There are a lot of choices when it comes to sending your child to school. While some parents decide to stick with the neighborhood school to which their child has been assigned, others choose to investigate public magnet programs, charter schools, parochial schools or independent schools. There are schools that house just a few grade levels and schools that can serve children from nursery school through high school graduation. There are schools that are free to attend and schools that charge varying levels of tuition. Most schools have both pros and cons; I’ve yet to see a school that’s perfect in every way. Over the years, I’ve had many parents come to me to ask how to determine which school is the right one for their child.
First, I would recommend visiting every single school you (or your child) are considering; a good school will welcome prospective parents and students for a visit. Then, ask yourself a few basic questions:
Does this school match our family’s philosophy of education and our child’s learning style? Are you looking for a traditional school with plenty of lectures and homework, or do you want a school that is less structured and encourages creativity? Most schools fall somewhere in the middle, but you should ask yourself what kind of an environment you are looking for, as well as what kind of an environment will help your child to thrive. If your child is very imaginative and independent, perhaps a Montessori-type program that allows for self-directed learning will work well for him. If your child is extremely social, perhaps a school that encourages small group learning will make her feel most comfortable. If your child is easily distracted, perhaps a small classroom with well-delineated work spaces would be the best fit. If you have strong feelings about testing, it is a good idea to ask about the school’s assessment policies.
Will this school encourage and support my child’s interests? Is your child a budding artist who loves to draw, paint, or sing? Is she extremely active and athletic, more interested in playing sports than reading books? Do you, as a parent, want your child to have the opportunity to play a musical instrument, act in a play, or join a team? Are you hoping to channel his love of argument into a more worthwhile pursuit, such as the debate team or mock trial club? The better you know your child and your dreams for him, the easier it will be for you to find the school that will help those dreams come true.
Does my child have any special needs? If your child has been diagnosed with a learning difference or if he or she has special learning preferences (such as a need for visual cues with auditory directions, for example), make sure that you communicate this to the school. You want to be sure that the school can support your child’s growth, helping her to be successful both academically and socially. (By the way, if there is a family history of learning differences, these can be hereditary; if you are concerned that your child may one day require support services, it is a good idea to make sure that the school has that capability.) Even if your child does not have any special needs that you know of, classes should be small enough for the teacher to get to know your child well; all children learn differently, and skilled teachers ensure that they are meeting the needs of their students.
Is religion and/or character education important to me? Some parents want their children to have spiritual guidance at school, usually to reinforce their family’s beliefs or to provide their children with some sort of moral compass. Other parents prefer to teach values in their own homes. It is important to know the role you’d like the school to play in the character education of your child. For example, do you want him or her to learn about various religions and beliefs? How do you hope the school will react to a student (or teacher) who is gay or transgendered? These are a few things to consider, and perhaps to bring up in dialogue with the school administration.
Is diversity something I am looking for in a school? Do you want your child to be surrounded by kids from different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds? Are you looking for a single-sex or coeducational environment? Do you want your child to learn in a bilingual classroom? Most schools have some degree of diversity; many of them publish these statistics. Your visit to the school will also give you the opportunity to informally observe the students and the faculty/staff, so that you can get a sense of the school’s commitment to maintaining a diverse population.
These are just a few things to explore when you are choosing a school for your child. As you define your answers to these questions, you will likely narrow your search for a school. I would highly recommend talking to other parents who already have children enrolled at the school, and arranging for a visit day so that your child can meet the other students. Keep in mind that the school will likely connect you with parents who are very happy there; you may want to ask friends for referrals to parents they know whose children attend the school. If they know someone who has left the school, try to speak with that parent to find out why they left. Their reasons for leaving may not resonate with you at all, and may even confirm that the school is a good match for your family. On the other hand, the conversation may reveal a truth about the school that you would never have known had you not spoken with those parents.
Schools want your child to be successful, and they want parents to be happy with their choice; spend the time and the energy to make sure that you’ve found the school that fits your child, so that you don’t have to go through this process all over again next year.
This post was also published at GoLocalProv.