18 May 2013

school - it all comes down to choices... lots of grace and prayer... and Mama and Daddy and kids all just doing their best

Jonathan's first grade class on a field trip to the airport

We've done just about any and all of the school options ... except boarding school. That is only because we've never had to consider that option (although first child heads off to a college dorm this August... and yes, I know, that doesn't quite count). But just because we've never had to seriously consider it doesn't mean that we wouldn't. And very honestly, with the exception of home schooling and the eventual possibility of online classes, I don't think any of the other options were even on the table when we first landed on the African continent. I say "think" because I know they weren't, in my mind. I'm not sure if hubby was entertaining other possibilities at that point in time or not.

Wouldn't it be easier if these educational decisions were black and white sorts-a things?

Tori's class at the English language, international expat school
Tori's class a few years earlier, at the private, French local school
But they aren't. 

Even within one family, what works best for one child doesn't for another, while what goes beautifully one year may begin to flop and flounder the next. Then you somehow have to weigh all of that into the realities of family life, transportation, needed supplies and materials, financial issues, parent available time etc., etc., etc.

Playing with a flute quartet for graduation at the expat school.
Our kids have been home schooled, in local language (French) private schools (we haven't considered the public schools an option because teachers are on strike and school is canceled more than it is in session), and expat/international English language school. We've worked with tutors and fought through on line classes. We've also used various combinations of these possibilities within our family in the same school year... even part-time one/part-time another for specific children. Kids do benefit from consistency, but that also hasn't stopped us from making a change when warranted. 

A favorite field trip locale near town.
There are pros and cons to each possibility and every permutation. 

Our children have been bullied by both the local kids and the other expats when they went to French school. That forced us to teach them at a much younger than I ever dreamed of age how to protect themselves without picking fights and in ways that were culturally appropriate in two very different cultures. Our son learned (seriously) that Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon was all a big hoax and teased when he disagreed. One of our girls cried every. single. day. she went to school for the first 4 years. She also cried when she went to her horseback riding lessons. But she wanted to continue because she wanted to learn how to be brave enough to leave the house without Mom or Dad always by her side.

It's never a one size fits all situation: different positives outweigh different negatives for  every one our kids in every imaginable school set-up I can think of. 

A bigger question, I believe, is how we parent our children through those difficult school moments. That's much more important than belaboring "Did we make a bad choice?"

Our older kids are fluent in French and English and are culturally comfortable and adaptable. They see their privilege and are thankful for it. When I'm home schooling, we read, more than a lot - and they all love reading. Big kids help little kids with homework, be it from a classroom or be it home school activities. They have friends from all over the world. I mean, how cool is it that Elsie Mae has a classmate named God's Favour? Or that Brendan's graduating class is as African as it is western?

Home school allows explorations schools might not always be able to facilitate... which means kids can study a topic about which they are passionate and enjoy learning all for the sake of learning. Doing so in an African context just means we've got access to things like friends who keep pythons as pets...

I've also had to be careful that I haven't grafted my dreams onto my kids via their education - especially with the language issue. My five oldest are all very comfortable in French. The next two both have some significant learning issues - one has an articulation disorder and the other is being tested for an auditory processing disorder. The older one of those two started in French and he understands much of what he hears and can communicate well enough to feel comfortable playing with buddies. Once we switched him into an English environment, his specific disability issues started to improve, significantly.

Our kids have always loved their tanties, tontons, maitres, maitresses and teachers, regardless of what their schooling situation in a given year. In that, we've been tremendously blessed. In fact, sometimes, it was Mom who was the least favorite one, grumpiest and most slave driving-est!
Were those first years in French academically the very best choice for him? Quite possibly not. Do I regret them? Not at all... and neither does he. Am I sad that he's not going to have the benefit of a second language the way his older siblings do? Absolutely... but I also recognize that I'm a lot sadder about it than he is; for him, that 2nd language was simply a means to an end - street soccer fun. For me? I had to let go of an educational dream that had the potential of making me look like a better than average parent.

A hawk we hoped to rehabilitate - sadly, his wings were damaged beyond complete healing.
But it was fascinating watching our mama hen go into defensive mode to protect her chicks when such a fearsome predator was living just a few meters down.
So yes, there are pros and cons to each possibility. And I totally get that we want to make the very best choices for our kids. We should feel that responsibility. So we get the facts, pray a ton, make decisions and then run with them. That decision making process can be agonizing. 

There are... will be... times our choices work beautifully... 

other times we can make them work... and 

then from time to time we realize that we need to make a change... at the end of the school year... or even immediately, as in NOW! 

I'm actually having that exact same discussion with our oldest, only this time it is in relation to university studies. He's sought the Lord and he's making the very best choice he can see for this next year. We're going to support him in that and Lord-willing, somehow make it work. Then we'll re-evaluate and see if this is the direction we continue or if there needs to be a change. And change does not mean failure, on the part of us, on his part, or on the part of the school.

When I stopped looking at needing to change as a failure on my part and started seeing it as God continually giving me more and more insight into my children and their needs, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. 

I think it has also lifted a huge weight off my kids hearts and minds as well. They don't have this unintentional pressure always radiating from Mama that somehow their struggles mean Mama thinks she's goofed. They don't need to carry the burden of their mama thinking, believing or acting as if their progress and success defines her as either a good or bad mom.

What defines me as a good mom is my obedience and willingness to let God lead every step of the way, my willingness to trust Him with the well-being of my children, my appropriate authenticity as a seeker and follower just a little more experienced and road-wise, and my loving discipleship of these kids as I hold them with open hands and cooperate with God as He makes them into the amazing people He knows they can be.

(This post contains edited and expanded content
from a comment I made regarding school choice 
last month.)


  1. Love this post Richelle. I can relate to having sooo many choices and wanting to make the best choice possible. We are very happy to have them in the French school, but we do catch some flack and attitude from others about that choice. I just remind myself I am making what we believe and prayed over to be the best choice for our children and their future!

    1. glad you found it encouraging. we certainly understand your perspective from the point of been there, done that!

      by the way, before i forget - those most recent pics of you up on fb... you look absolutely gorgeous!


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