What is the Best School for Our Family?

Guidance for finding the right fit.

There are hundreds of excellent schools and educational choices for your family. One amazing opportunity that is offered to parents today is the ability to apply to a wide array of top-notch independent schools.

You may learn that there are too many terrific schools from which to choose, as opposed to not enough. Many families often begin their school search with the assumption that they know the best fit for their children. But, inevitably, these parents are in for a surprise. Likewise, it’s crucial to keep an open mind when looking at schools.
Each school has a unique culture and style. The good news is that most families relate to the cultures of many schools, not just one.

We visited a range of traditional to very progressive schools for our children and discovered that many different philosophies resonated with our families’ values, as well as our children’s needs. Our choices became ones that made the most sense for our families.

Pointers to Narrow the Selection

Prior to visiting schools, think about the ideal educational environment for your family. Just keep in mind that this may change as you complete your tours and realize the range of schools that are out there. Before making plans to tour schools and learn more about their offerings, ask yourself:

  • Do you want a small or a large school?
  • Would your children be comfortable in a traditional or progressive setting?
  • Do you prefer single sex or co-ed schools?
  • Which special subject areas are important to your family? Examples include physical education, movement, science, foreign languages, art, library and woodworking.
  • Are these subjects an important part of the schools’ curriculum? How are they integrated?
  • What do you value most, such as community service, diversity, academics or social and emotional development?

Remember, it is imperative to do your own research and to ask the questions that are most significant to your family in order to have a real understanding of what each school is about.

Special Education Schools

It is difficult to know if your child has or will have special learning needs in the early years. If you already know this, then you are fortunate to be a step ahead of the process. You can focus on schools that cater to those needs. There are both special needs schools as well as schools in which mainstream children work alongside special needs students in regular classrooms. Do your research. Tour both types of schools to ascertain which might be the best fit for your child’s specific needs as well as your family’s values.

Attributes of Schools to Consider

  • The School’s Physical Space. Make sure the physical space of the school is a place that fits your family’s needs. Create a wish list of items and facilities that you wish to see in a school. Your list should be realistic and flexible. Prioritize each item. For instance, if an outdoor space is necessary to you and the school doesn’t have this, you might consider removing that school from your list.
  • The Students. One of the most important observations a parent can make during the school tour is the appearance of the children in the classrooms. Do the students seem happy? Are they engaged in their respective activities? Bottom line: Does this seem like a happy place where you envision your child?
  • The Teachers. Teachers are the heart of the school. Do they seem warm and approachable? What are their credentials? What are their prior experiences with children? Do teachers have control of their classes? Pay attention to how teachers communicate with the children in their classes. Is this a style that you use to communicate with your children? It is also noteworthy to pay attention to the turnover of teachers in the school. If the turnover is high, it may not be an ideal work environment. Remember, a happy and respected teacher shines though in a classroom.
  • Values. Important values such as diversity, community service and ethics should be taken into consideration. Whatever your family values are, ensure they are compatible with the school’s values. For example, if you want a religious experience for your child at school, consider whether a particular school is religious based or nonsectarian?

These factors, along with your wish list, should enable you to make an educated decision about the right school for your family.

Reviewing Your Selections

Categorize each school in your list under three headings:

  1. What you know about the school.
  2. What you would like to know.
  3. What you have learned.

This might sound like a lot of work. However, after touring and interviewing at ten different schools, it all becomes a big blur. Notes and this visual list help keep your thoughts clear and contribute to an easier decision-making process.

How will you know if a certain school is the right school for your family? Once you’ve toured the many schools you’re considering and your chart is completed, this is the time for serious reflection on what you have observed at each school. Narrow or amend your list. Add schools to your top three or eliminate the ones that no longer appeal to you. You should have a clear feeling of schools that resonated with you. It’s a combination of your research, homework and instinctive reactions that leads to finding the ideal fit. When you walk into certain schools and feel like you are home, it’s karmic. Your children will likely feel the same.

Some of your preconceived notions about schools will be what you expected. Some will be tossed out the window. Be open and ready for some delightful surprises.