This started as a comment on someone's Facebook status (a friend who has just started sending her previously homeschooled kids to school), until I realised it was a) very long and b) all about me. So I thought I'd write it here instead. Sorry if it all appears a bit random.
Fred asked this week who works the most (meaning out of me and Martin) and I told her, quite honestly, 'you do'. School is intense and as we come up towards the end of term I can see Fred is tired. Our school isn't big on homework (yay), but Fred is constantly building on her skills, reading, writing, working out maths problems, partly because we encourage her to (we make her do her own tuckshop bag for instance), and partly because, like most kids, she is constantly seeking out opportunities to flex or hone these skills.
Fred really does love school. This year there are 48 kids in the school (prep-6), ten in her grade and fourteen in her class (a combined prep/1/2). In a way it kind of offers some of the supportive nurturing of homeschooling, but it is still institutional, a purpose built school with three wings of double units (all of which, I think, can be sectioned off, allowing for three or six class groupings, this year there are three).
Fred works differently at school. At home she is a very motivated 'self learner', setting herself little projects, like writing in her diary, or making books, or measuring things, but at school she responds really well to structure and routine. Her teacher says she has a quick, little mind, which is a relief because once I thought she was so impossibly scattered and flyaway that I feared she would actually fly apart into pieces like a dandelion clock.
We worried about which school to send her to (the big shiny, recently rebuilt school a short drive down the road, the smallish well set up school, a short drive down another road, or the extremely small community-minded but definitely not shiny local). The local school is struggling (you may have worked out that there is only a handful of preps and grade twos, in fact there is only one prep), though it doesn't FEEL like a school that is struggling. It feels like a school that is bursting with life, honestly, with dynamic kids and good ideas. Fred is thriving. It's only when parents and teachers get together that you feel this urgency, that the school population is dwindling, that the already small staffs' jobs could be at stake, that - for us - Una may be going to a school of 38 kids, and the next year it might be 30 kids as the older grades graduate and leave and the prep numbers stay low.
I asked Una if she minded the idea of being the only prep next year (which so far seems likely), for the present she finds the idea quite appealing. I am concerned about how this will play out longterm, one of the disadvantages of our area is that there are few regular groups organised locally, if she was to look outside of her school for a social group (Brownies, ballet etc) we have to do a lot of driving around, and she won't be mixing with kids who live a short walk away. I grew up with lots of kids within a 10 minute walk and I grieve for Una that she won't have this as part of her childhood. Oddly, it is not just that parents are taking kids out of the area for school. There's simply not that many kids Una's age in the area. I know that the positives of this are that Una will be more self-sufficient, and she is that way inclined anyway. And she will get a lot of teacher attention! She'll be able to work at her own level. And she will make friends with kids who are older or younger than her, which will present its own rewards. But isn't it sad, if she won't have the opportunity of having a best friend in her own grade, someone she can travel through the school with?
This wasn't meant to be a panic about the school (I am easily diverted into anxiety on this topic). Because we're happy there. We really are. It seemed so important which school to send Fred to, and I worried about her missing out at a small school. (By the way, the thing that clinched it for me was reading a study that said kids that go to a small school are more likely to LIKE school, which seemed an excellent foundation for further education).
I think for me the big surprise about school is how much you still 'homeschool' even when your kids go to school. Though there's lots to love about the idea of it, homeschooling full time was never an option for us, for logistical and ideological reasons. And besides, when I explained the concept of homeschooling to Fred she was visibly appalled. She learns well in a group, and benefits from the combined ages - both as peer support to the younger kids and by working with older kids. This year she is reading a year above her grade level, which is easier because she is in a blended class group. Her written comprehension is still at the same level as the other grade ones, so this is good too, she can swing between grade one and grade two work without there being any disruption. One advantage of a small school is that they can tailor to kids individual needs, while still having to remind kids that their needs aren't the only consideration - which is important too.
Sometimes I worry if Fred is Missing Out on vague, abstract things that I imagine are at bigger schools - a more immersive music education, a second language, and that Una in turn will also Miss Out. But then we go to the sport's carnival, or get a notice about an excursion the whole school is going on, or she makes a play date with a girl in grade three, or she hugs the cleaner on the way out of school, and I think about the things other kids miss out on, in bigger schools. Not that they're missing out, no one's missing out. It's just the shape of a childhood, that's all.