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September 15, 2010 / MrsH

School – is it worth it?

After our Eldest suffering a Soul Fever, now our Middle One has his turn.  He started school today and boy, was it rough!

I’ve often wondered about school, and all the concessions we make to have our kids be in school.  And I return to the question: is it worth it?  There are other ways and places to learn, so why do we do this to ourselves?  If the adjustment back to school is SO tremendously difficult on the kids each year, then does that mean it’s just something to get through for them or does it mean there’s something not actually quite working about it?  When they’re both happy again in a couple of weeks, does that mean they’ve adjusted to a stressful/harmful situation so it’s become manageable, or does it mean that the situation is difficult but healthy?

Some pros of public school for us, and how we maximize them:

  • the preschool has a speech therapist on staff, and our Middle One loves working with her.  I’ve worked to build a relationship with her so that I can learn from her play-oriented style and reinforce the language he’s being exposed to at school.
  • the preschool is very play-oriented and he gets to make many choices about which activities to engage in.  We count this as structured playtime and I try to build on school play-experiences at home, when he shows an interest.  This happens mostly for art projects, which we try to recreate at home.
  • It gives me a couple of hours each day where he’s engaged and happy (but is he?), I can take a bit of  a break and/or focus on the Little One.  I’ve been working to put a weekly schedule together of how I intend to use this time.  It’s too easy for this time to get usurped by the mundane.
  • as a pre-adoptive family, it keeps us nicely in the mainstream.
  • our Eldest really loves the structure of the schoolday.  We try to continue structure and routine at home because, in her own words, “it really helps me when I know what to expect.”
  • our Eldest, now in 3rd grade, loves doing worksheets, progressing through materials, and getting grades.  We have numerous workbooks at home, she’s doing her own typing course, and we frequently look up information.  I hope to get her more engaged in cooking.
  • our Eldest gets a lot of positive feedback at school.  The unwritten thing here is that she doesn’t always get that positive feedback from me.  While I think she’s great, I often notice myself nitpicking about little stuff: chewing with her mouth closed, not sucking her finger, etc.  It chips away at her, and I constantly have to remind myself to reaffirm the things she does well.

Some cons for us, and how we try to minimize them:

  • we miss out on opportunities that I believe are extremely valuable: group hikes with other families, lots of time for play, time for picking books and reading, family time.  I haven’t figured out how to minimize this.  It seems to be a very base-line issue.
  • the kids act so out of sorts when school starts
  • I often feel like I let my kids go off and do school during their “best” hours, and then they come home exhausted and cranky.  We’ve built in some “pressure valves” (see Simplicity Parenting) to release some of their energy and salvage our day.
  • there’s a lot of time with, shall we say, less-than-ideal role models (ie: peers).  Both my kids pick up all sorts of things from them, including behaviors, language, and insecurities.  We talk together about what makes for a good friend and I try to schedule playdates and such with kids whom I also enjoy spending time with.  Our Eldest also does a few activities that keep her meaningfully engaged.  For both kids, I try to ensure time for free play both inside and outside.
  • standardized testing, which starts this year for our Eldest.  I guess the plan so far is to just not make a big deal out of it.  Though I was shocked when she announced, after her first day of school, “this year we take the MCAS.”  “oh?  What does that mean, anyway?” “It’s like a really important test.  And it’s very big.  It takes a week, and you have to do really well on it.”  Hm… not exactly the primary thing I want my 3rd grader to concern herself with.

I wonder how other families with older kids, and my educational ideas, do it.  I wonder what it would be like to homeschool.  I wonder whether we would have what it takes (I wonder that about public schooling too!).  Our family is not ready to make the leap, so for now, we’re working on ways to minimize the cons and maximize the pros.

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