Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best School For Your Boy

If school choice is fluid -- and no one educational choice is "the best" -- how exactly do you go about finding the best school for your son?

That's really the million dollar question, isn't it?

We've talked previously about the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the education question. And we've covered the fact that what works for your son today (homeschooling, public school, etc.) may not work next year. We've also talked extensively about the fact that boys tend to learn differently than girls.

Now author Peg Tyre, perhaps best known for her book The Trouble With Boys, provides parents with some basic guidelines to use when evaluating educational options. In her latest book, The Good School, Tyre says that parents should look at the relationship between teacher and students, the general intellectual environment (does it include plenty of words? everyday references to mathematical concepts?) and school playgrounds.

In an interview with TIME magazine,Tyre advises parents to avoid schools without playgronds. She says, "kids need downtime — a break from the rigor" and recommends twenty minutes of recess a day, "at least."

Tyre also says that test scores have been over-emphasized in the past. (The TIME magazine article says, "Standardized tests only measure about a third of the curriculum that should be being taught in the school, which means if the school is only teaching the test material, your child is missing out on a lot.")

Instead of focusing on a school's standardized test scores, look at what's really going on in the classroom. Are the students connecting with the teacher? Excited about learning? Involved in their education? If so, odds are good that there's a lot of learning happening in the classroom.

Tyre also suggest looking past labels. A private school may not be better than a public school, and a charter school is not necessarily better (or worse) than any other school.

Bottom line:

  • Know your son. Is your son a hands-on learner? Does he require lots of quiet time to absorb a concept, or does he do best in an active setting? Knowing your son's likes, dislikes and learning style can help you select an academic environment that fits his needs.

  • Let go of your preconceived notions. You might have grown up believing that private school is the way to go, but that doesn't mean that the private school in your neighborhood will be the best fit for your son or your family. Open your mind and expand your options.

  • Insist on activity. Boys (and girls) absolutely, positively must move around during the day. They also need time for free play.

  • Words matter. One of the biggest determinants of academic success is the size of a child's vocabularly on entrance to kindergarten. So don't be afraid to use big words at home -- and don't shy away from schools or teacher who introduce complex subjects to small kids (in an age-appropriate manner, of course).

  • Relationships matter! Tyre's #1 tip (in the TIME article) is that the relationship between teacher and student is prime, especially in preschool. You know what that means? If you're considering homeschooling your child, but hesitate because you feel unqualified, consider taking the leap. In the early years, the relationship between teacher and student is paramount -- and what could be closer than the relationship between parent and child? (If, however, homeschooling is putting a strain on your relationship, it might be time to investigate other educational alternatives.)

  • Think about your needs. For a lot of years, I neglected my needs in favor of what I considered best for my boys. I'm learning to see, though, that a stressed-out, stretched-to-the-limit homeschooling mom may not be in my boys' best interests. I need to sleep, rest and work, and that's OK. So don't feel obligated to drive an hour across town to the "best" school. If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for your family.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Education -- and the Best Choice for YOUR Family

I admire Meagan Francis. She's a mom of five kids, a writer, an author, a blogger and an all-around happy person. Her latest book (and blog), The Happiest Mom, is designed to help moms enjoy life and motherhood. As Meagan says," Happy. Mother. You really can use both words in the same sentence."

Her latest blog post, though, hit me in a way that few posts ever do. In "School Choices and the Ideal Mother," Meagan details her struggles to find the "perfect education" for her children, and gives moms everywhere the right to make the decision that best suits their family.

From the responses she's been receiving, it seems that a lot of parents need to hear that message.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that I'm a big proponent of homeschooling. But that doesn't mean that I think institutional education is evil. I think that each family needs to make the choices that best fit the needs of that family. Note that I said "family," and not "children." One of Meagan's major points is that the health and needs of the parents need to be considered also.

That can be a radical message for some parents. It's really, really easy to lose sightof your needs in your quest to satify your children's. But it's not only OK to consider your needs; it's absolutely essential.

And here's the other thing: The "right" educational choice can evolve over time as a family's needs change. Educating your family isn't a matter of choosing homeschooling over institutional schooling or private school vs. public school. No matter how carefully you make your decision, it's entirely likely that your child -- and your family -- will experience a variety of educational settings before the children take their place in the adult world.

In other words: It's OK to homeschool now. And to enroll your kid in school in a few years if that's what makes sense for you and your family. It's even OK to decide to homeshool him again later for his last year of high school, if that's what works.

Of course, the reverse remains true as well. It's OK to start your child in school, and then pull him out later if school isn't working for some reason. It's also OK to homeschool one kid and enroll the rest in school.

The bottom line is that you (and your spouse or partner, if you have one) are the only person who can decide at any given point in time what educational option is "best" for your family. My opinion doesn't matter. (Although I'm more than happy to provide information and resources!) Meagan's opinion doesn't matter. Neither does your mother-in-law's or the school prinicpal's or your local politician's.

So as this school year approaches, I enourage you to think long and hard about the educational choices available to your family. Then take a moment, if you will, to express some silent gratitude for those choices.

Finally, relieve the pressure. Let go of any lingering guilt. The educational choices you make this year -- this week, or next, or even next month -- are not permanent. You make a choice, you live with it, you see how it goes. It if works, great! If not, make another choice -- but don't beat yourself up for Choice #1. The best any of us can do is to respond to situations as they arise.

What educational choices are you making this year? Any changes from years past?