(You can read my intro to this topic here.)
I have been deeply involved in homeschool culture at an earlier point in my life and I enjoyed it. I have friends who are homeschoolers. I am supportive of the homeschooling option and will argue for its value when the topic comes up. I very seriously considered the pros and cons of homeschooling our oldest child instead of sending him off to Kindergarten this year. When it was time to drop him off for his first day of school, I felt total peace about our decision and I wanted to tell you why.
-The homeschooling families I respect most tell me they do it because it works for them. They tell me they reevaluate it year to year. They tell me they like hanging out in their pajamas until noon or taking family vacations in the middle of the school year, or they need the flexibility that homeschooling offers. They are often the homeschoolers that have taken advantage of public school resources or have sent their kids off to their local school for a year or two as they deemed necessary. This has all helped me to see that homeschooling isn’t an all or nothing choice. While this year we chose to send Josh to public school, that doesn’t mean that it will be the right option for him every year or that we will do it with all of our kids. We decided to send him to public school fully knowing that if it didn’t seem to be a fit, we could change our minds.
-I knew I would not be a happy homeschooler right now. I’m going to use a cooking analogy. I devote most evenings to the hour or so process it takes to get a healthy meal on the table because that’s what’s important to me. That also means that my kids often watch an hour or two of TV during that time so that they are safe and contained while I make this meal. It isn’t my ideal, but it’s a compromise I’ve come up with so I can do the cooking I need to. When my time is limited or we chose to spend that time running errands or playing outside, then I throw a frozen pizza in. I have come to realize I can’t do a good job cooking and also be a really attentive parent so sacrifices are made. I know there are other parents who are better cooks than I am who have no trouble making a great meal while watching their kids. I know there are other parents who have no problem with doing drive-thru or frozen fish sticks every night so they can focus on just being with their kids instead of cooking. I know the way I deal with cooking would be similar to how I deal with school. The kind of energy I would need to put into doing homeschooling well would make it really difficult for me to also safely parent my other three young children. Something would have to be sacrificed. I’m not saying other people can’t do this well. I know other moms with more children than I have who seem to make it seem really pleasant and smooth. I am totally supportive of that and proud to be their friends. I see some who sacrifice scheduled school to be flexible and spontaneous (“unschooling”), which works great for doing school while having little ones underfoot, but I am not that person. I see other moms who are hyper scheduled so they can be sure everybody gets their needs met while also providing a calm, quiet school atmosphere for their child. I am also not that person. While I know I am capable of teaching my child, I know it would be a constant frustration for me that I couldn’t give it my full attention while also parenting my little ones. Constant frustration doesn’t make for a happy home or school environment, although I’d figure out how to deal with it if I felt it was best for my child.
-I have a great local school. We are blessed with really wonderful teachers and a great principal in a safe location with a nice facility. My child has had a fantastic experience. He has learned a bunch, been loved by some great adults, has new friends, and has a greater appreciation for his time at home with the rest of us. I really have zero complaints about our experience with our school.
-I continue to “home school” my child. His learning doesn’t end when he leaves his school. He is home plenty of hours from the time he gets home until he goes to bed and we really limit outside activities so we can make the most of our time as a family. He also had lots of three day weekends, snow days, vacation days, sick days, and then an entire summer that he will spend with us. I have not abdicated my role in his life because he went to public school.
-I was able to be engaged with his teacher. Josh had a great Kindergarten teacher who was very open to communication. I never felt like things were happening in school to try and subvert my place in Josh’s life. If anything, it was a huge blessing to have another role-model who loved him, wanted to see him do his best, and had consistently high expectations for him. God absolutely used Josh’s teacher for good in his life and I’m thankful.
-My child was able to be a light to his classmates. I think of Psalm 127:4 ”Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” I see my son as an arrow shot right out of this house to that school building. He is loving the kids around him. He possess the boldness sometimes reserved only for little children in asking his peers if they know Jesus. He was able to learn about loving and serving people who were very different from him who have different kinds of families, intellectual abilities, different religious beliefs. I’ve been very proud of the way he’s learned to show compassion and care for his peers.
-It was good for the rest of our family. I adore my son and he is an amazing kid. He is also incredibly loud and high energy. While you’d think that would be a major problem in the classroom, he has actually learned a lot of self-control from being in a traditional school setting. He has learned that there are times for loud play and times for quiet work. I’m sure we could have mastered that skill at some point during our homeschooling experience, but it wasn’t happening naturally that’s for sure. Especially not when his classmates at home would have been toddlers and babies. The other three kids (ages 4, 3, and 1) have also really been able to blossom while their big brother (who gets much of the attention by virtue of being so loud) is away. They miss him and get so excited when he comes back, but I have been able to devote special energy to each one during the time Josh is getting special attention from his adults at school.
What I want to communicate by this list is that choosing public school was an actual choice for us, not a default setting. If any of these factors change—how it works for us, my abilities, the quality of our school, our time together, the quality of our teacher, peer relationships, how my other kids handle it—we will have to reconsider our choice. This is why it’s easy for me to support my homeschooling friends while I’m making a different choice. I know that all these factors had to be orchestrated in order for this to seem like the right thing for our family. I can understand that in your home and school situation those factors may be different. I think it’s important to remember that not all public schools or home school environments are the same. There are absolutely public schools that could be damaging to a child and homeschool situations where a lack of accountability allows for a poor quality education or even abuse to happen behind closed doors. It’s good for us to be able to thoughtfully make this choice and to articulate the positives of what we’ve chosen without focusing on just the negatives of the choices others are making. My hope is that we are all able to make choices that are best for our individual children and that we are involved enough in the lives of others that we can openly discuss our situations without fear of judgement. We aren’t all called to one school choice, but we are called to be part of one body.