How We Make Our School Choice (Plus, Why We’re Homeschooling)

Sarah Paschall

I’ll never forget the time the I was leaving a job interview, and one of the interviewees stopped me as I gathered my things. He said, “I have to admit that I saw you in the waiting room and thought you’d be this sweet, timid person. And, then you came in and started talking.”

That was quite the comment, but he explained that he was simply surprised at how confident I was. I think he missed what had actually happened. I don’t have any unusual amount of confidence. In fact, I rather avoid the spotlight like I avoid cleaning up the car seats in my minivan. However, that interview was all about a topic that energizes me: Education.

Years later, as my firstborn begins kindergarten, I still find the topic of education compelling. I’m always learning something about learning, and it’s humbling to reflect on my own teaching experience, as well as see the grace that abounds in spite of myself. So, naturally, I’ve perhaps over-thought which educational setting would be best for my children, but I’ve finally arrived at a place of peace when it comes to school choice.

Before I begin, here’s some pertinent background info: I grew up in a parochial school; I’ve taught in the public schools; I’ve mentored with an online charter school; and now that my son is starting kindergarten, we’re homeschooling. Amid this, I’ve learned that it’s easy to infer that if an educator such as myself has tasted the buffet of schooling options and decided on homeschooling for her own children, then it must be clear that she thinks homeschooling is far and away superior to other options. And, by golly, that’d be convenient for the homeschooling cause, right? But, that’s not the case. So, I write today to provide clarity about how we can best think about school choice, and, hopefully, it encourages someone in the same way this process has encouraged me.

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First, our family is not homeschooling (or insert whatever school choice) because we think our way is better than anyone else’s, but because we think our way is best for us.

Believe me, I’ve heard the rants against the public school system. There’s Common Core, the inordinate testing, the poor teacher/student ratios, the unresearched technology usage to justify the grants, the bullying, and the social agenda. The hasty generalizations are thrown at all camps. Homeschoolers are thrown under the bus for wanting to indoctrinate their children into an overly protected, non-structured, socially awkward bubble. Private-school families receive criticism for being privileged, rich, and out-of-touch. 

Yet, instead of looking at the heart of Common Core and testing, which is aiming to alleviate inadequacies and inequalities, we just rant at what it doesn’t do for those of us with resources. Instead of asking a homeschooler why he or she homeschools, we just assume it’s out of fear or an exclusivist attitude. Instead of asking a private-school family why and how they’re making their sacrifices, we just assume they’ve had privilege handed to them.

While I have opinions about all of these educational subtopics that skew positive or negative on a spectrum, I’ve interacted with enough professionals/parents and seen enough situations of student failure and success on all sides that I cannot wave a flag for one or the other in good conscience. Not without knowing the potentially tangled, extensive background of each story. School choice is far more complicated than we can often imagine. And, asking just a few good questions will leave us offering far more grace toward whichever side we vilify in our attempts to justify our decisions.

So, primarily, our first reason for our school choice this year stems from what our chosen path offers, not because of what other paths are lacking.  Yes, other paths lack desirable traits that we as a family value, but that doesn’t mean these traits aren’t desirable or necessary for others. And, wouldn’t it be so healthy for our communities to hear our positive, personal stories of why we do what we do? To feel so confident in understanding our needs and gifts that we don’t compare our journey to others, and we don’t apologize. We simply share and listen with joy and confidence as a friend enjoys a different experience that is helping her achieve the same goal.

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Second, we’re taking it one year at a time. Do I have any other big-picture people out there? If so, you know this is the hardest. I want the ultimate educational plan that carries us to 2050, but I absolutely must, for the love of my family, let that go. Next year, you may see us snapping “First day of 1st grade!” shots in front of our local public school doors, and we’re going to love it because that’s our journey for that year. In the meantime, we’re called to do our best with the year in front of us, and that’s where we shall lay our efforts.

Admittedly, I’ve gotten cold feet in the past couple weeks as I witness the private school and public school ships sailing away without us. FOMO threatens me. Out of all people, I know how wonderful, amazing, saint-like, and fabulous a good kindergarten teacher is. So, if you ride by and see a white flag flying from my house, you know it was because we are not only hooked, but also supremely STUCK, on phonics this year. It’s because I feel the pain of “duh–ahhh—guhhh….dog, Dog, DOG!” or am completely undone trying to explain homophones (buy, by, bye–it’s so easy, right?!) to a 5-year-old. Yet, I shall pray for all the fortitude while we step into this opportunity to grow in patience as I watch my child (hopefully) grow leaps and bounds despite our inadequacies and because of our willingness to do hard, yet exciting, things.

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Third, we realize one person’s decision impacts our entire family. As much as I believe that education should be individualized, I also believe that our individual experience is not in a vacuum. It always impacts the community around us. In our case, my son’s absence, our rearranged schedule, the restrictions of a school calendar, the potential investment of tuition/supplies, and his involvement in extracurricular activities directly impacts how the rest of his family members spend their days. As he gets older, gains more autonomy, needs more academic focus, and has siblings with more demanding academic needs; this point of togetherness will still be important, but will perhaps diminish as well.

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Fourth, we ask how our decision fits into our family goals
, or mission statement–as some call it. So, here’s the point in the post where I divulge why we’re homeschooling for this year. But, notice how very situationally specific our reasons are. One would be hard-pressed to find another family with these exact needs, which is why I cannot enough emphasize my first point of embracing it as your path.

We’re still working on a concise family mission statement (Although, I love this idea, and more about it here.), but suffice it to say that we greatly value flexibility; travel; togetherness; outdoor exploration; diversity and global awareness; margin to serve; and a God-centered lens of learning. Now, let’s pair those goals with some very pragmatic facts: mornings are not our strong suit; we just moved to a new area and know little about our surrounding schools; we are in a transition stage; there are several great co-ops in our new area for homeschool support; my husband’s new job gives him a weekday afternoon off (more family time); and we’re trying to pay off student loans with extra income.

I realize that even having all these factors to consider is such an immense privilege. For many, the decision-making stops rather abruptly when realizing that public school is the only option due to the parents’ financial situation, and that is one of my (many) reasons why we must support our local school systems. But, thankfully, we did have all these decisions to prayerfully weigh, and it became obvious that homeschooling seems like the best fit for our goals during this time.  So, here we are, walking in obedience and cheering others who choose our way or another way.

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Last, yet most importantly, we realize that God’s plan is bigger than our schooling decision. Wherever we go, we go prayerfully and faithfully. We trust that if our child struggles with a problem in high school, it is not due to my shortcomings from the early years that I homeschooled, or because I sent him to that school, or because I failed to see a specific setback. God’s plans are far bigger than that, and there’s no fear–not even in schooling choices–in His perfect love when we are walking prayerfully and in obedience.



Why I Call Them “Friend”

My three-year-old, with springy curls and mismatched florals, bounds up our backyard and whispers to me, “Mommy, you my best fwend!” With Mother’s Day just behind us, I’m reminded that one of the best gifts I could ask for is to be called my child’s friend, even when such phrases are as fickle as you’d expect a 3-year-old’s temperament to be. However, I had to work through some tension before I could embrace that phrase for all it’s worth.

Mothers Day FB Image

You see, I’ve heard a lot of well-intentioned, seasoned parents and teachers herald the mantra that “You are not your children’s friend. You are their parent!” The same is often said for the teacher/student relationship. I see their sentiment. Our society likes to make a lot of absolutisms as a way to overcorrect. But, first, it’s built on a faulty logic that we only obtain friends by trying to win over people. As well as the faulty logic that parenting and friendship are mutually exclusive. It also runs counter to one of our main image-bearing functions: to be relational (Need I go on?!).

Parenting in a busy season is certainly hard and wearisome, but it’s full of redemption and adventure because I’ve learned to embrace my small children as friends.

Part of my story is that I’ve experienced the newbie, outsider perspective for a near decade amid our many moves. In the comings and goings, I’m reminded that acquaintances, rooted in the comforts of whatever community we’re passing through, fade from the background. Yet, my beautiful children are handpicked for me by the relational, triune Creator Himself. And, they remain. I’m also reminded that my children aren’t here for my security and happiness (which is a dangerous tendency to be aware of amid instability), but that how I engage with them to reflect God’s authoritative and relational image in this moment is far more permanent than any superficial interaction I’m denied or embarrassment that I may face.


When I finally embraced that “These children are my people. My friends. My tribe,” I tapped into an unexpected joy and energy during these wearisome residency years. One might say it’s just semantics, but I definitely get more pep in my step when I wake up thinking, “I’m not just parenting these children, but I’m doing life with my friends.”

Yes, indeed. I can be parent and friend. In the very same way that God created Adam to both rule over the earth and walk with him in the garden. The right semantics do make a difference.

So, on the Mother’s Day that is really every day, I want to thank my children for not only being the free-spirited, yet needy, crew that propels me to drink absurd amounts of coffee and wish for bedtime; but also for being the always-maturing friends who point me to life’s greatest truths. For reminding me that I’m indeed their parent. But, come what may, I’m also their forever friend.

(And, you know I can’t leave a post without a book review, so here it is: The Whole-Brain Child just rocked me world. While Parenting gave me a big-picture, theological context; this book gave me the most practical tools to better understand my child and thus have an even better awareness of when/how to show grace.)

The Baby Doll Gospel

It’s tempting to share this candid picture (despite its blurriness) on social media and say “My sweet daughter. Found her reading her devotional book to her baby dolls when I went to wake her up this morning. All the heart emojis. Hashtag blessed.”

Adalynn reading to dolls-square

This is true. But, not the whole truth. For the past couple months, Miss A, my three-year-old, has not only read biblical stories of love and redemptive sacrifice to her dolls, but she’s also appealed to the higher authority of THE BABY DOLLS.

If she doesn’t want to wear an outfit, she blames her refusal on the baby dolls: “Dese colors make dem sad! Dey only wear pink!”

If she doesn’t want to eat her dinner: “My baby dolls not want me to eat dis food. It makes our tummy sick!”

If she’s not getting her way, she says, “You not make my baby dolls happy! Dey so sad now!”

Things have developed (or maybe devolved, actually) when she made her baby dolls spokeswomen for God. Yes, you heard that right. If she says she doesn’t want to be around someone, and I remind her that God wants us to love everyone, she says, “My baby dolls talk to God about dis, and dey tell me I not have to like dat person.”

Anyway, It seems that imaginary allies such as the baby dolls are commonplace for the preschool-aged child. At this same age of three, our oldest son had “the brothers.” This band of boys coincidentally lived out all his dreams.

“The brothers” went to Disney World when he had to nap.

“The brothers” ate lollipops instead of vegetables for dinner.

“The brothers” always went to the zoo instead of staying at home on rainy days.

And, boy, did I hear about their amazing life! When it came to doing any undesirable task, such as cleaning up his toys, my son would simply say, “Did you know that my brothers don’t clean up toys at their house?”

While my son’s “brothers” served as a sort of alter ego for the renegade, free-spirited boy who calls all the shots, he didn’t take it so far as to feign being possessed by their mutiny-driven influence. “The brothers” merely told us what our son liked, and for that, I fondly miss the brothers, and I somewhat resent the baby dolls. While the rest of the world is spinning on its axis, I’m over here in my kitchen, feeling completely stumped about how to deal with this escalating gang of baby dolls.

Earlier this week, it became obvious that–despite having a few sweet, redemptive moments–the baby dolls can’t just be ignored anymore. The baby dolls “told” Miss A to defy a basic rule of the backyard play area and dump dirty sand water on her 18-month-old brother’s head. Being an ultimate and easy-going third child, he actually loved it (I say this just in case you were feeling bad for him while reading that sentence), but this is still proof of the baby dolls’ growing, pernicious influence. I really just want them to go away, but I’m realizing that asking the baby dolls (or insert any imaginary friend of your choice) to go away is like asking my child to mask her heart. No matter how ugly the messages and actions get, I still want to know her heart.

After some outside wisdom (Because, with any more introspection, I was overcome with scenes of a baby doll showdown in my home. Hellllo, Chuckie.), I’ve gathered a coherent response that keeps me attune to the baby dolls while keeping them in their place. Having these pegs to hang my interactions on has been a good first step to creating consistent conversation.

I validate the baby dolls’ existence as her army of friends.

However, I remind her that they only listen to her.

I then remind her that she still listens to her mommy and daddy because we ultimately listen to God.

However, I’m not simply dealing with a verbal barrage coming from the minefield of obstinate baby dolls. Parenting is rarely reduced to a mere formula or rote responses, a realization that is both frustrating and grace-filled. Parenting is full of love and laughter and all sorts of beautiful moments. But, it’s also everyday warring with an ideology that says “I’m my own owner. The master of my fate. I know better than you. My baby dolls are the voice for my everyday rebellion.”

So, more importantly, I’m trying to find the gospel in all this. This past decade, the terms “gospel-centered” and “grace-based” living have met me in a beautiful, life-changing ways I can hardly describe. As I’ve moved into motherhood, I’ve worked to see how this lens can free me as a parent, while also giving me purpose and joy. And, to be honest, there is some GREAT stuff out there, but often it’s hard to make the actual, in-the-moment, theological application when you’re dealing with a kid throwing food in your face (or name your crazy, exhausting scenario).

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m reminded that the beauty of the gospel is that it is both as simple and complex as we make it. In the instance of everyday living, I do well to rehearse the simple, yet profound: (1) Remember my condition, (2) Remember Jesus’ work for my condition (3) Then, patiently work to help my child realize the same thing. Even with a small child, step three might be rather glanced over, but I am a better mom if I can at least pause to remember steps 1 and 2 before dealing with an issue.

So, how does this all play out? Well, the goal is this: When I ask, for example, Miss A why she ran into the other room to jump on the couch instead of going to her room for bedtime, I really want her to genuinely tell me she’s sorry for giving me such a hard time about bedtime, and I want to her realize that her “random” behavior is actually a result of being a self-absorbed sinner in desperate need of redemption and change.

Instead, she gives me the baby doll gospel. It’s a gospel that blame-shifts and creates imaginary environments to excuse and reinforce a narrative that only serves herself. It’s opposite to Jesus’ gospel, which recognizes that the fallen heart of us has a self-absorbed mentality, yet, through the work on the cross and the help of the Spirit and God’s Word, we have it in us to lay aside those overwhelmingly selfish desires.

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But, here’s the life-giving crux of this whole matter: In his book Parenting, Paul David Tripp says, “No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.” The best place for me as a mom and friend is to understand that my daughter, while very delightful and lovable, is a broken sinner just like myself. This truth is where I really found direction with the baby dolls.

If I’m honest with myself, I see that Miss A and I are a lot alike. Except I have grown-up versions of the blame-shifting, self-centered baby dolls. I offer up excuses for not dealing with an escalating problem when I’m really just being lazy. I catch myself begrudging someone for not bending the rules for me to make my life easier. And, this is just the surface of my heart problems; I need so much help. Thankfully, through acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice and continual work for me, there is so much grace for me because I can see my “baby dolls” and call them out for what they are. I can war against them and let true love win. The best news is that this same grace is available for my daughter and everyone else.

So, imaginary allies, I now welcome you. You’ve made brokenness so obvious that we can’t ignore it, and I’m taking heart that “all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:13, NASB). To repress the baby dolls would be to deny this opportunity and to hyper-focus on my child’s behavior instead of her heart. Together, we have an opportunity to examine what we really want, what we should want instead, and how we can get there through the patient process of a Spirit-working, God awareness. And, THIS is where Jesus’s gospel meets the everyday.


What Do I Do With Santa?


Before I share my thoughts, please don’t miss this overarching sentiment: This entire conversation is a matter of conscience. Whether you reject Santa like Ebenezer Scrooge or embrace him with Polar Express wonder, have fun and know there is no judgment. I offer tacit affirmation to all people who will take time to thoughtfully find their way in holiday celebrations and traditions.

First things first.  I’ve found it necessary this year to grapple with how to handle Santa now that my children are old enough to swallow and feast on this cultural phenomenon. I’ve been told by experts that I should’ve figured this out before the actual moment arrived, but it just didn’t happen. And, you know what? It still worked out. No one has died from lack of a plan over here. Please take heart if you, like me, often feel behind the eight ball.

Anyway, before Thanksgiving can even commence, we notice Santa awaiting us at every store, on every commercial, and in so many interactions (“Have you been good this year?” “What will Santa bring you?”). During a mid-November shopping run with the kids, I found myself standing in the middle of a festooned Christmas aisle with my children staring at Santa. They were making observations about what he would and would not do for them this season. My eldest (4) even mentioned that Santa must not be available to poor kids. Have mercy. Where did they hear this?!

At that point, I realized I had to face my lack of commitment on the issue, and I needed to find a proper place to put Mr. Santa Clause. I didn’t want to go in Scrooge mode and reject him altogether, nor did I want to distract from the true meaning and miracle of Christmas: Jesus’ birth.

After some more grappling, we (meaning my husband and I) decided to strategically let our children choose where their imagination dictates (Don’t we let them do this with all their other play when they want to be a princess or a ninja?), and have chosen to not make a big deal out of it. One of my favorite teachers, Jen Wilkin, elaborates on this point. And while culture steadily tries to infuse their diet with mostly Santa, we’ve found our way of embracing Santa by focusing on his historical character of Saint Nicholas. It’s more profoundly simple than I could’ve imagined because I’ve learned that Saint Nicholas is far more Jesus-centered than I ever knew.

His testimony, in fact, points to the true meaning of Christmas,  Whether my children want to believe Saint Nicholas still exists or not, I can certainly get on board that the spirit of his gift-giving does exist. They know him for the beautiful, gracious, Jesus-serving character that he is. They also know that the historical legend filled stockings nearly 17 centuries ago, and that’s as far as the spirit of his gift-giving crusade will go here. It’s what works for us. And our budget.

But, my point is not to get caught up in the details for how we can all logistically handle and personalize Santa, but to encourage anyone who feels uncommitted and questioning to face the hard questions and realize that it leads to a great reward. Questioning Santa and learning his story does what any healthy learning endeavor does: It points us to the greater love story of all time. A story that prompts us to give in thanks and worship because of the gift of Jesus.

“Over the years, people imagined stories about Nicholas–exciting, magical and sometimes silly stories. Some people gave him nicknames, like Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or Santa Claus, and they started to forget the true story about the real person called Nicholas.

At Christmas, when you celebrate Jesus’s birthday and open your presents, remember the true story of Jesus, God’s greatest gift, who died for you so that you can be friends with God.

And when you see pictures of Santa and reindeer and elves, remember the true story of Nicholas. Nicholas was so thankful for what God had given him that he gave what he had to help others.

He didn’t have magical powers. He was a real person.

He was just Nicholas.” from Just Nicholas

I’ll end my thoughts by linking to some of my favorite resources I’ve found this month on this topic of Saint Nicholas confirming the true meaning of Christmas. I’m always up for more suggestions, so please share!

Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons (great for toddlers and preschoolers)
Santa Who? by Gail Gibbons (great for preschoolers and beyond; fairly in-depth historically)
Just Nicholas by Annie Kratzsch (great for preschoolers and beyond and my personal favorite with its emphasis on the Gospel message)
The Legend of Saint Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Mackall (great for preschoolers and beyond; a story-telling emphasis)

The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus by Adam C. English (at-length reading for super inquisitive adolescents or adults)