It’s been a full four weeks since Jake started first grade at our local public school. I know I put up a brave face here, but I was really nervous about him starting school. Which is ironic considering how excited I was when he went off to kindergarten last year! That’s just more proof that our emotions aren’t exactly the best guides in life. It’s funny that even thought we felt like this was the right thing for Jake this year, and we prayed and trusted God in picking his teacher, and we showed great excitement when talking to Jake about it, it still wasn’t easy to trust that everything would be okay. Because my only public school parenting experience was one of tears, tantrums, complaints, and one depressed boy, I was scared that this year would be more of the same. I almost cried the night before first grade.
Jake knows none of this. To him, that traumatic kindergarten experience was ages ago. He never for a moment wondered if he wouldn’t like first grade (and I was definitely not going to plant that seed in his mind, although it was growing like a weed in mine!) From the very first day he has come home happy and talkative and excited about what they did at school. What a difference from a year ago! Whether it is the larger atmosphere with a bigger pool of friends to choose from, the first grade curriculum, or whether he just matured in important ways in the past year, now was definitely the time for him to re-enter school. His teacher is wonderful…no nonsense and nurturing at the same time…which, to me, is the perfect blend for a lower grade teacher.
A year ago, I wished that I could find a blog or website that talked in a balanced way about homeschooling vs. public schooling, and I just couldn’t find it. So I’m taking notes here, at a time when I’m equally enamored with both types of schooling. They are so different and I really believe that each has its own advantages which come out in different ways for different kids. So here is my own personal summary of the pros and cons of each type of schooling for those who are searching as I was last spring.
Public Schooling Pros: play time, work time, independence/training in moral decision-making, a regular schedule, practice dealing with annoying people.
- I love that Jake has many kids his age to interact with. They are in first grade so they are not yet crude and corrupted as I know they will be as they get older. There is a misconception out there in homeschooling circles that public school kids are somehow morally bereft. Yes, as kids get older they do take on the qualities of the fallen world around us. It is true. But it seems like at least the K-2 kids are just like the ones you’d let your kid play with around the neighborhood. No, we’re not looking to them as moral compasses for Jake, but he can play on the playground with pretty much anyone and not be bullied or teased or asked to make huge moral decisions. When he was homeschooling, he missed having kids his age to play with during the day.
- Working without complaint. I can’t believe what a fuss Jake would make last year when I required him to write out anything…his name, handwriting practice, a short writing project. Oh, the horrors. The histrionics. You’d think I’d asked him to scrub the floors for three days straight or something. And yesterday he sat at our kitchen island and carefully copied his spelling words three times each without complaint or delay. Not for me, but for his teacher and to keep his precious “Friday Fun Day” privileges. Ahhhh…what a relief. There’s something about working for your mom that brings out the complaining. I don’t miss it.
- Speaking of Friday Fun Day, I love the fact that he’s participating in fun group activities and bonding with a group outside our home. School carnivals, special activities, a classroom identity…these are all great for Jake right now. Homeschoolers sometimes worry about little ones bonding with unknown people like teachers and other kids. But let me just say, we are a close family and I am not afraid that these others will somehow replace us. On the contrary, it’s good for him to connect to a separate group while still weighing in with us about that group’s values. He can slowly learn to make good choices independently. We can casually discuss whether the values embraced by his class are the values we hold true. We notice the differences between a non-christian group view of morality and our christian worldview for young kids. It’s a great training ground for him to learn the differences between our world and the outside world, and a great way for him to begin making little everyday decisions on his own.
- It sounds odd, but I like the regular schedule that our public school offers us. When I sat down to calendar our weeks and what they would look like if we homeschooled again this year, it was crazy! Drive to this class where Jake has one set of classmates. Drive to another class here and a different playgroup there, everywhere trying to connect with different sets of people. Squeeze our schoolwork in between all of our driving and the sports that we’d have to do just to have someplace to connect with non-Christians. Different people, different environments and different schedules every day. It was actually simpler to do public school…the same hours every day. The same place every day. The same people every day. A real opportunity to develop deeper relationships (for me and for Jake) rather than bopping around town from one homeschool commitment to the next. It actually is giving us more stability than homeschooling did.
- When I was a teacher, I realized that one of the most valuable lessons learned at school is how to deal with annoying people. How should you react to the kid in the next desk who constantly sticks their elbow in your space or throws trash on your floor and then you have to pick it up? How do you work with a group that doesn’t want to do their best? These are life skills that are taught more easily in public school than in homeschool. I think they’re valuable lessons about life and dealing with future difficult people, whether it’s your boss, your teacher, your annoying co-worker…if you learn to cope when you’re six, the lesson will stick when you’re twenty-six.
Public Schooling Cons: wasted time, anonymity, time away from home.
- For Jake, there is a lot of wasted time at school. There’s time waiting for everyone else to follow directions, working through assignments and projects that are too easy for him, and generally dealing with the fact that others need to practice things that he’s already mastered. I know he is not the only one. And I know that the teacher has twenty-eight other kids to think about and to teach to. I’m not judging her for that. But it does mean there’s some time there that could be spent doing something else, if he were at home.
- Twenty-nine kids in a first grade classroom. Yes. I used to laugh when I heard parents complain about their kid being “just a number” in the classroom. From a teacher’s perspective I know that that is so not true. So then why did I cringe when I saw that Jake was writing “Jake W. #29” at the tops of his papers? I don’t know why. But I guess it just shows that there are thirty different personalities in that room and my darling son is only one of them. It doesn’t make him seem very special. That’s what I mean by anonymity. It’s not bad, I guess, just strange to me.
- The thing I like least about school is the time that Jake is away from home. This school thing is seriously cutting in on our art lesson time and our baking and our hiking and our beach trips and our disneyland days and so much more. If only school were about three days a week. I miss Jake when he’s gone and I’m happy when he’s home.
Homeschooling Pros: tailored education, self-initiated projects, family activities, opportunities for teaching morals, loose schedule.
- I do miss the fact that Jake’s educational goals and assignments (if there were any) were catered directly to him. They were exactly at his level and we didn’t spend any time on math chapters that he’d mastered or science concepts that he already understood. We were always moving forward with subjects that interested him in ways that were appropriate for his level. Then again, read the first of the homeschooling cons below and see the opposite side of this coin.
- As you know, though, I didn’t do many “assignments” with Jake last year. Embracing the idea of unschooling, Jake mostly did self-initiated projects. He had the freedom to spend the whole day designing elaborate cities of legos or lincoln logs if he wanted to. He could use his time creating plans for a machine that made hot chocolate and drawing a diagram. Whatever he was interested in, he could do. It was truly child-guided. Many teachers like this approach and attempt to work it in with reports on topics the kids choose, but that is nowhere near what you can do when you’re homeschooling. I miss those projects lying everywhere around the house. Of course, right now the boys are drawing elaborate signs to hang up for Halloween, and last week on a sick day they hammered nails into a board to create a marble game with wood, nails, and string. It is possible to do these self-initiated things outside of school hours, but there’s a lot less time for it.
- I loved that homeschooling involved the whole family. Siblings and parents were welcomed on field trips, making those fun experiences a family bonding time. It was so fun to share those moments together. If I don’t get picked to chaperone field trips, I am going to be bummed.
- It was nice when I was homeschooling that I could overhear most if not all of Jake’s interactions with his friends. Sometimes I would intervene right when I heard him being unkind or doing the wrong thing, and other times I could talk about it with him later and use that as an opportunity for training him up in the way he should go. Now I’m not there to overhear his daily interactions and instruct him in them. At the same time, when you think of the third point under public schooling pros, there is a different side to this issue as well.
- And of course, the schedule. I do not like having to leave the house at 7:30 every morning with both boys dressed and lunches made. We are not relaxed and peaceful anymore, when it comes to our schedule. We are rushed every morning. I don’t know if there’s a way around this. The homeschooling schedule is also great for disney days and beach trips…little daylong outings that are tougher now. As for vacations, I’ve come to realize that we only really do one big week-long vacation a year, plus long weekends. We can still do this with our school schedule, we just take days off here and there and you can even get a work contract if your family vacation falls during the school year. It’s those little daily outings that I miss. I’m trying to plan them in on Thursdays when he gets out early. But I prefer spontaneous outings. I’m adapting.
Homeschooling Cons: feelings of superiority, lack of connection with our community, fewer opportunities for growth & mistakes
- One of the comments that God used to steer us towards public schooling this year was from a retiring first grade teacher my mom invited to a family camping trip last spring. I told her a little bit about my struggles with deciding what to do with Jake for first grade and she commented, “Well, you don’t want him to be an elitist.” For some reason that really struck me. When you’re in a class of one and you have an encouraging mom as your teacher, it’s sometimes easy to think that you’re superior to those who struggle to acheive. I think it’s good for Jake to sit in a class with 28 other kids and realize that everything doesn’t come easily to everyone. Not only that, but we need to learn patience with people who are slower than us. We need to learn to value people who aren’t exactly like us. We can even learn the pleasure of helping those who struggle.
- The biggest reason we returned to public school was our faith. It is difficult to connect with non-Christians while in the homeschooling community. Our family really values being involved in the everyday lives of our neighbors and others in the community. Although it is possible with lots of hard work and scheduling to meet non-Christian homeschoolers, for us the best place to connect with neighborhood families is at school. When you see moms every day at drop-offs and pickups, you can begin real friendships that are harder to develop with the homeschooling community where so many moms are rushing from class to activity to commitment.
- When you’re at home and in very carefully chosen environments, as homeschoolers are, there are fewer opportunities for mistakes, and therefore fewer opportunities for growth. I know it sounds strange, but I want Jake to have the chance to make mistakes and learn from them, especially now when he’s still really looking to us to help him process how the world works. Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster and Cline agrees with this idea. When kids have the chance to make their own choices at a young age, they’ll also make lots of mistakes. That offers them lots of little ways to learn and to see that they are supported by parents who love them, no matter what.
You’ll notice that there are so many overlapping issues…things that can be seen either as a positive or as a negative, depending on your family’s feelings about how kids should be raised to become strong and competent adults. I personally think that different things can be positives or negatives depending on the child and his or her needs, as well. And there are so many pros and cons that I didn’t even mention. (homeschooling=lots of field trips and nature exploration opportunites! public schooling=doing activities that mom might not have thought of or been interested in! homeschooling=classes where the kids aren’t used to raising their hand and waiting their turn to talk! public schooling=fundraisers…I hate them!) There are so many pros and cons that I can’t possibly list them all.
I know this post comes at a strange time of year, but I needed to write it out while it was fresh in my mind and while both types of school are a recent experience. I hope it helps any of you struggling with your schooling decisions.I think the key is to research both options as best you can and know your child and the areas in which s/he needs growth. Inform yourself on the options and then pray like you’ve never prayed before. If you don’t come out of your prayer time confident with your decision, you’ll second guess yourself no matter what you choose. Because let’s face it, there’s going to be bumps in whichever road you take. Life is like that. And if you’ve come to a prayerful decision that you feel sure about, you’ll know when those bumps come, that they are bumps that God had planned for you to learn from. He knows what’s best for each child and for your family. Thankfully, we’re not meant to be in charge. What a relief. It’s nice to have a heavenly father who is smarter than we are!