The School Debate, One Family's Perspective
Our daughter, Pie, falls just days before the deadline for Kindergarten. She was born just a few days before the county decided was the cut off for her grade. She has been blessed and cursed with perpetually being the youngest in her class. When her fifth birthday came around, we didn't think her freshly five self was ready to be dropped off at a bus stop at 7 a.m. (a time she only sees on the most random of days) and ushered into the public school system. She is mature enough to handle it, but why rush it when she's got options. Charter schools, online school, secular, and unschooled. There are endless possibilities, all of which I've studied with great detail. The truth is, I'm not entirely sure she (read... I) will ever be ready to be left to the devices of the public school system, but for now we're focusing on one grade at a time.
We are lucky enough to live in a county that allows for many options for parents. Not just the national K-12, secular homeschooling, and public school options either, we've got a few more available to us. My husband and I discussed at length about how we felt about all of our school options. He was mostly concerned about being able to switch to public schools if things ever changed for us. And I was well on my way to unschooling her in every way possible.
Over the past five years, I watched her develop, grow, and learn more than I thought possible in such a fraction of a lifetime. I watched her learn to read with her dad, who has far more patience than I do. She initiates ideas, asks questions that we all need to research to answer, and has a passion for learning. However, I've also watched her struggle with things, get frustrated with herself, and give up without a second thought. We've had the opportunity to help her confront these struggles. And because of that, she has been able to confront those things she does not understand on her own terms.
Pie has always been able to figure things out in her own way, it made her unique, interesting, and strong willed. She's smart, funny, and assertive. She is a social butterfly, creative and enthusiastic about learning. From what I had seen the previous five years of "homeschooling" her, she had an aptitude to learn. However, that learning has always been on her own terms.
When she was younger, she wasn't ready for number recognition when I pushed them. I took a step back and we focused on something else for a while. Miraculously, she approached me with an interest in numbers and learned her numbers just a few weeks later. She didn't like flash cards of birds, fish, and other animals. We found she did love documentaries and visiting the library to pick out her own. The library has become a favorite place. She finds books and videos on whatever it is she is interested in that week. I've never had to worry about her being bored, we've managed to work learning into everything we do. Pie is always asking to do some science experiment, she comes to me with questions and we tested out the answers.
Following her instincts and having a genuine interest was what made our choices work for her. Then came time to decide whether keep her home or usher her off to school. My husband and I were not always on the same page. I pushed for homeschooling, he wanted her to be on track with other kids her age in public schools. He wanted her to continue excelling in the areas she was obviously doing so well in, but not to fall behind if she were to ever need to go to school. I was concerned with dropping my JUST five year old off at a building full of people we did not know or her being lost in a sea of kids. Her spark, her passion, and her incredible thirst for knowledge lost in the daily shuffle of 30 other kids, all working on the same subject and not on the same level.
We made the calls, did the research, and met with the guidance counselor. Our research found that our county offered a few alternatives we had not considered or were even aware existsed. Part time kindergarten, though not typically offered was available if you applied for it. Definitely a compromise but not exactly what we had in mind. K-12, the national program that is picking up steam with the growing number of homeschoolers, was also a great choice. We liked the access, freedom, and network, but it didn't cover our concerns with keeping up with her peers if there were ever a transition into public schools.
We finally contacted the virtual public school our county has to offer, Odyssey Learning. This program, offered by our county, is taught by county teachers, regulated by our county, and is free. Unlike K-12, there were no books to purchase, no school supplies, or programs. They offered the same background checks, hiring process, and curriculum that was being offered in the public schools. All online, all free, and completely done from home. It sounded to us like the perfect option, so we met with a guidance counselor.
At the meeting, Pie told him about her trips to the zoo, her favorite things, and told him she knew how to read. He told us that the programs are growing this year by a rapid pace, some kids bounce around trying to avoid doing the work. If the programs don't work for the kids, they're informed they must find an alternative. If a child finishes the program early, then the parents are responsible to supplement. Students would be tested, same as any other public student. The program offered her a field trip every month (that's more than three times as many as a typical public school student at best), weekly story times with her classmates, meet ups for information, access to her teachers, and control over the time of day and pace she worked. She could breeze through the easy things, take her time with things she didn't understand right away, and we could supplement with the things we felt were important or interesting to her specifically.
We've just finished the first quarter. She's predicted to score above average across the board. The road has not always been smooth. We are frequently finding road blocks, getting side tracked, and becoming overly stressed about keeping on track. There are days we are doing worksheets before bed, starting much later than we anticipated, and making up for lost time. Finding a balance between work, school, and play is an every day challenge.
Some days are full of smiles, excitement, and learning. Other days are not so wonderful. Whatever the day to day looks like, it's working. And working well. Pie's reading and comprehension are well above average. We will find out her reading level later this year, but it's estimated at a grade or two higher than average. She's able to be tested just like her public school student peers, which helps us assess her schooling and be actively involved. If the time ever comes that she can not stay home, she will be ready to move into a public school. We plan to reassess her needs every year, deciding whether this is working for her still or if she needs a change.
There's a never ending debate, what's the right thing to do with our kids. No matter the subject, there is never a right side. Our situation puts us directly in the middle of a pretty large one. Shunned by the homeschoolers and unschoolers for being a part of the public school system and judged by the public school advocates for making my kid weird with homeschooling, we're on no one side at all. We are, however, very lucky to live in an age of options. Some people don't have any opinions at all. Most people try to do what's best in their own lives, each one different, making right or wrong a very grey area. All that we can do is what's best for our family and respect what you decide to do for yours.