Assessing Your Child's School Experience
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Life is full of second chances. But you only get one chance to educate your child. Your child only has one opportunity to move through her elementary, middle, and high school years. How can you be sure her school is the right fit?
It is well documented that parents play a vital role in their child's education. Schools and parents must work together in an active partnership to assure that children get the most out of their educational experience.
Below are five key areas to consider as you assess whether your school is doing all it can to help your child be as engaged and successful as possible in his educational experience.
1. WHAT DOES YOUR CHILD TELL YOU?
Children are an important source of information about their educational experience. And it is important to hear from them about how things are going.
Make a point to ask them more than "How was school today?" or "What did you do in school today?" Asking children to describe particular aspects of their time in school can lead to more meaningful and thoughtful responses.
These responses can reveal a great deal about how well the school is doing. The goal of these questions is to learn what it feels like for your child to be at school. That can be different for every child, and it is important to know how your child is feeling.
These questions can help determine whether there is a sense of joy and wonder evident in your child's educational experience. Learning should be fun. For a child to become a lifelong learner, he must enjoy the process of exploration and discovery. Learning does not have to feel like a chore – it should be something children enjoy talking about. Something they are excited to share!
2. WHAT DOES YOUR SCHOOL TELL YOU?
All too often parents are so busy with work and other family matters that we really get to know the place where our children spend 8-10 hours a day. To ensure that your child is having a positive experience, get to know his teachers and his school. The more active a role you can play in your child's education, the more likely he is to be successful.
The best schools are eager to talk with you about your child's experience in school. Make periodic appointments to meet with teachers and administrators. Volunteer as a member of the Parents Association. Take a tour of the school during the school day to see the teachers and students in action. Ask to sit in on classes to observe – and keep notes about what you see.
3. WHAT DOES YOUR SCHOOL EXPECT OF ITS STUDENTS?
Each school determines its academic and social culture. Parents have the opportunity to assess whether a school's culture is in line their goals and expectations for their child.
For many parents, preparation for college is of utmost importance. If that is the case, be sure that your school is encouraging your child to focus her attention on that goal. Is there a tone throughout the school that supports the value of a college education? Do your child's teachers have high expectations for their students? Is your child sitting next to other students whose families place significant value on going to college?
4. BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
Many factors outside or beyond the classroom impact your child's educational experience as well. As you assess your child's school, take a close look at some of the assignments and activities she is expected to do outside of school.
Look closely at a series of homework assignments in a single discipline (or more) over a two or three week period. Do they lead to a logical and appropriate level of mastery?
Ask questions about how field trips connect to the work she is doing in class. Is your school claiming to educate the whole child? If so, check to see how well they are living up to their claim
5. WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE EARLY YEARS
Many parents realize that the decisions they make regarding school choices early in their child's academic career can have a long lasting impact on the quality of her overall school experience.
Certainly, a great deal has been written about the positive impact of optimal class size and student to teacher ratios. Research also suggests that engaging young children in music, art, physical education, and creative play in junior kindergarten and kindergarten can translate into overall academic success in the future.
Your child only gets one opportunity to build the academic and social foundations that will support him the rest of his life. It is essential that parents take a close look at their child's school to determine if it is the best fit for his needs.
-- Bill Diskin is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Cannon School in Concord.