Homeschool vs. public school, the great debate

I’ve been a stay at home mom for the past four years, before that I was a full-time working mom and before that, I wasn’t a mom at all. For the better part of five years I have been an educator, nurturer, mother and friend. As a parent, you get to determine what activities you’ll expose your child to; what influences you want to have on your child’s life: will you be regulars at the local library? will you spend lots of time outdoors? will you sign her up for music classes? art? gymnastics? will he have structure and early exposure to a school setting by participating in a toddler program? will she gain social skills by regularly attending a playgroup? When she’s old enough, will you enroll her in preschool? In essence, until a child goes away to kindergarten, every mom homeschools.

I’ve mentioned before that while my calling may not be motherhood, my two kids are. This is my only shot, they’re my legacy and how I prepare them for the world is the best I can give. I am the product of an entirely private school education (lest one trial year of public school in 5th grade, resulting in a more extreme swing back by heading away for school from 6th grade on). After seven years of boarding school and four years of college, I also attained a two-year Master’s Degree. My parents both hold multiple degrees and my mother and step-father are both educators. So naturally, the matter of how my children are educated is a major topic for me.

My husband, on the other hand, started out in private school but finished in public school followed by four years at a state university. He’s bright, well-rounded and certainly (by his claims) more humble for the experience. He argues that, if you live in a good school district, there’s no reason you shouldn’t send your children to public school.

So why would I ever consider homeschooling? Because I’m also fiercely independent and the idea of sending my offspring to any institution that threatens of conformity scares the pants off me!

Two days a week, my four-year-old attends an amazing, nature-based preschool called Forest Gnomes at the organic farm in my town. It’s an outdoor program for kids ages 3-6. There are only 20 kids in the program (10 each day) and one-quarter to a third of them will either be or are already being homeschooled. If I could keep my daughter in this program for one more year without jeopardizing her (or my) future/sanity, I would, but it would mean forking out another year of private tuition, only four half-days of school and missing the milestone of going off to kindergarten.

So far, the research I’ve done on homeschooling indicates that it requires discipline, structure and lots of preparation. You become a one-woman school. You set the curriculum (though there are many resources and methods available to guide you), you come up with the lesson plans, you schedule, orchestrate and chaperon all field trips, you identify, supplement with and register for extracurricular activities like sports, music, art and languages, you provide outlets for your “students” to socialize with other kids their age and finally, the biggest red-flag in my opinion, you get very little down time.

I am a creature that thrives on down time. It’s how I stay plugged in to the adult I once was, before I became a mom. I’m one of those over-active moms who can’t stay put when I’m with my kids. We’re nearly always out doing something or visiting someone, returning home only for meals and sleep. It’s just the way I’m wired so the prospect of staying home, of homeschooling, makes me shiver. YET, I am not quite ready to give up the joy of molding my children’s every day.

Twice a week, my daughter gets out of school before 1 o’clock. While my two-year-old naps, my four-year-old and I do a variety of things together, sometimes we do puzzles, sometimes we read books, often we do craft projects and once in a while–when I have a writing deadline or we’ve had too many snow days or sick days or days butting heads–we do something apart (she gets to watch a movie while I close myself in a padded room).

But on Fridays, both kids are home with me and this is the day I most look forward to all week. We linger in our pajamas, we have a hearty breakfast and then we do something together, just the three of us. We go to museums or parks or playgrounds or to story hours or run errands (that always end up with some sort of special treat). But whatever we do, it’s almost always fun. And perhaps it’s fun because it’s novel and not the norm.

Whatever the reason, I sit here staring at the kindergarten registration forms that arrived in the mail today and I just can’t bring myself to fill them out.

What do you think? Do you homeschool? Have you ever thought about it? How do you spend quality time with your kids? What’s your experience with public school? Please let me know because, on the good days, I think I’m still on the fence.

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. slightlywonky
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 08:38:29

    Maybe start to spend some time planning how you would homeschool? Set up your curriculum and schedule. How does it seem? You may be a perfect candidate for home schooling, as you’re a high-energy/activity person. I think that most people’s fear is that home schooling could be isolating. It doesn’t sound as if this will be a problem for you! If it feels right, go for it!


    • growingmuses
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 22:17:35

      I think MY fear is it would be isolating for me. What about all of those mom coffees I was planning while the kids are in school or all of those exercise classes? Thanks for your vote of confidence but I think the decision is clear…


  2. notquitecooper
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 09:46:05

    Well E was sent to private school because M&B visited the public elementary school and whatever activity they had that day spooked them (something to do with painting things black?!). You’d have to ask them the specifics. When they visited the school again for me, the wacky teacher was gone and they were ok with the activities so I started off in the public school (have been public all the way thru! – except Pre-school). Quite honestly, the only things I remember from Kindergarten are sitting around singing songs, having nap time, and doing fun arts and crafts. Do they give parents the opportunity to visit the school? Maybe you can check it out sometime when DH is finally home? Or do you have neighbors or friends who are in your school district who have any feelings about the schools?

    I think another nice thing about going to the public school (which didn’t apply when I was in Kindergarten but did when I was older) was the fact that it was nice to have friends who lived in my neighborhood. We could bike or walk to each other’s houses pretty easily (once we were finally old enough to be allowed).

    Fiance started of in public school and switched over to private in 7th grade, partly due to the crowd he was associating with in school and he seems to have done ok.

    As opposed to only thinking about the lesson plans you might make for the kids if you home school them, have you thought about what you might want to do if the kids do go to school?


    • growingmuses
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 22:15:44

      Are you telling me to go get a job ;o) Hmm, maybe that’s why I’m so on the fence, I have to figure ot if I want to be a teacher or something else. Thanks for that!


  3. eg
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 09:48:01

    Public skol weren’t to bad.

    Prior to having kids, I thought most home-schoolers were religious conservatives afraid of contamination, but now I understand that people home-school for a variety of reasons, and I respect those who are able to pull it off (knowing full well that I could not). Good luck as you wrestle with all of this. And, of course, there will be options if the kids get older and you discover that what you decided needs to evolve into something else. Have you visited the public school yet?


    • growingmuses
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 22:14:27

      Yeah, I sort of thought the same thing and certainly didn’t think homeschooling was something prevalent in good school districts but it’s all around us out here. If I didn’t know (and really like) several of the moms/families at Fores Gnomes who are going the homeschool route, I’d probably not be giving it a second thought. I’m pretty sure I know what we’ll decide to do but there is a tiny, nagging voice at the back of my head about it.


  4. Charlotte
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 10:02:51

    CIEE host families … need I say more?!?!


  5. Susanne
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 13:27:40

    Last night, I saw the movie “Race to Nowhere.” If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It was thought-provoking, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I went home to my husband with two reactions to the film. 1. There is no way that my kid is ever going to public school. 2. Homeschooling might be a good option.

    That said, I work in a private school, and my 3 year old is currently attending said school. I love her experience here where she gets to be a kid. (On a side note, I also love that it is all-girls in middle school since I loved the all-girls experience during my 4 years at WO.)

    Public school today isn’t anything like when we were growing up. MCAS and other standardized tests rule the school experience of children. I want my child to be creative in school and learn to be a problem solver and critical thinker. I don’t want a kid who is just taught to take a test.

    Homeschooling is one of those things that really interests me. I get to meet a lot of parents who are looking for an alternative to public school. What I find fascinating now is that these same parents are exploring private school as well as homeschooling as an option. There are so many more resources for homeschooling now than there were even 3 years ago. We even have a family applying to our school that’s part of a homeschooling cooperative where the parents can get a break and aren’t the only ones that the children interact with.

    I can completely understand why you feel the way you do. While it won’t be an easy, you’ll make the right decision for you and your family.


    • growingmuses
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 22:09:51

      Thanks Susanne, not only have I not seen that movie, I haven’t even heard of it but I’ll definitely check it out. Westover was an incredible experience and I certainly hope one my daughter will get to (and want to) have some day; for now, I’ll just have to rely on making a decision soon and hope it’s the right choice for her (and for me).


  6. evafannon
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 15:06:53

    You may want to check out this website Quite inspiring if you are thinking about homeschooling 🙂


    • growingmuses
      Jan 26, 2011 @ 22:06:55

      Eva, thanks, I have checked out Courtney’s blog, in fact, it makes only more obvious my suspected shortcomings. I can barely get breakfast on the table in the morning so forget the likelihood of a new craft project each day…


  7. Caitlin
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 12:10:03

    So I am wondering if the problem isn’t a fear of bad schooling, but a loss of control. You won’t be the only one molding your kids anymore.
    This is definitely scary, but could also be wonderful. Isn’t exposure to a variety of viewpoints and people and experiences a fabulous way to learn?

    As you know I am a private school girl, but am involved in the life of a NYC public school kindergartener. Her parents live in the Bronx and basically Harlem (UWS on a good day) and she goes to a New York City public school. How scary does that sound?

    But it is wonderful (minus the bed bug found in the classroom and the constant treat of a colds.) She has art and music and gym and phonics and math, all in two languages! I am also impressed with the amount of knowledge and preparatation that goes into the lesson plans. Big concepts of math and reading and science are not that easy to teach. As much as we might disparage the school system, there are professionals working there.

    I once told Jorge that if we needed to take Zoe out of school for a week, Kindergarten would be the time to do it. Now, seeing how much she is absorbing every day, I wonder if that’s true. Maybe waiting until 5th grade, when there is a lot more hair twirling and note passing would be the time to do it.


    • growingmuses
      Jan 28, 2011 @ 23:36:57

      Well thanks for calling a spade a spade! I hadn’t thought of it this way but yes, I do think I’m afraid to relinquish control. I can already see the writing on the wall with my daughter, she’s somewhat of a control freak herself, I’m not quite ready to have one less hand on the gear shift.

      Thanks for the positive spin on public schools, I know ours (just down the hill) has a great reputation too and I certainly want to be a more participatory, involved citizen of my town so it will be good all around but boy, I’ll miss our special time together this year.

      That’s a fascinating spin you put on the whole kindergarten v. grade level schooling being less significant and a better time to pull kids out arbitrarily for a vacation. I guess that’s something else I’ll have to grapple with from next year on…


  8. Rachel
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:09:50

    As you know from our conversations, I have had very similar struggles in trying to decide about schooling and kindergarten next year. I seem to change my mind every couple of weeks, from private school (3 full days MWF – love that) to public school (which is just around the corner from us) to homeschooling (just don’t think I could do it well and stay sane with my daughter’s personality and social needs).

    I do have to say, I can relate to your looking forward to the one day a week when you have no programs or classes for the kids. I love that one day too. But if it were every day, it probably wouldn’t be so special, like you said. Olivia, my daughter, missed a week of her twice-a-week preschool recently due to illness, and I tried to come up with little activities and lessons, and it actually showed me that maybe I could do homeschooling after all. I felt so empowered and encouraged by how much my daughter enjoyed these “lessons.” But all that being said, I think I am leaning toward the public school option. It is a great school district (well, school town really), it’s around the corner from our house, and she has five or so little friends in the neighborhood who will be going there. I’m starting to be of the opinion that in some ways public school might take the most energy because I think it’s important to know what they’re learning, what they’re not learning, how behavioral issues are handled, how views taught may conflict with our moral and spiritual beliefs. But all this is just a “teaching opportunity” if we take advantage of it. My fear is that I’ll just get on auto-pilot or get lazy and one day I’ll realize my kids haven’t absorbed the things that are important to me but are instead reflecting the views of strangers. I am starting to think, though, that it doesn’t matter so much where they go to school (if it’s a good one), but how we as parents stay committed to knowing what’s in our kids hearts and heads and talking it out.

    If I’ve learned anything from the past four and a half years of parenting, it’s that whatever choice we make, it won’t be easy. But it can be successful, as long as we can maintain a relationship with and an influence over our kids.


    • growingmuses
      Jan 28, 2011 @ 23:41:17

      Thanks for your thoughtful response and reflection Rachel. If I had the option to send our daughter to public school just three or evn four days a week, I think I wouldn’t be having this inner turmoil but 5 days until 2:15 each day is a lot. I agree that going to school with fellow neighborhood kids is a huge perk and I look forward to discovering some of the kids I don’t know about yet and watching my daughter’s friendships blossom. Private school can be a crap shoot when it comes to friends. Having gone to boarding school for most of my life, I never had friends to hang out with on vacation. It was really hard.


  9. Sarah
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 07:51:19

    I’m a product of public school, as much as anyone who goes to school can be a product of that school. I am more a product of my parents involvement and commitment to my education and school experience.
    Look, I have control issues, too. But I think that education works best when the parents are involved to enhance, supplement, guide, and follow-through…regardless of public, private, or home schooled. And I think that parents who say that it’s not “their” job to do those things and that the school should be responsible for it are shirking their responsibilities as a parent. Since I don’t see that being an issue in your home, I think you will find that, on the whole, you will have found the balance that suits you all.


    • growingmuses
      Jan 29, 2011 @ 14:23:45

      Sarah, thank you for your insightful knowledge about parents’ roles in their children’s education. You are so right. In this era of helicopter parenting, how about a little more letting teachers and schools play their role and supplementing/enhancing on the home-front?! I am intrigued by my recent introduction to Race to Nowhere via this blog posting, have you seen it? Would love to hear how you feel about it. In the interim, I think I’ll just saunter somewhere and let the Rat Race keep up it’s scurry instead.


  10. kloppenmum
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 22:11:57

    Could you try for a year, and see how you go? My understanding is that is doesn’t have to be forever.
    Could you schedule in a morning a week where the children are at a lesson taken by someone else: swimming, language, arts… that way you know you have some time to yourself coming up if it’s getting a bit ‘big.’
    Think it’s great that you’re even considering it. Karyn


    • growingmuses
      Feb 03, 2011 @ 23:20:34

      Thanks Kloppenmum, I guess I could try but ever since writing this post and airing out my feelings COUPLED with some of the thoughtful and insightful comments I’ve received from readers (like you) the decision has become more clear to me that I’m just having anxiety about turning my children out into the world, less in my control and more under the influences of others. I think it’s a right of passage that makes sense for us.

      We’ve had a number of snow days up here in New England so far this winter and it has proven even further my inability to effectively instruct and homeschool my kids. I was so happy when schools opened again today that I nearly reblogged this post: Public School vs. Boarding School, the great debate…Thanks for your suggestions and for reading!


  11. kloppenmum
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 23:47:13

    Great that you’ve come to a decision. That, at least, gives your life some direction. 🙂


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