I told her there might be another, less drastic option. A few old homeschooling friends of ours had ended up attending a three-day-a-week Christian Montessori school intended to give homeschoolers some of the benefits of school while allowing time for family learning, too. The school had unusually long breaks—six weeks off in December and January, two weeks in March—and finished for the year in mid-May. There were no grades, no tests, and minimal homework. It felt like School Lite—a gentle way to try out school without completely giving up on homeschooling.
My son was emphatically not interested. My daughter agreed to check it out.
The day we toured the school, I was impressed by the school’s peaceful, friendly atmosphere. But there were also things that gave me pause. The school was run by evangelical Christians, but our family isn’t Christian. Would my daughter be accepted here? Could we as a family feel comfortable here even though we don’t go to church and aren’t believers?
My daughter was quietly observant throughout the school tour, her body language stiff. By the end of the tour, I was sure she was going to say she wasn’t interested. Honestly, I kind of wanted her to say she wasn’t interested. As miserable I’d been with homeschooling that winter, I didn’t feel ready to give it up, either.
As we left the school and walked to our car, I asked my daughter, “So, what did you think?”
“I liked it!” she declared. She was perfectly clear on the matter; she was going to that school that fall.
I wept many tears that spring and summer, agonizing that sending her to school was a big mistake (always out of sight of my daughter, of course).
My daughter did occasionally feel out-of-place attending a school where almost all the other kids were regular churchgoers. She was startled when one teacher mentioned that they didn’t teach about evolution at her school, but that they prayed for people who believed in it. My daughter had taken a class about evolution at our local zoo the year before and had read extensively about it at home. The idea that her school would completely dismiss discussing it floored her.
At home, we talked about approaching these sorts of differences as a chance to learn about the range of perspectives that make up our country and our world and the different ways people approach controversy and disagreement. We brainstormed how she could stay true to herself even if she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up loudly at school. I was grateful that our family’s work together as homeschoolers had laid down a foundation for us to talk this way, and that my daughter’s years as a life learner have given her a strong sense of self she can fall back on when she feels confused or out-of-step with the people around her.
As that first year went on, my daughter found that she really liked the way Montessori learning combines structure with freedom of movement and choice. She’s also fairly introverted, and she found that her school—a school where “nobody knows how to be mean,” as she put it recently—helped her come out of her shell. Seeing the same kids regularly in a routine, predictable environment was more comfortable for her than going to unstructured homeschool play groups, where she’d mostly clung to my side and not talked to the other kids. Once-a-week, short-term classes for homeschoolers also hadn’t really given her enough time to warm up to other kids.
I still don’t believe that school is necessary for kids to get “socialized”—it’s simply that for my individual kid at the developmental stage she was at, this particular school was a better social fit.