"The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts." – C. S. Lewis

There really are no wrong choices when it comes to choosing alternative schooling for our kids. No two families are alike, just as no two kids are alike.

Some will settle on home-schooling. Some will opt for an independent school. And many will try one and then the other as needs change.

Take the North family in North Vancouver, B.C., and the Chimicks in Coquitlam, B.C. Both are Christian homes where the parents want their children’s education to reflect the beliefs and values of their faith. And yet their respective encounters with B.C.’s education system have gone in two very different directions.

After trying a public school, then an independent school, then home-schooling, the Chimicks decided to place their two daughters and youngest son in an independent school. The Norths, on the other hand, avoided the public system altogether and enrolled their eldest twin boys at an independent school. Three years later, though, they opted for home-schooling and plan to stay there. Two different journeys – and yet neither family regrets any of the choices they made along the way.

Different journeys

For both, the journey started with a bad experience involving the public school system. Suzanne Chimick says their eldest son was attending a public school, when one day, another child was found to have a loaded gun in his locker.

"He and some other kids were actually going to go play with it after school," she recalls. "We just said, ‘Enough of that.’ "

By then, too, she says they were not pleased with the inappropriate language and behaviour that their son was being exposed to. "They’re so disrespectful, the way the kids treat everybody, even the parents of other kids."

April North started out opposed to both home-schooling and private education for her twin sons. But she soon changed her mind.

"I contacted our local elementary school and just said, ‘I have two boys that are starting kindergarten next year and I’d like to come sit in on the class.’ And they very bluntly told me, ‘Well, that won’t be convenient for us,’ " she says. "The lack of control, not being able to know what goes on inside the classroom, was what kind of scared me off in the end."

Busy schedules

And so Jason and Ryan began their formal education in an independent school. But while everyone loved it there, their parents slowly came to realize that it left them with almost no down time.

"In grade one, the year they learned how to read, every night they brought home a little booklet. So at bedtime, John and I would be in their rooms reading with them," says North. "And we’d all be falling asleep trying to sound out these words."

It was then that they decided to try home-schooling. "And we haven’t looked back since. We really haven’t regretted it too many days."

Learning disabilities

The Chimicks had a different issue with their private school that caused them to also chose home-schooling. All four kids have an inherited learning disability that makes handwriting very labour-intensive. Composing on a computer keyboard is not a problem for them. But at the time, most schools did not understand their condition and would not let them bring a laptop into class.

"My oldest daughter, Lindsay, came home crying all the time, because the teachers were telling her she wasn’t trying hard enough," says Chimick.

"So when I pulled them out, I would allow them to present information in any way that they felt comfortable – just show me that you know – and they did great things. Lindsay wrote a book."

Family impact

That time was a great experience for the entire household. Once, they combined a family vacation with a field trip to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. But as the three children got older, they began to miss being able to interact socially with their peers – and so they decided to go back to a Christian school.

"I just really enjoy taking the kids there," she says. "I’m meeting their classmates and they’re all nice kids. The principal’s wonderful. The teachers are all great. I haven’t met a teacher that hasn’t been open to the different learning needs of children."

Chimick also likes the fact that some of the children enrolled are not Christians. "Nicole, my younger daughter, calls them her ‘mission field.’ She takes every opportunity to invite them to every Christian event that they can think of."

But for the Norths, having their boys be around their parents and grandparents is a far better social environment than anything even the best school can provide.

"Even at a Biblically-based school, the behaviour of children today is a lot less respectful than it was a couple of decades ago," says North. "You have one adult and 25 to 30 kids in a room for six hours a day: Which is going to be the prevailing attitude?"

Anyway, she adds, their local association of home-schooling families organizes a wide range of interactive opportunities for kids. "Our boys swim, skate, snowboard and wall-climb on a weekly basis. Sometimes they go bowling or hiking as a group. The opportunities are endless."

Following God's path

But despite one family settling on a Christian school and the other staying with home-schooling as the best learning environment for their children, both still see value in the option that they felt was not right for them.

"You’ll find a lot of home-schoolers drop out of home-schooling in the high school years," says Chimick. "But I know many other parents that have home-schooled all the way through high school, and their kids do great."

"If you take home-schooling and really embrace it for what it is, your kids can have an amazing education," she adds.

"I also know," says North, "that it is possible to raise well-educated, respectful children of good character in many other settings, public and private schools included.

"God leads us all on different paths and obedience to Him is what matters most. In any circumstance, it takes hard work, perseverance and God’s grace to raise our children well."

© 2007 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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