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Toddlers 1-3 Years | Ready for Big School?

How To Choose a School For Your Child

I came across a parent once, busy at a table looking through a pile of school brochures and prospectuses. The look on her face told me she was overwhelmed and feeling a bit out of her depth. Here she was, making a decision about a school that would impact the growth and development of her child. She was very aware of the fact that she was fully responsible for giving (or not giving) her child a supportive environment. “But I am not a teacher or an educator, I don’t know what to look for. Who can I trust? How can I make a decision?” she said.


Perhaps at this point I should say that I am not a parent, but rather a principal of a school. And when I decided to open our school, I wanted it to be a place where people would come to learn together and be inspired. A place where we would feel a deep sense of connectedness and belonging with those around us.

So I did some research on schools. In fact, I spent six months visiting pre-schools and primary schools, private and public. I was inspired to find out what it was that made a school a ‘good school’. I wanted to unpack the myth about schooling and delve into the mysteries of academic recipes that would unlock the imaginative mind of young human beings. I wanted to find out if leafy green suburban schools were really better than poor township schools and in which conditions does meaningful learning occur.

Over time I compiled my thoughts and ideas about the criteria that I would suggest for a parent who was looking for a school for their child, but I certainly don’t hold these ideas to be the absolute truth. I want parents to feel empowered when they go to see a prospective school, and to make informed decisions that will best support them and their children.

A starting point…
Let’s say that you have already got a few names of schools you would like to find out more about, and maybe some of these schools are in a different part of the country because you may be willing to move town. You now decide you would like to visit them. Here are some guidelines that may support you in making an informed decision.

What do you see?
As you enter the school, does it invite you to explore further? Does it ignite your curiosity and make you wonder what the children are learning about? Do you wonder what’s around the next corner? Education is about guiding learning. It should not have to motivate or pull you along, let alone your child.

Do you see children smiling and conversing, or are they standing outside classrooms because of misdemeanors? Are they interacting and sharing, or are they all at their own desks minding their own business?

What is on the walls and surrounding surfaces? Are the pictures and work from two years ago, or are they current and relevant? Are they products of an activity (a nice painting or just a product of an instruction), or are they the learning process themselves?

Do the children have access to the resources in their environment, or do they always have to ask the teachers for permission? Do they move around the spaces as active participants and co-constructors, or do they feel they are in someone else’s space (do they feel the classroom is theirs or their teachers?)

Look at the details. Schools that consciously take into account the details of their environment will be able to see the details in your children. Are the plants looked after, the gardens well kept, the walls clean and the paintings hanging straight? If you are a conscious and aware school, you will see the details in all the things around you.

What do you hear?
Most meaningful learning happens when we apply ourselves to the concept we are learning about. We automatically reflect on how this concept fits into our current understanding and we grapple with it to make sense of it. Conversation and dialogue are primary tools used to ‘reflect on’ and ‘make meaning of’. Can you hear this in the classrooms? Do the teachers invite children to share their understandings and their meanings? Can you differentiate between bored noise and constructive noise? The latter is driven by curiosity and respect, by enthusiasm and passion.

Are the children laughing and having fun? Can you hear the respect and dignity of the teachers as they engage cooperation, or do the teachers use threats and fear to ensure obedience?

What do you read?
The literature that they present hopefully points to the vision and aspirations of the school. This is probably the area I would be most cautious in. You can pay someone to write lovely articulate and inspiring words. I loved a mission statement that said, “We provide a holistic environment that develops your child to reach his full potential.” The alarm bells go off in my head. Do we really have any idea as to what our full potential is as a human being, or even as a human species? I think that anyone who has applied some thought to this would never claim to be able to develop it, let alone describe it.

But more importantly, the real learning happens in the classroom, by the teachers who live out their attitudes and perceptions of the world. There is often a significant difference between what the prospectus says the children are experiencing and what really happens in the classroom.

What do you feel?
It is said that the quality of the education in the school is directly proportional to the quality of the relationships within that school. So how does the staff interact and communicate with each other? Do they communicate effectively and with respect? Your children will be copying their communication styles, so observe carefully.

Do the teachers get down to talk to the children at their eye-level? Do they rush to solve problems or do they support problem solving? Effective communication is the key to meaningful learning.

From the experience at our school, we have seen that the greater the sense of connectedness and belonging a child feels, the happier and more empowered they become. How does the school work with this? They may not articulate it in this way, but they should see a direct link between the emotional well being of a child and their scholastic ability.

The future of schooling is going to see parents as the most important factor in supporting a child’s development. There is a direct link between the child’s emotional patterns and those of the parents they learned them from. How does the school view parents – as fund raisers and fixers of buildings? And how do they, or not, support them so they can in turn impact their children more positively (how to communicate effectively, how to move away from punishment to guidance)? Does the school provide workshops on these important topics? Does the school extend the sense of connectedness and belonging to the parents as well? How does the school nurture these relationships (between the school and the parents and between the parents themselves)?

And then…?
Ask to sit in on a class. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, would you? Are they open to sharing their experiences, or do they feel it will disturb the class? Are the teachers confident enough to open their doors to the unknown and to put themselves out there to be observed?

I admit that I have saved the best for last. Look for a school that can work with ‘possibilities’ and not just ‘options’. You can only choose ‘options’ and they are very limiting. A school that recognises the power of possibilities is a school that embraces growth and development. That school is a ‘great school’.

I enjoy it when a parent takes their child’s development as seriously as I do. It makes me feel part of a team that opens up the possibility of creating a nurturing environment that works for them, their child and for me. My wish is for parents not to be limited to just what there is on offer, but to engage in dialogue to ensure their needs are also met. Living and Learning together.

By Robin Booth – Life Coach

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