How to choose the right school for your child

Every parent wants their child to have the very best chance of being happy and successful at school, and you and I are no different. Choosing the right school is important for every child, but when your child has unique needs, that choice does take on extra significance.

I know you’re probably keen to start visiting prospective primary or high schools. You’ve got your clipboard ready and you’ve been scouring website for months – perhaps even years.

But may I suggest that there are a few things that would be useful to do first?

Touring schools without an idea of what you are looking for is like going to the Boxing Day sales without a shopping list.

You’re likely to be impressed by almost everything you see and come home more overwhelmed than when you started.

How to choose the right school for your child

Questions to ask yourself

Before you start asking questions of principals and teachers, it’s a good idea to think, talk and clarify your answers to some fundamental questions about your child that only you can answer.

  • What are your child’s strengths?
    Every child has things that they are good at and interested in. Your child probably has character traits that make them unique and special too, such as a curious mind, sensitive and creative spirit, or even the ability to speak more than one language. Knowing what your child’s strengths are is the first step toward finding a school that will nurture your child’s talents and passions.

  • Which of your child’s skills need extra encouragement or support?
    As a parent of a child who is thinking so very carefully about your unique child’s transition to school, you are the expert in their needs. Teachers who have never met your son or daughter will seek your insights and the more you share, the better able they will be to help. What specific struggles does your child have? What triggers those moments of challenge? How do you manage it at home? What advice have you received from professionals who have supported your family? Having a strong idea about these things will make it easier for you to have effective and productive conversations with the teachers you meet during school visits.

  • What kind of temperament does your child have?
    Is your child a gregarious extrovert or a sensitive, creative soul? Does your child enjoy a boisterous, busy environment or does noise and activity cause your child to withdraw? Does your child take change in their stride or need predictable routines in order to manage their behaviour? When we talk about your child’s temperament, we are talking about how your son or daughter reacts to the world around them. As parents, we usually have our child’s personality and temperament well worked out by the time they start pre-school, so this is worth keeping in mind as you plan visits to prospective primary schools.

  • Is going to a school that is part of your local community important to you?
    What are you, as a family, hoping for as your child starts school? Is being able to walk or ride their bike to school important? Would having local friends be easier for social and practical reasons, like birthday parties, playdates and emergency pickups if you get stuck at work? How would your child cope with a commute to school if they had to travel more than 30 minutes each way by public transport? Is the structure, philosophy and opportunity offered by an out-of-area school more important to you than the convenience of a school that is close to home? Would it be easier for you if your child went to school close to where you work, or where other members of the family live? Your child is going to be at primary school for six or seven years, so it really worth thinking about the long-term consequences of the decision you make about the location of your child’s school. If at all possible, you are probably going to want your child to stay at the school you choose, so I encourage you to look at all of your options and to have a “long-range” approach to your planning.

  • What social, cultural, or religious values are important to your family?
    The point that I always come back to when talking with families about choosing a school is their family values. There’s nothing worse than sending your child to a school that espouses ideas or beliefs that you don’t subscribe to. It could be confusing for your child to be taught concepts that you don’t believe in at home, and it could make interaction with the school uncomfortable for you if you are not prepared to attend and support events that are considered highly relevant there. So, does the school that you are considering for your child have a philosophy that is consistent with yours? If you have worked this out before you visit, you are likely to get a “gut” feeling about it almost immediately and you will know if it is the right community for you and your unique child to join.
Choosing the right school for your child

Before you visit a school, work out what you’re looking for

It can be easy to attend school open days and be impressed by the multitude of opportunities that all seem wonderful. All schools offer something special to their students, but what might suit another child may not suit yours.

The time spent thinking about what you are looking for in a school will be time well spent as you search for an environment in which your child will ‘thrive and not just cope.’

** Excerpt from the best-selling book, SCHOOL READY: A practical and supportive guide for parents with sensitive kids by Sonja Walker

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