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The Happiest Mom's Back-to-School Survival Guide: Be Confident In Your School Choice

by Meagan Francis on September 1, 2009

After my post on guilt-free decision-making, it seems apropos to post about something that gives a lot of parents no small amount of angst: the education decision.

As you might be able to tell from our checkered educational past, schooling is one of the biggest issues I’ve struggled with as a parent. My eldest went to a Montessori preschool for two years, which we absolutely loved…but we couldn’t afford the tuition forever, so we switched him to a public school for kindergarten.

For a variety of reasons, that didn’t go so well, so we homeschooled for first grade. I felt good about that decision on the whole, but again, did a lot of fretting over the ins and outs (I envisioned myself a sort of hybrid between a classical/Well-Trained Mind and unschooling philosophy, which didn’t work out so great in practice, since it turned out my children had no intrinsic desire to learn Latin as I hoped they would.)

Though I loved a lot about the homeschooling lifestyle, by the end of the year I had another baby on the way (Owen) in addition to a toddler (Will) and Isaac, who’d be kindergarten-aged. My writing career was heating up, and we lived at least a 15-20 minute drive from all the homeschool activities and social groups in the area. I knew something had to give. So I enrolled the boys at a small Catholic school in town and immediately felt a huge sense of relief. Small, mixed-age classrooms, a feeling of tight-knit community and a strong curriculum…pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

After two years there, we moved to Chicago. There, I started the angst process all over again. I knew I couldn’t deal with the “lottery” enrollment system at the public schools, where it was entirely likely all of my kids could wind up in different schools across the city (hours of driving a day definitely would not make me a happy mom). Our neighborhood school was not good at all. The boys wound up at a small Lutheran school, which we liked, but not nearly as much as the Catholic school they’d attended before. And as you can imagine, coming up with tuition for three kids–even when kids #2 and #3 get steep sibling discounts–is no easy feat.

Finally we moved again. For a little while I considered extensively researching the school options in our new town, but finally I just couldn’t do it anymore. The angst, the wondering if I made the right choice, possibly filling out the hefty tuition check…just thinking about it was exhausting. The public schools here are good..very good, by many peoples’ standards. Maybe not a perfect match for what I’m personally looking for, but what is? So I went with the path of least resistance and enrolled the boys at the local elementary school. And, just like they did before, they’re doing fine.

I’m not suggesting I made the wrong choice before in choosing private schools. If we still lived in the town with our beloved Catholic school, or in a city without great public options, I’m pretty sure we’d still be there now. But in our current situation, we had to make some choices: a slight academic edge, the family-like feeling we all love…or financial stability? Like many in today’s economy, we felt much more secure choosing the second option–essentially placing the good of the family unit over the perfect for each child. And I chose–without guilt–sanity for myself over scrambling to research every single option and possibly having to come up with a big chunk of money every month.

Don’t get me wrong. If it hadn’t worked out for the boys, we’d have re-evaluated. But for now, I’m not second-guessing my choice. It may not be the sort of education I’d always dreamed of for my boys, but the older they get, the more I realize that life–in general–isn’t everything I’d always dreamed of for them. That would be true no matter what kind of education they were getting.

Did I give up? In a basic sense, yes. I can’t do it all, and while I so admire homeschooling moms who can make it work, or parents who manage to come up with steep private-school tuition because they believe it’s best for their kids, or those who are willing to drive all over town to get their kids into the best selective-enrollment schools, that doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. Like I said in my other post, you can’t do it all, and sometimes you have to prioritize what your values are.

Have you struggled with the school choice issue? What did you ultimately decide?

About this Post
It’s back-to-school time, and this year Sprite and TwitterMoms have partnered with bloggers like me to share back-to-school tips and tricks, advice, stories and more! Visit Sprite’s back-to-school channel on TwitterMoms to get helpful ideas, learn how to survive the back to school rush, seek out advice from other TwitterMoms and join the conversation. You can learn more about donating your My Coke Rewards Points to support your local school, how to enter for a chance to win some Back to School cash, check out recipes, or even play some fun games. Here’s to a successful and stress-free back to school season from Sprite and TwitterMoms!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber September 1, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I’ve been back and forth on school a bit, although my oldest is still only 4 1/2.

I returned to work part-time after she was born, and put her in a group daycare facility when she was 1. It was good, and we were happy. When she was 3 she aged out of the centre and we needed to find a preschool-aged centre. In spite of the fact we’d been on waiting lists all over town the only place with a spot was a local Montessori, which turned out to not be a good fit at all for my kid. She was there for 6 months before we got a spot in the play-based centre where she is now.

Next year she will start kindergarten. I considered private school, as well as a special stream in public school. Here in Canada you can enroll your children in ‘French Immersion’ which is a free option in public school, but you usually have to drive. I’ve decided, in the end, to go with our local school. I like that it’s close to home and part of our community. I also like the affordability. Plus, our public schools are really quite good.

It’s a tough decision with no right answers, but I agree that accepting your choice and making the best of it is the way to go.


BettyDuffy September 1, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I’d sort of like to go back to a time when the question of how to school one’s kids wasn’t so pressing. Our struggle has been almost identical to yours. We are currently in the scrounge up tuition for three kids phase, but considering the public school for next year. I especially appreciate this point:

“It may not be the sort of education I’d always dreamed of for my boys, but the older they get, the more I realize that life–in general–isn’t everything I’d always dreamed of for them.”


Meredith September 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Oh my gosh this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ve been stressing like crazy about the options for my oldest child’s kindergarten year (which will be next year). I know I have some huge decisions to make in the next few months and of course our entire lives are in upheaval right now with both my husband’s and my career options changing and most likely a move soon as well. I think I need to read this like three more times and stop allowing my emotions and other non-practical issues to sway my decision. You are awesome!


Jane September 5, 2009 at 7:10 pm

We have three children between the ages of 5 and 16. They have attended public school, private school, Montessori School and we’ve homeschooled. When people find this out (coupled with the fact that I’m a former educator) they ask me, which is best? My answer is always the same. As long as your children are safe and they’re excited about learning it really doesn’t matter what kind of schooling you choose. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each situation available to you – then decide which is best for YOUR family at that given time. As long as your children are armed with the basics (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) and love to learn they will pick up whatever they need, when they need it. I used to stress out that my children were missing out on “important” information – either at home because I was teaching to my strengths, or at public school because the classroom sizes were so huge and the teachers stressed, or at Montessori where each child didn’t have a computer. But I’ve noticed through the years that my kids always pick up where they left off, gain what they need and move on.


Carlos May 27, 2010 at 5:31 am

Bloggers are under appreciated, keep up the great writing.


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