The second piece of the puzzle is to find a school that is a great fit for your child and your family.
It could be that you have a few high-quality schools on your list but they operate very differently on a day-to-day basis or have different focus areas.
So, how do you know if a school is a good fit? It’s not as simple as looking at a rating or test scores. It takes thinking through what makes your child tick and visiting the schools to see which ones are a good match. The sections below will help you identify that qualities you need for a school to be a good fit.
This page is based on Chapter 2 of Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence, available at PickyParent.com.
Evaluate your child’s current education situation. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you feel like your child’s current school is a good fit? Why or why not?
- Is your child happy to go to school in the morning?
- Does your child seem to be making progress academically, emotionally and socially?
- Do you feel welcome at the school as a parent and confident about the school environment?
You have a good feel for your child’s current situation, so let's start making your school shopping list.
Identify Your Child’s Learning Needs
A child’s learning capability can range from extremely challenged to highly gifted, so it is the first stop in determining the best fit for your child. This is a good time to think about if your child has any special skills or interests. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your child need extra tutoring?
- Does your child need to be challenged?
- Does your child get really excited about any specific academic interests like art, languages, or math?
What are your School Environment Preferences?
For some kids, a typical classroom environment is best. For others, a hands-on, individual learning atmosphere with minimal distractions is best. It is important to take your child’s school environment preferences into consideration. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your child prefer an active or quiet classroom?
- Will the other students’ behavior impact your child’s learning?
- How much one-on-one time with the teacher does your child need?
- Is your child interested in any particular extracurricular activities?
- Is there a specific way that your child learns best? For example, online? Hands-on?
What are your Child’s Social Needs?
Since your child’s school community is the community he will interact with regularly, this is a key piece of the fit factor. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the school diverse so that your child can develop friendships with all kinds of kids and learn how to interact with different cultures? You can find the demographic information for every public school on its state report card.
- Does your child have the social skills needed to make new friends?
- Do you have strong preferences about parent or student community?
- If the school isn’t located near your home, is there a way for your child to maintain relationships outside of school?
Now that you've thought about what types of school factors will help your child love to learn, it's time to get practical.
Thinking about your Family’s Practical Needs
Logistics and financial matters are important when looking at all your education options. A child’s best-fit school should be one that is a real-world option. Major practical matters that must be a part of your consideration are child care, schedules, transportation, location, impact on your other children and costs.
For many families, location is a big factor for parents to consider. Even if transportation is provided, the location of a school could impact other factors such as having neighbors and friends in school, your involvement in the school, child care, etc. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are your family’s childcare needs? Would you like to find a school with before- and after-school care?
- Is it feasible to send your children to different schools? Or is it important to find a school that is a good match for all your children?
- Do you have time to volunteer at the school if that is required?
- Do you want a school that is closer to your home, work or childcare?
- What are the financial considerations? Gas, fees, lunch or extracurricular activities
- Does your child’s school location impact your transportation costs?
- Does your child’s school location change your childcare needs?
Now, write all these factors down to make your school shopping list. Make a list of your top priorities. Prioritize the factors on your list into a numbered or tiered list.
You are ready with your own personal shopping list to research the schools with your children’s and family needs in mind. Now it’s time to start visiting the schools that you’re interested in to see how they match up with your priorities.
Visiting the Schools
Once you have identified the schools you think could be a good fit, make appointments to meet with school representatives and tour the buildings during school hours. Ask to sit in on a class so you get a better feel for the classroom atmosphere. Ask a school administrator these questions and any others you think to get a better understanding of the school:
- Do you have clear expectations for the students?
- Do teachers work together in your school?
- What is a typical school day like?
- How does your school handle discipline?
- What is your school’s policy for keeping parents informed on their children’s academic progress?
Remember to bring your shopping list and ask the school representative where they stand on each of your points. YOU are in the driver's seat. Ask away! No question is too small or too big.
Click here to download excellent information to consider when exploring schools and a helpful worksheet from Picky Parent that will help you document your observations and feedback you receive from school leaders. (Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence, PickyParent.com)
The Ohio Department of Education also has a helpful school visit checklist that you can download and use.