That is the question.
We're moving to a new area at the end of the month. My oldest child will be 3 and it's about that time when a lot of parents are putting their kids' names on waiting lists at the best preschools. Before having children, I never doubted that I would just put my kids on the public school path like most other parents. As I've gotten older (and paid more attention), I've become worried about a lot of things in the public school system. I've seen documentaries like "Waiting for Superman" and I've developed a desire to have some influence over what my children are exposed to in their education. If I don't put my kids in public school, what are my other options? I definitely don't feel capable enough to attempt home-school and I'm not exactly sure that it would be in the best interest of my children anyway. I also don't know if I feel good about paying a large amount of money for my children to attend an exclusive private school. If you are (or have been) in the same boat, where do we go from here? Let's start by examining what we want - or don't want - for our kids' education. The following points are my own personal thoughts and I am in no way advocating that everyone should feel the same way.
1. I don't want all the emphasis to be put on scores.
My mom is a kindergarten teacher and I have several friends that teach kids in elementary school and middle school. I have heard them complain more and more often about the pressure put on them to have all of their children make a certain score on the school's standardized tests. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for schools to use such tests to make sure that their children are progressing. But what has me worried is the increasing emphasis on scores and the decreasing emphasis on fostering a love of learning in children. In my mom's school, for instance, the order came down to cut back on recess, arts and crafts, and circle time for kindergartners so that there could be more instructional time with kids are their desks. I'm just not sure I like the idea of my oldest child going into that kind of environment for her very first year of school.
2. I want my child to love learning.
My own personal belief is that individuals learn best when they WANT to learn. I want learning to be fun for my children and I want them to understand that learning helps them understand the world around them a little bit better. I do not necessarily think that the best way to foster a love for learning is by sitting a child at a desk and talking to them/at them and giving them workbooks to do. [I do not mean to generalize this idea to every classroom. I am, however, paying homage to my own education in a rural school system.]
3. I want some of my child's own interests to lead their learning.
While watching the morning news a couple of days ago, we were interrupted by a special broadcast of the Shuttle Endeavor launching for the last time. I quickly called in Thing 1 to watch it with us. She was really intrigued and when the launch was over, she expressed some interest in looking up some things about shuttles and astronauts online. We hopped on my computer and spent closet to 45 minutes looking at pictures of space shuttles, rockets and astronauts. Her interest quickly turned to the planet earth, all the planets, and even the solar system. She was quickly able to learn 3-4 of the planets' names and since then, has asked me on more than one occasion to look at all those things again. It's SO easy for her to learn something new when she is interested in it and excited about it. Traditional schools simply aren't able to individualize each child's education, meaning that, in somewhat extreme terms, some children are forced to learn things. That, in my mind, could easily lead to boredom and even apathy towards learning.
4. I want a lot of the world integrated into my children's education - not just the basics.
Believe me, I understand the importance of learning the basics - reading, writing, math, science, etc. However, I also think it's a good thing to teach children about nature, other cultures, food, other languages, philosophy, and life skills. Traditional schools have no extra room for all these other subjects on their own but lucky for me, it can be easy to incorporate several of these with the basics, collaboratively teaching them at the same time. I'm horrible at math. I always have been. So, I definitely want my children to learn the basic concepts of the pillars of a traditional education. But I also want them to learn where those basic fit into the larger world around them.
There are probably a lot more smaller, nit-picky things I could add to my list, but right now, these are the major ideas shaping my concept of my children's perfect education. Now, I just have to figure out the best way to deliver that education. I've got to start checking into preschools in my area (both public and private), exploring various teaching methods (including, much to my husband's chagrin, homeschooling), and deciding if I think my oldest is ready to begin formal school. Oh, the possibilities....