Why We Sent Our Homeschooled Child to Public School This Year
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If you would’ve told me a year ago that my oldest child would be in public school this year, I would’ve been shocked. It was not even something that was on our radar. But off he goes, 10-year-old Firefly, every weekday morning, often before his other siblings are even awake for the day. He comes home every afternoon and we struggle to fit in homework with friends and family time, like so many other families. We go to school bingo nights and class parties. We puzzle over new ways to do old math.
Going to school started with a need that he began to express about wanting to be around other kids more. He is my most social of kiddos, the one who immediately makes friends upon entering any new situation, the one who asks before leaving every playground if we can have a play date with whoever he has befriended that day. The one who puts the stereotype to the test. You know the one I mean. The unsocialized homeschooler stereotype. This kid is the antithesis of that.
Playing with his siblings and the neighborhood kids and hanging out with his homeschool buddies two or three times a week wasn’t enough for him any more. So we put into place some new social opportunities last year. We joined a weekly co-op and enrolled him in classes at a local homeschool enrichment center: Over 100 homeschooled kids on the campus every Wednesday. We went early and stayed late and brought our lunch and hung out on the playground.
But still, there was something missing for him. He began to ask about planning to go to high school, then middle school. And, it wasn’t just about school. This was the year he began to experience embarrassment if I, his mom, tried to help him with something in public. He needed more space to try new things, to succeed, to fail. I could almost see him stretching his wings like a little bird on the edge of the nest, planning his first flight.
The school issue came up again: “I just want to know what it’s like to go to recess and eat lunch in the cafeteria like a normal kid, like the kids I see on t.v. and read about in books.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I get that. He wants the experience of school. It made me think of how I longed to go live on campus at a college that I could’ve easily commuted to. I wanted to live in the dorms, to experience college life. With little awareness of the financial strain it must’ve been at the time, I saw that my Dad didn’t hesitate. He made it happen. He got it.
But middle school? That had me worried. Was that really the best time to transition from homeschool to public school? I would be totally content to homeschool my kids through high school but we re-evaluate year by year, kid by kid. Is this working? Does it make the most sense for this child, for our family? I thought if they really wanted or needed to go to school, we would ease back into it. Our county offers partial enrollment for 7th and 8th grade. Perhaps that would be the time to try it, to have the experience of going to school but still have the freedoms that learning at home allow. A nice way for a little bird to stretch out his wings a bit more.
Many discussions between my husband and I later, and we concluded that perhaps elementary school would be a better time to try public school. Could he go there for 5th grade? Was he even ready academically? I had not followed the state standards. We truly worked at our own pace. I figured he was behind in math for sure and probably writing–I’d never had him write reports and our few attempts at copy work led to such traumatic meltdowns.
We had made a lot of accommodations at home for fine motor delays and sensory challenges. Would those be honored at public school without a prior IEP? So many questions.
When I called the school to inquire, the principal talked to me for nearly an hour on the phone. He was welcoming and kind and had a cooperative approach. No, they don’t test incoming homeschoolers (although our state allows this to be the principal’s discretion), yes they could see that he was placed with a teacher that could be helpful to his needs.
After a meeting with the assistant principal, I was pleasantly surprised. We were asked if there was another child Firefly would like to be in class with, to make him feel welcome. The accommodations we had in place at home, some of which came from his Occupational Therapist and some that we had discovered to be helpful to him over time, would be honored as much as possible.
A look at the state standardized test showed that he had some work to do over the summer to catch up with math and he would need to learn the components of a 5 paragraph essay. It was doable. Truly, I was pleasantly surprised to see that even though we had marched to the beat of our own academic drum at home for the past four years, Firefly was not as far behind in math and writing as I thought. He appeared to be right on the mark or ahead in all other subjects as well.
We decided we would much rather have him experience school in an elementary setting, with one main teacher rather than many, with one third of the student population. There would be no bus ride. He would be with friends he knew from our neighborhood and from the preschool he went to. It all seemed to fall in place. A nice safe place to try out flying.
But, it was a hard transition for those of us still at home. His younger siblings had never known homeschool without their big brother there. For me, it felt strange to not know anything, really, about huge chunks of his day.
On the positive side, it gave me more time to focus on my younger two kids. They get more learning time with mommy and more say over our schedule and activities.
We’re more than halfway through the year now. Firefly has done well academically and socially but he’s noticed a lot of differences. Turns out, you don’t get to do science and history, his two favorite subjects, all the time. In fact, there hasn’t been much history at all this year thus far, a fact that truly disappoints him. But he’s discovered Pokemon card trading, so that’s a plus.
Some nights there is simply too much homework, leaving little down time or family time. I write a note to the teacher and say we did all we could do and it was time to stop for the night. They are very understanding about that.
What is most notably missing is time. As a homeschooler, he had the time…
- To putter and tinker and play and linger.
- To keep reading a great book all day by the fireplace in the winter.
- To go out and experience learning at an historical site or museum many, many times during the course of a year.
- To sleep in.
- To sign up for as many activities as he wanted (now we must limit him to one).
- To hang out with his homeschooled friends any day that their schedules coordinated, with never the reason, “I can’t. I have schoolwork to do.”
- To be outside. All. The. Time.
- To have Tea Time Poetry Tuesdays (“Why don’t they do that in school, Mom?”).
Choices are missing, too. Overall, he likes public school but he is coming to terms with the lack of choices. Choices in what he gets to learn about, when he learns about it and what methods are available to him.
And how’s all that socialization going? It’s turned out a bit different that I expected. I thought he would expand his base of friends and we’d see new faces coming in an out our front door after school and on weekends, but as it turns out, Firefly just wants to hang out with his best buddy. They’re in school together now, but the time they spend together outside of school is about the same as it was when Firefly was homeschooled.
He talks to lots of other kids at school, but they are more acquaintances that close friends. He occasionally hangs out with another boy from school, but he met him last summer at the pool. And he sees his homeschoooling buddies, too, although not as often as when he was homeschooled.
Public school has given him the opportunity to interact with other kids (who aren’t his siblings) for more hours each day. Kind of like co-workers. But it hasn’t really increased his number of close friends. That has stayed constant. And he seems comfortable with that. Quality of friendships over quantity.
I understand his need to talk to others and interact frequently. He’s an extrovert. I am, too. We get our energy renewed from being around others.
Let me be clear. I don’t think sending a homeschooled child to public school is the only answer to a child’s desire for more social time or more independence. And, for Firefly, it wasn’t just about social time, it was about getting a set of experiences he desired. Most certainly, we would never have sent him there if the school did not respond with such amazing support and kindness. We would not have sent him there if we thought it would be a negative experience for him.
Will he continue in public school next year? I don’t know the answer to that yet. It’s a decision our family will make together. I plan to write the next chapter of this story, once it unfolds. For now, I wanted to share our process, of how we got to this place. I think there are other families out there who wrestle with the decision to keep a child at home or to send them to school or to make a blend of academic choices work for the family as a whole. I believe only each family can decide for themselves what is best for them.
Have you sent your child from homeschool to public or private school? Or are you thinking of doing that now? I’d love to hear your story. Please share in the comments.