Monday, August 16, 2010

Kindergarten Conundrum

Today is the first day of school for almost all the kids in town. But instead of making my way through public school crowds with my brand new kindergartener we drove right by the masses on our way to the private school our daughters have been attending for two weeks now. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel some Mommy guilt as we drove by.

The truth is that I have been agonizing about what to do about my daughter’s schooling for a long time. She is 5 and has been so for about 8 months now, which means she doesn't miss the cut-off for starting school this year. Sounds great, right? Well, since we just moved to a new community I faced more questions than I ever expected when it came to how she will start her education.

Actually, even saying "start her education" is incorrect. When we lived on the boat and happened into Hope Town we were told that the local school took "transients" like us. It turns out that wasn't entirely true since the school is a serious place of learning that is already overflowing with students just from the local community. But, we lucked out and there was an opening in the PreK/Kindergarten class. Since we also had some skills to offer during our stay (I became the Spanish teacher, my husband taught a little first aid/medicine and our wonderful marine biologist/live-aboard nanny taught some classes, too!), my daughter was allowed to start going to school there. She was at that wonderful school for 4 and a half months before we sailed away. During that time I knew she was learning a lot from her amazing teacher, "Miss Amanda." She went from writing her name in that cute, baby way to writing clear sentences in just a few months. At Hope Town School her passion for learning was ignited and my husband and I have been giving her "assignments" and projects to keep that spark alive ever since.

It wasn't until we took a tour of the public elementary school in our new community that I started to realize how much she really has learned over the past year. She is reading and writing and, thanks to her Daddy, doing addition and subtraction. While on that school tour, as the very nice Principal gave us the run down on what is expected by the end of kindergarten we realized there might be a problem. "As long as they have number and letter recognition by the end of the year they are in good shape" she told us. When her Daddy threw some numbers at her "What is 6 plus 7?" and she answered "13" correctly, I thought the kindergarten teacher's mouth was going to hit the floor. They said she is "advanced" for her age, and suggested that there's always the option of skipping kindergarten and going straight to 1st grade. The problem is she got her Daddy's intelligence and her Mommy's size. She and her 3 year-old sister wear the exact same size and are often mistaken for twins. In other words, she's petite. As it is she would likely be the smallest person in her kindergarten class. So the thought of putting her in the NEXT grade up is not so appealing.

Next we looked at private schools hoping to find a more challenging curriculum. The problem is the only private schools that offer kindergarten in this community are religious schools. They are great for lots of kids, but since ours is a different faith than the schools offer, it isn’t really a viable option for us.

Which brought me to a possibility I never thought I would entertain; homeschooling. Before I had kids my reaction to learning that someone was homeschooling their kids was usually shock followed by the question, “are they nuts?” But when we moved onto the boat I realized if we wanted to live that lifestyle for more than a year, we would either have to be rich enough to hire a private teacher to sail away with us or I would have to homeschool. Since the first option wasn’t an option I seriously thought about homeschooling. I quickly realized that all the people I have met that are actually homeschooling their kids (and not just those “crazy” theoretical people I had in my head) are doing a fabulous job. Often their kids are far beyond other kids their age in education. And thanks to homeschool playgroups, sports and field trips, they even get lots of social interaction with kids their age. So I figured I could at least handle Kindergarten and maybe first grade on the boat before having to worry too much about short-changing my daughter. And, besides, wasn’t the life experience itself more valuable than anything that she might learn in a book?

But then my boat dreams got put on the shelf when we found out I was pregnant. And now we are in a community with real schools and real teachers. I decided I really wanted both girls to have something of their own that is consistent and enjoyable so that their entire world isn’t turned upside down when the new baby arrives. That led me to explore PreK’s for my 3 year old, which then led to the unexpected discovery of a new option for my 5 year old. The school that we LOVED for my little one is in the process of applying for accreditation for kindergarten. They won’t get it until January at the earliest, but they are willing to teach my daughter the kindergarten curriculum and add in some more challenging material too. This means she will get the one-on-one attention of being homeschooled and the group experience of being with other kids, including her beloved sister.

For now, I settle into my decision delicately. Part of my hesitancy is the fear that having her in private school limits MY options to meet people, or may limit her opportunities to interact with lots of different people from lots of different walks of life. I will probably drive by that public school everyday and wonder “what if?” But in the end it is simply a question of whether or not this new arrangement is best for my daughter. Does it keep that spark for learning alive? Will she be well-prepared for going into 1st grade at the public school next year? And will she be happy? I'd like to think the answer to all those questions will be "yes" but the fact is, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, as we drove home from school last week both of my girls proclaimed: “I LOVE school!” Here’s hoping that means we are doing something right.


  1. I'll tell you from my experience, if that private school will continue to challenge her beyond her standard-grade curriculum, keep her there. When the public school said she'd be doing well to learn her numbers and letters by the end of the year, they meant it. We're in a wonderful school district but the teachers are bogged down in requirements for every student which leaves those who could move ahead out of luck on getting challenged. You'll meet great people at the private school too. Probably easier due to smaller class size. -Debbie:-)

  2. As Logan's 'official' school age gets closer, we are going through the same thought process. Not sure which direction we'll go for his education. My life seems to be driven by is it too much to hope that the best option will just fall into our laps?

    From a personal perspective, I'm glad you decided not to promote Ahava. The challenges I faced by skipping ahead weren't always the ones we were hoping for :)

  3. The thing to remember is that public schools teach to the "middle." Because teachers are so busy and overloaded, they don't have time to include extra help for slow learners or advanced learners. Kids in those two areas tend to lose out either way. You definitely want to be thinking about the future of her education. They both seem to do a great job of making friends wherever they go, and I'm sure that they'll have plenty of future opportunities for that. We wish we'd focused a bit more on academics in the early years, rather than atmosphere, so that Jesse wouldn't consider school absolute torture and incredibly boring.