To School or Not to School

I’ve been obsessing lately. It’s not unusual. I always seem to have some kind of bees in my bonnet. Lately the sujet du obsession is school.

Or should I say “school.”

Maybe this is just the way it is now, but here they call it “school,” no matter the age. “Day care” is practically blasphemy. And everybody puts their kids in “school” by the age of 2. Some real radicals wait until age 3. As my eldest approaches the age of 4, we are entering into an entirely new category of weird.

Which is fine by me, you all know. The prevalence of nursery school is enough to make me dig my heels. But even besides rebellion for rebellion’s sake, and despite all the bitching I do here, I love having my kids home. They’re little, they won’t be for long, it’s a distinct privleged to be able to watch them bloom on such an intimate level.

But my little girl has always been a gregarious creature. When we first moved here 2 years ago she was clearly suffering some clinical deprival (so was I to be honest). She would practically attack anyone her size on the street, holding their hand, stroking their face and gleefully announcing her new friend. I had to work hard to provide her with the socializing she needed. It took awhile, but I got it under control. Among other things I happened to meet a soul-mate mama at the park who had two kids of very similar ages. We started hanging out every afternoon. We were both going crazy and doing two outings a day anyway, so it worked.

But as time went on our kids grew out of their crazy rough patches, nobody was quite so desperate and our afternoon meetings dwindled. She lives a 15-20 minute drive from us, and it just seemed hard to coordinate. Lately we only hang out once every week or two.

And that was okay for awhile. But recently, my little girl’s been having a rebirth of social desperation. We have a few great friends now, even right in our own neighborhood, but they all have younger kids. She very obviously needs peers or older. In one sad scene last week she followed a random 5yo girl around like a puppy, drooling on her shoes and gazing at her with rapt attention. The older girl was less than amused by the attention. It was excruciating.

At least it beat it into my head that it’s time to take action. I realized that all the other 4yos (and most of the 3yos) were in school, and therefore casual exposure to kid places like the park and the Parenting Center wasn’t going to cut it anymore. If I wanted my girl to get peer interactions I would have to get back to work actively and specifically socializing with kids her age, or join the crowd and put her in school.

I am not opposed to school, even when it’s just day-care in disguise. I had looked into it once, back when I was going crazy. I would have considered it very seriously if there were any openings, but child care is tight around here, and mid-year was hopeless. I stuck it out because I had to and in the end, once things mellowed out a bit, I was glad I hadn’t found a spot for her. Glad she had stayed home with us.

Not that I think one mama cloistered at home with one or two kids, all day every day represents a perfect situation. It’s too much, for everyone involved. Too intense, too hard, too inbred. This work is meant to be shared. I think the ideal for most families would be that antiquated model of the feral kid pack, running around doing who knows what, entertaining each other and moderately supervised by the community at large. The parents would be generally around, and kids would drift in and out of their parent’s day. Parallel, nearby.

More modern possibilities are splitting the parenting, with both parents working part-time outside the home. Or childcare help from grandparents and families. Any kind of spreading out is good. But these ideals are hard to achieve or simply not available to most of us nowadays.

So we make do with whatever we can manage, basing our decisions on our kiddos’ and our own needs. I have perhaps higher than normal needs for time to myself. My girl has perhaps higher than normal needs for social interactions with kids her age. Some sort of group care makes a lot of sense at first glance.

But the more I think it through, the more confused I get. The options are so limited. The 3 hours a day/3 days a week option that was available when she was 2 has apparently expired. Now, at 4 years old, if she wants to go to “school” it’s pre-K, and it’s 5 hours a day, five days a week.

Just a little rant here. When I was a kid, kindergarden was 3 hours a day. For 5 year olds. Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but 5 hours a day seems like a long time to be entirely absent from my 4yo’s world, and vise-versa. I mean, I know lots of people do 8 hours a day, from 6 months old. And their kids grow up perfectly fine. But, for myself and our family, that just feels too long.

Then there is, quite critically, the issue of the 1.5 year old. He has every bit as much social need as his big sis, so I would still have to do a morning outing or playdate. Not to mention that the schools run from 8-1 and let out in the middle of his naptime. I’d have to leave sis in the “aftercare” for another hour I guess, which brings it to 6 hours away.

In my perfect world I could take the 4yo to school from 12-3. Then I would have the Babe’s naptime to myself, free and clear. But even if I could find a school with those hours (which I can’t) she kind of needs that quiet time in the middle of the day. She watches a movie or plays by herself, and it looks to be quite restorative. I don’t think replacing that down time with a manic kid environment would be helpful in the long run.

Lastly, it always comes back to money. Regardless of what would or wouldn’t work, we can’t afford it. The reputable places add up to at least $6,000/school year. That’s a lot of dough. I’d still have the little guy, so it’s not like I can go to work in the free time.

So after thinking everything through 6 or 7 times, I arrived at the expected conclusion of no, I don’t want to send her to school yet. I did enroll her in a short summer “camp” at the Waldorf school. Four hours a day, five days a week for two weeks. $200, which is on the low end around here. I think she’ll love it.

We have been doing a music class for a year now, which both kids adore. She graduates into the older kids’ session in the fall, which will be even better. I think I will sign her up for a dance class too, since there’s a ballet studio nearby. I don’t give a rat’s ass about ballet, but it’s 6 blocks away, and the prices are reasonable.

Apart from that, I’m just going to work harder to socialize. Make regular dates with my soul-mate mama friend and her eligibly aged, un-schooled son. And see if I can’t find a few more un-schooled 4 year olds in this damned city.

That’s when I had my epiphany. I remembered a friend telling me she’d heard rumors of an unschooling group in New Orleans. I had always thought school started at 5, but if everyone else’s 4yo is in school, then 4 (or even 3) is the new 5. So, if my 4yo daughter stays home with me while all her peers are in school, that means I am homeschooling her. There’s a name for it! And implicitly, possibly, other families like ours!

I searched online. It took some looking, but eventually I found them. 2 homeschool groups and an unschooling group. Oh joy! I signed up for all three and almost immediately got a sympathetic email from one of the coordinators, hooking me up with a woman who also had younger kids and lived in my part of town. I emailed her, and she emailed me and the long and short of it is that she lives–

One.

Block.

Away.

She has two boys, a 3yo and a 6yo, and she’s pregnant. I had her over this morning and we talked almost non-stop for two hours. Not a soul-mate perhaps, but darn good company. The kids took a little while to warm up, but eventually my girl had a wonderful time following the 6yo around.

What if I hadn’t joined that group? How long would we have kept passing like ships in the night, never knowing the other was there?

I’m telling you this story because you may know someone in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like this there’s only one thing you can do (bonus points to anyone who gets this random refferrence)–

Never give up!

Some freak a lot like you might live just around the corner.

26 thoughts on “To School or Not to School

  1. My guys are 2, 5, 8, and 9 and have never been to school. Some days are fab, some are HARRRD. But all in all, I just can’t convince myself that plonking them in school for all those hours and watching them build up defensive energy fields just to cope/fit in/get some headspace, whilst they are so young, can’t be good. I don’t like the way children become kinda strangers to their folks when they start going to school. And talk in grunts/ become really uncommunicative. And think boys hugging other boys is ‘gay’. And develop really immature attitudes about their own body image, the opposite sex, sex itself, and accepting diversity generally in how people look, dress, how they speak, bla bla bla.

    Unschooling is perfectly suited to children since all they need to be to learn is awake. And with socialisation, remember that every interaction and relationship your kid has is valid and full of untapped potential – they don’t have to be identical age to her to be a true friend, any more than you can only socialise or connect or learn from someone born in your birth year. Old, young, girl, boy, who cares if the friendship is sincere? So what if they’re 80 or 8 months?

    Unschooling communities are generally quite free and interesting because these folks are much less afraid to stand out and be different from the crowd, so you get to see people’s true natures more easily. The kids are a big bunch of fun, and if you get some teenagers in the mix, they will pet and fuss over your daughter no end, giving you a break, and her, someone to look up to and emulate and adore.

    Check out Sandra Dodd. She is an awesome unschooling mama, she has vids on youtube and has a really nice blog called ‘add light and stir’.

    :-)

  2. I had started reading your post and got interrupted. During said interruption, I was thinking: Jane needs an unschooling group! That’s what Keku and I do for our social stuff. I’m so glad you found someone for your kids to play with and you to talk to. Our group has on occasion also had a mom’s retreat nite in which the mom;s meet somewhere and gab. I was also remarking to my husband that next summer Keku will be old enough to go to summer camps and I am going to apply for all the scholarships. The summer camps will be my freedom, like regular school is for other moms. I am right there with you on this subject girl.

    1. julie, we gotta get together. texas is big, i know, but we share a border. how hard can it be?

      1. I am about to get a minivan (hoping to drive to Dallas to get the perfect one there). Maybe we could swing over Lusiane and have a meetup? I was just lamenting to my husband that you’ll be going back to alaska next year. I’ll send you my phone number via the scarlet fevir email.

  3. We’re montessori round here, but I feel your pain! I’m not mainstream, and I’m not a 3%er either, so I just don’t ‘fit’. I’m always insulting some one unintentionally when the school/daycare/etc debates come up. It took awhile, but I had to come to the conclusion that this schooling thing isn’t about me. It’s about the kiddo’s, and who’s gunna be the best qualified to take their little personalities and let them learn and grow during those socialising hours of 9am til 3pm. I like my son’s school, because they know that kids aren’t “playing for Sheep Stations” yet (an aussie saying that basically boils down to it not being all that serious about madly high outcomes). He’s blossomed there, much more than my lazy arse woulda done, and he’s learning all the right little things all alongside learning how to interact when his mama ain’t around. And that’s important to me, I dunno why.

    So my point (and I do have one!) is that unschool, homeschool or mainstream school, she’ll fit in in her own special way. Parents that are involved are a kids greatest reward, and finding the method of ‘education’, whichever it may be, is a matter of finding a fit for you all.

    Good luck, and welcome to the edumacation of the kiddo. It’ll spin you out the first time she says something you didn’t know – for us it was Ethan saying “Mum, it’s the first day of Autumn today” – and my face was like “WTF are you on about? WHO TOLD YOU THAT? Oh yeah, right, you have a teacher now!!!”

  4. Why does it cost to send the children to school? You mentioned $6000 or something? You have to pay for public schools? And why would school start at 2 or 3 . They do that here for head start for the children identified of as being at risk. But that is free too. I don’t know anything about pre-schools here, but they seem to be in combo with the day care centers. You can even do kindergarten at them, then start 1st grade in the regular school.

    My children are too old now, 26,23 and 21. I always worked full time as we have our own business. They came to work with me as long as was feasible and when beyond I used a combination of a church daycare a couple blocks away and then my mother, a retired teacher who moved to town when the youngest was 18 months. Because they were born in the fall and early winter, all of them they were 6 or just turning 6 in kindergarten.

    They loved school. The middle just graduated college , and one more to go. Oldest working, can’t decide on grad school. Middle is in one internship, then a 2nd in fall, then decision about grad school. Youngest lives at home still…that is real nice, and commutes to University. Oldest is living back at home for this job. I really enjoy still having a full house. Middle is here most days to eat.

    Pretty much my philosophy is since we…us… you… are people that obviously care, things will turn out. Yours and our children are at such an advantage just due to having parents that are involved and thinking about the future and striving for something better. I am a huge fan of public schools. My parents were public school teachers and my children go to the state university system. My children did not become uncommunicative zombies as someone above seems to think will happen. Neither were their friends. Don’t mix up TV stereotypes with real life.

    1. i’m not talking about real school, i’m talking about nursery school. not public, and yes, you have to pay. public school starts at 5, though i hear there are some public pre-Ks for 4yos. but the school situation here is seriously f-ed up. as in, third world. there are so few decent public schools, that most people who can do in fact pay for their kids to go to private school, all the way through. this state is majorly corrupt, and schools (as always) get bottom of the (very crappy) barrel. it’s a wreck.
      fortunately, we’ll be moving back to alaska just in time for real school. where it’s free, and maybe not perfect, but hey, she’ll learn to read and there won’t be guns at school.
      thank you for giving me hope about the teenage years.

      1. Sounds like you may be best waiting til you get back to a better place (Alaska) for the schooling and just keep doing the social networking for the children now. I can’t imagine living somewhere with a bad public school system. Good luck.

  5. Paula,

    I totally agree with you about public school. I hated going to school. I was an outcast and made fun of for things I had little control over (hyperactive etc.). Myopic small town, that I left at 18 and never looked back. Public school in and of itself is a conformity trainer. A training ground for consumerism and “american” values. Not to mention bullying, cliques, drugs, the dumbing down of curriculum. It robs the young of the opportunity to go out and do something real, instead of twiddling their thumbs learning shit that frankly, they’ll most likely never use.

    1. it seems like everyone’s opinion about school is pretty much based on their own experience. those who hated school think it’s evil, and those who enjoyed school are like, what is your problem, it’s perfectly fine. myself, i had some of each. i started out adoring school, i loved the cleanliness, order, predictibility compared to the chaos of my home. i loved it right up through 6th grade, and then it slowly started to crumble. by high school i had cultivated the classic fuck it attitude.
      i have to note that i went to alternative public schools, the whole way through. which i think are really ideal. weird enough to be better in so many ways, but not so insularly weird as i imagine private alternative schools might get.

      1. Totally hear you. We waited until our son was 4 to start pre-K at a local community center. He was ready, and I was finally ready with an almost 2y/o in tow. He’ll start full day kindergarten at an alternative school in the fall (I feel so lucky we live near one and escaped the wait list by some miracle). His little sister is gregarious by nature and wants to start school too, so she’ll start before she turns 3.5, but only 2x a week for 3hrs. I will miss ’em but look forward to watching them grow.
        Super cool that you found some groups that will get you and the kiddos the community you need. I agree wholeheartedly that we’re culturally stuck in some unfunctional isolated vortex. Thankgoodness for the internet!

      2. Totally hear you. We waited until our son was 4 to start pre-K at a local community center. He was ready, and I was finally ready with an almost 2y/o in tow. He’ll start full day kindergarten at an alternative school in the fall (I feel so lucky we live near one and escaped the wait list by some miracle). His little sister is gregarious by nature and wants to start school too, so she’ll start before she turns 3.5, but only 2x a week for 3hrs. I will miss ’em but look forward to watching them grow.
        Super cool that you found some groups that will get you and the kiddos the community you need. I agree wholeheartedly that we’re culturally stuck in some unfunctional isolated vortex. Thankgoodness for the internet!

  6. Once again we’re pondering the same issues, I’m half way through a very long rambling post on the pros and cons.. will post a link when I’m finished… My son has been in school a year, real school, but still I’m not sure, most definitely some fence sitting going on with me!

  7. Maybe it’s exhaustion, but midway through your post, I forgot what blog I was on and started thinking I was reading the blog Offbeat Mama. Which you should check out, if you haven’t, and consider submitting an entry or two to (even this one). It may not be your cup of tea — I just started reading your blog, so I don’t know — but it’s a neat blog aimed at discussions of how mothers live out their unconventional ideas and values as they parent, and how they integrate their pre-kid identities with their post-kid existences. (I’m not affiliated with the blog; I just love reading it.)

  8. By the way, I didn’t have a bad experience of school…I enjoyed it at the time, and my own parents had absolutely no inclination to homeschool me, which is good!!!

    My own journey to unschooling started when I studied a Montessori Early Childhood Studies programme in my 20’s. Part of the course involved studying various educationalists, and it blew my mind reading and discovering all these theories and methods that were really radical and new to me. I encountered the ideas of Steiner, A.S Neill, John Holt, and was just a sponge from then on to keep asking the question “What is education for? What is good education? What does it really mean to be educated? And then I read John Taylor Gatto, and what he said really got me. And when someone from within the system is pulling it apart so beautifully, you really sit up and listen! So anyway, I have been reading more and more mind-expanding edu-literature over the years, and after meeting some real life homeschoolers I just decided these were the kind of folk I wanted my kids to grow up around. It’s not all about me doing it alone….I am only part of the big picture of my kids learning.

    The world itself is just about the biggest real life classroom there is, I’m only one person in it, and I act as their guide rather than their sole source of knowledge. We co-learn loads of stuff together, I don’t simply spoonfeed from on high. Kids are damn smart and can teach themselves a hell of a lot if we set things up around them properly. Einstein said “I never try to teach my students anything, I only try to create an environment in which they can learn”. So my job is to nourish the soil and let the rain, wind and sunshine do its stuff. But yeah, if it was just me and them we’d kill each other by now.

    It’s flawed and imperfect and some days are crap, and I’m sure there will be gaps in my kids skills base and knowledge just the same as there will be in schooled kids, its just a case of choosing one imperfect system over another!!!
    :-)

    1. yea! i’m not the only freak like me in the room!
      congratulations, you win my undying affection.

  9. My little ones were all at daycare 2 days a week from a very young age (which I see makes me a total loser on your site!!) It was just the way it was and I didn’t really give it much thought. I think we think too much about most things these days. In the end so much of it doesn’t matter!!

    I liked the balance, to be honest, and they seem to have done okay out of it all. The daycare / preschool the children were / are at is fabulously fabulous. The bigger two are at primary school now and my youngest is still a daycare / preschool kid two days a week. It suits us fine. I think we’re in different countries, though, so ‘school’ may be a whole different concept for all I know. x

    1. no losers here! just a bunch of mamas trying to figure shit out. and you are absolutely right, we, and especially I, overthink parenting. not to mention everything else.
      I think that like school, people’s opinions about day care are completely formed by the particular day care they have been to, and the particular reaction of their own kids there. which is entirely, hugely variable.

    2. You are not a loser in my eyes! I come from a long line of working women…teachers, family business owners. We are no less than anyone else. Studies have show that the children are best adjusted when the mother is happy in her situation, either with working or either with being at home. If she is conflicted and unhappy, that crosses over to the children. Mine are now 26, 23 and 21.

  10. My 4 year old goes to preschool. She loves it to death. A tremendous amount of overthinking took place and because I live in a small town the options were limited to three. the one I chose is beautiful , the staff are fantastic, it is all mananaged by a committee of parents ( somehow I am the president of the management committe) our centre is small and massively under resourced , no fancy equipment but loads of beautiful wooden toys and lots of dress ups . no plastic at all, they make bread every day and sing lots of songs, they learn about nature and growing food. The parents love all this about it. It is massively underfunded but we have working bees to keep it looking nice. its funny some poeple come and look at it and they don’t get it. tehy don’t get that it is better for the children to use their imaginations and to play games together than it is to be told what they are doing every 5 minutes. they draw adn paint and do loads of craft. I couldn’t be happier.
    I liek that she has learnt to deal with conflict and behaviour she doens’t like. she has learned to make friends an form relationships with the teachers that are very seperate to me.

  11. My three boys all started Montessori at age 3, staying in that same classroom for three years through Kingergarten. Tonight was in fact graduation for my youngest.

    In our case, we lucked out in having a true Montessori pre-school SCHOOL in our neighborhood. It certainly wasn’t day care, but rather an amazing, well designed, exceedingly well executed program which taught my boys not only the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., but even more importantly, how to peacefully get along with others, how to settle disputes in a cooperative manner, and through their and other’s actions, how to make the a more peaceful, compassionate world.

    I’ve not seen any other better option, and urge anyone with a 3 year old to seek out something similar in their neighborhood.

    http://www.montessoricountryschool.org/

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