The Big School Debate: Education Vs. Social Life
August is almost upon us, which pretty much means it’s September, which means that school is starting in five minutes (have you planned out Christmas break yet?). At least that’s how it feels with all this back-to-school pressure from retailers and fellow moms and that nagging voice inside your head (oh, wait, maybe that’s just me).
The sole subject that has been keeping me up at night for months now is my choice in school. My five-year-old is entering first grade come September. He’ll be returning to the same place he went to for SK: a fabulous private school that boasts an integrated, arts-based learning program, which means that students learn about geometry, for example, by planting and then measuring trees in the school garden. Or they’ll discover the origin of a word by studying Greek civilization. Unlike some of the schools in my area, this one teaches students at a young age, via hands-on experience, that they have the power to be compassionate and responsible citizens of the world.
On the academic front, I just can’t say enough good things about this school. So what’s the problem, you may be wondering? The fact that my child has zero social life. You see, his SK class last year was made up of 20 kids (10 boys, 10 girls). Perfect, right? But then one boy moved to a different continent (my son’s closest friend) and another two aren’t returning in the fall (the only kids aside from the first one who my son actually talks about with enthusiasm). So this means there will be a total of seven boys in my child’s first grade class (at this stage, he has no interest in girls). Of those seven boys, not a single one lives in our neighborhood (the school is not close to home). That makes it tricky to arrange play dates – especially quick, after-school ones. Plus, I get the feeling that some of the other parents aren’t so into play dates to begin with.
When it comes to weekend plans, it seems most families are busy doing their own thing, and so we’ll rarely (read: never) arrange play dates with his classmates. Instead, we’ll call up friends from his old JK class – the ones who live within walking distance – and make a plan to meet in the park or to grab ice cream at the closest Baskin Robbins. Done. Easy.
Likewise, when it comes to extra-curricular activities, we’ll always sign him up for something in the neighborhood. In the spring, for instance, he joined a softball league that he absolutely loved. Ninety percent of the kids were people from our ‘hood, making it a no-brainer to nurture these friendships and set up play dates or post-game get-togethers. Even at the park, my child is starting to ask me why all his friends get to go to school together and he doesn’t. I explain to him that his school is special, that’s the perfect fit for him. But he’s not buying it.
My child is only five years old but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m doing him a disservice by limiting him so much on the social front. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that kids can and should have friends from various areas of their life (school, camp, extra-curricular, neighborhood, family friends and so on). But I also think how easy it would be to send him to a local school where he’d have dozens of friends to choose from (as opposed to just six at his current school), all of them close by. At age five, I believe that kids really only needs one or two close friends. But I’m constantly thinking forward to future and what it’ll be like with so few options. I worry about my child’s social development. And confidence levels. And if having so few boys in his class will be detrimental to him in the long run.
Then I think about the academics, and how this school’s philosophy is totally in line with my own. I think about the general feeling of warmth, and how my son is not only getting a stellar education but a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is so unique to this particular school. It’s in these moments that I know I’m making the right decision and I can actually sleep at night – until the weekend rolls around, that is, and my child once again has zero play dates.
So here’s the big dilemma: does education trump social life, or is it the other way around? I can argue either side depending on the day and my mood. All I know for certain is that as the new school year approaches, I am once again agonizing over my decision. It’s one of those major conflicts that just won’t go away.