Let’s talk about the schools for a minute

Our son Henry attends preschool. Based on my unscientific research – i.e., conversing in-person and online with a wide variety of parents – about two-thirds of you are shrugging and saying “Okay, and…” and the rest of you are wondering why. This post is not meant to answer that question. I have so many questions of my own, I’m instead using this space to help navigate the process and welcome you into it.

The community of alternative educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers is growing by leaps and bounds. They all have immeasurable love for children and robust beliefs about their development. And I still consider myself one of them – or at least a passionate supporter of these ideals who is still considering her child’s options.

I believe mainstream educational institutions no longer address the needs of our evolving children and communities. A hierarchical structure designed to train young people to be compliant and effective factory workers or, if you’re from a wealthier community, corporate managers, doesn’t work for our children or our society any longer. I think there is a lot of merit to the myriad of alternative options growing in accessibility and acceptability, including home schooling and/or unschooling. I will have a lot more to say about this over time, especially after I return from the AERO conference in Portland in August, but that’s the gist of my thoughts on education.

Here’s the rub. Our son is a truly social being. He loves people – being around them, playing with them, entertaining them, laughing with them, showing affection, enjoying the reciprocation. He runs up to the newest kid or parent on the playground to say hi and invite them to play. Everyone at his school knows him because he welcomes them all as they arrive, usually with a huge smile and a hug. He’s the first to console a crying classmate or defend them when he believes they are mistreated. He is a genuinely friendly child who enjoys the energy and security of a community. He was raised in a group setting – a wonderful nursery in Taiwan – for the first 11 months of his life, and perhaps something stuck. When he’s not with Mama and Daddy, and sometimes when he is, he wants a strong community around him. Preferably one made up of two- to four-year-olds.

When we needed to look for a daytime care situation about a year ago, we were lucky to stumble upon a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in our community. The short answer to the “What the…?” I just heard you all utter is that this school is one of surprisingly many around the world that uses a community-based approach, developing lesson plans based on what the class collectively is interested in. Then they explore this subject in a very organic, natural way, all while taking the needs of the entire class into account. It builds community, a sense of belonging, a strong sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, open minds, open hearts, open imaginations, as well as mutual respect among a very diverse group of kids.

Henry thrives in this environment. He’s joyful. He’s challenged. He has strong friendships with his classmates and teachers. He loves going to school because he can express himself, make mistakes and be authentically Henry while he’s there. Like at home, he is loved and accepted unconditionally.

But what’s next? There are few options for Henry to continue with a similar program once he is five or six. Well, unless we want to move to Italy… (Hmmm.) In an ideal world, we would be able to keep him in an inexpensive or free variation on this program for the rest of his schooling, because even public schools would be designed around a similarly progressive philosophy. But alas the educational times aren’t a-changin’ as fast as the rest of the world seems to be and that likely won’t be an option in a couple of years. So, we’ve been looking at our non-mainstream choices and getting dizzier by the month. Homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, expensive private schools, start or join a joint parent-run school, online education, democratic schools, and on and on.

Like every child, Henry is a peg of a unique shape. He doesn’t fit perfectly into any institutional hole. But as an outgoing child without siblings he doesn’t fit neatly into a homeschool hole either. So, our exploration continues. We are confused, concerned, even a little frightened. We want to trust that a path will reveal itself in some quiet moment, and I do believe it will, probably by Henry himself. I guess we’ll just breathe, keep listening and the knowing will come.

I’ll write more about this journey as it unfolds. There’s nothing terribly profound about our story just yet, but there is something profound that happens when stories like these are shared. Just like so many of you, we are parents making tough choices in an ever-changing world. The more we are willing to honestly and openly talk about our fears and ideas, without judging or fearing being judged, the more we all benefit. I guess I’m simply adding our story to all of yours and welcoming you into the conversation. Happy parenting.

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