While I very casually peruse the schools list in my city, I am in shock of how quickly time has passed. Didn’t I just bring my little boy home from the hospital? How has this moment already arrived? I reassure myself that he’s only a toddler, and I’m prematurely educating myself on the options and process but I know reality will hit sooner than I will be ready for it.
Through it all, I am sure of one thing: it is overwhelming. Luckily, my background in education keeps me level-headed through most of the process (for now) as I bury myself in research in the hopes of giving my child a promising start in his academic career. As parents, that’s all we really want – nothing less than the best for our children. The challenge, however, is determining what is best. All children are unique, and one child’s perfect school may be inadequate for another child.
The best fit is determined by a number of factors; teachers, peers, materials, children’s needs and abilities, parent community, and administration all play essential roles. You can make the process of finding the perfect school for your child less overwhelming by focusing on five key factors:
What Your Child Learns
While most curriculum content is standardized across the province or state, your child will learn much more than curriculum during the school day. Character education, time management, independence, and other life skills are all examples of important learning that takes place in school. You know your child best. Research different educational models and determine which would be a good fit given your child’s learning style and personality.
Some examples of specific educational models include: Montessori Method, Waldorf approach, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, or Levine’s All Kinds of Minds.
Extracurricular programs are just as important as curriculum. Many adults recount their extracurricular activities as the most memorable part of their childhood. These activities allow children to spend more time exploring personal interests. If your child enjoys programming, does the school offer a robotics club? If your child enjoys sports, does the school offer a variety of extracurricular sports teams? Think about how your child chooses to spend his or her free time at home, and research which schools allow for similar activities outside of instructional hours.
How Your Child Learns
School tours are critical in learning about the school environment. First impressions can convey countless unspoken details; interactions with administration, teachers, students, and other parents may suggest a welcoming environment, display cases highlighting student leaders may suggest a focus on cooperative education and leadership, and technology prevalent in hallways and classrooms may indicate that the school uses resources to incorporate technology in the learning environment.
Ask questions that pertain to class sizes and student to teacher ratios. Don’t hesitate to inquire about how the teachers accommodate different learning styles: do they primarily engage in direct instruction, or have they adapted a discovery-based approach? Are students given opportunities to work independently and in small groups?
Social and Cultural Factors
In the eyes of children, the social aspect of school is the most important. The adults and children they see and interact with for eight hours a day will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on their lives. The makeup of the student body (and school community, at large) may help you select the right school for your child. Are there mixed age classrooms? Is the student population ethnically diverse? Is the school community diverse socioeconomically? These factors will shape your child’s schooling experience, inside and outside the classroom. For some parents, it may be important that your child attend a school that is ethnically diverse. For others, it may not. Each family will have different needs and preferences.
Without a doubt, the teachers are the pillars of any school. Get to know them. Ask the school administrator if you could drop by a teacher’s classroom just before recess or lunch. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to see the way teachers interact with students. Are they approachable? How do the students treat the teacher in the room? You can also ask the teacher questions directly about their teaching style, their role in the classroom, or frequency of parent-teacher calls. Use the Masalamommas parent-teacher question sheet for some guiding questions.
There are a slew of practical factors that come into play, and they may tip the scale in one direction or another. Some things you may need to consider include:
- Proximity of school to home or work
- Availability of before or after-school care
- Transportation options
- Parent community
- Optional course offering, French immersion, or gifted
- Availability and wait lists
To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of questions you may want to ask the school administrator or admissions head:
- What, do you feel, is biggest strength of your teaching staff?
- What is the school’s approach on student discipline and classroom management?
- What educational model aligns best with the school’s educational philosophy?
- What are some of the extracurricular activities offered by the school?
- What opportunities for leadership and community involvement are students given?
In the end, while it may be an overwhelming process and a difficult decision, go with your gut. If a school seems to check off all your look-fors, but just doesn’t seem right, trust your parental instincts and keep looking. The perfect school for your child is out there.
Have questions about your child’s school, the curriculum, or anything else Education-related? Need tips for interpreting the next report card, activities to help literacy or numeracy at home, or advice for the next parent-teacher interview? Send your questions to Anjali at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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