This week I am super excited to have our very first guest post here at Freedom101!
Last year when I wrote about our ongoing analysis between choosing Public School, Private School or Homeschooling for our kids, Chrissy from Eat Sleep Breath FI, had some great comments and insight to offer in response to the article.
Chrissy usually writes about her families journey to Financial Independence in a high cost of living area, and provides helpful frameworks, tips and motivation for others pursuing a similar path. But today, as a Mom of two boys enrolled in public school, with friends in private schools, and close relatives within the education system, she is providing us with her insight into both the pro’s and con’s of public schools, along with how parents can mitigate those con’s on numerous fronts.
While Mike and I have definitely been leaning towards the homeschooling route for our circumstances, Chrissy makes strong points about aspects of public schooling that are very much worth considering for anyone approaching this decision.
So without further ado – here’s Chrissy from Eat Sleep Breathe FI!
We all want the best for our kids—we want them to be healthy, happy, and safe. And we also want to give them the brightest futures possible. That means the decision of how our kids will be educated is a big one.
The big debate
For many of us, there are three main choices: public, private, or homeschool. For most, public school’s the default choice—but many parents feel it’s the suboptimal choice.
After all, private schools tend to have better funding, smaller class sizes, and a more focused, academic mindset. For parents who choose to homeschool, they gain almost complete control over their children’s education. They also enjoy the added benefits of time and location freedom.
But as ideal as these public school alternatives sound, they come at a cost. Private schools can be expensive and homeschooling requires an enormous commitment of time and energy.
‘Settling’ for public
In the end, the financial requirements of private school and time requirements of homeschool are too high for most of us. So we ‘settle’ and send our kids to public school.
But what if we turn that thinking around? What if we instead proactively dealt with the challenges and focused on the benefits of public school? Maybe it’s not so bad after all?
If you’re on the fence about public school, this article will help you see that it’s possible to overcome the shortcomings and help our children thrive in public school.
Who am I to write about this?
I’m neither an educator nor an educational expert. But I do have a range of experiences and knowledge to draw from:
- I grew up attending public school, my kids (aged 11 and 13) also attend public school. My twin sister’s a public school teacher and we discuss educational issues often.
- My husband attended a top Vancouver private school from Grade 2 to 12, and many of our family and friends send their kids to private school. (This has given me a very good understanding of what private schools have to offer.)
- I’m a fan of homeschooling—it’s appealing to me for many reasons. I’ve seriously considered it and have done some research on it.
- I know what it’s like to have a child with a learning disability in the public school system—one of my kids is twice exceptional. (That’s a pretentious-sounding term that means he’s really, really great in some areas but challenged in others.)
All this is to say: I have a pretty good understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of each type of education. Based on this, I’ll try my best to offer a balanced perspective on public schooling.
I’m neither pro-public school nor anti-private school or homeschool. My goal isn’t to ‘sell’ public school. Rather, it’s meant to provide other parents with an insider’s view of public education.
I also acknowledge that public school isn’t a viable option for some children and their families. Private schools and homeschooling meet specific needs that public schools simply can’t. I wholeheartedly support parents’ decisions to choose the best form of schooling for their unique situation.
I hope my experience helps others feel confident and informed in their decision to send their children to public school. My article is broken into two sections:
- Parents’ concerns with public school.
- The benefits of public school.
Let’s get started with the concerns…
Section 1: Parents’ concerns with public school
In this first section, I’ll address common concerns parents have about public school. For each concern, I’ll share my experience and tips for what parents can do.
Concern #1: My child will fall through the cracks
Public school classrooms can be crowded, teachers are often overwhelmed, and resources can be lacking. Parents worry their kids will get lost in the chaos or be unable to reach their full potential. This is especially concerning for parents of children with learning disabilities or special needs.
It’s true—public schools do have challenges. The above issues have affected our kids. (Not at all times, but definitely at different points in their school careers.) The good news is parents can help their kids navigate this imperfect system successfully.
Our son struggled through his primary years of elementary school. He was inattentive and lacked attention to detail. He also had fine motor skill challenges, which were a source of immense frustration and tears (for him and us). We recognized very early on that his struggles would compound over time if we didn’t step in and help.
As soon as we recognized his challenges (starting in kindergarten), we began to work intensely with him at home to build his skills and resilience. We had some help from professionals, but most of it was just him and us, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears!
Our son eventually reached a point where he had enough skills and self-knowledge to compensate for his challenges and advocate for himself. I’m happy to report that he’s now thriving in high school.
What parents can do
- Be the squeaky (but polite and respectful) wheel. You need to advocate for your child to make sure they get the help they need.
- Find out what resources are available and which accommodations must be given to your child. (If your child has a learning, mental, or physical disability, a formal assessment and report can be of huge benefit here).
- Shore up your child’s learning at home by helping them learn new skills or improve on those they struggle with. This can help them to both overcome challenges and enrich their learning.
- If it’s in your means, get professional help (psychological testing, occupational or physical therapy, etc.) If it’s not in your means, do some research to see if you can access government funding or free in-school resources.
- Keep communications with teachers and support staff open. Be friendly and work as a team to benefit your child. When parents get combative, everyone loses. (I’ve witnessed this time and time again—don’t be those parents!)
Concern #2: Bad teachers
It’s true—there are bad teachers out there. Whether they’re uncaring, disorganized, or just bad at teaching, they do exist. Parents worry that getting a bad teacher could ruin an entire year for their child, and many believe that private school teachers are better.
Both my kids have had bad teachers. Our younger son had a long-term substitute who spent little time actually teaching and routinely told them girls were better than boys at everything. Yikes! (Interestingly, he was a man.)
Our older son also had a hard time with one of his elementary school teachers. This teacher had high expectations, but didn’t provide clear instructions or enough guidance. Our son floundered, despite our best efforts to help him and communicate with the teacher.
And yet, the next year he had his best year ever, and has continued to improve with each passing year. What happened? How did we turn these awful teacher experiences into future success? I’ll list some strategies below:
What parents can do
- Try the tips listed in Concern #1 above.
- Try to first work things out with the teacher. If you’re unable to resolve the issues, consult with the principal or vice-principal. They can usually intervene to assist the teacher in adjusting their teaching methods.
- If you’re still unable to improve the situation, the next step is to stop and BREATHE! Yes, just breathe, calm yourself, and make peace with the situation. When you reach the point where no further progress can be made with the teacher, acceptance is the best course of action.
- Next, put things in perspective:
- It might feel like it, but it’s not the end of the world! It’s just one year; just a blip in your child’s long educational life.
- Up to Grade 10 (at least in BC) your child’s marks don’t ‘count’. This single year will not affect their chances to access post-secondary schooling.
- Most teachers are good, and a handful are great. There are more good teachers than there are truly bad ones. That means next year will likely be a better year.
- Once your child reaches high school, they’ll no longer be ‘stuck’ with one teacher all year. Any impact a bad teacher may have in high school is diluted to a fraction of your child’s school week.
- Support your child and reinforce that they are not dumb or bad. Your most important goal for this year is to preserve your child’s self-esteem. Do this by focusing on their successes and continuing to build their confidence by teaching new skills.
- Make the best of it by seeing what lessons your child can take away from this. For our son, he learned that you sometimes get stuck with people you don’t work well with—but you still have to make it work. This happens to all of us, and it’s a critical life skill to learn.
A word about private school teachers
Having a bad teacher experience is often the last straw that pushes some parents to move their kids to a private school. But the reality is: private schools won’t save you from bad teachers.
We know many families who’ve had similarly-poor experiences with private school teachers. Private schools typically hire from the same pool of teachers as public schools—so they have the same mix of good and bad teachers.
Concern #3: Extra-curriculars are lacking
Public schools often lack the resources to provide students with extra-curricular or enriched educational experiences. Conversely, private schools and homeschoolers are able to offer their students a wide array of quality experiences.
I feel my kids have had just as many enriched experiences as private and homeschool kids. That’s because most public schools, with some parental support, are able to afford things like field trips and in-school presenters.
But what about after-school classes and clubs? How can public school students access those? Once again, parental involvement comes to the rescue!
What parents can do
- Look for after-school activities at your local community centre. These classes are just as high-quality, and typically very affordable.
- Many public schools do offer a variety of clubs—ask teachers and other parents if you’re unsure of what’s at your school.
- If your child is interested in a club that doesn’t exist, start one! At our school, one mom started a lunchtime chess club. She got permission to book a room at the school, then organized parents and a chess expert to come once a week to help teach kids how to play.
A word on extra-curriculars
As a mom with some experience, I want to help younger parents get a broader perspective on the whole extra-curricular thing. My stance is controversial (but really, it shouldn’t be).
Extra-curriculars won’t make or break your child’s post-secondary success.
This is confirmed by the admissions staff at our local big-name university. They do not care if your child is a soccer star, a dance pro, or a musical genius. That does not matter one iota.
What really matters? They want to know if your child has had life experiences, and can demonstrate what those life experiences have taught them. These life experiences can come from anything—not just paid, organized activities. Your child does not need to be a pro-level athlete or scheduled to the max with activities.
Now, know that I have nothing against kids’ activities. If your kid enjoys their activities, and you have the money and time—go for it! I just want to take the pressure off and urge parents to consider the reasons behind their decisions.
Concern #4: Bad influences
All parents fear that their kids will pick up bad behaviors when they start school. Public school, where anyone’s allowed to enroll, seems to be the worst choice in this respect.
Private schools appear to have an advantage here since most students will come from ‘good’ families. And homeschooling is even better because parents can more easily control who their children are exposed to.
But is public school really that bad?
My kids attend public school, and they’re definitely exposed to all kinds of influences—good and bad. And yet, they’re still good kids and haven’t gone astray.
My husband attended a prestigious private school. While it was true that the kids came from affluent, well-educated homes, he still knew plenty of kids who got into all kinds of naughtiness!
That leaves homeschooling—could it be the best option? It might be, but homeschooling isn’t feasible for most of us.
If public school’s your only option, fear not! Once again (you guessed it) parental involvement saves the day.
What parents can do
One word: connect. This is the one element that’s missing when kids go astray—they’ve lost their connection with their parents. (For more on this, I highly recommend reading “Hold Onto Your Kids” by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.)
If you build a strong, loving connection with your kids from day one, you’ll largely inoculate them against the poor influence of others. Here’s how you can do that:
- Be friendly and loving with your child, but always remember you’re their parent—not their buddy.
- That means you’ll sometimes have to make decisions that aren’t popular. That’s your job. Kids need firm, loving guidance from their parents to grow into responsible adults.
- Get to know your kids’ friends by hosting playdates or get-togethers. This will help you to identify and steer your kids towards the ‘right’ friends (and away from bad influences).
- Volunteer at school to get to know your child’s classmates and teachers. This, like getting to know your child’s friends, is key in helping to steer them towards the right people.
- Connect with your kids at every opportunity:
- Even if it’s been a long day, linger a little at bedtime. This is often when kids will unpack the day and want to talk about problems. In our house, we’ve soothed so many worries and plotted out plans of attack for so many issues at bedtime!
- Talk to your kids about their teachers and friends. Do your best to listen without trying to fix everything. They’ll often find their own solutions just by bouncing their thoughts off of you.
- If your child wants to tell you about their day, put everything down and LISTEN! Teens are especially in danger of disconnecting from their parents, so this is an even bigger priority for this age group.
Section 2: The benefits of public school
We just spent a lot of time going over the challenges of public school and the benefits of private and homeschool. But I don’t think the conversation’s complete without also discussing the benefits of public school (there are many, and they’re good)!
Let’s go through them:
Benefit #1: It’s free
This is the most-obvious benefit, and it’s a significant one. Public schools are free for anyone to attend. That means your child can get a good education—no matter what your financial situation.
Why this is a good thing
For those of us seeking financial freedom, choosing public over private school changes our plans considerably. With private school tuition ranging between $10,000 to $40,000+ per year per child, public school offers a massive savings.
These savings can help us to:
- Direct more money towards helping our kids build their skills.
- Afford conveniences to save time and decrease stress (which will free us to better help our children).
- Have enough income for one parent to stay at home with the kids, which also helps save the entire family time and stress (amongst many other benefits).
- Save more towards financial freedom, which could then result in one or both parents having more time and energy to help their kids.
Benefit #2: More diversity
Public schools are open to anyone, and I think that’s a major societal benefit. When our children are exposed to others from different socio-economic classes, learning styles, and abilities, we all benefit.
Why this is a good thing
- As our kids make their way in the world, they’ll be confronted with all kinds of people. Having lifelong exposure to a wide range of people helps them build the skills to successfully deal with others.
- It helps our kids build empathy towards others. I know parents who’ve complained about special-needs students in their child’s class. They feel there’s too much disruption and that it affects their child’s learning. I vehemently disagree with this. There is more to education than just book learning. I’m happy for my child to see how others work with someone who is ‘different’ and see how everyone can be successful in their own way.
- Knowing others from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds helps our kids keep things in perspective. (Maybe not getting that iPad for Christmas isn’t the end of the world after all!)
Benefit #3: It’s close to home
Typically, at least one public school will be within walking distance from your home. If not, there’s likely one just a few minutes’ bike ride or drive away.
Why this is a good thing
- You can easily make the school commute part of your exercise routine.
- Using a non-motorized form of transport to get to school is an amazing way to start the day and prime the brain and body for learning.
- It’s not only less-stressful to walk or cycle, but these activities actually help us to de-stress.
- Obviously, driving less saves money and is good for the Earth.
- Kids have the option to return home for lunch or grab a forgotten item.
- Being in the same neighbourhood as the school means that friends are just around the corner. My husband’s private school was across town, so he never could never have after-school or impromptu playdates.
- Living near your school also means your children’s classmates and their families are your neighbours. This makes it more likely that your family will put down roots and have a stronger connection to the community.
Benefit #4: It gives parents and kids some space
While the benefits of homeschooling are immense, most of us aren’t able to commit to the time and energy required to do it. As much as we love our kids, it can be beneficial for them and us to have some time apart.
Why this is a good thing
- Socializing outside the home is important for all kids*. Some kids (like my extraverted younger son) need a lot of socializing to be happy. Being able to see friends and teachers everyday helps kids like my son to keep their socializing bucket nice and full!
- Having the opportunity to interact with others without parental guidance helps kids experience the cause and effect of their own actions.
- When parents can deal with the necessities of life (work, chores, errands) while their kids are at school, they can be more present with them in the after-school hours.
- Having the kids attend school outside of the house gives at-home parents a good chunk of time each day. This can allow them to then take on a job or side hustle and contribute to the family’s savings.
- Even parents who have reached FF and no longer need to work still need time to pursue hobbies and interests. These pursuits lead to a more fulfilled life, which makes for happier parents (which in turn leads to happier kids).
*I do realize that homeschooled kids have many opportunities to socialize! But attending school outside the home facilitates socializing with a lot less time and effort on parents’ part.
There are definite challenges with a public school education. But it’s possible for parents to meet these challenges head-on and help their kids do well. There are also plenty of benefits to public schooling—parents shouldn’t overlook these points when making educational decisions for their kids.
I hope this article gave you a good overview of what to expect when enrolling your child in public school. Big thanks to Phia for giving me the opportunity to share a passion of mine with her audience. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to share them below. I’ll be happy to reply!
It’s me again (Editors Note:)
A huge thank you to Chrissy for writing such a comprehensive and insightful post! If you want to see more of Chrissy’s content, be sure to check out her blog EatSleepBreatheFI!
Next week we will be talking about 4 money related words that I (try) NEVER to say to my kids. As always, thanks for reading and have a great week!