Homeschool, public school, private school?

Education, also called “school.” The primary options are homeschool, public school, and private school.

When you think about your kids’ growth, what are the first things you think about? Health? Fitness? Character? Intelligence?

Probably all of them. Where do your kids learn these things? At least partly through some sort of schooling.

Preschool at home = success

I often think about school choices as my bigs progress from phonics to sight words and from counting to addition. They’ll be four years old in a couple of months–15 days after the cutoff for four-year-old kindergarten.

We hired a preschool teacher to take care of the kids one morning per week as part of my best tips for handling lots of littles (see #8).Our preschool tutor, who works as a 4K-5K teacher at a local Catholic school, must have the patience of a saint. She’s teaching the bigs and middles basic reading and math skills along with fine and gross motor skills through crafts and play time. Only a year ago I wrote this about the bigs’ academic skills:

They recognize all letters and many, if not all single-digit numbers and are starting to recognize multi-digit numbers. They know colors and some shapes. Many people comment on the clarity of their speech.

That’s pretty good progress for a year, I think. The middles are still about four months younger than the bigs were when I wrote those sentences, so they’re at least on track with the bigs. They might be ahead in some ways since they’ve listened to everything the preschool tutor is teaching the bigs. I have been very happy with all of the kids’ academic and character development.

Mom is learning too

I’m learning a lot from her about teaching and group management, too. As I said, she has the patience of a saint. I’ve never heard her lose patience with any of the kids, no matter how much they’re screaming. The kids also seem to scream less with her. (Is it the mom effect or is she just better at keeping them even keel?)

She gives them choices, both of which are acceptable. The tutor reads to them at meal times and talks with them while they all eat. She has her lunch prepared ahead of time so she can eat too. I wish I were a little more organized to pull that off. I often have to remind myself that I usually have two babies in addition to the four big kids. The babies might require my attention while they test out solid foods, so I couldn’t face the big kids while reading a book. Six kids under four is hard alone.

The tutor has them put their hands together before mealtime prayers so they and she can see that they’re all ready. It took me a while to realize that they learned to do that with the tutor. Normally we cross ourselves first, but putting hands together first helps coordinate prayers. I’ve been struggling to get them all to start together.

Jeff and I always look forward to the kids’ morning with the tutor because their behavior resets if we’ve had a rough week. Then we get to see and hear about the new things they learned.

All good things must come to an end

At some point, the kids will reach the limit of her expertise. Then what?

Then I have to make a decision. Do they go to the public school down the road? Do we find a private school? (Can we even afford a private school?) Or do I put myself into the educational mix with Ginny and Rory while our preschool tutor takes Mischa and Gabe in addition to Liam and Maggie?

Choose your own adventure

Public or private school is basically a kid’s job. They go to school all day, then do homework and any extras like preparing for a science fair outside of regular school time. Homeschool varies so much that it’s hard to describe what a “normal” day looks like.

Also, sending my bigs to any school means they will be almost six by the time they walk in as students. Homeschool starts anytime at any age and follows whatever schedule the family chooses.

I think waiting until they are almost six to start school would serve them poorly. I’ve received many comments on how advanced they are academically, socially, and behaviorally. They would probably adapt to a peer group, but I don’t think I want them to. Most of the world is filled with people who are not their peers and they need to know how to interact with all of them. A homeschool incorporates all the kids in the family and possibly kids of all ages in other families. It usually means more direct interaction with adults, too.

Can you see where this is heading?

In short, I’m heavily leaning towards a homeschool. I’ll probably start with some boxed curriculum to provide a framework and make sure I don’t miss anything big. Then I’ll follow it like I follow a recipe, which is as a suggestion. Every time I make banana bread, I open my Betty Crocker cookbook to the bookmarked page to make sure I don’t miss any major ingredients and don’t massively screw up the ratios. Then I just dump stuff into a bowl. I never make the exact same banana bread twice.

My (biased) view of public school

First, this is no comment on the teachers that work their butts off. I’m criticizing the institution and bureaucracy of mass schooling.

Practical and academic skills

I found public school–at least as it was 20-30 years ago–remarkably lacking in practical skills. The way a mass school runs seems to suck the fun out of a lot of learning. The government places requirements based on age and the teachers (necessarily) design lesson plans to cover all of that and cater to standardized tests. It’s more college prep and fulfilling accreditation requirements than life prep.

So much time wasted. School kids spend so much time taking tests that don’t necessarily assess relevant skills (or anything for that matter), following rules meant for crowd control instead of learning, and transitioning from one subject to the next since most schools seem to try to fit all subjects into every school day.

Then there’s the idea of “no child left behind.” If everyone has to be at or near the same level based on age, what does that do for kids who could move faster? I think mass schooling is not the best option if another one is available, but it serves a good purpose for families who are unable, ill equipped, or not inclined to educate their own children.

Social problems

In addition to the academic side of school, I don’t like the social environment. I found it horrible when I was in school, Jeff didn’t like it any better, and neither of his older kids had a good experience in public school. Where we used to live the public school has made the news for massive fights and has a reputation for drug use and gang activity. Although the problems in most school districts are less extreme, Jeff and I want our kids to feel and be safe. We want to surround them with the type of behavior we want them to demonstrate.

In consideration of private school

Some private schools might be able to fulfill that if they are small. For example, the school where our preschool tutor teaches is small enough that a classroom contains two grade levels.¬†Jeff and I generally disagree with many of the values proffered in public schools and we could choose a private school that more closely matches our values. But private school is expensive and it’s still mass schooling that wastes a lot of time throughout the day with organization and transitions.

Private schools also lack the freedom to skip desk work on a whim and go to the park or the zoo or wherever the mood and weather dictate. So many places outside of a classroom are more educational than a lecture, a video, or even an activity that is carefully designed to utilize a variety of skills and incorporate reading, writing, and ‘rithemtic.

Mass schooling in general

Again with mass schooling, whether public or private: If a kid misses school while sick, s/he needs to work extra hard to catch up. They have no sick days like adults who work a 9-5 job. (Yes, I know for some people work piles up while you’re out sick. But in my experience, most jobs don’t require that you make up all the hours you missed. You just mark it as paid time off and rock on.)

Simply because all the kids have to stay in the same spot in the lesson plans, there is little wiggle room in any sort of mass schooling. It is necessary in that educational model, but I don’t think it serves the students as well as more individualized education.

Enter the homeschool

Let me start by saying that I know that a homeschool is a lot more work for one or both parents, is not cheaper than public school, and makes full-time work nigh impossible for one parent. It is certainly not an easy option.

But a homeschool has so much potential. If we need a day of rest, we could lounge and watch Magic School Bus and Liberty Kids together. If a kid is really into math for a week, s/he can focus on that and let the other subjects slide for a bit. Maybe next week writing or reading will be the hot subject. Our family can take a day trip to a local park and walk, run, climb, draw, write, or even do normal school in a different environment.

Within a homeschool curriculum, I can coordinate a fiction book with related history lessons. I can use cooking to teach math. We can integrate nutrition and fitness as part of our everyday lives rather than forcing gym class with stupid games that most of the kids don’t want to play anyhow (or maybe that was just me).

A homeschool affords so much freedom. Perhaps my new mom vibe is showing through, but I’m excited to learn alongside my kids. My natural curiosity is finally recovering after grad school thoroughly extinguished it. I think we can have a lot of fun and learn everything they need for their future, whatever direction they choose to take.

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