Monday, March 30, 2009

Waldorfessori v. Public

I don't want to say that things were easy for my parents when my sisters and I were small, because they weren't!

But some of the decisions about which activities we'd participate in and when, how we'd be educated, etc., those were perhaps a little simpler.

For example, I took gymnastics classes at the YMCA as a kid. But there was only so far I could go with that, both because I wasn't very good and also because there were no equipped training facilities around. I took dance classes for years, once a studio opened up in town that wasn't intimately tied to the child beauty pageant scene. My mother had one gymnastics program, one dance school to choose from! I played a musical instrument - starting in 5th grade when they were introduced in schools. I played lots of organized sports - but just t-ball and softball over the summers until junior high, when school sports were introduced and I choose volleyball, basketball, and dance squad/drill team. (I stuck with the music and the volleyball, later adding in golf. The rest eventually fell by the wayside.)

But now, there are so many choices! And if you don't have your preschooler in the right programs today, she might not be able to compete with her classmates and teammates later! How do you even know what the options are, let alone what your child would actually enjoy doing later, at such an early age? And why does it all have to be so difficult?!

I am a product of public education, K-12. Rah rah rah! And I went on to a highly ranked private university! On academic scholarship! Which I kept for 4 years, whereupon I graduated and got a job! Success!

But. Might I have done better if I'd been otherwise prepared? I did very well in high school, and had parents who were both both highly educated and highly involved with my life and education. Yet I was not prepared for college. I saw how easily some of the kids from private high schools took to life away at university, and I was jealous.

In my town, my parents had a choice: public school or Catholic? We're not Catholic. (Plus, the small Catholic school couldn't offer nearly as many resources as the larger public school.)

But my children and I currently live in a much larger community with a dizzying array of educational choices. Public, private, parochial. Montessori, Waldorf, special focus/magnet.

Is public education still the best? Shouldn't the children attend the same school? Is the same solution right for both of them?

Might not Ellie really benefit from a close-knit, bonded classroom like that found in a Waldorf program, where the focus is on age-appropriate development, development of imaginative play, and learning as a group/unit?

But might not Ada feel frustrated in that environment and want something different and self-paced, where she can indulge her fascination with rockets/shuttle launches/flight? And dinosaurs. And butterflies.

At our local public elementary school, kindergartners do yoga, therapy services are integrated into the classroom when possible, and third graders are taught violin. So maybe that is best for both children, after all.

And it is free, a not-trivial-consideration.

But as a parent, how do you deal with the pressure to make the right choices for your children when they're too young to decide on their own? How do you deal with the guilt of wondering if you've chosen rightly or wrongly, if you're doing enough, if they're involved in too many activities, or the wrong ones, or not enough of them, if later your children will wish that you'd done something differently and you'll look back and think, of course, it's obvious, I should have done that right from the beginning?

One thing I know for sure; I will not be homeschooling. I would not be good at it. I would hate it. (And therefore so would the children.) But most of all, I wouldn't be able to handle the constant and crippling guilt that I was making the wrong decisions and doing everything wrong!


Orange said...

In general, I think public schools are the best place for any kid who qualifies for services. And if you have Ada in the same school as Ellie, you'll know the teachers and staff by the time she starts—so you'd have a chance to ask the principal to assign Ada to the teacher you think is the best fit for her.

A friend of mine with two kids here in Chicago has them both in public school, but the younger one is at a "classical school" (academically more rigorous, have to pass a test to be admitted). She's hoping to get both boys into the same school starting this fall—the different schedules and locations are a big hassle each morning and afternoon. And she finds the classical school is no fun—her kid doesn't have good friends there, nearly two years in, and there's no community of moms. People don't return her "hi" greetings. Her older son is my son's classmate—I hope her little boy gets into our magnet school (sibling lottery) because we like having them around.

When I went to college, sure, the rich kids who went to private schools had more self-assurance. But at what cost? There's something to be said for the democratic nature of public education, for being on a par with everyone rather than thinking you're a notch or two better than the riffraff. I wouldn't want to work for a boss who came out of private education.

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you, Orange! Especially for that last paragraph. Paul and I are both products and supporters of public education, as are our siblings and parents. (3 of my girls' 4 grandparents work in the public schools.)

We believe in the value of public education, for all the reasons you list and more, and I know that's what we'll end up doing with our kids.

I truly believe it's the right choice.

(And, although some of the schools I attended as a kid were very much sub-par, I still did OK in life, even if I wasn't as prepared in college as some of my classmates. After all, having a home in which education is encouraged and nourished goes a long way toward helping children learn. And my children's public schools will be much better than some of mine were, as they will have textbooks for each student and lab equipment for science classes.)

But I still can't help feeling some guilt. These are my beliefs and opinions. I hope my kids don't later resent me for them!

Krupskaya said...

My family is a strong supporter of the public school system for the reasons Orange said. I'd like to add that I think there are a lot of right answers for educating your children, none of which is necessarily the best or worst and all of which have pros and cons.

As far as too many activities -- once you start getting your kids involved, you'll be able to tell if they're overwhelmed. Very generally, my kids are in one sport and one activity per semester. John's activity is Cub Scouts. Maia's is dance class. That may change as they get older; we talk about how what they do choose might eliminate something else they like to do, but so far it's worked well.

But there are so many other considerations -- because I work at home, we can be a lot more flexible about what the kids are involved in. It's very different from when Mr. K and I were both working outside the home.

Basically, it all falls under what I call the First Rule of Mothering (although it definitely applies to parenting in general), which I honed from days on the Ms. boards: No matter what, someone will think you're wrong. Once you've said that out loud, you can discard it, and do what you think is right.

Amy said...

I vote public. I'm not a big Montessori fan. Waldorf isn't available here, that I know of, so I don't know about that. We chose our preschool based on location, with the idea that one faith-based clay smashing and paint eating program was probably similar enough to the next to be a non-issue.

My plan (which is easy to have now, as they are 3.5 and 2 and I have complete control) is to allow my kids to have one physical and one mental extracurricular activity per semester.

So, gymnastics and violin - fine. Gymnastics and softball and violin and voice lessons and choir and basketball and and and...

Not fine.

If you have two or three kids, it starts getting out of control fast. "But my sister is in 5 activities, why can't I...?" Not until you can drive, babies. Because Mama isn't a chauffeur.

I don't want to spend our entire lives running kids here there and everywhere. It's hard enough now, when we only have one activity per day.

Krupskaya said...

Looking back, my laissez-faire attitude might come from my tendency to not think a lot about "what-ifs" (something that makes me very different from Mr. K, who likes to think about and talk out different possibilities and outcomes, even about something he can't change). There are a few things that my mom has told me she wishes she had done about my education (certain teachers, certain programs). But I don't feel like I've lost or missed out on anything because of her choices for me -- that's a pretty privileged thing to say; it illustrates the fact that we were privileged enough that any choice my parents made was a right choice. Does that make sense?

datri said...

Well, my child with PDD-NOS (high functioning autism) was kicked out of private Montessori school because the school "couldn't provide the services to meet her needs." Yeah, OK, whatever. Fortunately, her 1st grade teacher while transitioning to the public school system was AWESOME! So it was a good choice for her.

My very "low-functioning" (hate that term) daughter with Down syndrome and autism will NOT be going to the local public school. Bottom line is THEY can't meet her needs. There's a "high-functioning" girl with Down syndrome who goes to Kindy there (the first ever) and the school doesn't know what to do with HER so they are certainly not going to know what to do with my kid. So, next month we will be looking at special ed schools, the county special ed school and a private special ed school.

These decisions are so hard!

Amanda said...

You can't always know what's best for your child, but you should be able to tell what's wrong. I try to involve the children in decisions over activities but I don't want them to be over involved. A kid is only a kid once. They need some time to sit on the grass and stare at clouds. It sounds like you are in a terrific school district. Good luck with your decision.

Sarahlynn said...

Krupskaya, "because I work at home"

Umm . . . apparently I've been away from your blog for longer than I've realized!!!

The activity thing is hard for me to gauge, because Ellie (5) is often reluctant to go out and do things, then has fun once she's there (or she doesn't). But one week she might LOVE gymnastics, then the next she wants to stay home. And activities are all so hard for her (physically, mentally, emotionally). She's in preschool 5 mornings a week, then she naps. She has weekly gymnastics and music class as well. She is ALWAYS excited about Musikgarten.

Ada (2) is in a Kids Day Out program two mornings a week and has gymnastics once a week and music once a week (technically twice, since she comes along to Ellie's class also). She loves ALL of it, always, and complains when Ellie gets to go to school but she doesn't.

I agree with you about not feeling like I've seriously missed out b/c of my parents' choices . . . I am the sum of my experiences and there's not much I'd change, you know? And I'm with Mr. K. on the "what-ifs!"

Amy, I think Montessori programs vary widely from one to the next. And I feel very different about faith-based programs! They're not all the same to me . . .

With errands and two kids in two activities each (plus school) I already spent much of my day driving around. It's crazy! They're not even in elementary school yet!

Datri, do you read Flea at One Good Thing ( I believe that he older son had a similar Montessori experience. I hope that you find a school that really works for your daughter AND for you. I hope that the special ed school is better than my fears. (Our look perfectly lovely, but the concept concerns me nonetheless.)

You're right that the decisions are hard!!!

Amanda, I wish my kids were better at expressing themselves. I look forward to the continued improvement of that ability. I'm so into talking about what I'm seeing/thinking/doing/feeling (witness: this blog!) that I have a hard time relating to people who are not this way. (Like my daughters, for their various reasons. And my husband.)

And I COMPLETELY agree with you about staring at clouds! This afternoon, Ellie stripped off her coat, shoes, and socks after school and sat in the middle of the prairie (our backyard). Just doing . . . nothing. That seems like the perfect way to spend a lovely spring noontime after school!

Thanks. :) I well remember what a challenge Kindergarten was for Little Man. I'm hoping that by preparing for all possible contingencies, I'll be pleasantly surprised . . .

Krupskaya said...

Sarahlynn, hee! Mr. K got on with the railroad a year ago. Because the newspaper was starting the circle the drain AND the fact that Mr. K is on call 24/7 with the railroad, I lobbied heavily to have me resign and work from home freelancing. I resigned six months ago. Hee -- I didn't blog about it much.

Sarahlynn said...

OK, I caught the RR gig, but missed the freelancing thing. Congrats! Hope the jobs keep coming.

flatflo said...

I am a product of parochial schooling, as I grew up in the city of STL and the public schools were not a pretty option. The Lutheran church my family attended had a K-8 dual classroom (1st & 2nd together maxing out at 25 kids per classroom) right next door to my mother's work, so it was a pretty easy decision.

My older sister set the pattern for High School, when she chose an all-girls catholic high school only 3 miles away, instead of either of the Lutheran high schools (over 10 miles away). She chose that school because many of the girls in her gymnastics class chose to go there. I chose to follow her there, as the mandatory curriculum would meet the minimums to even the best colleges, whereas public schools did not. No home ec or shop, but accounting and speech were electives. I won a National Merit Scholarship and got into that same nationally-ranked private school (free tuition, as my mother work there,) so the education I received was top notch.

BUT...I don't feel like my all-girls Catholic high school prepared me for even the ivory tower of college life, much less the real world. I ended up with a bleeding ulcer my first semester, and struggled when I returned. Unfortunately I did not get my degree and now regret that, though I am looking at options to get at least an associates degree.

Sarahlynn said...

Flatflo, I had no idea! I thought you graduated with Andi. (And that Amanda graduated with me.)

I was so lost in my own experiences that apparently I was oblivious to others'.