I can remember those nagging thoughts we had as our children reached the toddler stage. What about pre-school? Where should we send her for kindergarten? What then? We were pretty ordinary middle-class parents. We had good jobs. We would have to sacrifice to send our daughters to private school but we felt that the sacrifices would be worth it.
Fast forward from then to now or a span of approximately forty years. One daughter is an attorney with her own practice. The other is an academic head-hunter. Both did their undergraduate work in English language and literature. Both earned graduate degrees. I remain convinced that their private school educations gave both children the solid foundation which they needed to tackle progressively more difficult academic work.
The journey started with those nagging thoughts that our children deserved the very best possible educations we could give them. Both of us had superb educations at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Our children deserved nothing less. That was our thinking. That thinking drove our decisions about private school over the next fifteen years.
Here then are the ten things which mattered most to us as made out decisions about private schools. Everything below the first item seemed to move up or down depending on the needs and requirements we had. That first item stayed fixed in number one position.
Their children's happiness
I will confess that we were probably the original helicopter parents when it came to our children's happiness at school. We were determined that our children would love learning and would want to learn. For us, private school was merely the foundation for a life of learning. Learning did not stop after graduation. We knew that when our children looked forward to school and enjoyed going to school that we would have done our job properly. We knew then that we had chosen the right school. Your child's happiness trumps every other consideration on this list in my opinion.
The quality of the teaching
Wonderful teachers were always next on our list. I know you are wondering how you could know how wonderful the teachers are without your child attending classes for a couple of weeks. We drew our own conclusions by visiting the schools and by observing classes. Nowadays you have a wealth of resources which will help you make that decision. YouTube clips, the schools' own videos and many other windows into the classroom exist online these days.
A wonderful teacher knows her subject. More importantly, she knows how to teach it. Teaching a subject which you love involves communicating that love and passion for your subject in everything you do and so. Children listen to what you say but they are truly impressed by your actions.
What our children studied and learned mattered greatly to us. We valued courses which would challenge our children and make them really work hard. We valued courses which stretched our daughters. Whether it was English, the sciences or mathematics mattered not. We wanted our children to grapple with and understand all kinds of subject material and concepts. Left brain or right brain? It didn't matter. Teach them how to use and understand how both work.
Read the course catalogs. Understand the goals and objectives of the school's curriculum. Make sure they are in harmony with your own.
You have probably already decided whether a traditional or a progressive approach works best for your requirements. But if you have not compared the two approaches or visited schools, add that to your list. Don't dismiss any options out of hand unless they were turly not viable options for you.
The cost was a consideration. It, however, was not the most important consideration on our list. Once again, times have changed. Forty years later parents who are trying to figure out how to pay for private school have a host of options available to them. Financial aid programs are significantly stronger and more generous than they were years ago.
The sports program
Sports never matter much to either of us. Sports was something you did for exercise. So as long as the schools which we were looking at had a wide range of activities with plenty of choices, we were happy. Now, if you have an athletically gifted child, this is an item which you should consider moving up the list a notch or two. Several private schools offer a level of varsity competition which is very impressive. They have the experienced, skilled coaching staff to make this possible. Ask professionals in the field for their opinions. That outside opinion will matter.
The extracurricular activities
For me, extracurricular activities are always about learning which takes place outside of the classroom. Private schools pride themselves on offering a wide range of extracurricular activities because they know how important these activities are for building team spirit as well as uncovering talents and abilities which students never realized they had.
Again, if you have an artistically or musically gifted child on your hands, you might want to move this item up the list. It will deserve closer scrutiny. You want to confirm that your child will receive the kind of professional training which will develop her talents.
I was always impressed with our children's school facilities. The pre-schools were compact affairs housed in an education wing of the churches in which they were housed. They were spotless and filled with artwork. The classrooms looked just the right size for little people.
The high schools, on the other hand, were a completely different matter. The facilities were actually on a par with those at many colleges and in many cases much better. Playing fields of every kind, hockey rinks, equestrian rings - the list went on and on.
Libraries used to be places where you went to find a book and do research. They have morphed into state of the art digital learning centers. Having the right tools is important. Knowing how to use them is even more important. Learning centers help make that possible.
The parents' role
We always felt that taking an active role in our children's education was vitally important. As a result we were not afarid to pitch in and do whatever we could to help the school. Pitching in financially is an important part of what the school expects parents to do. But the things like chaperoning a class trip or helping with a class meak are important too. Being involved also allows us parents to peek behind the curtain and see what really goes on.
The reputation of the school
The reputation of the school was important to us for a couple of reasons. Knowing that the school offered programs which it had operated successfully for years gave us peace of mind. While the work would be demanding, we knew that our children would be in good hands. College prep curricula were important to us. So we devoured the lists of schools to which previous class had matriculated. We were concerned for the overall well-being of our children. So the quality of supervision and rules of the school were also important.
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