Every year many families are faced with an important decision: which school to choose for their youngest children to start or continue their studies. For many parents, especially first-time parents, this choice is perceived as a great responsibility.
To help us with our day-to-day problems, this article will discuss the factors to take into account when making this decision and how to minimize the mistakes we can make.
Importance of taking the child’s characteristics into account when choosing a school
This is something that is often forgotten and, in fact, should be taken into account not only when the child starts school, but throughout his schooling, as there are things that may not be obvious, especially at an early age.
Most children will do well in almost any school, but there are some who, because of their personal characteristics, may do better in a school with only morning hours or perhaps in a smaller school, to cite a couple of examples.
As mentioned above, if we have not noticed that our child has difficulties in any area, this will not be a problem. However, if our child has some peculiarity in this regard, it is good to sit down and assess the child’s personal needs and circumstances before making this decision.
Often families turn to pediatricians and neuropediatricians, or to the psychology specialists who take care of their children, with doubts about these issues. Let’s give an example:
- My 11-year-old son has ADHD, for example, and leaves school at 18:30h. He arrives home at 19:00 in the evening. Then he has sports and, later, he starts studying. By the time he studies, the treatment has lost its effectiveness. He finishes at 12 o’clock at night, or even at 1 o’clock. The next day he is very tired, but he has so much homework and so much to study. What do we do?
This could be a case like any of the many others we may be asked about, and it can serve as an illustrative example that the key is that we should look at whether it is the best school for our child in particular, not the best school in general.
Why should we avoid choosing a school in a very short time?
Although these are decisions that can be reversed, we should mainly avoid making this type of decision in a short period of time so as not to make a mistake. If we want to reduce the chances that we can make a mistake, we have to look at several things (which takes time) and try not to make the decision in a rushed manner.
If we do not look at our actual work schedule (to give an example), we may find that our child has the afternoon off (and we do not) and that we find it difficult to organize how he/she can be cared for when we are not there.
It can also happen that, if the child is young and the school is very far from where he/she lives (cases that travel 1 hour by bus, for example), he/she may not have time to play when he/she gets home (and playing is also important, and at certain ages even more so) or he/she may be excessively tired.
We could give a thousand everyday examples that are mistakes that many parents make, without realizing it, and that later weigh them down. The key is to take into account not only the characteristics of the child, but also the family circumstances.
Depending on these, we must evaluate, for example, if the center has a lunchroom or early bird service, bus service, distance from home, family schedules, etc., and so forth.
Consistency in our actions: our top priority when choosing a school
A key aspect is for parents to know the educational project and the ideology of the center: its philosophy, its values and principles of identity, ideology and objectives to be achieved, its customs, norms and lines of action, among other things.
It is true that it is the children who will be at school, but both the family and the school will be fundamental in the education of the child for many years and both must be in sync and must be for the benefit of the child.
If we do not share these principles, objectives to be achieved or these customs, it is incongruous that we try to have our children study in such a center.
Consistency must be the basis of education. This is a maxim that we must not forget. The objective must be the achievement of an integral formation of the student, not only at an intellectual level but also at other levels (affective, for example) and, for this, it is necessary that the family and the school go hand in hand.
How can we know what is the vision of the center?
And how do we know all this? That is, how do we know what are the objectives, ideology, values, principles and lines of work we are talking about?
By asking at the school itself. By requesting an interview, for example, and talking about it with whoever is attending us that day.
There are centers that provide parents with a copy of the educational project I am talking about during that first visit (in addition to other information), which is fundamental.
Is it important for parents to stop and evaluate the relationship they themselves wish to have with the school?
This is another interesting aspect that we must value because the reality is that there are centers that are more participatory than others, in which there is frequent and fluid communication with families.
In fact, there are schools with parent schools, which promote this type of activities and, at the same time, there are centers that operate more independently. We must evaluate well what we really want.
What should we know about extracurricular activities?
Mainly for convenience, it is important that we stop to assess what extracurricular (or complementary) activities are offered at the center and their schedule.
It is not essential for children to take part in them but, fortunately, most of the students are enrolled in sports, artistic and language activities, some day (or days) a week.
These complementary activities help develop the child’s other skills and abilities beyond the strictly academic, and perhaps more importantly, are rewarding for the child.
If the school offers well-structured and organized activities, it can be really convenient for the family organization. We all know mothers, fathers and grandparents, always in a hurry, taking their children (and grandchildren) to and fro.
A school with quality extracurricular activities and a convenient schedule can make things much easier.
More keys to avoid making a mistake when choosing a school
A relevant aspect that many people do not think about initially is: what does the school offer me in case my child has a problem? Whether it is a learning, developmental or behavioral problem.
To answer this type of questions, it is useful to know:
- How the guidance department works.
- What training and experience do the people involved have.
- What knowledge do the teachers have about these issues.
- Whether there is a real connection in the way the counselor and the teachers work on a day-to-day basis.
Learning difficulties, for example, are a frequent occurrence, so we should have a clear idea of how they deal with these types of problems and how they are diagnosed, managed and addressed on a day-to-day basis in the school.
Can a visit to the facilities clarify things for us?
The answer is clear: yes. To help make this decision, it is advisable for parents to request an interview, usually accompanied by a visit, in order to assess some of the schools in which they may be interested.
And what should we focus on? First of all, we should visit the school naturally to see what impression it can give us. It is important to be able to capture a bit of the school’s atmosphere.
Apart from the importance of the conditions of the facilities and everything we have mentioned, the school climate is fundamental. It can be useful to go there, preferably during school hours.
Once we are there, there are a number of questions we can ask, for example:
- Who is watching the children in the playground?
- Do the children have help in the dining room?
- How are the menus served? Do they guarantee attention to students with special dietary needs, such as celiac or diabetics?
- What is the ratio of students per classroom?
- Is there a place for the little ones to rest or take a nap after lunch?
- What is the state of the school equipment in general and of the classrooms in particular?
- How is the parents’ relationship with the teaching staff and management?
- In what language are the subjects taught?
- What is the methodology used to achieve academic objectives?
- How do they help the children in their emotional and human education?
- In the case of children with special educational needs, what kind of adaptation and support does the center provide, the training of teachers and the possibility of receiving specialized attention from a psychologist, pedagogue or speech therapist?
- Finally, it is not bad to be interested in the flexibility of teachers to talk to parents when a problem arises.
Apart from all this, it is interesting to see what happens at school entrance or exit times (better at the exit, if possible) because one can get an idea of many things (for example, details such as whether or not there is room to park when picking up the children).