Oh What To Do About School

This is my ongoing debate, what to do about school.  Currently Jack goes to our church for pre-school.  It is a great pre-school, well-respected in the community and actually pretty large.  Our experience with the teachers in his 2-year-old class was a little iffy, but his 3-year-old class this year has been great.  His teachers are EXCELLENT and the kids in his class all seem to get along well.  He has made great friends and likes to go to school.  Next year we are planning to send Jack Monday through Friday mornings and Garrett Monday, Wednesday & Friday mornings.  I think the scheduling should be good and I’m excited for Garrett to get to start making his own friends too.

Ah, but the state of education beyond our pre-school scares me.  I’m not thrilled about public schools for several reasons.  The classes are pretty large.  The ratings in our current elementary school have dropped quite a bit since we moved into our house.  We’ve heard several parents say they are happy with the school but then when they start explaining things to me, some of the things they like are exactly what scares me about it.  The biggest issue I have with public schools is that it seems everyone is just forced to teach to a standardized test.  I feel like a teacher has lost their ability to teach creatively, to adjust to what a class is interested in or needs extra attention in and even just to adjust to the class itself.  And above all, the idea of putting my very active, high-spirited, extremely smart kid who has great problem solving skills in a stuffy classroom to learn a standardized test scares the hell out of me.  I see it as a recipe for disaster.  Either he’ll be huge problems for the teacher or perceived as a huge problem because he challenges everything (not because he is being disobedient but because he thinks differently).  As I look ahead to G starting school, I’m concerned for him too.  He is very smart too, but he is more sneaky and quiet.  I have visions of G doing just enough to get by and sliding under the radar.  I think he’d be the kid in the corner, bored out of his mind, encouraging everyone else to get in trouble.  He is just that kid.  He already knows how to work it so his brother gets in trouble.  This is most evident when he has a babysitter!  So this is my struggle, what is the right education for my kids.  And even more importantly, how do we pay for it?!  For now, I am constantly looking at alternative education options for our kids and figure we will get the money part together later.

Last week I drug Travis to an information night at the local Waldorf School, Potomac Crescent.  I’m very interested in Waldorf Schools and their theory.  I’ve read quite a bit about it and had told Travis what appealed to me and what some of my fears about it were.  The information night was interesting.  There was only one other parent who attended.  She was not familiar with Waldorf, had recently returned to the area and was looking for a private school for her 5-year-old daughter.  Unfortunately, I feel like the meeting was not that helpful.  The woman from the school was the teacher for the toddler parent/child class where the parent actually stays the entire class with the child.  She had a great perspective because her three grown children had attended Waldorf Schools in the area (Maryland) through 8th grade and high school.  Since she had been on both sides of the Waldorf relationship, I think she had a good idea of where it could take you.  However, she could not really answer the questions that we had.  Waldorf is very utopian sounding to me.  It is very nature based, focuses on creativity & using your imagination, and incorporates a lot of artistic expression into all facets of education.  I love the idea of my kids being able to be outside all year around, their creativity being encouraged and so much focus put on artistic expression.  The classrooms are painted neutral colors and contain amazing wooden toys and huge building blocks that are more like tree stumps than square blocks.  There are all kinds of natural materials for art projects and tons of play silks and capes for pretending.  The rooms are just filled with amazingly simple things that you know will provide hours of creativity and play.  I do have reservations about Waldorf though.  Is the school in Arlington a bit Waldorf light?  Will there be too much free expression and not enough structure?  Will Jack be bored if he already knows how to read and they work on letters and other building blocks to reading?  (Reading is taught much differently in Waldorf education.  I’m okay with that but not sure how it would work for my kiddo who is teaching himself to read now.)  These were some of the questions we asked at the information night but didn’t get a lot of answers on.  The woman didn’t really know the structure of the day for Kindergarten, 1st grade etc.  She was very happy to give us a large overview on her interpretation of Waldorf theory but not so great at giving us ideas of how they incorporate it into the day.  Frankly, she made it sound like the teachers just stood around watching the kids play all day and were there to answer a question when asked.  I know that is not how it is, but she didn’t explain it all too well.  The one thing that was very appealing about the school is that the largest class they have is Kindergarten and it is only 16 students with two instructors.  By the early primary grades, their classes drop to about eight students.  Can you imagine how great it would be to be one of eight kids in a class with two teachers?  Pretty amazing!  I think this alone could be enough to make Travis seriously consider something like this for our kids!  I’m hoping to go to an observation day and see a class in action.  I’m also interested in observing at a larger Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD, Washington Waldorf School.  It is much more established and goes clear through high school.  I think it would be interesting to see the differences between the two schools.

When we went to Tauxemont’s country fair recently, we were able to check out their school.  It is a Pre-school and Kindergarten.  The school is very cool and actually quite similar to the atmosphere of a Waldorf School.  They have a great outdoor space with all wooden play equipment and lots of space to build and play.  They have animals like chickens and rabbits that the kids care for.  It is clear that they use a lot of natural materials for art and that creative thinking is encouraged.  We haven’t actually taken a tour of the school yet, but it is definitely on our short list for Kindergarten.  The big downside for Tauxemont is that it is a co-op.  This means that in addition to paying for school, and the tuition is reasonable, we’d have to make a committment of time.  Every family has a specific job and in addition must help in the classroom a certain number of hours.  I like being the class and helping out, but the idea of committing to a specific job for the year is hard.  They aren’t cake jobs, they are time intensive and rather large jobs.  Your time and energy really are part of the reasonably priced tuition.  Next year Jack’s friend Ian will be going there for Pre-school, so I feel like we will get a good introduction to the school and see what we think.

Recently I’ve been looking at homeschooling websites and even thinking about attending a Mom’s group for homeschoolers.  I don’t think I want to home school.  I don’t know if I could handle teaching my kids all the time.  Isn’t part of the up side to your kids starting school is that they aren’t with you all the time?  As Moms, don’t we all dream about the extra time we will have when our kids are in school?!  However, I realize that I am constantly teaching my boys now.  We play word and number games all the time.  I speak to them like they are adults, so I’m constantly explaining things to them.  They ask a lot of questions and I give them the answers.  Sometimes I tell them things they should not really get, just to see if they remember it or bring it out later in funny situations.   The fact is, they get a lot more than one might imagine and they always want to know more.  I recently realized that our days go much better when I plan ahead a little and know that we will have teaching moments throughout the day.  More than just reading books, but really learning something.  They love to learn about animals.  They love numbers.  They love to learn and they are creative.  It occurred to me that in a way I’m already doing what a lot of homeschoolers do with their kids.  So I’ve been exploring home school curriculums and thinking about what I can do now to encourage them.  There are tons of free curriculums out there and great home school boards online.  I like the idea of teaching my kids around what works well for them and being intimately involved in what and how they learn.  I also realize that so much of a school day is fluff and filler that you can get rid of in a home school setting.  And since we live in a metropolitan area, there are plenty of opportunities for social interaction.  Your homeschooled kid here doesn’t have to be without normal social skills.  The big questions–how do you structure your day so that your kids get enough school and the right school for them?  How do you not kill them when you are ALWAYS with them?  How do you balance school for different aged kids, especially if you have babies at home?  Is it really best to keep your kids home, even if you can get them appropriate social interaction?  How do you not push them too hard or too little?  Isn’t it good for your kids to learn how to take direction from other adults?  The questions go on and on. 

I don’t know what we are going to do about schools.  I’m thinking ahead a little because Jack has one more year of Pre-school before we have to have an answer.  I hate the idea of paying for private school.  I hate the idea of public school.  I’m scared to home school.  Maybe I can just find a friend to home school my kids along with their own.  Jessica?  Maggie?  Any takers?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  Well, if I go that route then maybe you girls will keep me on track!

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