I have plenty of time to figure this out, as I only have a toddler, but I am a researcher. I thought I'd start by asking you guys what type of schooling you have chosen for your children and what led you to that decision. I know things will vary based on location, child, parent, etc. But there's so much more than public vs. private, which is really all I've been exposed to. I thought this would be a good "starting off' point for research. Also, if this has been discussed before, feel free to point me in the direction of other threads. Thanks.
What type of school for your kids and why?
Our kids attend a part-time Reggio preschool and it is wonderful. Almost exactly what I think preschool should be. Lovely garden and playground, beautiful materials, healthy organic snack, wonderful art. Very, very expensive.
We're founding families at a very good purblic charter school near us with an urban garden, farmer's market lunch program, very low student-teacher ratio, and the expectation that founding families contribute about $3000 a year every year prior to enrollment and during enrollment. Minimum. This makes up for the lousy/pathetic/unsustainable funding provided for the state.
I don't even believe in charter schools in theory, my mom recently retired as an awesome teacher and an awesome school district. But the schools in Los Angeles are so bad I would never send my kid to one of them, we aren't religious, good private school is $25K +, and we probably wouldn't get in. This is really our only choice. I'd prefer a plain old local public school.
We would bascially have to have NO other options before I would homeschool. I am sure it works well out there for someone but I have a lot of family experience (more than 25 homeschooled cousins) and as a group, every one of them is poorly educated and socialized. My experience is poor and I wouldn't do it. My mom has five brothers and sisters and every single one of them holds a master's degree or PhD. Of 28 children, only five of us have completed as least college. Almost everyone else attended at some point and dropped out.
My kids go to an amazing alternative, progressive school. It has a green house, a dark room, a kiln, and an animal center with goats and chickens. There is a 6-1 student teacher ratio, so every student gets LOTS of attention. Many students work with at least one teacher one on one for a subject because they either want to study something unusual, they learn a little a different, or they are so far ahead or behind their peers that working in a group for that subject doesn't work well. Students do not get graded, but teachers write reports about what the student is doing and about their strengths and weakness.
All the students have some things required of them (every student has a math class, for example) but all students have chunks of free time to do pretty much whatever they want to -- such as play a board game with a friend, curl up with a good book in one of the many reading nooks, or go create something in art center, which is always open.
The school is K-12, and has 2 play grounds. One of the play grounds is just for younger children, and the other playground is available for kids right through highschool. Kids in the middle grades can go to either play ground.
Outdoor skills are taught, and one of my DD has been cave exploring and backpacking this year. Things are just so -- incorporated. For example, the goat poop is composted (they joke about The Circle of Poop) and then used in the gardens, all of which the kids help with. Then they harvest from the garden, and use the vegies in cooking projects. Trying new foods is so much more fun when you grew them yourself in goat poop. It's disgusting, and yet, well, that's how nature works.
It's a private school, but it's worth the money for us. One of my DDs is both gifted and on the autism spectrum, and this school is a dream for her. We've homeschooled and used traditional public school in the past. What lead us to this option is that we tried everything else first.
Our other child did fine with traditional school, but we gave her this option and she took it, and I can see so many ways that it is good for her. She's learning to really do all sorts of things instead of just learning about things, and she learning to decide for herself what is good enough instead of using the feedback of letter grades.
We love the school.
My son started out at a regular public school in a great district, which (short story) did not serve his needs. We moved him to a charter school (whose K-12 population is about the same as his last elementary school alone) that has been MUCH better for him and I am so happy it was an option. I applied for younger dd as soon as it was possible.
It's been different for each child so I'll split them up.
DD: 1 year developmental preschool through rec center 2 mornings a week. 5 years at local public school that we loved. 3 years in local public middle school. It's not an official magnet but it has an arts and science focus. This year she is at an audition-based performing arts magnet highschool (also public.) DD is gifted and has needed extensive accomodation. We went with developmental or "play-based" preschool because that is in line with our beliefs on how young children should learn. We stayed with our local school district (K-8th) because they were the most willing and inventive in helping her. She's passionate about theatre and connects best with other artistic children. The arts highschool offers her a strong academic program but also a student base of children who really understand her.
DS: 2 years developmental preschool through community center (2 mornings 1st year, 3 mornings 2nd year.) 1 year local elementary where DD went. He's now in his 5th year at a tri-lingual immersion school within our local district. He'll be attending the same middle school as my DD went. We stuck with developmental preschoool because it was so successful with out eldest. DS is also gifted but extremely different in temperment and drive. He was not a good fit for the types of accomodations that DD received but we knew he needed "something." We transffered him into the immersion school in 1st grade because he's always had a passion for language, unusual vocabulary and different cultures. This school offers him all of that AND actually encourages him to talk in class lol. We're going with the local middle school because they are continuing the language program and thus he can keep up his Spanish and continue learning Mandarin (no other school could offer both those languages at the level he'd need.) He's also interested in the arts as well so it's a good fit.
We started out in a Core Knowledge school for our eldest. It was school of choice and worked really well for her because of the structure. So I sent ds1 there. Honestly he is the kind of kid that would have been successful almost anywhere, so we sent ds2 there. It was awful from the start and we pulled him in 2nd grade. He now goes to an experiential school that will take him through 12th grade if it continues to work for him. There are no grades in the lower grades, multiage class rooms, low ratio, gardens, outdoor explorations, etc. He started camping in Rocky Mountain National Park in the Fall of 3rd grade, went to Mesa Verde in the Spring, two trips in 4th, and started snowboarding for a week at a time in 5th and 6th. It's been wonderful for him. My older two went on to an International Baccalaureate (mom can't spell) junior high and then high school. My dd has since shifted gears to taking college courses at the HS but through a university and writing a lot. DS1 is 2 years ahead in math so will have to travel to the local university for math soon but is also taking advantage of wood shop at the HS. We are just really fortunate that our city offers an incredibly wide range of choices.This is actually the first year in 5 years any of my kids have been in the same school.
While you can research different educational approaches, I find that many schools may profess to be montessori, for example, but, in reality, they have little montessori influence in their classroom. That's why I think the best way to research education is to actually get out into your community and talk to other parents and to visit the preschools and schools that are real options for your family.
And, while some educational approaches do appeal to me, ds currently attends a preschool that has no educational philosophy attached. They are simply a "day school". However, he is in a positive, loving environment and has a wonderful, enriching day there. For our family, finding schools with a caring, nurturing environment has been our goal, rather than seeking out one particular education style.
I have a 2nd grader in a public Montessori. I think the quality of his school varies tremendously by teacher; some are not good at implementing the Montessori method, and some are great. I like his teacher and know that he will stay with her for 3rd grade (it's a 1st-3rd class) so I'm happy. I think he is a good Montessori student.
I have a kindergartner in a traditional, academically rigorous private K-12. I'm happy with his experience this year. We are considering switching him to the Montessori school for financial reasons, but if money was no object we'd keep him there and we probably will anyway.
Ideally, my 2nd grader would always be in Montessori, and my little guy would be in a gifted school. Time will tell for the baby but we will probably do a Montessori preschool.
DD has been going to a Waldorf-inspired preschool for 3 years. It has worked out great for us--she started 2 afternoons a week, then 2 full days, and now 3 full days. We live in a rural area and there aren't a lot of options, so we were just lucky that this one has been such a good fit. We had to choose between three schools for K next year--our local public school, the public school one town over that dd can attend because I teach there, or the private Waldorf school. We decided on the school I teach at. The Waldorf school is lovely, but it isn't $8500 better than my school. The school in my town has been struggling and I haven't heard a single nice thing about the K teacher, so we aren't even considering it. My school is very nice. It's tiny--we have 60 kids total in grades K-8. We have a great staff and try to do interesting and innovative things (greenhouse, wooden boatbuilding, pottery, jazz band, etc). We have an awesome school board that supports the teachers really well (except for when the town is concerned about money--then the board is in a really tough spot).
I am not even remotely interested in homeschooling. I've never imagined myself doing it and dd is thriving in a group preschool setting. She will LOVE kindergarten once she adjusts to getting up early and wearing herself out during the day.
Basically, based on my own experiences, I think it's great to research, investigate, etc., etc., but there are ultimately so many variables in play that I think we, as researching parents, also have to be completely open to the fact that, despite our best efforts, the school we've chosen may not be the best for our kids. Then we have to be open to finding alternatives. I know I felt a huge sense of loss and guilt when it became clear that DS wasn't thriving at the school we'd chosen. I felt like I'd failed him, that we as a family were somehow failures (everyone else seemed so happy at the school!) and that I'd messed up on such an important choice and would damage him for life (sounds extreme, but I had a negative elementary school experience that really damaged my self-esteem). It was really tough to move him, especially to a school with an educational philosophy which is controversial. But I'm very glad we did.
All this to say, research away! But do be ready, willing, and able to give up on the fabulous Waldorf or Montessori school because the local public suits your kid better (or vice versa!). It could be the small religious school is actually better for your kid, even if you aren't religious . .. and so forth.
Basically, based on my own experiences, I think it's great to research, investigate, etc., etc., but there are ultimately so many variables in play that I think we, as researching parents, also have to be completely open to the fact that, despite our best efforts, the school we've chosen may not be the best for our kids. Then we have to be open to finding alternatives.
So very true. It's important to understand what kind of learning environment will suit your child - and vice versa. There are a couple of important corollaries, as well:
1) Your child's needs can change over time, so you should be open to moving to a new situation even if the old one worked well for awhile; and
2) Siblings may have different needs, and a school may be wonderful for one child, but not for another in the same family.
My dc are teens, and they have changed schools often over the years, mostly because we have moved around. They have been in private, public, Montessori, full-time gifted programs, selective performing arts programs as well as homeschooled. In each case, we made educational choice based on their needs at the time. Montessori provided a wonderful experience for them and if you want to learn more, I recommend the subforum here. They had good experiences in public school, as well as in their special gifted programs which were in the public system too. When it came time for high school, they both decided they wanted to attend a selective performing arts high school. Personally, I would have preferred if they remained in the gifted stream until graduation, but they have been very happy and love their high school - which is more than I can say for a lot of high schoolers.
I've always looked for schools that nurture a community for students and parents, where there is a welcoming and caring atmosphere, enthusiasm on the part of the staff, lots of family participation and a diverse student population. In this environment, I can usually find dynamic teaching, special accommodations for any educational needs, and excellent learning opportunities, regardless of actual pedagogical philosophies and methods.
Good luck with your research and your search .