Since before my son was born, I have worried about where he would go to school. Since before I got pregnant actually. Waiting lists at preschools, Montessori vs. Waldorf, home-schooling, unschooling, public and private school felt like I had more chances to get it wrong rather than that I had more choices.
I have taught daycare through adult students and every age in between. I attended public and private schools, earned three degrees and went to six universities through exchange programs, internships, and programs of study. I ran two Sylvan Learning Centers. I have some experience with education. All of that experience gives me an understanding of just how big an impact education and the educational environment have on our self-concept, our life choices, not to mention our everyday existence for the majority of our waking hours for 13+ years of our lives.
I like the Montessori set-up for toys but not the emphasis on doing so much by oneself. My son has his whole life to tie his shoes. Waldorf’s emphasis on play appeals to me but I have reservations about reading windows and other aspects of the program. Reggio Emilia sounded great but there were no schools close to us.
The homeschool network in Austin was appealing with part-time school, classes in special subjects, and extra-curricular activities like soccer and drama. We could create the educational landscape that worked for us. Being a single mom with a limited income isn’t particularly conducive to homeschooling though. Additionally, I’d figured out I’m not so sure I’m the best person to be Cavanaugh’s teacher–at least not his primary teacher. I want him to be able to come to me and say that something is too hard, or too easy, “Look what I learned today,” or ask, “Can you help me with this?” First and foremost, I want to be his mom.
Also, I’d like to not be so broke all the time. I’d like to be able to educate him by taking him on trips to foreign countries or affording experiential learning like flying in a hot air balloon or going white water rafting: modes of travel, speed, nature, tasting the world to figure out what he likes and doesn’t, what his skills and interests are. We can unschool–follow his interests and let him learn through life experience–when he’s not in school.
Private school is expensive too. While I could work to earn an income, which would be more difficult if I were homeschooling, the money I earned would be turned into tuition. Plus in many private schools, the social, ethnic, and economic diversity isn’t really diverse. And even if you don’t have to take state standardized tests, you’ll end up in high school classes getting prepped for ACT and SAT
Public schools’ emphasis on testing, behavior, and conformity concern me. Plus, I’ve taught in Texas public schools.
I want a place where he’ll learn, where he’ll be comfortable, and safe, and can be himself. I don’t want him to be bored by worksheets, overwhelmed by crowds, bullied. I don’t want a system of praise, punishment, and rewards to take away his intrinsic motivation.
Can you tell I’ve been dwelling in what could be wrong instead of what could go right? That’s why I was worrying about where he’d go to school, rather than looking forward to what worlds might open up for him. School options felt like being at a buffet of foreign foods. Things looked familiar, like I might like them, but instead of being able to dish a little of this and a little of that on my plate, in order to let my son try out different school environments, I’d have to get on long waiting lists, pay hold or enrollment fees, and then have school tours, observation days, let him get used to a place. It was daunting. And I didn’t actually know what Cavanaugh would like because he’d never tried any of it. Maybe things would seem like a bad fit and then he’d get there and it would all be fine. Or, they’d seem made for him and he’d end up hating it.
A friend advised me to tour schools with Cavanaugh’s personality in mind. That would help me make a decision. The barriers included tuition, required schedules –5 days a week for traditional Montessori schools, long days with a naptime though my son stopped napping at 2 1/2, etc. Now I was at a buffet where the food had some ingredients I liked but others I knew I didn’t like. I couldn’t eat around the beets or request them to hold the celery.
At some point this spring, I finally acknowledged that I wasn’t doing nothing. I just hadn’t made a final decision yet. I also let myself accept that I might not get it right the first time. Maybe I’d put Cavanaugh in a school that didn’t end up working and we’d reevaluate, or maybe it would work for a time and then stop. Just like ordering in a restaurant, I could try something and send it back or order something else. The first step was looking at our school choices. I’d done that by considering:
- My child (his personality, talents, likes and dislikes, current abilities, ways of learning, need for sleep, social needs, etc)
- Different educational approaches (Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Homeschooling, Unschooling, Private, Public, and other alternatives)
- Scheduling (part-time, traditional school year, year-round, school hours–how much of our day/week/year/lives would be taken up with school)
- Finances (tuition, scholarship or other financial aid, how much time I’d have to work (or not) depending on what kind of schooling we chose)
- Location (commute time to and from school, busing, community we’d be (or not be) around depending on how far school was from home)
- Myself (My career/life options would be impacted by his school schedule, location, state of mind, costs, etc; how involved I could or would want to be with a particular school and what my values are around education)
- Goals (What school could provide in terms of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional education, what it would teach my son about the world and himself)
All that was left was actually making a choice and trying it out. I’ll write more about that in my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your considerations are regarding school options. What have you tried? What are you going to try?
Photo by shazie28