It’s hard to believe, but your little one is growing up fast, and you’re starting to think about schools. Gulp! You’ve talked to friends and family, done some internet research, and now you are ready to visit some schools and see them in action.
Many parents don't know what to expect from their first school tours. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attack this experience with everything you have. Here are few tips that will help you get the most out of a school tour experience.
- Research: Before you go on the tour, it's a good idea to get all of the tertiary questions out of the way. Does the school have a bus service? After school activities? Half- or full-day preschool? What is the teacher-student ratio? Answers to these kinds of questions are easily found on school websites. You’ll want to ask more substantive questions when you visit.
- Take notes: Take notes on your tour so that you can reflect on your observations later, and, if you're going on multiple tours, you can compare these notes against each other to determine the best options for your child.
- Take it all in: Peek inside of the classrooms and observe the students. Are the children engaged in learning? Do they seem interested and alert? What are the teachers doing? Are the materials in the room appealing? Can you picture your child here?
- Observe Spaces: Pay attention to the campus spaces. How are the spaces—both inside and outside—laid out? Are they safe and inviting? Are they warm and cozy or expansive, with plenty of room to move around? What’s on the walls in the classrooms and in the halls? Will these spaces support your child’s learning?
- Look even more closely: Classroom design impacts the behavior of both children and teachers. Is the room well organized? Is it clear to students what they should be doing in the various spaces? Does the space direct attention to the teacher or encourage students to become self sufficient? Is the room designed to facilitate collaboration or individual work? Ask questions about the learning environment. Compare what you see and hear to your educational values.
- Listen: Listen for information about the mission and philosophy of the school. Is the mission relevant? Can you see evidence of it in the classrooms or on the walls? What is the teaching philosophy? How does the school approach homework? What about discipline?
- Ask: This is a unique opportunity to gain access to the school community and get information you might not find on a website. Questions you might want to ask:
- What opportunities do students have to move around and/or play?
- What kinds of choices do the students get to make during the day?
- How does the school support students’ social-emotional learning?
- How does the school handle bullying?
- Ask about the school’s diversity: What is the profile of the student body and faculty? Does the school promote economic and racial diversity? How does the school support twins, adopted children, LGBT families, students with different learning styles?
- What qualities does the school look for when hiring teachers?
- Is there anything unique about the school’s curriculum—a particular area of emphasis, any special programs, or a specific approach to content?
- What kinds of students thrive at the school?
- What distinguishes this school from others?
- In what ways are parents involved in school life?
- Where do students go after graduating from the school?
- Look Ahead: While it is important to know what's going on at the school right now, it's also important to see what the school has planned for the coming semesters and years. If you hear some great things to come—for example, a new program or new facilities—that is something worth taking into consideration for your child.
- Blink: One more tip is one we take from the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Write down single words that describe your first impressions on the tour. Is it: quiet, clean, artful, nature, welcoming. Or is it: kinetic, busy, laughter, music. Even weeks after the tour, your blink-of-the-eye observations will help bring the experience back to life.
Once you have gone on all your school tours, then it's important to reflect and compare. Which school tour really took you by surprise? Which school tour disappointed you? Why? After you’ve gone over the pros and cons of the schools, listen to your gut. You've put a lot of work in and now it's time to trust the process!
If you are considering a private school for your child, consider these additional tips from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).