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While I am a huge proponent of homeschooling, I am an even bigger advocate of providing children an amazing education. For my family that means homeschooling, but for others that might mean selecting a private school, or seeking out the best public school in your town. I get asked all the time what to look for in a school if you choose not to homeschool, so I thought I would share my list with everyone. This is the criteria I personally used when choosing a preschool for my children, but based on my experience as a classroom teacher, I think it is appropriate for elementary school too.
What to Look for in a School If You Can’t Homeschool
The first step in evaluating a school is to take a tour. Call up the schools you are considering and schedule a tour. Schools are busy places and really are not set up for surprise visits.
Bring a written list of questions, so you don’t forget what you want to ask.
Questions to ask on a school tour:
What is the average class size?
Do not just go by stats that you see listed online. Many schools just divide the number of students by the number of teachers to determine the ratio, but that includes all of the specials teachers. Ask specifically about the grades your children will enter. Enrollment numbers can vary year to year and grade to grade.
How much recess is provided each day? What are the playground rules?
In general, more recess time is better than just a few minutes per day. Ask about recess and playground rules. Some schools have rules about not sending children outside during rainy weather and others have rules about children being outside when it is below a certain temperature. I have even heard of schools that do not allow running during recess!
How are lessons tailored for individual learning styles?
My college education courses involved a lot of creating individualized lesson plans. Teachers should be able to say how they would tailor a lesson for a variety of learning types as well as for students that are struggling or advanced.
Are there opportunities for play based learning?
Research supports plenty of play based learning in the early grades, but schools don’t always follow the latest research. Look for signs of play based learning such as learning centers, educational games, and student projects decorating the room.
How do parents and teachers communicate?
The goal is good parent – teacher communication, in any form that gets the job done. Some possibilities include paper notes carried home from school, emails, texting, or phone calls. Many teachers are now starting class websites and Instagram pages, which is great for general communication, but there needs to be private communication opportunities too.
What is the discipline policy?
Classroom discipline often looks different than home discipline, but you want to make sure that you fundamentally agree with the school’s policy.
What ‘specials’ or extracurricular activities are available? How often do they meet?
Specials include classes such as art, p.e., music, computer lab, and library. These classes provide a fun, still educational, break from the base classroom.
While on the school tour look around and observe. Look for:
Engaged students are not necessarily quiet, but they are involved in their education and are not off task.
Children working independently
Children that are able to work independently is a sign of good classroom management. This might mean that some students are working with the teacher while other kids are working independently.
People look happy
In general, you want to see teachers and students that look happy to be there.
Teachers working with students or walking around the classroom
One of my college professors stressed that teachers should not be sitting down alone unless students are taking a test. Walking around the class, even during quiet independent work, allows the teacher to notice students that need help and additional instruction. It also helps keep kids on task.
What doesn’t necessarily matter:
Great schools score – The scoring process changes occasionally, which means that a schools score might drop – even if nothing about the school changed.
Brand new building – A new shiny school looks impressive from the outside, but it is what is inside that really matters.
Technology – I was impressed when I noticed smart boards in one school, until I started asking teachers how they used them. Many never turned them on and others only used them as a timer. The mere presence of technology does not guarantee it is being used in a way that increases learning.
Uniforms – Uniforms are helpful for getting kids out of the house earlier, but they do not necessarily impact learning.
What do you look for in a school?