainstream media to be unbiased, and considering how badly the education system we have now needs to be overhauled and updated I’m inclined to be open to the idea of something that’s ‘unschool’.

  20. Denise says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this process! I so appreciate how you balance the privacy and time your family needs with blogging authentically. It’s a rare and precious skill, but all of us who read are grateful for the wisdom you share.
    My husband changed jobs less than a year ago and is now not sure the new job is a great fit. Both of us had envisioned him finding a long term career, but we are also learning to hold things loosely as we anticipate the fourth job change in less than five years. I will be sharing these words with him.

  21. Angie says:

    Thanks for sharing! It is SO difficult to make these decisions, especially in our area. I waited WAY too long to switch schools with my youngest. The school he was in had worked well for my eldest, so I tried to make it work for both. He blossomed when I switched him over, and I really wished I’d done it sooner, rather than waiting until the end of the school year. Good for you, being a pro-active mom!

  22. Cheryl says:

    Your story reminds me of my own, from several years ago. We had searched for a house in exactly the “right” (expensive) neighborhood, with the “right” schools. My oldest started first grade there, and while it didn’t feel right, my husband and I convinced ourselves we were having trouble adjusting to big school from our sweet little preschool. The next year my second child started first grade, and it became obvious. By December we were searching for another school. We found one most assuredly not in our neighborhood, but so good for our kids. We’ve made little adjustments for each of my four kids, but nine years later it remains a great decision. My oldest will graduate from our school next year!

    You were smart to start mid-year. We should have not subjected our kids to one more minute than necessary of that school that so didn’t fit us. I worried too much about offending people and not enough about being proactive for my kids. BIG lesson learned.

  23. We bought our house because it was in a neighborhood connected to public schools with a good reputation. By the time our oldest was in preschool, we were worried public school wouldn’t be a good match due to highly gifted/ADHD/possible learning disability. The kid went to private K, and the teacher was worried our child wouldn’t flourish in public. We opted for a private Montessori and it was a disaster, as could not and would not meet our child’s needs. A psychologist told us public would be better able to manage, and though we considered homeschooling, we made it Plan B, with public our Plan A. We now wish we had spoken to parents with children similar to ours before we played musical schools, because the public school has been amazing. Our child will be in an all-gifted classroom with supports for the ADHD and learning disabilities and has flourished in the public setting. We know there may come a time when homeschooling may fit better, but we are taking it as it comes.

  24. Kathleen says:

    Please keep us posted on how this transition unfolds. I’m particularly interested on its effect on family life, your time, etc. Congratulations on making such a big decision and thank you for sharing with us.

  25. Lotty says:

    Dear Anne,

    I never knew about home schooling until I read your and some other American blogs. After learning about this I have always been surprised about all the efforts and dedication of parents to home-school their children. In my home country, i.e. The Netherlands, this is just not allowed; children have to attend school, either public or private (but officially recognised). In my view one of the big benefits of going to school is meeting other little children of your age. I cannot tell about home-schooling because I just don’t know.
    All the best and kind regards,

  26. Sarah B R says:

    I picked the hospital where I gave birth because they allowed the baby to remain with the mother at all times. No required time in the nursery. What kind of mom sent their very newborn baby away, I asked?.And then I went through labor, pushed for 4.5 hours and needless to say was exhausted. When the nurse asked if I wanted them to take baby so I could rest, I looked at my husband and said: “I think that’s a good idea”. Right there and then in the first hour as a mother, I coined my new motto: I reserve the right to change my mind.”.

  27. Paula says:

    My daughter will be starting 7th grade at a new school next fall. It was a big and difficult decision for me. My 19-year-old son graduated from this school and it was fabulous, but after an administration change, it hasn’t been the same. We’ve been disappointed since 4th grade, but after this year I knew we just couldn’t go back there. It was a lot of stress as the public schools in the small city we live in are just not an option. And as a widowed single parent, my finances and time are already stretched thin. We’re ending up at a school I never would have even considered as I knew it was way out of our budget. But a timely meeting with a parent from that school got me to look into it. After meeting with them, I knew it would be the perfect fit and it turns out the recently started offering scholarships. After an extremely stressful month of decision-making and waiting for the response from the application, she is now enrolled there for next fall. With a full scholarship. So many things happened at just the right time to make this happen. It’s a little scary for my daughter (and for me), but we’re looking forward to a new beginning.

  28. I feel like God always laughs when I say “Never!”

    I was “never” going to be that mom with a van covered in goldfish and a musty smell that matched a drive through restaurant garbage dumpster.
    I was “never” going to have pink mold in my bathroom or urine on the floor. (oh how He laughed when I said that never… I now have three little boys…)
    I was “never” going to live in a fly in/fly out village in rural Alaska with my three year old twins and 6 month old baby.
    I was “never” going to send my kids to the local public school…

    Wanna guess how many of those “never’s” God sent my way?

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