The right school for your family
The way to choose the best private school is to fully include your child in the decision-making process
For all the sage advice out there about selecting a private school, most lists or columns sidestep a critical fact: the parents are not going to the school — the child is. As a parent, you can weigh the various factors ad nauseum and make your final choice using data analytics and a spreadsheet, but if your little learner isn’t on board with the selection, it will still be the wrong choice.
Since your child and his or her future are at the heart of the decision, why not let your child also be at the heart of the decision making?
Family counsellor and parenting expert Alyson Schafer advocates this inclusive, participatory approach, so long as it’s thoughtful.
“We want the child’s involvement in decision making, but I also say we need to really define what that participation means,” Schafer explains. “When I say include the child in decision making, I don’t mean abandon your role as older, wiser, more well-rounded adult.”
That’s the key: bringing children into these important conversations and valuing their input, while managing their expectations and ultimately still having final say in the decision.
“Most kids would feel apoplectic at making the school decision in isolation — that’s like asking a 12-year-old to buy a house and arrange the mortgage,” says Schafer. “But you are deeming them powerless when you don’t ask for input. Input means you have a say, but you don’t always get your way.”
For (nearly) every consideration you need to make in the school selection process, you can solicit your child’s input by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions.
A person-centred approach will give you essential information to help with school choice, but more importantly, it will make your child feel included in the planning and decision making about his or her life.
The results of this are twofold: your child’s motivation and self-confidence will get a boost, and ultimately he or she will be happier with the choice.
Obviously, different questions will be appropriate for different ages, and Schafer frames this in terms of ability.
“Every person has a right to have a say about things that impact them to their ability,” she says. “The ability of four- to seven- to 12year-olds are all different. That’s why it’s inappropriate to ask kids about the mortgage, but it might be appropriate to ask kids what they’d like for lunch.”
Above all, in these decision-making discussions with children of all ages, the parents have a responsibility for sharing why they are leaning one way or the other. When the parents’ reasoning is communicated to their child and vice versa, you not only have the formula for the best possible decision, but also for a strengthened family relationship.
So sit down with your kid and let your child know you want to work with her or him to pick the best school.
Below are some common and important questions to ask your child as well as some tried and true conversation starters to get the best results.
Single-sex or coed school?
Start the conversation by asking who are your good friends? Who do you sit with at lunch/spend recess with? Is there someone at school you would like to be friends with?
Religious or secular?
Try asking do you enjoy your time at church/temple/synagogue/mosque? Would you like to learn more about our religion?
Academically rigorous or more well-rounded?
A good approach is to ask: Is it important to you to get good grades? What do you think you want to be when you grow up? Do you have a favourite book or books?
Specialized in a particular stream or broadly focused?
Here, parents can ask: What subject(s) would you like to know more about? What are your least favourite subjects? If you were a teacher, what would you teach? Do you like getting up and speaking in front of your classmates?
Extra assistance for individual learning needs?
With this tricky question, try to begin more generally by asking: Is there anything you need help with in school? What are the hardest rules at school to follow?
And a last thought from Schafer can make these conversations even more pleasant and (ideally) stress-free: it’s all right to make a mistake. “It’s not about better or worse, it’s all about fit,” she says, “so you can consider the choice a first iteration.”
After a three-month adjustment period, there should be room to reevaluate the choice and have another family conversation. If, in fact, the school doesn’t quite work out as planned, it’s onto choice number two. In the long run, all this talking and open communication will only serve your family well and teach your child the invaluable skill of decision making.
“Input means you have a say, but you don’t always get your way. ”
Parenting expert Alyson Schafer recommends including your child in the process