What Do They Teach?

What Do They Teach?
As you evaluate schools, take time to explore fully what the schools which you are looking at teach.

This article is a companion article to How Do They Teach? which discusses what goes on in private school classrooms. This article explores the academics and other material which schools actually teach.

When we parents first start thinking about sending our children to private school, one of the first questions which comes to mind is the teaching content. What exactly will the schools you are looking at teach? Obviously, with thousands of private schools, I cannot address all the permutations and variations which exist. So I thought it might make sense for us to look at several educational approaches and methods and see what they teach. That will at least give you a starting point for some in-depth exploration of what they are teaching at schools you might be interested in.


The wee ones won't be at school for very long on a daily basis. Apart from that, the teachers will create a rich environment to peak a child's interests. Development of fine and gross motor skills are a focus as are language and speech skills.


Most prekindergarten programs focus on preparing their students for kindergarten. Look for the development of motor skills and teaching children how to socialize. Also, look for play-based lessons and an emphasis on collaboration and teamwork and listening. Building on the excitement of discovery is another component in the prekindergarten teacher's portfolio of skills. Children learn by doing. Your child should have lots to do balanced of course with snacks and quiet times.

Here is how one teacher approaches teaching her preschool class.

Most preschools seem to adopt many of the elements found in Montessori education. Maria Montessori advocated following the child. So providing classrooms scaled to small people as well as plenty of objects and activities with which to pique those infant curiosities are things which are very common no matter what approach to preschool you encounter. Many schools take a cafeteria approach to methodology. By that I mean that they make various elements from Montessori, Reggio Emila and Waldorf their own. Honestly, you would have to observe a class or two and ask some questions to see if this approach works for you and your child.

Remember that so much depends on the teachers and how they teach. The one red flag I would recommend looking for is an overly doctrinaire or rigid approach to anything in the classroom, except the children's safety, of course. I had a grandson who was miserable in his preschool for precisely that reason: the rigid, inflexible teacher who literally did not follow the child. We have all had a difficult teacher in the upper grades. But in preschool? That's unacceptable. You know your child. Make absolutely certain that the preschool which you are considering offers teaching which matches your needs and your child's requirements.

Kindergarten through Grade 6

Expect to find the foundations of the core subjects being laid in kindergarten. Language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies are the academic containers if you will which teachers begin to delve into with kindergarten students. The approaches and content will vary from school to school. So keep that in mind as you explore your options. Here is a look at what goes on in a Waldorf class.

Many schools offer foreign languages, music, and art to the core subjects. Waldorf schools add movement or eurythmy as well. Waldorf teachers stay with their students for several grades. That provides for a special type of continuity which is a cherished feature of a Waldorf education.

Another element you will come across is the use of Common Core Curriculum standards in some private lower schools. The thinking seems to be that those standards are being incorporated into college admission testing as well as into accreditation standards. Don't hesitate to ask questions about Common Core. If what you see and hear does not meet your requirements and your child's needs, then look elsewhere.

If you are looking at religious schools, bear in mind that they will devote a portion of their teaching day to religious studies. How much time is allocated and how intense those studies are, depends on the individual school. Religious schools come in a variety of strengths, as it were, from light to full-strength. You should be able to find a school that suits your purposes in just about any religion you care to think of.

Classical Christian schools offer a curriculum based on the Trivium which is a classical approach to education. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are components of that method.

Progressive schools do not teach to a test. They take the view that children need to explore subjects rather than merely consume facts. Critical thinking skills and project-based learning are part of this approach.

Once again, as with the preschool and early childhood education, you will find a variety of approaches and methods in kindergarten through sixth grade. Keep an open mind as you explore the options in your area. You may just discover that an approach or teaching method which you were skeptical about indeed is the right one for your child. The elementary grades lay the foundation for the college preparatory years, so make sure you get it right. Ask lots of questions. Move on when you do not get the answers which you are looking for.

Middle School

In most private day schools the middle school grades 5 through 9 or variations on that span are designed to gradually ramp up the academic intensity so that your child is ready for the rigors of high school courses. These are the years where you have to think carefully about making sure that your child has the enrichment she needs. Enrichment applies equally to academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities. Most private schools seek to develop the whole child so that she has a well-rounded approach to life as she becomes an adult.

The teamwork and collaborative approaches that we saw in the early childhood settings expand into full-blown discussions and analysis of events, theories and so on. Critical thinking and time management skills are an integral part of the mix at this stage.

Take time to observe how middle school teachers teach. Children are rather fragile in early adolescence. It takes an experienced, gifted teacher to handle all those hormones with sensitivity and aplomb.

High School

Are you looking for college prep? Something else? Most private high schools are proficient at preparing their students for college. But honestly, that may not be the best route for your child to follow. Now is the time to sit down and examine where she has been and where she proposes to go. The show her how to get there. Next find a private school that will handle the academics, sports and other activities she needs to help her reach her goal.

This video gives you an idea of the action-packed day students in a private high school typically have.

Private high schools come in a wide range of approaches and methods. But the fork in the road really is about deciding whether she should go away to boarding school or stay home and attend a day school. Be prepared for the inevitable course corrections as she matures through high school. Let her spread her wings and get comfortable with being her own person. I mention all these parenting basics because they are the backdrop against which you need to select the private high school she will attend.

I suspect that by now you have realized that any private school can only do so much. You in truth are the master teacher guiding your child's education. The school will do much to help you realize that vision which you have for your child. In the end, it is in your hands.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @privateschoolreview

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