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The School Choice

Public school, private school or homeschool? How to find the right fit for your child

"Tom and I really need to decide about school," Jennifer sighed as our 4-year-olds took turns on the slide and we took turns bouncing Jen's new baby. "We've been discussing it since Megan started walking, but still don't have an answer we feel good about."

Despite Jennifer's anxiety, she and Tom were actually at just the right place: gathering information, weighing their options and talking to other parents who'd already been down the same road.

Parents like me. Our 11 children have, at one time or another, been involved in just about every educational option available: homeschool, public school, Christian school, special education, independent study programs. I've been making school choices for more than 20 years.

Jennifer's question is the same question I pray over each year for each of my children.

"What is the best school option for Joshua and Benjamin and Zachary and Madeleine and ? ?"

Jennifer and Tom still have more than a year before Megan starts school. But if your child is 5 or older, you need to make your decision in early January. While public schools welcome new students throughout the year, it's wise to enroll your kindergartner well in advance to give you and your child time to prepare for this new experience. Private schools often have waiting lists even before enrollment begins?usually in the spring. Families who decide to homeschool need time to choose and order curriculum.

Even if your children are already in school, it's a good idea to re-evaluate their needs from year to year. We've found that each of our children needs something a little different from his or her education and so we have to be willing to make changes that suit those needs. That might mean we homeschool a couple of them, others are at a Christian school and still others are in our public school. A few years from now, the picture might look a bit different.

To help you weed through all your schooling options, here's a brief look at the pluses and minuses of each choice, along with tips for making the most of your decision?wherever it takes you.

Public School

Plus: "Our family's experience, while not always smooth, has been very positive," says Robin, mother of two sons in public high school. "The sports program is very important to my boys, and we've had so many opportunities to meet people and have an impact on our community."

For all the bad press they get, public schools have a lot going for them. They are convenient, close, and free (well, subsidized by your taxes). Teachers must meet specific certification requirements, which sets up a standard of accountability for the way they teach and how well their students perform. Class size, governed by federal regulations, is relatively small. Children with special needs have access to speech therapy, counseling and other specialized services.

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