This last weekend I attended my first ever open house for a private (parochial) school. The plan was to bring the prospective student as well but he was delayed in coming home from Boston where he went with a friend and his family to watch a big regatta.
My eyes were opened to a few things, the biggest one being that the good things I've heard about the school from families whose children attend, or have graduated from, seem true. The place had a good community feeling and I was thrilled that it wasn't super snobby and elitist-seeming (hard to find around here).
The next thing I realized was that if a family homeschools with an intention to continue homeschooling through high school and suddenly ponders enrolling into private school it just might not be possible. There are certain steps that must occur at certain times and the ducks have to be all in a row. Our family did not plan for this and my older son is not prepared to apply for admissions and take a standardized admissions test with less than a week's notice. He has no past standardized test scores to admit nor any grades, subject test scores, and no written teacher recommendations, which they require.
Perhaps worst of all, he is not ready in one semester to jump into doing school type work and performing on a level that they'd expect. When at home I'd have him doing a certain higher level of work he would have to prove himself via test results by certain dates that he qualifies for those courses, to take them at the private school. I am not certain it could be done in time for him to enroll as a freshman next September. (I could hold him back a year, especially since he's an August birthday and many of his same-aged male peers were already red-shirted, but he does not want that at this time.) For example, for homeschooling vs. private school, even looking forward to taking an AP class in grade 10 he would have to have performed highly in grade 9 whereas if we keep homeschooling I can pay the fee for him to take any AP course in grade 10 that we selected without anyone's permission. (Sure he may struggle but at least he'd be guaranteed a spot in the class.)
Something else I learned is that schools can be good places to learn if the teaching method jives with the child's and if the student can play along with the game and keep up the pace. I knew this before but it was a good reminder. Of course I hope my kids would be able to keep up the pace, but am not sure that, right now, for both of them.
What I did realize was that socially and academically my younger son is a perfect fit for school. I have known this for a long time. The main reason to not enroll him into public school in the early grades is that public schooling is dumbed down and is too focused on standardized testing. My younger son was an early learner and a fast learner and would have been bored to death in public Kindergarten and elementary school. Socially he would be fine and would like it but I still fear out of boredom he'd be the class clown. His tendency to be a follower would lead him into trouble, even the type about the distracted boys laughing in the classroom in first grade type of stuff. His sensitive nature (which he tries to hide behind a wall) would suffer I am sure, in some manner.
My younger son continues to push for school attendance. I hear the stories from my friends and neighbors of the social hell that is public middle school in this town and I don't care to throw my child into that mess. I hear also of the dumbed down academics in middle school (and elementary school) and still there is the issue of the too-much time spent on standardized test prep to keep the scores high here.
I decided while at the open house, and later discussed this with my husband who agreed, that indeed high school would be great for our younger son. I think he would do fine academically with all that left-brained learning. The kid thinks testing is fun so he'll love that part. He loves to have a goal and to meet it. He likes checking off the boxes. He loves being ranked and graded and striving for a high score. He wants to be a part of a group, a member of a sports team, and a part of something bigger. (One of his motivation styles is affiliation.) He does not like doing alternative things or feeling he is different (such as being a homeschooler). He wants to be mainstream and accepted as normal. He wants to be one in the crowd. He wants to blend in.
He thinks school is like High School Musical, which we adults (and the kids who actually go to school) know it is not. But anyhow if he is prepared for an honors track at a private high school and gains admission to one, he may avoid some of the nasty social stuff that could happen if he was under the same roof as the school who must take all who live in the town. (I already envision this child as being the one to test out drugs and drinking.) If he is in a private school with more rigorous academics he may have more access to high quality classes or at least be in a school where the atmosphere is "it's good to be smart" or at least not "it's uncool to be smart". If he's really busy learning and doing school work he may avoid some trouble.
As I sat at the open house I realized just how alternative my children's homeschooling has been to date. I have been living this life so completely that sometimes what we do seems normal and good and right and I forget we are living and learning outside of the box (no matter what other homeschooler accuses us of doing school at home, we are not doing enough of that, if viewed by the eyes of school staff).
For multiple reasons I don't feel that traditional school is right for my older son. He could survive but I don't think he'd thrive. (Plus he does not want to attend school, he wants to keep homeschooling.) If we continue homeschooling with some changes to our present situation in order to help him fit the mold necessary for college admissions and attendance I think he'd thrive. So the question is, if given the choice, do we do what will help this child thrive or do we pick something that he may "just survive"? We do have options and choices, so we're picking "thrive". (And so far as the younger son, socially school may make him feel he's thriving, where homeschooling may make him feel like he's just surviving.)
So the decisions made this week are this:
At the end of this semester we are making major changes to how we spend our time. In a nutshell we will be spending more time at home and doing more rigorous academic studies. The loosey-goosey crap is out the window. Period.
My older son will continue to homeschool at this time with a goal of homeschooling high school and later applying to college for a degree in engineering.
In order to fulfill that goal my older son will begin taking some online classes. We will work on his areas of weakness to bring them up to grade level (writing composition is my main concern). Actually writing composition will change to be a major focus as he needs to have great essay writing skills for SAT II tests and AP tests that he'll be doing as part of his homeschool high school experiences. Those are in the category of "how homeschoolers must go above and beyond what schooled kids do in order to prove their homeschooling experience was rigorous enough and credible and they're capable of college learning".
The goal for our younger son is to enroll him into high school. What school, what type and so forth will be decided upon when that time comes (he has three more years until that time arrives so we can't get too far ahead of ourselves).
In the mean time I will change our homeschooling in order to prepare our younger son to take standardized tests and he will begin taking them yearly for practice.
I will adapt our younger son's curriculum in order to make it look more school-y and to get his writing composition skills to a high level.
The goal will be to aim our younger son for qualification in an honors program at the high school level not the bottom or even the basic college prep track. This goal is because he's always been a fast learner and he was precocious. I think he can handle it and I want him to continually be challenged. Maybe being busy with academics will keep him out of some trouble (socially). (He has been bored and under-stimulated in our homeschooling experiences since fourth grade began so the increase in rigor with a real end goal in sight will fix this.)
So that's the plan.
I'm open to change which includes me letting go of a totally alternative home education plan for my older son starting in December, and I'm willing and open to doing something more traditional in order to qualify him for college admissions.
I'm open to letting my younger son go to school so long as the academics are not dumbed down and it is a healthy social environment.
Change is in the air!
(Homeschooling can be great but it's not always best for every child or for every year of a child's life.)