Congratulations! You’ve done your research, gotten testing and recommendations lined up, applied to a few schools, and maybe even identified a school that feels like the perfect fit for your child and family. Now it’s time for your child to visit the school. The school visit can create some anxiety for kids (and maybe for you, too!). Below are some suggestions to help your child make it through the visit and shine.
Plan your child’s applicant visit well in advance
If you are applying to multiple schools, chances are you will need to schedule your child to visit each school. Read the admissions pages on the school’s websites to get a sense of what is required. Will it include a play visit? A full day of visiting? A Saturday group? Then, get the visits scheduled. This will be tedious, but if you work in advance you’ll have the best choice of visit dates.
A few things to think about:
- Know your family’s schedule before you book the visit. It’s important to know when there may be some disruptions in your household (Grandma is visiting, Dad is traveling, Mom has some late-night meetings, etc.) and work around those dates. If your child’s routine is in place prior to the visit, your child will be more emotionally prepared to participate.
- Know your child’s schedule before you book the visit. Is there a field trip coming up? PARCC testing or an exam that your child can’t miss? A class performance? Get this information before you book the visit; it will save you time and hassle of changing times later.
- It might be tempting to try and plan your child’s visit on a day when they are already off from school. Sometimes the timing works out, but many times it doesn’t. Schools have similar schedules, and if your child’s school is closed, most likely the school you are applying to will be as well.
- Be flexible and responsive. Admissions visits usually take place in the winter. Unfortunately, this means that snow days and sickness may affect your child’s visit. If a visit date needs to changed, do your best to make the rescheduling process easy. In many cases, admissions offices are working with hundreds of applicants—a snow day means there may be dozens of students to reschedule.
Start to prepare your child for a possible school change
If your child is younger, the applicant visit might be the first clue that a change may be coming. I often get questions from parents about how they should prepare their child and how much information about a school change is best to share. If you are a parent of a young child, trust your gut about how much information is appropriate to communicate—you know your child best.
By the time your child is applying to high school, it is best to have an open dialogue about the change and allow your child to participate meaningfully in the application process. You can start by having your child look at high school brochures and think about what they value in a school.
For language you can use to explain a school change to younger children and more advice on involving your adolescent in the school search process, download “What to Say to Kids About School Visits.”
Be sure your child gets a full night’s sleep before the school visit
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating and vitally important. Whether the visit is an hour or a full day, having had a good night of sleep helps children present their best selves and gives them the cognitive and social stamina to navigate anything that comes their way. A warm bath for your young child, a few extra books before bed, their special stuffed animal—pull out all the tricks to get your child to bed on time!
Have your child eat a healthy, protein-packed breakfast
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It can also be one of the trickiest if you have picky eaters or your mornings are rushed. Try to stick to your normal morning routine, and be sure your child is fueled up for the day. There are some studies that indicate eating a healthy breakfast supports improved cognition, improved academic performance, and longer attention spans. If you pack and snack or lunch for your child, make sure it’s a balanced meal with more protein, but full of yummy foods that are familiar and enjoyable.
Make sure you know the drop-off and pick-up details
No one wants to come to the visit running late, flustered, or stressed. Starting the visit off on the right foot is key—especially for your child.
- Get all of your questions answered a few days in advance. Many admissions offices will call with details or send a reminder email. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to follow up.
- Know how to get to the school, where to park, and where to meet your point of contact.
- Find out what your child needs to wear, whether or not you need to pack a snack/lunch, as well as time/location of pick-up.
- Does your child have allergies or other medical conditions that the school should be aware of? Let the admissions office know well in advance so that they can be sure your child is safe while visiting.
- For older applicants, a reminder about making eye contact, shaking hands, and trying to connect with classmates couldn’t hurt.
- A quick goodbye and reassuring hug are all most older children need to get off and running!
How to Separate
Very young children sometimes find it difficult to separate from parents and the play group. In some cases, they may not have experienced this type of separation before. In anticipation of the play visit, you can start incorporating short bouts of separation—such as leaving your little one with a babysitter for an hour so you can run errands, putting them in a church class, or dropping them off for a playdate with a neighbor. Learning to separate is an important part of early childhood development, so lean in!
While the admissions office wants to see your child in a social environment with other children, if your child has a hard time separating—don’t panic! It’s normal and schools know how to help. Here are a few tips:
- Follow the lead of the teacher or admissions officer. If they encourage you to leave and take the “rip off the band aid” approach, go for it. If they encourage you to stay to help your child get more comfortable, do so.
- This is another situation where you know your child best. If you know that your little one will cry for a minute after you leave, but then regroup and do fine, slip out.
- If you need to stay in the room, stay close but try to distance yourself a bit—move to a corner to read a book or play with some other children. If needed, help get your child started with some toys or with another child.
Ultimately, the admissions office wants your little one to be happy and have a good time at the school during the play visit. If it’s a rough start, hang in there and see where it leads. In some cases, schools will host children for a second visit or go see them in their current school to get a better sense of them in a school environment where they are comfortable.
A Few Don’ts:
- Try not to pass your worry and anxiety on to your child. This can be difficult, but important.
- Don’t overly prepare your child academically for the day. There is no need for quizzing them on facts and information or worrying about specific skills that they need to master. The visit should feel positive and be a good chance for your child to see if the school “feels” like a good fit.
If a negative school experience or a desire to find a better fit is driving your school search, don’t spend much time talking about the negative aspects of your current school with your child. Your child will continue to attend the school for many more months, so keep the search process upbeat and positive.
Your child’s visit is an exciting part of the school search process. And, depending on your child’s age, they may play a major role in evaluating the schools and making a choice. For parents with younger children, you may be surprised to hear what they share with you about their visit—some kids really enjoy the day “trying out” another school. Even though the visit may cause you to have some self-induced anxiety, know that schools are rooting for your child and are eager to see their very best selves. We love getting to finally meet the students we have been hearing and reading about!
Looking for a school for your child?
Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.