3 Steps to Finding the Right Kindergarten
By Rebecca Malotke-Meslin, Director of Enrollment at The Avery Coonley School
Kindergarten is an exciting milestone for children and parents. While many children will experience daycare or preschool before entering Kindergarten, being with the big kids in a big school carries a different feeling. Kindergarten readiness means more than a child’s ability to recognize their numbers and letters. For many children, it will be the first time they are away all day, 5-days a week from their parents or caregivers. Finding the right Kindergarten may also seem a bit overwhelming. Let’s begin by asking some key questions about your child’s development in order to make the best educational choice for your child and your family.
Step 1: What does your child need from a learning environment?
This is easier to answer than it may seem, but you need to know what questions to ask yourself and your child’s current preschool teachers and caregivers. Think of times you’ve observed your child at preschool, in small playgroups, or organized classes like gymnastics or art.
Is my child the right age for Kindergarten? Kindergarten readiness often coincides with a child’s chronological age, but sometimes it doesn’t. The assumption is that if your child turns five by September 1st, they will enter Kindergarten. However, many parents choose to wait, especially if their child’s birthdate falls somewhere between June and August and they are not quite “ready” for Kindergarten. In this case, readiness might refer to their ability to self-regulate emotions and behavior, or their ability to separate from parents.
What size classroom works best for my child? Will your child thrive in a class of 20+ students, or do they need more individualized attention? If you see your child needing more redirection or oversight during learning or play, a smaller class size may enhance growth and development in Kindergarten.
Does my child need a primarily play-based program? Some children still require large amounts of time with gross motor activities, free-play, and unstructured opportunities to explore and discover. Other children, while still needing play, prefer more structured time with a variety of activities, including adult-led activities, with a defined focus.
Does my child need a part-day program? Some children are exhausted physically and intellectually by noon and still need a nap or an afternoon of free-play to feed their brains and bodies. Other children have higher endurance and enjoy a full day of school. Be sure to ask if a school’s program is a half-day or full-day experience.
Is my child gifted? Early signs of giftedness include early language development, persistent curiosity, rapid learning, long attention span, and an excellent memory. If your child is exhibiting these traits and has mastered their preschool curriculum, you may want to explore a gifted or accelerated program.
Does my child need support with speech and language? It is common for children to have areas of weakness with speech and language, such as articulation. However, having services provided in-school ensures consistent support and communication between teachers and therapists. Be sure to ask if services are offered and how your child could qualify for those services.
Step 2: Learn what schools are in your area.
Many families already know about their local public school, but have not explored the private or parochial schools in the area. Google, Facebook, and Instagram are a good place to begin your search for schools. To review and compare private schools, PrivateSchoolReview.com is a useful resource. For public schools, Niche.com offers comprehensive information on individual schools and school districts. Even if your #1 choice is a public school, taking the time to see what other schools have to offer means you’ll make an informed decision. Independent, Montessori, Parochial, Gifted, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, K-12, K-8. There are benefits to each, but the school’s mission must align with what your child needs. Review their websites and request information before you schedule a tour. What is their mission and philosophy? Are they not-for-profit? Are they accredited? What are the qualifications of the teachers? What are the school hours? Do they provide before/aftercare? When are applications due? What do you need to apply? How much is tuition? Do they offer Financial Aid?
Step 3: Experience different schools.
Many schools now offer virtual tours. Check with the admission office to see what is the preferred way to experience each school. From the person who greets you over the phone, to the children skipping past you in the hallway, keep your eyes and ears open to the sights and sounds of the school. Take in the entire experience. Welcomed? Safe? Excited? Overwhelmed? Distracted? Take note of these feelings and imagine how your child might feel at that same moment.
At this point, you will have narrowed your options to schools that “feel” right for your child and your family. At some point in the process, your child should have an opportunity to visit the school as well. Many schools will host playgroup screenings, interviews, or other admission events to get to know your child. It is essential to consider your child’s feelings and emotions once they’ve experienced a school. However, parents are ultimately responsible for making the final decision. Allowing your child to choose their school is an unfair burden. Instead, parents should present the decision to their child with a positive attitude, which will allow your child to feel comfortable and secure with their new school.
Each admission office will assist you with the individual steps and timelines to complete the application process. Your child may not be accepted to your first choice of schools. While that experience could leave you feeling hurt or confused, it is important to remember that the school wants to ensure whomever it accepts will find success and happiness in the program. The school wants to find a good fit as much as you do.
Think of looking for a Kindergarten like car buying. It’s a potentially expensive purchase, the research is time-consuming, and the process is a little overwhelming. You can find the most beautiful, fast, and high-tech car, but if it doesn’t meet the needs of your family, it will disappoint you. Like car buying, when looking for a Kindergarten, you first need to assess the needs of your child. Breaking it down to a few steps and asking the right questions will help you gain the knowledge you need to make the best decision for your child.