Identifying the ideal learning space for your child isn’t always easy, but Yvonne Walus takes us through what to consider.
Choosing a school can be stressful, especially as there is no such thing as a universal match: what’s perfect for the neighbours’ children may not be right for yours. So how do you decide? Let’s take a look at things to consider across different education age groups. Your family will know which priorities you have for your child’s learning and an environment that will allow them to excel.
Daycare or Early Childhood Education (ECE)
What to consider:
- Location: is the daycare within walking distance from home, or close to where you work? This way, you can fetch your child quickly if you are pushed for time or in an emergency.
- Facilities: are the rooms bright, warm and dry? Is there a fenced-in outdoor area with greenery and fresh air, sheltered from rain and direct sunlight?
- Safety: is the gate child-proof? Could a stranger just walk in? What security checks are implemented at pick-up time?
- Hours: does the centre open early enough and close late enough to fit into your schedule?
- What is their typical weekly menu?
- What does the napping area look like?
- Is the centre welcoming? Do you feel included? Do they offer a folder with a diary of your child’s activities, their artwork, etc?
- Do the teachers act kind or stressed?
- Are you happy that these teachers will help raise your child?
- Are the toys varied: dress-ups, blocks, books, games, musical instruments, art supplies?
- Do the children look happy or bored? Does your child seem to like it?
- Speak to other parents and read the centre’s reviews online, then determine what aspects are important to your family.
- If your child doesn’t speak English or requires special attention, research those aspects of the centre to ensure they can look after your child’s needs.
5-10 year olds
What to consider:
- Local or out of zone? The advantages of going local include walking to school, making friends in the neighbourhood and being part of the community.
- A state, private or religious school – is the label important to you?
- What are their values (e.g., the love of nature, environmental sustainability, child-centric learning)?
- Will your child have fun and fit it?
- Does the school offer swimming lessons?
- Does it have before- and after-school care on site?
- Some parents like uniforms because they prevent fashion parades and conceal inequality, others don’t want the extra cost.
- How much are the donations and fees?
- Make a list of all the schools you’re considering.
- Cross them out based on your needs: is one of them too far while another doesn’t provide after-school care?
- Arrange visits for each school on your shortlist – a private tour during normal school hours is best.
- Read the ERO reports www.ero.govt.nz.
- Still undecided? Arrange a follow-up visit, take your child along and ask what they like and dislike about each option.
11-12 year olds
What to consider:
- The purpose of the intermediate is to prepare your child for college. Does it have a timetable and a different room for every subject?
- This is probably the first time your child will face subject choices: one Intermediate might teach Japanese and another French.
- Does it take part in EPRO8, orienteering competitions, chess tournaments, art shows?
- Your child is old enough to travel to school by themselves. Is there a school bus or a secure bike shed?
- As with the primary school, make a shortlist, read ERO reports, visit the school.
- Your choice of Intermediate might influence the college your child will end up in, because they won’t want to be separated from their friends. Bear this in mind when making your decision.
13-17 year olds
What to consider:
- What examination does the college offer: NCEA, Cambridge, International Baccalaureate (IB)?
- The size: some children prefer large anonymous schools while others thrive being big fish in a small pond.
- Does the management care about the students or about the school’s reputation?
- How does it cater for underachievers and gifted children?
- What’s special about them? What is its one point of difference?
- What seems to be their worst problem?
- What are their values, culture and vibe?
- Does the college have facilities that align with your child’s interests, for example, a theatre, a music studio, a gym, science lab?
- Does it participate in your child’s favourite sport? If it’s a large school, do they have a B team?
- What extracurricular activities are available?
- Do they offer career guidance?
- How long will the commute take every day?
- Do they have a cafeteria with acceptable food choices?
- The school fees.
- The cost of the uniform. Is there a different uniform for juniors and seniors? Do Year 13s wear the uniform or mufti?
- Make a wish list of all the things you and your child want from a college, then prioritise them in terms of “must have” and “nice to have”. Which schools offer the most “must have” items on your list?
- Again, make a shortlist, read ERO reports, do visits.
- Children learn best where they are happy, so allow them plenty of input into the choice. Their instincts are as important as yours.
- Ultimately, if it turns out not to be the right match, enrol your child elsewhere.