I grew up as an unschooler and I planned for my children to never go to school. Here I am, living in Mexico, and my children just finished their first week of school. I’ve ignored my conscience and it sucks. Yes, I feel like a hypocrite of the highest order.
I’m still struggling with the question of school or homeschool for my kindergarten-aged son. He’s been in public school kindergarten for 3 weeks now, after we decided to give it a try for the reasons I outlined in this earlier post.
School–What I’m struggling with:
Rewards—my son has been in a wonderful preschool classroom for 3 years where teachers never used rewards to gain children’s cooperation. I find myself going back to Alfie Kohn’s quote, “The more compulsive the use of positive rewards, the bleaker the underlying view of children…” The teacher actually said at her curriculum night presentation that she couldn’t imagine the children being helpful, considerate of others, and listening if she didn’t use the rewards system. Multiple children, mine included, are struggling with the fairness of the rewards. My son told me last week that he got a sticker for helping someone find something in the room. His response was “now I know what to do to get a sticker!” The focus for him is now on the sticker and not why he should be helpful and kind in all situations.
Punishments—my son’s preschool teachers also never used punishments to gain control and cooperation either. He learned that everyone, kids and adults, make mistakes, and that we do what we can to fix our mistakes. So while my son should be getting to know the teacher and his classmates, instead, she is wielding time-outs sitting in front of the class to shame them, as early as the fifth day of school. When multiple parents questioned her use of time-outs, she quit using them. However, she also took away even more freedom from the kids, and took away all talking privileges in the classroom. Our school district as a whole uses a shame based behavior management system, instead of one of the many research-based positive behavior management systems out there, such as Dr. Ross Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model.
Lack of respect for students—my kiddo is really struggling with being treated less than respectfully by the adults. He really dislikes silliness, and there’s been a lot of it. Forced performance, forced hand-holding, forced participation. Being told to “hug yourself and hold a bubble” rather than just asked to be quiet and keep your hands to yourself. There has been no time for the students to get to know one another or their teacher to help foster a sense of community and cooperation.
I had high hopes of my son being welcomed into school by a warm and kind teacher who would create some excitement about being there. Instead, he keeps asking me to call and tell the teacher we moved.
School–What’s been positive:
Schedule–Getting back on a schedule has been a good thing for us. I haven’t figured out what our schedule would be like if we were homeschooling. He only goes 2.5 hours per day, so it isn’t the whole day. Also, he goes in the afternoon. It might sound extreme, but if we had to get there at his school’s very early morning start time, our decision probably would have already been made.
Friends–My son’s best friend is in his class, and he wouldn’t see him much otherwise. They do play after school on the playground sometimes, although they don’t have recess or time to play during school. And we see a lot of neighborhood friends both on the way and at pick up every day.
Homeschooling—my latest thoughts on the positives:
More time—While being back on a schedule has been a good thing, our school time is in the middle of the day and it’s all we can accomplish out of the house most days.
Developmentally appropriate—going at our own pace, following interests, playing!
One negative I’m still struggling with regarding homeschooling has to do with my particular kid. He won’t play without me when I’m present. Play dates are hard and rarely go smoothly. But he loved playing at preschool, where they had a very long free-play period, supported by respectful adults. I’m not sure how I can replicate that situation. Maybe a great sitter, but we sure haven’t found it yet. And school doesn’t serve that purpose either, since they don’t actually get to play, or even talk.
The summary for now:
I’m sure to anyone reading it seems that I’m leaning heavily toward homeschooling. Why am I not doing it yet? Some of the reasons still hold true from my original list. But the biggest reason is that I just don’t know yet. The first 3 weeks of school aren’t the most true representation of school. I’m hoping that as the year progresses they get to have more fun and freedom rather than less. But only more time will tell.
I love the idea of homeschooling, and have been researching it now for several years. I’ve visited co-ops, met lots of homeschooling families, and been active in homeschool groups online. But I still sent my kids to preschool.
I didn’t actually start out with any thoughts of homeschooling. My son started preschool at 3.5 because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. He had a lot of separation anxiety, so I chose my preschool based on that one fact. And it was possibly my best decision ever. Our preschool had wonderful articles on its website about how they dealt with separation anxiety. That they actually did deal with it, and talk to the kids about it, and let parents stay in the class or in the hallway as long as they felt was necessary. And while we visited and liked the school, it was really that one fact that got us there.
But even once I was interested in homeschool for our family, we stayed at this wonderful preschool. My kids and my parenting have benefited so greatly from being at this preschool and among the teachers and community. And there have never been any worries for me, because the school is a shining example of developmentally appropriate practice. My kids have learned such amazing things that I truly believe will help them into adulthood, through play in this supportive environment.
They’ve learned to speak up for themselves and to stand up for themselves. They’ve learned to make choices on their own, and be responsible for themselves and their belongings. And they’ve learned that they can trust and rely on adults other than me and my hubsand. We don’t have family around that helps care for them, and I want them to know that there are other trustworthy adults that will treat them with respect, take care of them, and even like them! They learned that all their feelings and emotions are valid. They learned to deal with conflict and rejection, all while being coached along by supportive adults. They learned that they can really be themselves and people will still treat them respectfully, even if they aren’t all friends.
I can’t imagine our lives without this wonderful school in it. I feel very fortunate that we we found it and my children were able to attend.
I posted recently about how we are planning to try kindergarten for my son even though I’d truly love to homeschool. Today was his kindergarten assessment, a 20 minute meeting with his teacher to “tell what you know,” as I heard another parent put it. We did go today, because as I said in my other post, he will have a teacher new to the district and his assessment was with her, so we’d get to meet her. In many districts where we have friends, the assessments are done by a random teacher, and honestly, if that had been the case, we would have been out of town the week of assessments.
I had spoken to the previous teacher to ask if I would be allowed to stay during the assessment due to my son’s extreme separation anxiety, and she said yes. So I emailed the new teacher ahead of time to let her know, and she also agreed it was fine. However when we got to school today, she said if I stayed in the room, she’d have to reassess him again once school started when I wasn’t there. I’m guessing that’s due to rules with standardized testing. But what a way to undermine both teachers, parents, and students. Teachers can’t choose to allow a parent to stand across a room in a spot where the child can’t see him or her? Are we not all adults here? These assessments are assessing where kindergartners come into school. Is someone really thinking we’re going to “cheat?”
I was able to stand outside the room, but still where I could see. I actually don’t know if I was far enough away for it to “count” or not, which leads me to the thought that maybe I should opt my son out of the state kindergarten assessment at the beginning of the school year anyway. Today, he was asked a bunch of academic skills type questions, and maybe that’s the problem with me staying…that I’m not supposed to know what was asked? Again, something is wrong with that situation as well.
I liked his teacher-to be. She seemed kind and interested in getting to know my son, and we had a pleasant conversation after the assessment. But the whole interaction left a sour taste in my mouth. So many of the points I worry about with formal schooling came up just in this quick half hour at the school. Early academics, parents “needing” to be away from their children for schooling to “count,” the homework assignment we received today that has to be brought back on the first day of school.
There were also discouraging events surrounding these assessments, like the parent of my son’s classmates humble-bragging on facebook complaining, but also letting everyone know their 5 year old is already reading. Other parents comparing notes on whether they got “feedback” on how their children did. Because, you know, school is one big competition, right? And maybe you’ll say I’m just worried or jealous because my child is reserved in new situations and isn’t reading yet. Maybe that’s even a little true. But it doesn’t make it any less true that I have real reservations about the culture that I’m sending my child into. It’s going to be a big culture shock for us both, I’m afraid.
I am a Homeschooler at Heart. But I’m planning to send my oldest to kindergarten in the fall. And to public school. While I am doing so full of trepidation, the positives outweigh the negatives for now and we’re going to give it a try. Here’s why:
Half-day kindergarten—We live in a suburban district that offers both free half-day kindergarten and full day kindergarten that costs about $300/month. My son will go half-day, which is about 3 hours per day. It’s the only year he has the option to go to public school on a part-time basis, basically. He’ll still have time to do other things during the day, and plenty of down-time and play-time.
Small class size—There is only one half-day class at our neighborhood school because most parents choose full day. Therefore, half day is housed in a very small room, and the class-size is capped at 15 students due to size contraints. So far, we’ve heard the class will only have ten students this year.
Other kids—Strangely enough, 4 other kids from my son’s wonderful preschool class will be in his half day kindergarten class, even though the preschool is not in our community. That means, not only will he know them and feel more comfortable, but there will be 4 sets of parents with the background of this wonderful preschool. They are people who know and are willing to stand up for how children learn best and make sure that they are treated with respect.
Observation—My son and I both have been to the school to observe the kindergarten classes. I went without him and then took him with me more than once. While it took a lot of calls to initially explain what I wanted to the principal, she eventually agreed. And we were comfortable with the teacher he was to have. Unfortunately, there has been a last minute change and he’ll have a brand new teacher. And we learned just today that there will also be a new principal. But I’m leaving this in the positives list because it did influence our decision.
Confidence—Even if we end up homeschooling, I want my son to know that he can handle school. I want him to have the confidence to know if he has to stay in school or has to go back one day after homeschooling for a period of time, that he has done it before and survived, or even thrived.
We’ll all know—My husband and I haven’t been in public school in a long time. Much of what I read leaves me very hesitant about the school experience these days. Our neighbor friends constantly talk about how much they love the school, but much of what they talk about are after-school programs that I don’t even know my child will want to participate in. But we haven’t tried it, or experienced it first hand, at this school. Once we’ve tried it this fall, we’ll know a lot more. Maybe we’ll all love it. Maybe we won’t make it through an entire school year. Only time will tell.
I know there are arguments to be made against what I’m saying from both sides. Veteran homeschoolers will say we shouldn’t need to try public school to know that homeschooling is what we want for our family. And school families might say that it doesn’t sound like I’m planning to give it much of a chance at all. But the best part for us is that no decision regarding schooling/learning needs to be permanent, so we will work toward figuring out what will be best for our family.
About a year ago there was a post online discussing school options. Someone there used the phrase “homeschooler at heart” and it really resonated with me. I realized I am most definitely a homeschooler at heart. Does this knowledge mean I’ll homeschool my kids? I don’t know yet.
What it means to me is that I know I could. I know that my kids would be fine without school in their lives. It means I want a life for my family where we spend more time together than they spend with other adults. That my husband and I get to decide how and where we spend our time. It means that I know my kids can learn everything they need to know from me, the other adults in their lives, and outside resources we can access for them.
It comes down to both freedom and trust. Freedom to be in control of my family’s schedule. Freedom to let my kids be kids. Freedom for them to follow their interests in depth rather than learning what’s going to be on a standardized test. Freedom from doing something just because everyone else does it. Freedom to travel if we can. Freedom to discover who they are free from the confines and pressures that come with typical school. Freedom to develop at their own pace.
I trust that my children were born to learn and that they are learning all the time. I trust that when their brains are ready to learn how to read and write, they will learn. I trust that all of us learn best when we are interested in and enjoying what we’re doing. I trust that my kids will learn what they’ll need to be successful adults even without school. I trust my children to make decisions about their own interests and lives and to have a say in what and how they learn.
We have a lot of decisions ahead of us. But as far as schooling and learning go, no decision needs to be permanent and we can always try something new. And there is freedom in that fact, too.
Respectful parenting, Learning with kids, and Waiting for Readiness