Choosing the right school for your child(ren) can be one of the most important decisions you make as a parent. The school you select should – and will – play a pivotal role in the development of your child as they navigate through the most impressionable years of their lives.
With this decision comes many questions: Will my child be happy? Will s/he be challenged? Will they fit in? And with so many schools out there – public, private, independent, charter, religious, etc. – how do you sort through the websites, rankings, reviews and other marketing materials out there to actually make an informed decision? How do you know that the school will actually be the right fit for your child?
Your Child’s Needs
It is critical to take into account your child’s needs when choosing a school. Every child is unique, and as a parent, you need to be able to answer these questions while choosing a new school:
- How does your child learn best? Know your child’s learning style (click here to read our recent blog post about the different types of learners), behavior and motivation that will allow your child to be successful.
- What is your child’s social capabilities? Know whether your child will perform better in a large setting or a more intimate setting with more individualized attention.
- In what areas does your child excel? Be mindful of what your child loves to do. As you look at a school, observe if the school can challenge your child in their area of interest.
Always look to the school’s mission. The mission outlines the school’s core values and sets the tone for the curriculum and educational environment your child will be in each and every day. You also want to make sure the school’s mission aligns with your own values as a parent.
All schools teach math, science, language arts and history. But what makes the school’s educational experience stand out from the rest? You need to visit the school and see for yourself what is happening in your child’s grade level. Ask questions about the curriculum, tenure of the teachers, as well as professional development opportunities for staff and faculty. During your tour, it is important to be observant to see if these important factors are taking place:
- Are the students engaged?
- Are there innovative methods of instruction taking place?
- Is each child being challenged?
- Is there interaction with peers offering opportunities of critical thinking and collaboration?
- Is differentiated teaching taking place?
- Are the children having fun learning in a caring and supportive environment?
At Oak Knoll, for example, our students spend time in our Ideas Lab (maker space), expanding their minds and creativity beyond traditional learning. It’s important to pay attention to whether the classrooms and lessons are dynamic, hands-on and engaging.
It is important to see what a school offers children after school. Does the school offer before and after-care? Many working parents need these services and it is important to know what the school offers ahead of time. Are there special programs offered after school? Also, look to see if there is a summer program to allow your child the opportunity to continue learning throughout the summer in a familiar location.
Where do the students go from there? Visit the alumni section of the school’s website and ask questions pertaining to the secondary schools — and eventually colleges — the students typically attend.
When it comes down to it, your child’s visit day is an important piece in this process. Do research and know the information about each school. Yet, the deciding factor will be your child’s feedback after their visit. When they make a connection with a new buddy, and talk about their exciting new experience, you know that this will be a good fit for them. Make sure you don’t skip this very important step.
Considering a private elementary school for your child in New Jersey? Click here to learn more about Oak Knoll and to register for an upcoming open house!