My firstborn is still a baby, of course, who could not possibly need to go to school. Yet there seems to be some mysterious, active, bright kid living in my house who wants an education. Funny how that happens.

So I’m trying to decide where this mysterious being should go to school. I know a few other people on my flist have kids about her age, so I’m putting my thoughts and research out there for posterity. Behind an LJ cut, since most of you don’t care about kindergarten anymore. 🙂

During the past six months, I’ve had a chance to observe Rio pretty closely at preschool . She does great there. At home, she has SERIOUS issues with authority, breaks down into screaming terrified fits when adults try to control her behavior, but at her school that never happens. The adults there offer gentle guidance and set clear expectations and Rio responds beautifully.

Rio is not interested in following rules but loves to experiment in a focused way. She’s very self-motivated. At her parent-teacher conference, they could not stop talking about how she initiates activities with other kids, makes great use of the learning materials they provide and helps her classmates get the most out of a very child-directed learning program. She also loves group time, and doing activities in small groups of three or four kids and one adult, and she loves to “read” to her friends or lead them in their own small group activities.

I think this school is pretty much the perfect school for her. It has very low adult/child ratios (like, about six adults for twenty kids, because of all the parent volunteers). It does not do any academic instruction at all, but puts activities and materials out and lets the kids engage with them at their own pace. It encourages outside play, with about half the schoolday spent outside. And it offers a small amount (about twenty minutes) of focused “group time”, where the teachers read stories and sing songs with the whole group.

Even though public schools seem to work for most kids, I am convinced they would not for Rio. She just dances to her own beat. Literally. When we took her to see the Nutcracker, we went to a weekend afternoon matinee. Easily 500 kids in the audience. One little girl got up silently from her seat and performed her own ballet in the entryway where no one but her parents could see her. All the others either sat still or were carried out by their caregivers. Just Rio, doing her thing.

So not so much with following the herd. Plus we live in a crappy school district and even if we move (which I hope we’ll do soon), we probably can’t afford to live in a great one.

Homeschooling is an obvious choice for us, at least for the early years. I’m well educated with some early childhood teaching experience, and I’m home full time. We know other people who do it and are good at using resources like our library and YMCA. The downside is that I don’t particularly want to, and neither does Rio. She’s very social and hates being home alone with me. I have a hard time keeping to a structured day and crave time alone to write. I’ll do this if I have to, but I’m looking for other options.

So I’ve been making a list of independent schools near either Mosaic or Tufts. I seriously doubt we can make Mosaic work for our family, but I can’t quite extinguish the hope… Anyway, this is about schools, not housing.

My ideal school would be just like her preschool – it would have a beautiful campus, encourage kids to be outdoors, let them control most of their day and most of their learning but have some overall guidance from adults in choosing the available activities and materials, and a sort of all group meeting at some point during the day to bring the group together. There would be a roughly 1/10 teacher/student ratio, with many parent volunteers at school every day helping kids with their learning. And it would be inexpensive. (Because it’s a co-op, our current school costs only $200/month, and they give us a partial scholarship because even that is a lot for our household)

My top-three school criteria:
-child-directed learning
-lots of access to outdoors/nature in the classroom
-social justice being taught throughout the curriculum

It would be nice to have:
-some level of Spanish instruction (a bilingual classroom would be ideal)
-a lot of parent involvement (ideally I could keep volunteering in her classroom twice a month)
-good music instruction
-low media impact (ala Waldorf school)
-not a long drive from wherever home ends up being (and I’m ok with moving for the right school)

It must not:
-cost me more than $5,000 a year.
-make my child say the pledge of allegiance or any other nationalist/pro-military stuff
-punish my kid for learning at her own pace, whether fast or slow

I am not worried about academics. Rio can read and write better than most of her four-year-old classmates, in spite of having never had any formal teaching. She started spontaneously playing rhyming games and doing small math problems in the car the other day. I suspect that if she is simply left to her own devices she will learn everything she needs – I worry more about her being held back by a curriculum she’s too quick for than I do about her not being taught well enough to compete academically when she gets older.

(Which sounds like she should go toSVS, except that she LOVES her teachers and her group time; she’s always asking the teachers if they can do group time early, and I think SVS does not offer that much structure. We’ll go look at it anyway.)

So here’s my list of private schools:
Sudbury Valley School
Atrium School
Fayerweather Street School
Cambridge Friends School
Waldorf School
Cambridge Montessori School
Shady Hill School
Lesley Ellis School

I know a lot about a few of these schools (SVS, Waldorf, Fayerweather) and almost nothing about the others. I’ll keep posting about this process, I’m sure. If anyone reading wants to share info or ideas you have, especially if you know of the perfect school and its not on my list, please do. Mainly I put this here for other parents, as I said, but I’m happy to take advice from those further down the journey than I am.

EDIT: I said the school must not cost ME more than $5K a year, not that the whole tuition can’t be more than that. I’ll at least look into any school that makes affordability a priority and offers some scholarships as well as what we are looking for in an education.