Whole Parenting Family

The Great Schooling Debate: What Are the Best Options for Your Child?

We have a toddler, and a baby in utero. Not exactly ready for school, one would think. But you’d be surprised how often I get asked where my 18 month old will go to school, or which schools we’ve checked out, or what our schooling philosophy is. And, sure enough, we have talked about it, discussed it, read up on options, and generally looked around at what the Twin Cities have to offer in terms of schooling. There are lots of great options!

One that we discuss is homeschooling. Nothing like throwing gas on a fire to bring up the topic in the company of parents or teachers. 🙂 Some people are convinced that it’s the only and best way to go, others think it’s like putting your child in a time capsule, inhibiting her social growth, and turning her into a potential oddball. We think it offers wonderful flexibility with travel, learning beyond the classroom, and incorporating the whole family into the educational process. That being said, I don’t know that it will be what we choose, or what works best for us. We love the Montessori Method, and there are several great schools nearby that offer a wonderful Montessori education for young children: Cathedral Hill Montessori School, etc. There is also a great charter school in our area as well as our parochial school, St. Agnes, and both are excellent,

A friend just posted on Facebook a link to 10 Celebrities Who Homeschool. The article shows them, and says a little bit about their homeschooling philosophies. Obviously if you’re Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie’s children, you could never be like your little playmates at the school down the street. But some of what their commentary points to is very interesting, and exposes some of the limitations of our public school system (and even our private schools).

I’m interested in hearing people’s views on the education system, on what they’ve chosen for their children, and what works best for their families. Go!


  1. ejones217 on January 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Waldorf schools are another variety to check out. Their pedagogy is fascinating–and it’s got spiritual elements as well. I myself am a Montessori kid, and I have very fond memories of those days. It’s really fun to discover all the options available!

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

      I’ve heard many good things about that school of thought! And it’s great to get a Montessori endorsement from an alumna 🙂

  2. ejones217 on January 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Along those lines, here’s a little summary that’s inneresting:


  3. Tasslyn Magnusson on January 19, 2012 at 11:17 am

    My kids are at an incredible school that you may be quite familiar with! Mounds Park Academy! From the moment they arrived, they were embraced for exactly who they are – quirks, curves, and bumps, all included. As a mom with kids that may not fit the traditional mold, it is incredible to view how they embrace all the opportunities – art, music, drama – open to them at Mounds Park Academy. My favorite part is they are encouraged to stand up for what they believe in – and taught respectful dialogue, even in Kindergarten – to do so.

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Although I only went there for high school, I love MPA! Especially how it really nurtures the creative side of the person. As a disclaimer, I am on the alumni board, but that doesn’t bias my viewpoint.

  4. Whitney Blessing, Head of School at Cathedral Hill Montessori on January 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Well, you know what my answer is N, as a tried and true Montessorian and founder of the Cathedral Hill Montessori School. I’ll kindly disagree with you on one point, that your 18-month old is too young yet for school. Based on my experience as a mother and my professional training, even very young children are capable of learning and acquiring new skills, language, and a variety of experiences that may be facilitated in a school environment. That said, homeschooling does not negate this innate potential in children – it simply takes a little extra thoughtfulness on the part of the homeschooling parent to establish a home environment that can provide the same opportunity for optimal learning to occur. You may also be considering the social aspect – home-schooled children may not have the same opportunities for social and emotional development that children in school settings may have, though again, this may just require effort on behalf of the parent to provide the right social opportunities.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth T. the director at Ann Seton Montessori, and her program certainly offers a unique option of combined Montessori method and Catholic faith education. I am a proponent for Montessori education, period. So long as it is an authentic approach to Dr. Montessori’s vision and not a watered down version of it.

    The good news is that you have many good option before you! And you are a wonderful and conscientious mother with a good intuition about what will best meet the needs of you and your family.

    P.S. We’d love to see J. at our school some day. Check back with me once you’ve had your new baby girl, which will likely be a good time for reassessment.

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      I love that we have such a well-informed and expert readership! Thank you, Whitney, for your thoughts as I was hoping you’d chime in. Your school environment is just what a child would love and thrive in.

      It will be interesting to see what is the best fit for J. Each child is so individual! I’m excited for all the learning that he experiences every day, and what he’ll experience in the future.

  5. Tasslyn Magnusson on January 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Ok, since others did the full disclosure … I’m also employed at MPA – as the alumni person! But I wouldn’t send my kids here if I didnt believe in it.

    All kids are so wonderfully unique. Every year as they grow, I’m even more amazed at what we get to take part it.

    Just wait until they LEARN TO READ! That’s a process that is incredible to see unfold.

  6. Nicole M on January 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I’m a former teacher and I would not have my little guy in anything other than parochial (or private) or homeschool right now. I went to Public Schools for K-12, but was happiest as a teacher in a Catholic school. When I mentor new teachers, I tell them: START at the private schools. Why? The teachers in the public schools always seem so jaded. It’s not that they aren’t or weren’t once good teachers; the system eats them up and it’s unpleasant. Once new teachers develop a thicker skin, they can often effect change in the public schools by being that teacher who says, “no, I won’t teach that way.” That said, I know there are some great public schools out there, and great teachers…but it’s hard to find a public school which will teach YOUR child as well as you’d want. It’s because they (must) teach to the middle and we all know our own kid is special, right? They also have huge bureaucracies and the private schools usually do not. You can have a BIG school (ex. Pius in Milwaukee) that still doesn’t lose kids if the school allows its teachers to teach each child and grow each child to his or her fullest. The trouble is, the bigger the district, the more the district TELLS a teacher what to teach…and teaching isn’t that simple. I can come up with a brilliant lesson plan that works for me and for the kids in front of me (that year and on that day) but if I give it to you with the same class you might totally mess it up, or the kids might have an off day and you don’t know how to personalize it (it’s my lesson, not yours).

    All THAT said, when I recommended high schools for my girls (I know, you’re talking babies, but the same rules apply) I thought first about what I knew about the family’s values. If I knew that a Catholic education was important, then I only recommended Catholic schools; if I knew they were open to other possibilities, I might recommend a charter, private school, or even a non-Catholic school that has a specific focus. Then, I thought about the individual child: some kids really need certain kinds of schools. Montessori or Waldorf are great, but many are not religious in nature, so if you WANT the Montessori or Waldorf experience, you might have to give up the religious focus. Some kids learn best in those styles; as a result, you may have to make that choice. Another factor is special education. If your child is likely to be a special needs student, he or she might do best in the public schools (depending on the severity of the situation). Public schools’ special education programs (like the at-risk programs at alternative schools) are often the best kept secrets in the larger districts. They have the benefits of the small, individualized education, but those kids get chased and nagged (the way we want as parents!…no falling through the cracks!). However if your child is “just” a little below (or above) grade level, then private schools can often take care of that without slapping a label on him or her (which is important to some parents). I had a few students who tested very low academically in my regular education class and in eighth grade, one tested at the second-grade level with reading and the other at the fourth-grade. They were surviving because of the “special helps” (study guides and the like) and in high school, they entered the school best-equipped to helping them succeed (which happened to be Catholic and private); they graduated from high school, and for inner-city girls, that’s hard enough to do, much less with learning disabilities.

    Finally, some schools just “fit” better than others. One thing to look for is the TYPE of school (K-3, K-5, K-6, K-8, K-12). I push K-8, at very least because the whole school seems more like a family. It’s hard for the middle schoolers to go crazy with little kids around. Having taught at the middle school level, I can say, having younger kids around helps a LOT in the attitude of the bigger ones…but many schools do not offer that “big kid/little kid” advantage. Another style that can be helpful is a multi-age room with more than one chronological age studying together. This is helpful because older kids help to teach the younger kids and therefore review what they learned, which helps them understand the concept more deeply. Knowing whether or not the school does service projects (and what kinds) can help some families feel like it’s more than a school experience, it’s a community experience (and many parents want that). The degree to which parents are invited to be involved matters, too. In some schools they SAY they are open to volunteers, but you never see parents there. If that’s fine by you, great; but some of us like to be part of a school community, so that wouldn’t be so great.

    Long story short: YOU are the parent. What values do you want your child learning in school? Does it matter? That helps you to narrow down the TYPE of school you’re seeking. Consider: some schools that are neutral (non-sectarian) are often completely silent on religion (which teaches the religion of no religion). That’s fine for some families, but other families get upset when the school doesn’t have a Christmas concert or expects kids to be in school on the Jewish holidays (and it’s important to them) Then, once your parenting needs are considered, think about your child. It may mean different children go to different schools. The reason I stress family values first is because YOU must be comfortable with the school; your job as the parent is to support the school in helping your child. If you pick a school because your child will do well (you think) but you HATE it, it may not have the effect you intend.

    In my family’s case, we decided it was “Catholic or homeschool” at least for elementary school, and we have four Catholic schools in town so that made it easy (the Twin Cities was HUGE with CHOICES). My niece attends the school furthest from my house, but since we have only one child and she’s an only, we felt the benefit of attending the same school with family outweighed anything else (except that it was a Catholic education) at this time. Now, she gets the fun of being alternately embarrassed by and a leader to my little guy (siblings get that, too) and he gets to look up to his cousin. He’s doing well and they support him in his development. I know what the eighth-graders are like and they all know him by name, so I know what kind of person the school will help him to become. It is family-centered and I could and did join committees. They don’t harass with constant fund-raisers (one a year, you know about it and plan for it), but do provide opportunities to do more (scrip is my best friend…get to know scrip if your school doesn’t do it). I pass 3 other Catholic elementary schools to get him to school, and I think that’s okay. Were the other schools a better choice? Maybe, but when all were equally good (they are fairly interchangeable here; there were things I’d change about all of them),having my niece attend the same school has been good for both of them. It made it an easy choice.

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      So much to think about! Thank you thank you for your insights! I was waiting and hoping for them!

  7. Cassie on January 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    NOVA, Capitol Hill, I’ve heard that Horace Mann are great public schools. For private I have a friend who sends her son to Breck and that is awesome, but its private and very pricey.

    It’s been a very big source of stress for me I have to admit, but a friend of mine who is an educator recently pacified me with this advice…being the type of parent that is concerned about this and looking into it now-and also just being educated myself, is the single most important factor in ensuring your child gets what he/she needs.

    Unfortnately the truth is that no school will be perfect, and you will have to do some form of supplemental educating as a parent be it in diversity issues and providing your child with a true global perspective, or in a specific subject (where the school is not strong) but I think looking for the deficiencies your child’s school, and proactively addressing them is all you can do.

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      It’s so comforting to hear that it really is about making the most informed decision you can with what you have . . . and being ready to supplement for diversity, global issues, religion, or being developmentally different. Great encouragement! Thanks, lady!

  8. Liv on January 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I’ve heard incredible things about that Cathedral Hill Montessori School…especially the guide in charge of the Children’s House. She’s supposed to be just amazing 🙂

    But in all seriousness, I am a firm believer in Montessori education, and beyond that, in early-childhood education, which seems to be so often overlooked in our society. Young children are learning at such a fast rate and it’s our job to give them the tools they need to learn about their world.

    I could go on….and on…..and on….

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Keep going! We want to hear your expertise!

      I’m amazed by how much J’s little brain is a sponge and what he needs to feed his imagination. It’s beautiful to watch discovery and imagination at work, and how having an environment geared toward learning and exploration makes a difference.

  9. mothering spirit on January 25, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    My brothers and I all went to Montessori for preschool and kindergarten, and I have so many wonderful memories of that approach to learning – many more memories than of my early year at Catholic school, ironically! It’s an approach that I feel will work well with our oldest son (who will start at a local Montessori preschool this fall when he’ll be 3), but I’m sure we’ll go through this discernment for each subsequent child. Good for you for thinking ahead – there are so many Montessori-like activities that can easily be done at home that we have already incorporated into our days together, and it’s such joy to see a toddler light up in response to these simple, child-directed activities and participation in home life (cleaning, cooking, etc.).

    • Novice Natural Mama on January 26, 2012 at 11:08 am

      This is so helpful to hear. I do think we do lots of Montessori activities at home naturally, and he loves taking charge of his “plates” and wiping the floor, etc. Their imaginations are so wide, if we let them be!

  10. Renee on August 17, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Just thought I should let you know that the link you provided to the Seton Montessori school brings up an… unsavory website.

    • novicenaturalmama on August 17, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      fixed! Thank you!

  11. […] In 2012 when I parsed through options for schooling. […]