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What does "Back to School" Mean To You?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

This is “back to school” season for lots of kids and teens. While this is an exciting and happy time for many, that’s certainly not true for everyone.

Whether your child is going back to school, homeschooling, or refusing school all together, if you’re struggling this back to school season, you’re definitely not alone.

Image courtesy of Manfred Richter from Pixabay

One of my key messages to the world is this:

Going to school is one choice; not going to school is another choice.

And - no matter what your choice and why, this back-to-school time of year can be hard.

For those at school, it can be hard for those around you to understand the extent of the distress that the prospect of returning to school can cause. You and your child might be hearing sentiments like,

“No one likes to go back to school after the fun of vacation.” or

“School is just something that you have to do, even if you don’t really like it.” or

“We all made it through; you will as well.”

Yet for some students, school can truly be toxic and the cause of significant mental health issues. Psychologist Peter Gray has studied this phenomenon, and writes about it extensively. I invite you to read his Psychology Today article to learn more.

For those who have had no choice but to opt out of school, or for those who are in a state of “school refusal”, in which each day feels like a battle, this time of year can be very scary and lonely for both the child and their parents. It can seem like all around us, kids are successfully doing what kids are “supposed to do” - go to school to get an education so that they can have a successful life when they grow up.

We may know in the deepest part of our parenting soul that not being at school right now is the right choice for our child, and that homeschooling in all its forms is a wonderful approach to education. But still, those feelings of angst and uncertainty can seep in.

I found this “back-to-school” time of year hard even though my own children were intentionally and happily homeschooling. There is something about the energy of back-to-school time that can make it tough to be on a different path. I will add though that this is not always the case - for many homeschoolers, that first day of school is a day of delight and celebration about not having to go to school!

If you are among those who are feeling some difficult emotions at this time, here are some suggestions that might help for both this year, and in the future.

If you are “schooling”…

  • Give yourself permission to have a gentle start - school does not have to happen every day right away or at all, if that is too hard

  • Consider taking a day off a week, even signing up for a forest school program or other activity as a contrast to the school routine

  • Recognize that your child may feel that they have to put on a metaphorical “armour” or “mask” to go to school, and give them the time, space and, if they seek it, support to put it on in the morning and take it off when they get home

  • Be available in an invitational way after the school day is finished - have a snack ready, and sit down to eat with your child in such a way that you are available for conversation, but not demanding their conversation. You might for example have vegetables that you are chopping during that time.

  • What grounds your child? Maybe going to the park, the river, the trampoline gym, the library would be a good transition from school to home. Can you keep that “summer-vibe” alive for a while longer?

  • Psychologist Gordon Neufeld describes the wonderful concept of introducing your child to an adult who will be key for them to help bridge the attachment gap. If this might help your child, can you go to school in advance to meet their teacher(s) with them? If not, is there someone you know who already knows any of the teachers? What are they like as a person - what are they excited about and enjoy sharing with their students?

If you are homeschooling…

  • Take a vacation or in some other way, arrange to not be home or anywhere else that is too school focused

  • Ask a local camp if they would run a not-back-to-school week for homeschoolers

  • Go to local not-back-to-school events. If there aren’t any, consider inviting others in the same situation to join an activity.

  • For teens, consider going to the Not Back to School Camp

  • Do something celebratory to mark these days when others are setting out to school and you’re not. Maybe a special lunch, a grandparent visit, a park day, etc.

  • Or do something absolutely not special - something that seeks to help you as a family feel that this is just another day / week, a part of the gentle end-of-summer season. Make an effort to avoid “schooly” energy and related activities.

  • Or perhaps the first week of school is a good time for your family to start the kind of schedule that you are planning for this year - even if it is not at all focused on academics. Sometimes, embracing that feeling of “starting up”, but in your way, will help your family to be in a good place.

  • Watch a movie, video, or Ted Talk, that normalizes and highlights the positives of a non-conventional-school life. Some examples: Ben Ruhman on Unschooling, 12 year old Logan Laplante on “Hackschooling”, Prince Ea shares another perspective on the school system, Summerhill School in England - a great full length, family-friendly docu-drama

No matter what, wellbeing - your child’s and your family’s - is likely the most important goal. It is not just okay, it is wise to honour and nurture your family’s wellbeing, especially at times of transition like this one.

I’d love to hear how this time of year feels for you and your family. Please feel free to send me an email

Wishing you the very best in this gentle, summer changing to fall season.


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