Four years ago, I first came to this question. My son was only two-almost-three, and pre-school—or any school for that matter—was not on my radar, when one day, he looked at me and in his sweet little voice, “I want friends!” And so the research into play dates, daycares and public and private pre-schools began.
As the product of a great public school, I was not willing to write off a public school option right away. I appreciate the fact that public schools offer a wide range of educational and extracurricular options, the opportunity to be challenged “outside your bubble” (within reason), and quite honestly, the lack of a tuition payment. However, the public schools where we lived were in the middle of some very serious issues in terms of lack of discipline, not to mention the ongoing issues of curriculum that didn’t align with our world view. I believe strongly in exposing my children to a variety of people, experiences and ideas, but these concerns eventually ruled out our public schools.
What about homeschooling? Especially in the pre-school years, I was tempted to homeschool my kids. I love a good craft, making anything educational, and of course, planning. However, our financial situation—and the fact that my son specifically asked for friends—led me to decide against homeschool at this point.
We are blessed to not only have great traditional diocesean schools, but also a classical elementary and high school academy. I was very interested in this option for my then three year old, and it honestly would be a great option! Ultimately, we ended up at a traditional diocesean school that offered a larger, diverse student body and offered a number of extracurricular and educational opportunities. But this decision did not come easily. During the discernment process, I received some of the greatest advice from a few trusted friends—two of whom were elementary teachers, and one of whom experienced homeschool, private school, and public school throughout her lifetime. And that advice boils down to three main points:
- Pray About It. Choosing a school is a discernment process and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance can be your best bet. Take your concerns and needs to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and ask for guidance. Call on St. Thomas Aquinas (patron saint of students) and on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (foundress of the American Catholic School System) to intercede for you and your request for guidance.
- It’s Not Forever. This was the biggest one for me. I love making a decision, sticking to it and never giving up. But that means a whole lot of pressure when you’re talking about the next 12-14 years of your child’s life. And man, did that stress me out. That is, until my friend reminded me, I can change my mind. Not only could I change my mind because my child’s needs change, but I can change my mind if I don’t like the situation, if I find a better option, or for any reason at all. I can change my mind in a year, in five years, at the end of the semester or tomorrow if I need to. It may be uncomfortable for me, but if my kids and family need it, I will do it.
- Every Kid is Different. Do I dread the thought of three different school drop off times? You bet I do. But like I mentioned above, I will always do what’s best for my children. If one thrives in a classical school environment while the other needs the specialized care a public school can offer, I will drop off and pick up at as many different schools as needed. It’s ok to find the fit for your kids’ needs, even if it’s a different need than a sibling. This of course is a challenge, both in time and financially, and may not always be possible. But give yourself the freedom to look at each child and see if there is something that may fit them better rather than continuing the status quo. And then, of course, loop back to number one and make sure to pray on the best course of action.
Parenthood involves a lot of tough decisions and the anxiety of “messing up” our kids can be all consuming. Trusting in the Lord, having the humility to accept His plan and change ours to match, and to celebrate and nurture our children’s own individuality is all we can do. Adapt as needs arise, and in the meantime, try your best to trust. If you are facing a decision on schooling now or in the future, I pray that the Lord guide you, and keep your heart at peace. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!