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How to Choose a New School

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Are you thinking of choosing a school  for your child, or switching schools next year?  This is a big decision, one that will affect your child’s happiness and success – and your own happiness – for years to come. What should you look for?

First off, be sure to do your homework. If the school has a website, check it out. Does it look professional? Is everything spelled correctly and make sense? Does it talk about things that are important to you? Can you get your child to and from school with ease or transportation be a problem?

Have several options on your list of schools. Include as many schools as you can, including public schools, along with any private or charter options.  If you’re thinking of a private school or preschool, can you afford it without limiting other things your family wants to do?

Once you’ve got two or three schools selected by this process, set up a visit. You want to see the school with your own eyes.

  • Look first at how children are spoken to and how teachers respond to misbehavior and emotional upsets. You want to see calm teachers who treat children with respect and kindness. Observe the way the classroom is arranged. Is there enough room for everyone and for class activities? Is children’s work displayed and is it not all the same? Is the room neat and orderly?
  • Look at what children are doing. You want to see children working together without much teacher direction. You don’t want to see children sitting and listening for long periods of time. Children learn by doing. Are they doing things? Are the things they do interesting? You want to see children who are busy, engaged in their work, and unstressed.
  • Look at the children who will be your child’s classmates. Will your child fit in? Kids enjoy school because that’s where their friends are. Make sure your child will be able to make friends with the kids who already go there.
  • If you can, talk a few minutes with the principal or director. This person is responsible for the culture of the school and how he or she treats the teachers will affect how the teachers treat children. Do you like this administrator? Does this person seem to be someone you can entrust with your child?

Think carefully about your child and what he needs. Does he need a lot of structure or a lot of freedom? Does he like art, athletics, science, or something else? Can you see your child doing well in the schools you visit?

If you are switching schools for a child who is already attending elementary school, understand that any change comes with a cost. What will your child lose by leaving her old school? What will she gain that she herself cares about? Sometimes, there’s no choice and a change of school just has to happen, whether a child is ready and willing or not. But even then, understand that what you’re asking your child to do is not easy. Leaving a place where one at least knows what to expect to go somewhere new and unknown is hard.

Choosing a school seems like a big step. Your child will be happiest if you carefully think things through.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.