Hi Kristen. I'll try to answer your questions.
Does your child want to go to school?
Ds went to a Montessori kindergarden, then 2 years of ps. He never wanted to go to school in the first place, and I deeply regret forcing him (I'm a single mom, and it took me a few years to set up my life so I could work part time, make enough money to live off, and also hs.) Ds still avoids even walking down the street his school was on, and given a choice of playgrounds to visit, will avoid a school playground, because "they all look like prisons." Given the choice, he would prefer to never set foot in a classroom setting again in his life. Given that I have to work, and have little support (my parents were immigrants, have almost no family in this country), that might not work out for him. I wouldn't mind him joining an hsing program in a school setting, as long as they truly understood unschooling, and were willing to work with us as a family, and to view the program simply as a tool that we might, or might not, use.
Do I plan to send him to traditional school at any point?
LOL, see above. No, unless circumstances were totally out of my control (ie: work situation), I wouldn't put him back into anything that resembled traditional school. He would fight tooth and nail, anyway. It really is my son's choice, though, as it's his life and his education. If he wanted to go back, that would be his choice to make. I seriously doubt his ever making that choice, though.
Did I have a poor ps experience?
Yeah, but, unfortunately, mine was probably a better one than most. I attended a small, french language school, that was very academically rigorous and challenging (even though we only studied English, or were even allowed to speak English, 4 times a week, 45 minutes a class, our school was consistently in the top 2% test scores in English. ) The school was very disciplined, and had vitually no bullies or fights. I have Tourette Syndrome, and was the "odd" kid for 10 years, and while I was pretty miserable there, and got singled out a fair bit for teasing and what not, it never got to the point of being physical, or even really serious, compared to what I see routinely happening in english language schools here. I hated every moment I was in school, largely because I was bored and frustrated. My son pretty well feels the same way as I did, but comes by his opinions honestly. If asked, he has plenty of his own examples of wasted time, mean, ignorant or disrespectful adults, and routine humiliation (ie:"you can't go to the bathroom until you've recited you're times tables")
I dearly hoped that ds would have a better experience than I did, but in many ways (he's a boy, also has TS, but has louder and more noticeable tics) his was far worse than what I went through, and I kick myself for letting it go on for as long as I did.
Have I looked into alternative programs?
There is nothing in this city for elementary kids. We don't have charter schools, virtually all private schools are religious, mostly Christian, which we are not, and neither ds nor I have any interest in a religious education. There is one private school that is not (wholly) religious that accepts boys in elementary, but it's a high end prep school, and tuition is about $10,000/year, way out of my league, and still wouldn't offer him exactly what he needs and wants. Why would I chose any school, though, when he wants to be home, needs to be home, and is getting an education that is tailored to his needs. For us, though, the effects of hsing spill over into all aspects of our lives, and have improved and inriched it in every way.
Not to be rude, too, though, I've noticed that the people most often posting with this sort of question (not only here, I've seen it on some e-mail groups, too) have young children, under grade 2 age. I pulled ds out of school after one month of grade 3, and I noticed some big differences in the way things were done by that age, compared to pk or K. Even in grade one, though, he was getting an average of 1-2 hours a night of homework. By grade 3 ds was assessed, by the school's resource teacher, as reading beyond "testable limits", meaning that he read at an adult level, but the teacher refused to allow us to substitute our own books for the class "home reading" program. Ds had to slog through books written for a level 10 years or more behind him, that he had already read a dozen or more times, because "that's the rules and everyone does it." So even more of our family time was taken up by work that we both viewed as meaningless. If he didn't do this reading every day, he lost "priveleges" like snack time (something I thought was a basic human right, the right to eat, but apparently, in ps, it's a privelege.) If he had too many gaps in his reading sheet, he would lose field trips and recesses. Even though his math skills were assessed at a high elementary/junior high level, he had to complete every single problem assigned to him, and sit quietly with his hands in his lap if he finished before the other kids. He was often expected to sit quietly for 20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day, during different subjects, and if he didn't would lose recess, snack, play time, etc. The school division we are in (the largest in the province) doesn't have any gifted or enrichment services, until grade 7, so we were told he just had to "stick it out" and that it would make him a better student. Frankly, I thought it would destroy any passion or curiosity he ever had, and wondered what kind of fool would think that 6 years of mind-numbing boredom would do anything else.
Around here, the homework thing just keeps getting worse. Neighbors who have kids in junior high say their kids have about 3-4 hours a night of homework, more on weekends. No teenager in my building has a part-time job. None have any time for it.
We are an unschooling family, meaning that I do not assign anything to my son, nor do I "teach" in the traditional sense of me talking and him shutting up. Most of our "work" is done through long discussions, reading silently or out loud to each other, field trips, and through helping others, either volunteering or just helping a neighbor get something done. I don't think that the Amway family is pretty typical of hsing, and unschooling families, but, I have to add that 8 years old is not an age to worry if someone is not reading. Loads of kids, hsing or in ps, don't know how to read at that age, and 50 years ago, a child who could read under that age would be seen as odd. The age at which children are expected to do certain academic skills, like read and write, has been getting younger and younger for many years, under pressure from parents and teachers who want to prove a theory or technique, or just plain show off. I have yet to see any research that shows any corelation between the age a child learned to read, and their intelligence or learning ability. I learned how to read very young, mostly because I was the youngest of 4 kids and was surrounded by early readers. My son couldn't recite his alphabet reliably at 6, but covered 12 years of reading skills in 2. My brother, who was premature, couldn't read fluidly and easily until he was in his 20's. He now has a masters of Engineering and reads literary novels voraciously. You never really know what a person's interest, talent, skill will be, and it's all largely up to them.