Sometimes you blog to teach something and sometimes to share something. I started this one with the plan to teach something, but after it was written, it felt kind of lacking. So I took the teaching part out and just left my story. Today I’m sharing my journey (so far) with my kids in Montessori, Public and Homeschool.
When my kids were little, I started thinking about what type of school my kids would attend when they were ready. I know in some cities, people have to start booking things before their children are even born. I was fortunate, I didn’t have those types of deadlines. Still, I wanted to explore my choices and make the “best” one for my kids and family. I used a bit of selective research, intuition, and convenience to make my choice. My husband was involved in these decisions, but I will speak to the journey from my perspective.
What are the Choices?
In Ontario, the free choices are Catholic school and Public school which can be in English, French or French-Immersion (French-based education for English speakers). The paid choices are Montessori, Waldorf, and various religious and secular private schools. The other option is homeschooling which is free, but requires a parent to be the teacher.
For many parents the free choices are the only choices. Yet, there are a variety of private schools that are kind to parents who want their child to attend a private school but cannot afford them. You can get scholarships to a local Montessori school and often religious private schools have tuition that is friendly to families with more than one child. I know many families who are on tight budgets that get creative financially so that their kids can go to a private school. So private schools can be an option if one feels passionately about them and the circumstances are in your favour.
Narrow the Choices
Everyone is going to narrow their choices differently. Free or paid? Religious or secular? Which schools will meet our children’s learning needs the most? French or English?
Every parent will pick different priorities. For some parents they have always known which school they want their kids to attend, for others like me, the choices needed to be narrowed.
I started by narrowing my choices by looking at my preferences. I wanted a school where my kids would thrive educationally and socially. Since I wasn’t interested in a school with a religious affiliation, that narrowed my choices. My preferences became public school, Montessori or Waldorf. Next, I did some reading about Montessori and Waldorf-based educations. I put my kids into Montessori-based daycares. Day-care was a great way to try out a different type of educational style because I had to pay for day-care anyways. I looked into Waldorf-based daycares, but their schedule never fit with my schedule and they were the furthest away from me.
Cost, Convenience, Quality of Education, Community
At the end of it all I put my kids into public-school because of the cost, convenience, quality of education and being connected to our local community. My husband and I would look at the cost of Montessori and realized that we weren’t passionate enough about it to commit the money to it. The Montessori school didn’t have bussing and they had more holidays. The kids never experienced Waldorf and since the closest Waldorf school was a 30-minute drive, we took that option off the table. We also knew we wanted to have our kids in French Immersion. My husband had attended a French-Immersion school and had a positive experience with it. He is fluent in French and this has been helpful for him in business and in life. Out of our top choices, the public-school avenue was the only option to also have our children in French-Immersion.
My kids attended public school for a number of years in Canada and then..we moved to France.
French school choices
In France, parents have to make similar choices as they do in Ontario. Free or paid? If you want religious schools, they are private. Montessori and Waldorf are also private. In Aix-en-Provence people also chose based on whether they want their children to apply to the prestigious conservatoire of music program (which allows people to access it for free) – and that would narrow their choices too. Later as students approach highschool (lycée), the choices shift and change once again in a more complex fashion than in Ontario.
The group of moms I befriended had as many different opinions as my friends in Canada. In general, the parents I talked to weren’t as happy as fellow Canadians about the public-school system. Many parents had a story where one teacher was very disrespectful and shaming to one or more of their children. Some families had worked things out with their public school and some had moved their children to a different school. Parents had opposite opinions about the local Montessori school and no one I met seemed very happy with the International schools.
My choice was either homeschool (as I had promised my kids) or put them in public school. Since my husband was the only one working, private schooling wasn’t an option.
I couldn’t work in Aix-en-Provence with the type of Visa I had, so homeschooling was an option. After a couple of months of doing this and hearing the negative stories about the public schools, I committed to it for the year. I also found a great way to add some French for my kids – with a Montessori based practice, Les Ateliers Montessori Flocon D’Épices that offers 2-hour workshops as needed. I had my kids attend these twice a week at a very affordable cost.
In Canada, Homeschooling is quite popular so there are a lot more options about getting together with other people who homeschool in your area. Homeschooling is not as popular in France as it is in Ontario. During my year in Provence I met one other family who homeschooled, and that happened by chance. I couldn’t find anyone by searching online.
Homeschooling – the reality
I admit I have always had a romantic notion about homeschooling. I knew I never wanted to do it forever, but France presented itself with an opportunity to try it out for a year. All those things you don’t like about large classrooms disappear. Bullying – not a problem. Can’t play on the grass during the rain? Not an issue. Your child learns better with a different style? As a parent/teacher I can adapt and focus on my children’s needs.
But then – you are with your children ALL the time. Before I started homeschooling I asked some parents who homeschool for some tips. That’s right I did some selective research! My favourite response from a mom, when I asked her how she managed being with her kids all the time, was prayer. I definitely prayed for patience sometimes. Other days I just had a glass of wine. When in France…
Kidding aside (half-truth), in those tough times I would often take a deep breath and take some space when I needed it by finding a room where I could close a door behind me. I definitely lost my cool at times and said and did all those things you’re not supposed to. I would threaten to put them in French public school or yell at them when they were giving me a hard time.
So what type of school has been best for my kids?
The Kids Vote
My kids have tried an Ontario public school, Montesorri in two different daycares, and in twice-weekly workshops in France and homeschool. If you asked my kids what their favourite was it would be their public school. They like being around other kids and they liked that there’s a gym. They probably had more work to do in public school, but that didn’t change their answer. Their next favourite would be homeschool because it was in English, they got to spend time with their mom and had less work to do. They said they liked homeschool because the days weren’t as long as public school. Their least favourite would be Montessori but only because it was in French. If it hadn’t been in French, I’m sure their perspective would’ve been different. My oldest was very proud of some of the stuff he learned in his Montessori sessions.
So how did the kids narrow their preference? Access to friends was the main priority. Having activities in English were a bonus, amount of work, then teachers.
My kids have had the fortunate experience of having great teachers and haven’t had the experience where they really didn’t like a teacher. My guess is that if they had a teacher they strongly disliked, that this would have influenced their decision more.
My favourite was Montessori – I really like Marie Montessori’s theories around education and love the hands-on learning and seeing the child as expert of their own learning. My kids have had 3 very different Montessori-based teachers. 2 different ones in day-care and 1 in Aix-en-Provence. Seeing such a difference was great – sometimes I imagined a Montessori teacher to be this calm, open-hearted yet firm teacher and that all teachers were like this. Maybe because of the videos I watched of Montessori in action.
Sometimes I would idealize Montessori, but like many schools – there are many factors that make a school the best fit for a person. Some schools offer better quality of education, others have a great parent community, some schools fit offer a learning style that fits your children’s learning style. You get great teachers and crappy teachers in any school system you choose (homeschool included haha). Some schools are free and some are very expensive. If Montessori was free in Canada, I would hands-down put them in this type of schooling.
Public school and home schooling both still have pros and cons.
It has been a treat to not make lunches every day or get up at 6:30 in the morning. We get up in the morning and start when we’re ready – usually by 9:30. Sometimes school is in pajamas and sometimes not. My relationship with my kids has deepened – we became very close. I also learned a lot about setting boundaries and pushing my kids to do things even when they didn’t want to. I liked that in homeschool I could add subjects that were of interest to my kids or me and remove other subjects. I am interested in energy healing so I added some teaching around that. We talked with a woman who does animal communication, and we did a lot of learning being immersed in another culture. Ordering something at the local boulangerie (bakery) or playing with kids who only spoke French. My oldest took an interest in Greek mythology and listened to all the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus books. They read Asterix books and learned about the Gauls and Romans. We visited many places that were related to both of these series.
I also like having my kids in the public school in Canada because I like the school that they attend. It’s not that it doesn’t have issues, but teachers are excellent and I like that so many of my neighbours also have children who attend the same school. You get to connect and know each other and my kids get to know more of the neighbours as well. Some of my best friends are parents of other kids from that school. My kids have learned a lot at that school. My kids have been complimented frequently on their French accent – which the mainly achieved from the French-Immersion program they attended in Ontario.
In France I narrowed my choices by cost, quality of education, and really just filling that bucket-list item of trying out homeschool.
Just like the Myth of Perfect Parenting, my journey with schooling has connected me to my values. Ultimately, I want my kids to be in a school where they are respected and in an environment where they thrive educationally and as people.
Like families, schools are full of people, and when you combine people sometimes things will flow and sometimes there will be conflict. There are better quality schools than others, and schools that handle conflict and issues better than others. Like parents, teachers have good days and bad days.
My kids have thrived and struggled in different ways in each type of school they have experienced. There hasn’t been a “best” school. Like parenting, I’ve found it best to see what is working for our family right now and make shifts as needed. How has your journey with school been with your kids?