Back-to-school season is in full swing as families all across Cincinnati get ready for the big day. Facebook is about to be flooded with photographs of our cute kids, posing with backpacks filled with new supplies, and grins filled with excitement about a brand new year.
For us parents, it’s always a big sigh of relief. A lot of preparation and planning goes into the launch of a new school year. For parents with young children just beginning their academic career, that preparation might have also included a lot of research into all of the options out there. And there really are a lot!
My daughter is going to be starting the first grade in just a few short weeks, and I can say that the past few years has been a lot of going back and forth about our options. When she turned 3, we started to look around and found an overwhelming number of choices and styles for education, some of which we had never heard of before becoming parents.
To give some background, my husband is a happy and healthy graduate of the public school system, which he attended K-12. I, on the other hand, come from a pretty mixed background. I spent the first two years in public school, then transferred to a private Christian school for 2nd-8th grades, after which I attended an Independent School for high school. To top it off, my mom is an early childhood educator, and taught in both Montessori and Christian schools as a I grew up. With that background, we didn’t necessarily have a clear-cut answer as to how and where we want our kids to go to school.
Although I am by no means an expert on each of these styles of education, here is what we found as we started our own search into what our options were, and still are:
- District Public : Free (…if you don’t count paying taxes) very accessible, and a good program where we live. My husband had a great experience at public school, and my two years were fine too! The downsides for us are larger classes, and a lot of state testing. This will always be our fallback option.
- Christian/Catholic: Price tag on this one is $, but we have two options within a 5-10 minute drive which isn’t too bad, smaller class sizes, and great academic programs.
- Homeschool: Part of me always thought I would end up homeschooling my kids. Then I had kids. Enough said.
- Montessori: My mom taught in a Montessori school when I was growing up, so I was exposed to the ideas of the Montessori structure, which is self-directed learning. I am kind of partial to this style of learning for my kids! And fortunately for us, we have a very affordably priced Montessori school that is a five minute WALK from our house.
- Other options I heard about, but didn’t seriously consider:
- Boarding School: Probably not an option for First Grade anyway, plus there is NO WAY I could part with my kid for that long!
- Waldorf: I love the ideas of Waldorf, including some of the self-directed learning principles, but the price tag is a bit steep for us, nd let’s be honest, any more than a 10-15 minute drive and I’m seriously reconsidering.
- Classical Education: Technically this encompasses Waldorf, and there are also a couple of classical Christian schools in Cincinnati. I like the strong academic core, but it can be expensive, and again, the drive.
- “Un”-schooling: Just not for us. I like the self-directed learning, but I also like a bit of structure, and just know this would not be a good fit for our family lifestyle.
- Independent School: I went to a private, Independent “Day School” for high school, and really loved the quality education and class sizes! However, the price tag is high, at least for this age and stage of my kids’ lives, and it is also a drive to the nearest school that fits the bill.
- Charter Public: “Free”, but not as accessible for us as there is no charter school close by. Driving plus traffic a couple of times a day doesn’t sound appealing with little kids in tow.
With all of these choices, our family ultimately decided to send our then 3-year old to the local Montessori school, where she is now entering her 4th year, and our son will be joining her for his 1st year! Each and every year is a re-evaluation of this decision for us as a family unit and for our kids as individuals. We ask ourselves questions like:
- Is this the choice we want to make with that money?
- Is this accessible for us, and can we make the schedule work?
- Are the kids thriving, and learning what they need to learn each year to excel as much as they are capable academically? Is a love of learning being fostered in them?
- Does the program meet our kids and their needs individually as learners, and as growing contributors to our society?
- Are we fostering good community and family relationships where we are?
For now, Montessori is what works for us, but of course we are remaining open and flexible to other options as our family grows, and our dynamics change.