Sally recently declared school “boring.” There’s little that has made my stomach lurch as much as that simple proclamation. This homeschool graduate grew up hearing that going to school stifles curiosity and turns children into sardines and lab rats rather than creating innovative thinkers. My position on formal schooling shifted as I met graduates of public school in college and formed a more nuanced view of the subject, but the idea that attending school will rob my daughter of free thinking and individuality still lurks at the edges of my conscience.
Sally attends preschool. Next year she will attend kindergarten. I originally put her in daycare when she was about a year old because I couldn’t figure out how to balance graduate school with being a full time parent. My reasons for having her there changed as I saw positive benefits—she gained a larger number of positive role models, formed close friendships, learned how to negotiate relationships, and gained a solid understanding of proper social behavior in varying situations. In addition, I found that my relationship with her benefited from each of us having a little space and inhabiting our own worlds in addition to the world we share. Graduate school droned on and daycare turned in to preschool, and here we are.
And now she says school is boring.
In the evenings and on the weekends, Sally and I move from one activity to another, enjoying both our relationship and the learning we do together. We go to the children’s museum, get books from the library, and curl up to watch documentaries together. We sew costumes, look up things on the internet that she’d never even heard of (yesterday it was the evacuation of children from London during WWII), and bake together. We go to the park, the farmer’s market, the random exhibits that come to campus. We do “science experiments” and build with k’nex. We do art projects and turn to pinterest for new ideas. Sally takes dance class and we go swimming and we make kites and fly them outside. And we read, and we read, and we read.
There was a time between college and childrearing when I seriously considered “unschooling,” which involves facilitating child-led learning in a way that is natural and organic and based on interest. There’s a lot that is appealing about unschooling. Unschooling would essentially mean doing everything we already do in the evenings and on weekends, but doing those things all the time, every day. Unschooling would mean that those treasured moments would go on, and on, and on, without break. Sometimes I want to drop everything, bring the kids home, roll up my sleeves. and open the door to a continuous world of learning and discovery.
So why don’t I? After all, with some budget adjustments, I could.
The reasons for my present course—and its advantages—flit through my mind as I dwell on this. I think we both still appreciate having our own time, our own space, apart from each other. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a stay at home mom, which is effectively what I would be should I leave my career to homeschool. There’s also the fact that Sally is quite the social child, and leaving her friends and the regular social interaction she receives at school would be really hard for her. These things alone give me pause.
There are other things, too. For one thing, I really do want a career. I take pride in my work. For another thing, Sally is only in preschool, and as she moves on new opportunities will open to her. We live in a good school district, and the schools here are known for their innovation. I also like watching the relationships Sally forms with her teachers. At least ideally, school provides Sally with positive role models and additional people who care about her. School also means Sally has teachers with training and experience in teaching, which will grow only more true as she moves on to higher grades. Finally, I like the sense community Sally’s school provides us, another thing that will grow as she moves on to kindergarten and beyond. It’s about being part of the basic social structure of the community.
Sally’s declaration that school is “boring” is not an every day thing. She’ll probably come home from school today chattering excitedly about some new thing she did or learned, as she often does. But in those moments, I pause. I consider. As I see it, each child is different, each situation is different. What works for one child may not work for another. Parents should be their children’s advocates, paying attention to their children’s needs and looking out for opportunities.
At the same time, parents shouldn’t only think about their own children’s needs to the exclusion or detriment of other children’s needs. If a given school is bad (not the case in our situation), it might be best for an individual child if her parents homeschool her, but it also means the family leaves to homeschool rather than pressing for changes that might make the school better for the other children too. While I understand this idea in theory, I do have to wonder—where does the balance fall? To what extent does it make sense to sacrifice the individual child’s best interests for the best best interests of the school, and vice versa? I don’t have an answer to that question.
It may seem odd, but the first person people ask me these days when they find out I was homeschooled is whether I plan to homeschool my own children. I think my answer—no, not at this point—surprises them. Sometimes I feel like I’m somehow caught in the middle as a homeschool graduate sending her children to school. And while I can talk about the positives and negatives of my own homeschool experience (and there were both), I don’t feel like I have all the answers. I do know one thing, though. With all of this musing out of the way, I’m holding course—at least for now.