Monday, March 7, 2011

Arming Myself With a Public School Instruction Manual

With Spring around the corner, and the first marigold seeds started in the greenhouse, it's impossible for me not to think about the end of the school year. After much thought, a few tears, and more than a few headaches, we have decided to send Connor to our lovely public school up the street.

I am completely comfortable with the decision. But that doesn't mean that it's not hard. After all, Connor has been at the same Waldorf school since he turned two, when he and I desperately needed a touchstone in the midst of Helen's arrival. Every week (except the day Helen was born), Connor and I spent our Friday morning together at parent-child class. Before class, I would nurse Helen, hand her over to whomever was caring for her, race to school, and then take a deep breath. Connor and I made snack, knit a small blanket (me) or played with inside toys (Connor), played hand games, ate snack (me) or watched other people eat snack (Connor), played outside, and then watched a puppet play. And then I would race home as fast as I could, and feed Helen again. It was a weekly ritual that set us straight more than once over the next year and a half.

Connor would go on to attend a semester of 3-day Kindergarten, and then two years of 5-day Kindergarten. I consider keeping him in that Kindergarten class the second year, rather than sending him to public school, among the best parenting decisions Ed and I have ever made, for a variety of reasons. Looking back, I'm even more sure of it than I was when Ed and I made the decision. Connor has spent the past year doing everything I think is important. He's focused on manual work (maintaining the classroom, sawing logs for the annual bonfire), imaginative and creative play (you should've seen his rendition of Rumpelstiltskin a few days ago when he went to visit his friend H. - I will forever be sad I didn't capture it on video), and substantive work (forming a cohesive class unit). At Connor's conference a few days ago, Mr. K. noted that Connor had a very strong friendship with one boy, often would join the girls in their kitchen play, but melted easily into anything else that interested him. In short, it's been a fantastic year. Connor runs to the playground each day, with barely a glance back at whomever drops him off for the day. That's a big change from those first days of parent-child, when he would not leave my side for very long at all.

And just as Connor has learned the rhythms of the school, so have I. I've changed from being a hurried parent in the parent-child class - who barely knew what was going on in the school, to being the Treasurer of the board, with stints as newsletter editor, volunteer coordinator for the Fall Festival, and Silent Auction assistant along the way. Finally, I know the ins and out of the school. Rather than seeing a few familiar faces at community gatherings, I see almost all familiar faces. Rather than stressing about certain discipline issues, I know exactly how to handle them. What once seemed completely foreign to me is now second nature. I'm happy to go toe to toe with anyone on why Waldorf education works. As the principal at our public school told me when I fretted about some things Connor will not have been taught when he enters public school "my experience is that Waldorf children come ready to learn". And he is. He is perfectly prepared.

But now the work starts again. We'll both be learning new ropes, for a new system, and I'll be asking for advice from all my neighbors. But especially the one who sent her children to the same Waldorf school Connor went to. She's been heaven sent, so far.


This post was inspired by the book "Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English" by Natasha Solomons. When Mr. Rosenblum first moves to England, he is handed a manual detailing all the important customs of a proper Englishman. He sets about adding to it. I only hope our journey through public education ends as nicely as Mr. Rosenblum's. It was a fantastic book that I cannot wait to pass onto a friend. As a member of the From Left to Write book club, I received a free copy of the book. This post was inspired by it.


  1. Wow, I didn't realize you were switching to public school! I hogged the conversation with my continued angst over our public school decisions. I think it may take more than 150 points to master the public school system, though. I liked this book a lot. I could write 5 or 10 posts inspired by it.

  2. Certainly not the essence of your post, but I love this quote: "I am completely comfortable with the decision. But that doesn't mean that it's not hard." Acknowledging and understanding these sort of competing (or is it complementary) emotions is one of the things that has come with wisdom/age and I think it is critical to continued self-development and self-awareness.

  3. So glad you enjoyed the book! Thanks for your post.

  4. Our son will be entering Pre-K, public school this September too. I have a few worries about him; he will still be four, has Tourette's OCD, and some anxiety, but he is also smart and I think he might do better in a more mature setting.

    It's such a big step for all our kids! I, like your husband, will be glad to get rid of the nearly thousand dollar a month cost too!

  5. Elaine,

    What a thoughtful and poignant post. I mirror so many of your emotions and thoughts but substitute David's Jewish preschool for the Waldorf sentiment. As we too take the jump into public school I look forward to being on the journey with you.


  6. We might join you there too. Teachers at Montessori schools mentioend that another year would be good for Rachel and we are thinking about our options. I do think she is ready to start public school but we'll see