My daughter doing a Russian art study on a field trip to the museum.
Last week I filled out the final paperwork to enroll one of my younger daughters in Kindergarten this upcoming Fall.
And I’m feeling ALL THE FEELS about it too because, well, Kindergarten.
This is her last year at home, her last year doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, and her last year of being a little and not a big.
And it’s all so new for me, because we were homeschoolers back when each of my other kids began Kindergarten. I’ve never really sent anybody off like that, and oh it is sad! But it’s happy, too, because my daughter is SO ready and confident about going to school, and I know she’ll do great. As for me, I’ll be here crying my eyes out.
And because it’s the season of enrollment and big school decisions, I wanted to share a little bit about what we are doing with our kids this upcoming year, and how we arrived at those choices. But first, two VERY IMPORTANT THINGS:
1.) There is no one way to raise and educate happy, holy kids. Because look. If you homeschool, your kids won’t automatically be weird or socially inept, and if you send your kids to school they won’t instantly devolve into peer-pressured, pot-smoking monsters. People on both sides of the fence sometimes prefer these extreme narratives because they make them feel better about their own choices, but it’s simply not true. And it’s dangerous to perpetuate the idea that homeschooling is THE ideal that all Catholic women should aspire to, where sending a child to school is considered a last resort for the weak. Conversely, there are people who swear their kids would shrivel up and die if they were to bring them home, and that’s not true either.
2.) There is no one reason for choosing a particular type of education for your child. Believe me when I say it’s no small coincidence that parents agonize over these decisions for months on end. It’s hard! There are so many factors to consider, not least of which is the overall well-being of your child. So people shouldn’t assume that somebody homeschooling doesn’t care about rigorous academics, or that a parent sending a child to school cares nothing for the child’s moral development and character. We weigh the pros and cons and take all kinds of things into consideration, and then make a decision. There are lots of reasons we used to homeschool, and there are lots of reasons our kids attend school now. That’s just how it goes.
Now that those things are out of the way, I’ll tell you about our plans for this next year, and our thought process behind making those plans. And if you are choosing something else for your family, PLEASE know I don’t think my choices are superior to yours. Okay?
We will have seven kids in school this Fall, spread between two different schools. My oldest child will be in 6th Grade, and my youngest school-attender will be in Kindergarten. I’ll still have little Alice home with me!
My two daughters with Down syndrome will continue attending a neighborhood elementary school, where they receive specialized instruction, therapies, and inclusion in the mainstream classroom. They ride a bus that picks them up and drops them off right at our house, and they love to go! I made the decision to enroll them in school this past fall because, well, they were ready. And the extra stimulation and independence has been SO good for them. Their communication has improved dramatically and they feel so good about what they’re doing.
My other five kids will be attending a classical charter school (K-12) just four minutes from my home, the same one my oldest four went to this year. It was a scary thing to send them there after so many years of homeschooling, but we are SO glad we did. Initially it just seemed an opportunity too good to pass up, and so we figured we’d give it a try for a year. Turns out they love going to school, are super motivated to work hard and do well, and have made HUGE gains in their education. Plus I don’t personally enjoy teaching most subjects, so this has really been a win-win for our family.
But let’s go back in time. When we first began thinking about school all those years ago, back when our kids were all just bitty, we anticipated eventually sending them to the local neighborhood school. But then I read assorted books on educational philosophy. My favorite? The Well Trained Mind, which was all about homeschooling with the classical method. Love me some classical education. Most of my closest friends at the time were educating their kids at home and sending them to a weekly local enrichment program, which seemed cool. So we decided to homeschool, using The Well Trained Mind as a guide because I am not an unschooler, I’ve never been good at hands-on projects, and I didn’t relish the idea of putting together unit studies.
Over the years though I began wishing for a classical option outside of our home. I discovered that I don’t love teaching math, science, art, spelling, grammar, or composition. I discovered some of my kids have some learning disabilities. I discovered that while I wanted a good, solid classical education for my children, I was not really interested in providing it myself. But still we homeschooled, because I felt it was better than the other options available to us at that time.
A little over a year ago though we converted our house into a rental, and picked up and moved across town. We wanted to live closer to our church, friends, and my parents. A home on a little over an acre (rare for this side of Denver) happened to be for sale right where we wanted to live, so we jumped on it. (The house needs some work, but it’s doable as-is while we get our act and money together.) And shortly after moving here, we found out that a tuition-free classical charter school would be opening up RIGHT nearby! I met with the principal, and she was amazing. I talked to my kids, and they were thrilled at the prospect. So, off to school they went.
But as exciting as it was to have a classical school fall right into our laps, it wasn’t exactly easy. I worried about all kinds of things (peer influence, sibling relationships, homework load), and the initial transition was admittedly rocky. We even dropped out for a week. But in the end we stuck with it, and I’m glad, because once we got into a groove? This school has turned out to be pretty much the best ever. My kids are thriving academically and socially. Their world has been opened up a teeny bit, which has been good. They receive 40 minutes of PE and 40 minutes of music EVERY SINGLE DAY. We love it, every last one of us!
Figuring out the type of schooling that works best for your family at any given time is challenging. So many things to juggle, especially in a large family, and especially with a range of personalities and learning abilities. Plus it is not just you making the decision, but your spouse as well (if you’re married). Couples aren’t always on the same page. And every school is different, and there are definitely some situations I would not feel comfortable sending my kids into. My Ethiopian daughters, for example, temporarily attended a public school while they were getting their evaluations done, in order to develop an IEP. And I can say with certainty that I would not enroll any of my children there long-term, unless I absolutely had to. The staff members working with my daughters were amazing, but the school’s culture and overall vibe were not.
Every family has different priorities, too. We really value the education of the whole person, and we are finding that our chosen schools are fulfilling the academic piece quite nicely, while not detracting from conscience formation or character development. Academics matter to us precisely because of our faith–using, engaging, and refining what God gave you–so we don’t see it as choosing math over morals. Instead, we believe we are assisting our kids in reaching their potential, and providing for their futures. Which we as parents are called by God to do.
So as you navigate the murky waters of educational options, take heart! Remember that you can take it year by year. You can change your mind. And change it back again. You can discover new ways of doing things, and even learn to like them. If life feels overwhelming and you’re feeling anxious, figure out if there’s something you can tweak. Maybe school isn’t working out so well, and you’d like to bring your kids home. Or maybe homeschooling isn’t something you want to do anymore, and you’re thinking about enrolling somewhere for the fall.
Please know that whatever you decide, you really can raise smart, well-rounded, happy kids, who love God and love others. Your choice of schools will probably not be the single greatest determining factor in whether or not your child succeeds in life. Stay engaged, keep the lines of communication open, and find time to enjoy your kids–and no matter where they learn algebra, you’ll be winning!
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