As I sat and watched the small group of children and teens run and laugh together, I had to smile at the cliche of it all. It was truly a scene out of Little House on the Prairie. But it wasn’t a contrived gathering for a group photo - it was real, totally unrehearsed and full of love. This field trip to the zoo (goodness! How many have I been to, now?) this beautiful February day was unlike any other I had experienced.
My girls, 6 and 8 years old, enrolled in Coram Deo in the Fall of 2015; we made the choice in faith. We had tried public school, a large and a small private school, and had even considered home schooling. The culture of the schools were never right, and we are not the kind of parents that necessarily want to hide our children from “the world” either. The emphasis of the schools always seemed to be out of place: fundraisers were usually at the top of the list, followed by mountains of worksheets for homework, and worst of all, the persistent facade of faith-based mission statements that turned a blind eye to the very real problem of cliques derived from a lack of love that binds children together.
My husband and I wanted something authentic, and actually, our family was hurting for it. We had heard of Coram Deo from other families that we trusted, but we were initially skeptical because of the size; honestly, I had more eggs in my refrigerator than this school had students!
This couldn’t be the place for my girls, or so I thought.
Then, after months of talking to our daughters, praying and reading, we decided to go to the school and simply ask questions, talk and get to the bottom of all our concerns.
We were convinced of the benefits of classical education, but we were fearful about the size of the school. Namely, we were concerned for our youngest daughter who loves to socialize, interact with all kinds of people and thrives on activities that draw her close to her friends. Would this school provide that? How could it?
Additionally, would our oldest, who sometimes finds it easy to daydream the day away, be able to have enough social stimulation to coax her out of her shell?
We began to feel better when we heard how the school day is made up of many large group times: Bible time, lunch, recess and even some reading activities are done as one large group. When my educator background wanted to fight against this notion, I couldn’t ignore the beauty of my childhood memories, growing up in a family of 6 children. Often, one of my oldest brothers would read to me from his comics, and I was completely absorbed, or I would watch my goal-driven eldest sister study the night away, and I was motivated to do the same. My eldest brother would often just enjoy a book, for mere pleasure, and watching him probably had more of an impact on my career as an English lecturer than he and I even realize.
Similarly, little did I know how much of a “family” this school really was.
My daughters’ first couple of months at the school were a learning curve; I wasn’t used to them coming home and discussing how much they admired their “older” friends. Yes, while my daughters spent the majority of the time with their young peers, they were learning quality values of respect, friendship, tolerance and patience from the older students during designated group times. As a result, my daughters were able to glean from the grace, knowledge and kindness from those older than them.
One field trip to a local museum, I saw one 13 year old boy patiently tell my daughter how much he didn’t appreciate her horse playing with his clay at the craft table. I was ecstatically happy because I know that so much of my own social know-how was taught to me by my own brothers and sisters; they were my social dress rehearsal for the real world.
Returning to my initial scene of the zoo that February day, I was inspired as I saw children from the ages of 6 to 17 (mixed in with a few energetic parents) play freeze tag happily. There were no cliques of older kids on their iPhones, while the younger kids divided themselves in socially economic hierarchies. There was no division I could even recognize, but there rarely is one with a happy family is there?
These older kids have provided sweet notes, advice, reading help, hand-me-downs and even friendly chit-chat at the lunch table - all gems that my daughters would not have had in our small family of 4. Through the daily interaction with God-loving children from all ages and walks of life, my girls are learning manners, acceptance, thoughtfulness and charity.
The student culture at Coram Deo is one of sincere love; it is simply too small to function otherwise. Large by family standards, miniscule by school standards, this campus is a breeding ground for intimate, sincere relationships to blossom - relationships that require forgiveness, kindness, respect and humility.
And I know that is worth more than an over costly end-of-the-year musical my daughters can get at any other school in town.