Finding Our Scholastic Balance
It’s fall, and for kids Owlet’s age, that means starting school. Or, more precisely, it means endless questions from both strangers and the near’n dear about whether/where you are attending kindergarten.
We have only been able to offer lengthy, rambling answers to this question… Because we really didn’t know yet. This makes us sound terribly unprepared, but the truth is, I’ve been actively investigating local education options in our town since I was pregnant with Owlet, and in a more general capacity have been considering the question on and off since I switched from a Montessori school to a public school in third grade.
I know what I want: I want Montessori. I want Reggio Emilia. I want unschooling. I want Teacher Tom. I want challenging, engaging curriculum that meets my kid wherever they are, be it ahead of or behind their grade level. Above all, I want part-time school, because with Thor’s and my flexible daytime schedule and the majority of our working hours being afternoons (me) and evenings (him), that would really make the most sense for us.
The difficulty is when you get to the front of the line and attempt to order such an education, well, the gal behind the counter looks at you funny and says “we don’t do special orders, ma’am.” And let’s not even talk about the black hole of despair that is the charter school waiting list experience… Even when you are not positively certain you would want to send your child there anyway.
I’ve become resigned to the fact that doing the right thing as a parent is way trickier than doing the right thing as an individual. As a parent, I don’t generally feel 100% doubt free… So I’m learning to look for what I’ve come to think of as “balanced doubts” — minor doubts that sort of cancel one another out, because one tries to pull you a little north while the other tugs south. With school, I simultaneously worry about not enough free play and not enough academic stimulation. The right situation would leave me not hugely concerned about either one.
Here were our various experiences up till last week:
- accepted at new charter Montessori school about to open this fall whose lowest grade level would be first grade but who would let kindergarteners apply a year early to enable parents to better compare them with other schools… super promising, except they didn’t manage to start this year after all due to issues with last-minute town requirements, and may or may not manage to ever open. Le sigh.
- marooned on waiting lists at two local charters that had enough Montessori in their blood to be worth considering.
- marooned on waiting lists at expensive private Montessori schools that looked awesome aside from the tuition thing.
- had our application mysteriously never arrive at or get lost by a semi-homeschool charter with an optional classroom day (for kids K-6 in a modern taken on the one-room schoolhouse) — major bummer when we decided this was what we wanted to do and were told they had no record of us and had just filled up a couple weeks ago but we would be first on their waiting list. (The form Owlet filled out back in January as part of our ill-fated application is below, for your amusement.)
Needless to say, we were rather discouraged. Not that we were even sure of what would be best for Owlet, but finding ourselves without any options to choose from other than full homeschooling or regular public school (neither of which felt right)… It was a tad unsettling. And full of doubt, none of it properly balanced.
But then I thought of this one preschool, a place three different people whose judgement I trust had recommended in the past. I called. I fell a little in love with the head teacher right there over the phone. We visited. There is a small, pleasant indoor space with books and toys but more importantly there are a zillion outdoor places for a child to get lost in play: huge outdoor kitchen, sand pits, art, dolls, cars of all sizes, a zip line, swings, tree houses, hay bales, a tightrope, an adorable little playhouse, fields and bushes and trees. The kids roam freely and the head teacher’s philosophy is (1) play is most important for this age range (2-5yrs), (2) kids get dirty when they play, so please dress them with that assumption, (3) kids should be allowed to eat whenever hungry, and (4) if she wishes to have a group activity or circle time it is her job to make it interesting enough to attract them — and the kids are always welcome to decline to join the group. There are cats and a dog and chickens. Plus dozens of fruit trees. It was kind of like our home on steroids. I had to drag Owlet away with promises to return.
So we were feeling pretty positive, and the tuition was reasonable enough that we felt able to send both kids twice a week (saving us from a myriad of terrible mornings with a disgruntled left-behind Platypup). We were a teeny tiny bit hesitant to have no formal Kindergarten experience for our precocious Owlet, but knew she would be ok without it. She reads at an upper elementary school level and in true unschooling fashion learns a heckuva lot just by talking to the people around her. In other words, we had an unbalanced doubt, but only a mini one. Totally manageable.
And then, just today, the semi-homeschool charter dropped us a line and said we were off the waiting list and into school right away if we’d like. And that wee little nagging shouldn’t-she-be-in-Kindergarten piece of us parents roared with joy. We visited. We liked the teacher. We came home with a boxload of materials. In the first couple hours, Owlet read all the books they sent home and finished the first week and a half’s worth of math, decided on her own when she was done, and then after dinner chose to do a couple pages of the letter-writing workbook.
Yes please, waiter, we’ll have both, and thank you so much for finding the second page of the menu. We will take one day of academics where Owlet will be the youngest (and, of course, bring the leftovers home to enjoy throughout the week, at times that suit our wacky schedules) AND we’ll take two days of free, rambunctious, outdoor play where Owlet will be the oldest.
Boom. Doubts balanced.