Each school has a unique culture and educational philosophy that distinguishes it from another. While there is no one best school, there are schools that can best fit your child and family’s needs and expectations. On our Podcast, “No Silly Questions,” we dig deeper into these topics and cover questions parents have about their children’s learning, education and development, with experts in the field. (We’ll also be doing a “Back to School” special in September, where we bring you everything you need to know about school admissions and pedagogies, so that you can make the best decisions for your child.)
Until then, the prompts below will get you thinking about the most important considerations when it comes to your child’s early childhood education.
1. Consider whether your child is ready for school.
There are varying possibilities for when your child may be ready and eligible to begin school. In a daycare setting, families often have the option of their child beginning in infancy, for extended hours. In preschool settings, families typically have the option of their child beginning any time from about the age of 1.5 years old to 2.5 years old, for more limited hours. Under certain circumstances, a parent may develop strong feelings about their child’s readiness for school, depending on the child’s ease of separating and/or comfort with new environments, new children, and new adults.
Typically, most children are able to adjust, however the pace at which they do so varies. Though it can happen, it is unusual for a child not to eventually adapt to the routines of school. Interestingly, children today are actually starting school significantly earlier than they did in previous generations. In one of our upcoming podcast episodes, we speak with Paula Fass, an historian of American childhood, to understand how these trends have evolved over time to the present day. While age can certainly be a determinant when it comes to school readiness in the early childhood years, temperament, family needs, financial capacity, and the fit of the school should all be considered. We’ll get into this more below!
2. With some initial research, determine which schools are in your neighborhood and whether the basic logistics work for your family.
Location tends to matter for families when selecting a school for their young children. You’ll want to consider who will be taking your child to school and if the school’s location is compatible with the adult’s schedule and routine. Will you be walking to school? Taking a bus? Car? Subway? Scooter? Some families may prefer a school in their neighborhood so that kids can easily get to and from home and make friends in their communities, whereas some families may prefer a school that is close to an adult’s place of work. Other factors to consider are the school’s hours, cost, and availability of financial aid if applicable.
3. Explore the school’s website to get a sense of their mission and better understand their educational philosophy.
Think about what your values are as a family and what kind of an environment would be best suited for your child in their early years, when their thoughts and feelings about school, learning, others and themselves are being formed. Some questions you’ll want to consider are:
- How does the school’s mission resonate with my vision for my child and family?
- Does the school have a specific educational philosophy or pedagogical approach, such as Reggio Emilia, Montessori, or Language Immersion? (Tip: We’ll be doing a deep dive into all of these pedagogical approaches in our September special!)
- Is the school affiliated with a religion or larger community?
4. Take a tour of the school if it’s offered.
It’s important to be able to see the school in action and take note of what you observe. Ensuring there is a match up between what you read about on the website and what you see in person is important in understanding a school’s integrity and dedication to its mission. Visiting the school in person will help you visualize whether you can see your child feeling happy and secure there, and whether you see your family feeling comfortable as well. Some questions to consider are:
- What do you feel when you walk through the school?
- Do the facilities meet your expectations and needs?
- What qualities do you notice in the Director that make you feel comfortable and confident sending your child to the school (or not)?
- What’s the ‘smile quotient’ of the children and teachers? We first heard this phrase from a podcast interview we did with Dr. Thomas Hoerr, an author and researcher of Multiple Intelligence theory, to articulate a school environment where joy is found in abundance – a true indicator of a quality school.
- How engaged do the children and teachers seem?
5. Ask questions that are important to you.
Deciding which school to send your child to is one of the more significant decisions you will make in their early life, and you should feel encouraged to get the information you need to make the best decision possible for your child and family. Each family has different priorities and so questions will vary; a family who prioritizes nutrition may want to know what kinds of snacks are provided, whereas a family who has an active child might want to know how often the children have opportunities to run and move their bodies. Some questions that are worthwhile asking could be:
- How often does the school/teachers communicate with parents?
- What are the expectations for parent involvement and what opportunities are available for parents to get involved?
- What are the qualities and criteria you look for in selecting teachers? (Is professional development offered?)
- How do teachers take note of children’s progress? Are children’s skills assessed?
- What is the school’s approach to behavior and discipline?
- What is the daily schedule?
6. If you have a young child who will be separating for the first time, ask the school how this process will work.
Separation is an integral part of going to school, especially when a child is separating from their familiar adults for the first time. You’ll want to understand what this process will look like so you can plan accordingly. Some schools may have a gradual separation process, whereby an adult is required to stay with a child until they are fully separated. Some schools may opt for a ‘rip-off the bandaid’ approach. When considering these approaches, think about what resonates with you as a parent and also what your child’s temperament is like. Understanding where a school stands with respect to separation will help you anticipate what the beginning of the year might look like, and how you can prepare your child accordingly.
7. Consider additional programming.
School’s offer different kinds of programming that is built into the day, into the month or throughout the year. You may be curious about what specials are offered during the school day, like music, movement, dance, yoga, etc. You may also want to know what events or traditions are unique to the school that you and/or your child have to look forward to. Lastly, when applicable, you can ask about whether after school activities are offered if that is of interest to you.
8. Ask to speak with other parents who are currently enrolled in the school.
Hopefully your school tour will be informative and you’ll have a good sense of how you want to move forward. That being said, there may be questions that you will prefer to ask a parent enrolled in the school instead of the school’s Director. In order to gain an additional perspective, ask the school if they offer the opportunity to be connected with a current parent, and then with that parent, you can determine whether an email, phone call, coffee or other kind of meet up would be mutually agreeable. You may also consider other ways to see the school and community in action, like participating in any events that are offered; this helps you get to know the school, and the school gets to know you.
9. If your child has specific needs, communicate them with the school and make sure they can support your child.
Children have different needs, and may require varying levels of support. If your child has an allergy, ask the school how they manage this; if your child has a dietary need, ask the school if it can be accomodated; if your child has any developmental delays, ask the school if and how they can support; if your child speaks a different language, ask the school how they will approach this.
Ultimately, for some, the decision about how to pursue their child’s early childhood education will be fairly straightforward and for others, more considerations like the ones listed above may be involved. The essence of the early childhood experience is building socialization, independence and play skills, and there are many kinds of environments that can offer this. On our podcast No Silly Questions we dive deeper into this subject matter and drop weekly episodes, all intended to strengthen your parent toolkit and bridge the gap of information. After all, there’s no such thing as a silly question.