Before your child came into your life, you may have researched the best baby gear and read all of the baby books. You wanted to be sure your bundle of joy was cared for with safe products and healthy child-rearing techniques. The same careful considerations need to be made when enrolling your child in school – even when it is “just” at the elementary level.
Elementary school is often dismissed by parents, as it is early on in a child’s education and therefore not “college prep.” But make no mistake: The first eight years of a child’s life – what make up early childhood education – are also the most formative years for learning. This is your child’s first taste of education. It may also be his or her first experience in a social setting, around other children and adults who are not family or close friends.
Believe it or not, there is a myriad of choices when it comes to finding the right elementary school for your child. Just as no two children are the same, neither are their learning needs. If you are wondering how to choose an elementary school for your child, read our list to help you get an idea of what you are looking for.
Top Considerations When Choosing an Elementary School
- Can the school meet my family’s basic needs?
It may be tempting to go for the top-ranked school in your county’s district, but you will need to find a school that works for you and your family’s lives. Think logistics. If the school day starts at 8:30 a.m., but you need to be at the office by 8:15, you may be facing a serious roadblock. If drop-off is not a problem, but afternoon pickup cuts into the workday, you may need to find alternative choices.
Is early drop-off an option? Does the school offer a full-day or extended day program? Does the school offer bussing? Where is the designated bus pick-up for your address? You should also consider school lunch. If you are not able to send your child into school with a brown bag every morning, you may need a school that provides a lunch for students.
- What is the student-teacher ratio?
This is an important topic for many parents. The smaller the class size, and the bigger the teacher count, the more personal attention your child will receive. Take the student-teacher ratio with a grain of salt, as many schools take other staff members – such as the school librarian – into account. Find out how many students are in each classroom, and then ask about teacher’s aids or parent volunteers.
- How are discipline, bullying, and social-emotional development handled at the school?
Whether you take an authoritarian approach or you are a free-range parent, you will want to know the school’s approach to discipline. Each school should have a clear disciplinary policy. Do they take a punitive approach, with demerits and suspensions? Do they support a more relaxed environment that offers warnings before a consequence, such as missing recess? Discipline varies greatly between schools, so it is important to know what to expect at your child’s school before putting them in the classroom.
It is also important to know – and agree with – the school’s bullying policy and approach to social-emotional development. Do they promote empathy and kindness? Does the staff receive anti-bullying training and teach kids about bullying and social-emotional health?
- What is the physical environment like?
On the surface, it may seem silly to suggest you ask yourself “Does the school have a good vibe?”, but it is also an important question to ask. This building will be the place your child spends about 180 days of the year. Does this space feel clean and safe? Do the classrooms feel crammed and militant, or is there a creative flow that can inspire – and encourage – engaging interaction and learning experiences?
Don’t forget the outdoor space, where your child will spend plenty of time during recess and gym class. Is there a big field on which to run, or is it just a small slab of concrete? Is there a playground? Does the school offer learning outside the classroom? Think about the learning environment you want your child to be in, and trust your gut if something about the school feels off.
- What is the school’s learning philosophy & does it cater to different learning needs?
Does the school follow an educational program based on the work of educators? Some models support play-based learning in the early years, some introduce reading and mathematics early on, and many schools incorporate a mix of philosophies. Some schools base their programs on specific educational methods, such as the Waldorf approach, the Montessori Method, the Reggio Emilia approach, or the many other learning styles.
Another sign of a good school is its special education offerings. Every child is different, and many have very different learning needs and styles. If the school has a flexible and accommodating approach, you will likely find success with its program.
If you have ever heard of a “magnet school,” but never quite understood what it means, you may be curious as to how it compares to other public schools. Magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curricula. At Riverside Magnet School, for example, students meet the following standards:
- Practice active citizenship, demonstrated by class participation.
- Nurture curiosity by pursuing answers.
- Actively listen and respond to others’ opinions and ideas.
The hands-on approach, flexible curriculum, and diverse student body are just a few of the benefits of a magnet elementary school.
- Are there after-school activities available?
Is your child a natural-born performer? Does she/he have an interest in chess, art, music, or sports? Find out what kind of after-school programs are available at the school. While you’re asking, learn about the approach taken for these extracurriculars. Is transportation offered for practices and games? What are the requirements for joining a team? And how much practice time is expected? This is an important question to ask before homework and fatigue become a challenge.
- How balanced is the school’s curriculum?
Many experts suggest parents look for schools that offer a nice balance for students. One rule of thumb: Look at the three As: academics, athletics, and the arts. Find out how much time is devoted weekly for gym and arts classes – such as music, painting, drama, etc. – and what the kids are doing in these classes.
Also consider the amount of homework that will be given to your child. Most kindergarteners are not getting homework assignments, but for the upper grades, you will want to be prepared. The general rule of thumb is 10 minutes a night per grade. Some schools may put more importance on homework and give out lengthier workloads. Depending on your goals, you may not want your 10-year-old struggling to stay upright with his backpack on his back.
- What are the standards for the teachers at the school?
Most parents respect teachers, as they know first-hand how difficult it can be to lead just one child for an entire day – never mind a room full of them! But it can still be challenging to understand the inner workings of a school and its staff. Try getting a sense of how the teachers collaborate on a curriculum and how they prepare their work. Do the teachers have regular meetings to discuss the material being covered? Do they connect to stay on the same page about homework? How are these teachers held accountable for their work within the classroom, where they spend all day with your child? These can be awkward questions to ask, but it is important to be your child’s advocate and learn about the teachers before enrolling.
- Do parents get involved with the school?
If you’re looking to find a school that promotes a strong sense of community, find out if the school has an active PTA. How often are the meetings? Do parents volunteer in the classroom? If you are asked to volunteer, what types of activities would you be participating in? Will you get to work with your child? If this is important to you, you may want to look for a school that offers – and encourages – plenty of opportunities for parent volunteering. Since Riverside Magnet School follows the Reggio Emilia approach, it involves active parent participation.
- What makes this school stand out among the rest?
Many magnet schools pride themselves in having a special area of focus, whether it’s a public or private institution. The school you’re considering may be well-known in the area for having a strong performing arts department, or a solid curriculum in technology and science. The specialty may be the educational approach. Find out what the school is most proud of and see if it aligns with your goals and values.
School is an important decision to make, especially at the elementary level. Choosing the right elementary school now can help set your child up for long-term learning success. If you would like to learn more about the Riverside Magnet School, sign up for a virtual info session today!
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.