Thinking about your child’s interests and family values can go a long way when selecting a school, as Yvonne Walus explains.
Choosing where our children will spend six hours of every school day is a big decision. And before you flip the page to the next article, this one is not about checking out the playgrounds and toilets, speaking to other parents or reading the ERO reports. It’s not about the logistics of commuting or having after-school care on site. What this article is about, is uncovering your children’s unique abilities and matching those to a suitable school.
You Know Your Children
The uncovering bit is easy. Through observing and interacting, you know whether they’re more interested in animals or trucks, and whether they prefer building Lego structures or drawing. But would they enjoy playing the piano, hitting a cricket ball, working with clay? To help you figure out where your child’s special talents and passions may lie, you may like to introduce them to new learning opportunities and see how they react. A child who can’t stay focused during recorder lessons and who gets upset when asked to practice may not be that keen on music, while a child who keeps talking about the last soccer game and can’t wait for the next one clearly displays an affinity towards that pastime. (Or course, as children develop, so do their hobbies and passions, so you may want to hold on to that recorder for a few years.)
Find a school match
The matching part is tricker: you need to research the prospective school to ensure it will nurture your child’s personality and curiosity, help them broaden their interests, and give them opportunities to try new things. Start by reading the school website to see the activities, events, and projects they’re working on. (This will also give you an insight into their values and priorities, to see whether they align with your own. For example, if you’re concerned about climate change, you’ll want a school that takes recycling seriously, has a compost heap and a no single-use wrappers policy.) Now dig deeper: what opportunities does the school provide in music, art, drama, Te Reo Maori, computing, interacting with nature, foreign languages? Do they enter orienteering competitions, EPRO8, art shows? Is there a kapa haka group? Does the school display the students’ artwork on the walls or encourage them to help paint murals?
Questions That Count
When you meet the principal, ask how the school nurtures inter-personal intelligence aspects such as team-working, communication, and compassion. What about intra-personal skills like resilience, internal motivation, decision-making, self-awareness, self-regulation? Do they teach research skills, critical thinking, problem solving? Of course, you may feel a bit awkward – or a lot awkward! – asking questions like “How do you teach internal motivation”, or “Can you demonstrate your students’ self-regulation skills”, so here are a few things to look for when visiting the classrooms:
- What’s the transition process to ease the kids into school?
- Do the older students act as guides, buddies or reading partners?
- Do children look engaged in the lessons?
- Do they get time to interact and work on problems collaboratively?
- How does the school handle misbehaviour, good deeds, achievement, prizes? (Okay, you can probably ask this one.)
- Does the library appear well stocked and inviting?
- Do children help to run assemblies, read daily school announcements, produce a weekly vlog of school news?
Further, ask yourself whether you get a great feeling while at the school? A vibe? An instinct? Can you picture your child in this sandpit, with this teacher, eating lunch under that rainproof canopy? Does the good feeling continue when you leave the grounds? Would you be comfortable leaving your child there?
The bottom line is this: do you think your child would have fun and fit it? You might need to bring them for a visit and ask them what they think. Research indicates that new entrants get off to a much better start when they are happy at school.
(One last point, what’s good for one child may not be optimal for another. You may have to repeat the whole process with the younger siblings when they turn of school age.)
If You’re Not Sure That Your Zoned School is Right for You
While going local has many advantages (being part of the local neighbourhood, saving time and money on travel), sometimes the nearest school is not the right fit for your child. Fret not, you have other options! You could consider:
· A private school, which may offer a different curriculum or smaller classes.
· An integrated school – this is a fancy term for a school with a religious profile or a school that adheres to an education philosophy such as Steiner of Montessori.
· Going out of zone (you may have to apply in advance and wait for ballot results).
· Home-schooling – not as scary as it may sound! Home-schooling parents form a supportive community, and the government provides ample resources. If you have the time, teaching your child at home for a few months or a few years may be the best thing for your family.