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What School to Choose?

Deciding which setting's right for your child.

"I'm so stressed!" my friend Joan exclaimed. "I don't know what to do about school for Jenna. My husband went to public school, so he thinks that's where we should send her. But my best friend says we should enroll Jenna in a Christian school, and my mom thinks I should homeschool her. I don't know who's right!"

It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the educational choices available today. But take heart. Here are several insights to help you as you ponder the options:

Consider your child's unique needs.

What's your child's social, emotional, and physical maturity level? Is she academically in line with her peers? How strong is her faith? Does your child have unusual gifts (i.e., in music or the arts)?

Often children have distinctively different needs. For example, my friend Sally's eldest daughter, Beverly, did well in public school, but her younger sister, Emily, struggled with the social pressures there. So after one year, Sally and her husband decided to send Emily to a smaller private school where she's now flourishing.

Take it a year at a time.

Don't feel pressured to decide a long-range plan before you actually need to. A friend whose son is three already is being nudged by others to put her son in a Christian school when he turns six. She doesn't need to make that decision now. Instead, she simply says, "Thanks for the input. I'll keep your advice in mind when we decide. But for now, we're taking it one step at a time."

Check out available resources.

How do the options actually compare? How are the public schools in your district rated? What about the private schools? Is there a local support network available for homeschoolers? Ask yourself if the cost of sending your child to a Christian school is worth the sacrifice. Is it more important to spend now, or save for your child's college education? Also assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Do you really have the time, energy, and temperament to homeschool your child?

Do your own research.

While friends' insights can be helpful, it pays to do your homework. After all, who knows your child better than you? Make a point of visiting the principal of the school you're considering. Sit in on a few classes. Walk the halls and observe the students. Ask for class syllabi, if available. Talk to current students and recent graduates. Ask for observations from a youth minister who's acquainted with students in the school. Then check with other parents whose kids have attended the school.

Consider your family distinctive.

Deeply committed Christians, Bob and Mary have a distinct passion to reach out to the poor—and they wanted a school that emphasizes social outreach so their son would have opportunities to care for the poor as well. They sought a school with an integrated learning program in which their son's faith would be supported, but where he'd also be challenged to think through why he believed as he did. The Christian middle school they chose reflects their unique family commitment.

Because our local schools are good and our financial resources were limited, our five children attended public schools. We discovered having our kids attend public schools while under a strong Christian influence at home helped their faith and values mature. All five have gone on to secular universities, where they've actively participated in ministries that reach their peers for Christ. Their public school experience made the transition to college much easier because they'd already dealt with the various lifestyle challenges they encountered while at home.

Your friends may choose a Christian school, you may choose public, homeschool, or any combination of choices at different ages. None is more "right" than the other. While God's Word speaks clearly to believers on many crucial issues, it isn't clear-cut on issues such as what political party to join, or what school your child should attend. It's important to distinguish between biblical absolutes and God's calling for your family. Your circumstances are unique, and so is each family member.

Support your choice with prayer.

For a dozen years I hosted a weekly prayer group of moms. We all had kids in the same schools, so we met to pray for the students, faculty, staff, and school board. We prayed for teachers to come to know Christ's love, we prayed for difficult classes and for sports teams, we prayed for our students' attitudes.

When one of the teachers had surgery, our prayer group members went into action and took turns caring for her during her recovery. This teacher—who'd been antagonistic toward Christianity—came to faith through the care of believing moms. Today she's actively reaching out to her colleagues.

As I've prayed about my kids' education, two Bible verses have encouraged me: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11), and "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

Regardless of your school choice, the best thing you can do for your child is to pray for him. And when you pray for those who teach him, it's a gift you not only give his teachers, but you give to him as well.

Susan Yates is author of several books, including How to Like the Ones You Love (Baker Books).

Talk to Us!

We invite you to share how you handle the challenges of mothering. The subject of an upcoming Your Child column is: Is Your Schedule Driving You Nuts? How do you keep from overbooking your kids—and yourself—when school gears up in the fall? Send us your solution and your name, address, daytime phone number, and ages of your kids. For information on how to contact Your Child, see page 12.

Moms Speak Out!

What you had to say about your schooling decisions:

My oldest child had a learning disability, so I homeschooled my children for eight years. At that point my husband and I felt they were ready to handle a public high school. They fit in academically and socially. But I wouldn't trade those homeschooling years for anything!"
Carolyn, Ohio

Our children switched from private to public school after 8th grade, because it offered more academic and extra-curricular opportunities than their Christian school did. Many people led us to believe a public school is a totally pagan environment, but in our community, that couldn't be further from the truth!"
Michelle, Texas

Our public school system wasn't safe, so we prayed God would guide us in meeting our children's educational needs. We found a Christian school in our area that has a historic approach to the Bible and doctrine, where parents have tremendous input and volunteer much of their time. God answered our prayers!"
Marsha, Pennsylvania

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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