One of the first things we did after moving to Wyoming was tour preschools. I had thought getting Nora started with a school would be the best way for her to meet other kids while giving me more time to get things done around the house and work on a few websites. I hadn’t found many preschools during my pre-move research (just two to be exact), but once we arrived we got a couple more recommendations from locals. Chris and I had decided to keep an open mind and visit as many schools as possible to compare all options rather than prejudging, though I’ll admit I very much wanted to prejudge each and every one. In the end, we visited five different preschools. The first day of preschool visits was discouraging to say the least. One I knew we wouldn’t want the minute I walked in the door. The second was highly recommended to us, but felt impersonal, too large, and included Christian education. Day two brought us to another Christian preschool, to a preschool in a daycare, and also to a teacher similar to the one we loved in Nantucket, but whose classroom was deep inside a commercial building with no access to sunlight.
One of the biggest things to which we will have to adapt in our new state is the greater influence of religion in the community as a whole. On the list of recommend preschools we received, four out of the five schools were Christian-based programs. In Nantucket, I never would have even visited or considered a religiously affiliated school. I’m all about alternative and private education, but neither Chris nor I like the idea of a third party introducing religion to our children without us being present, especially if such teachings could potentially include intolerance or bigotry. In our new community, we ended up visiting and/or speaking on the phone with several religious schools because if we had not done so, there would literally have been just one or two places to consider. We discussed, briefly, the possibility about being more flexible in the case of a program we really loved also occasionally include a bible lesson. At first I thought that if we found such a program, we could just play an active role in discussing the story with Nora and making sure she understood that not all people believe it, etc. It turned out that discussion was irrelevant because even ignoring the inclusion of religious education there wasn’t a school we liked, and I’m glad it turned out that way. The more I think about it, the more concerned I am about Nora being taught Christian beliefs by someone we don’t know.
Excluding the Christian-based schools left us with only one possibility: the teacher we liked but in a classroom without natural light. We might have looked past the lack of sunshine, despite how important as I think it is to a child’s healthy development, but her program was only offered full-time, five days per week from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Neither Chris nor I feel that Nora needs to be out of the house 35 hours per week. While she might happily enjoy a seven hour day here or there, five days in a row seems like a lot. I’m a stay-at-home mom for a reason; we don’t want her spending nearly all her waking hours in the care of someone else, whether it’s “educational” or not. And thus we ruled out our last preschool possibility.
I spent about half a day wondering what exactly we were going to do without preschool for the next year and a half. I’ll admit, it was pretty darn nice to get four straight hours to myself twice each week, and it was clear that Nora very much enjoyed going to the Exploration Station in Nantucket. I know what life is like with a bored preschooler — and it’s not fun — so I momentarily panicked. And then I remembered all those discussions we had about homeschooling. About how key creativity is to us and how we don’t think it’s an important enough part of public education, even though it should be education’s goal. About the benefit of being able to tailor lessons 100% to our children’s individual needs, abilities, and interests. And about the flexibility of being able to work school around our funky restaurant-family schedule, which would allow our kids the maximum amount of time with their dad. I remembered all of that, took a deep breath, and then decided to get serious about homeschooling.
I spoke with a friend who I consider to be a very successful homeschooling mom. I bought a Waldorf-inspired, accredited curriculum, I took a deep breath, and I dove right in. For the next year and a half, we will be trying out home school. At this age, what homeschooling means to us is signing Nora up for a variety of lessons and activities, in addition to spending at least 30 minutes each weekday afternoon on workbook and literacy type activities. We will also continue with our usual creative and exploration activities, outings and crafts. So far, it seems like we won’t be having any trouble finding activities. I signed Nora up for weekly tap/ballet, tumbling/hip hop, and art classes. We will be going swimming at the rec center at least once per week and attending story hour at the library. I hope to get her in the next session of swimming lessons and spoke with a piano teacher about starting piano lessons over the summer. Between art, dance, swimming, and music, I think we’ll have a very well-rounded little girl. We’re going to sit out for “school” at the same time every afternoon both for the purposes of routine building and to insure that I actually do it. Depending on how all of this goes, we may get brave and keep homeschooling into kindergarten.