Find the best school for your child

Finding the best school: Girl reading in library

Let’s face it. Many schools can give the student in your family a grounding in the basics — the three Rs, a bit of physical activity, perhaps an introduction to the arts — enough to qualify them for some kind of post-secondary training.

But you want more for your child, don’t you?

Your main concern may be to find the kind of education that will bring out your youngster’s special talents, that may otherwise remain hidden in a run-of-the-mill education from kindergarten to Grade 12.

You likely want an education to discover the best in him or her — to help the child become the productive adult you know they can be.

You may want schooling that looks at the intangibles, helping develop character and positive values  — healthy in body and mind.

You may hope your child’s experience of school will foster a lifelong love of education, an enduring openness to learning new things, while maintaining a critical sense to sort out the worthy from the nonsensical.

You may want your young student to grow into a person of the world, with a broad appreciation of cultures and diverse ideas.

Whichever of these aims are uppermost in your mind, it’s safe to say what you don’t want is an assembly-line education that turns out look-alike products. You don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach that brings every student down to the same mediocre level.

But which private and independent will give your child the experience to help make your aspirations for your child become a reality?

Start your search

Reading the SCHOOLS website you’re looking at now, presented by the Town Crier community newspapers, is a good start, of course.

Another great resource is the Our Kids website, which covers schools right across Canada. Our Kids also holds school expos in and near Toronto.

Also have a look at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools website, as well as the member sites.

So now you know what schools are available for the age range and gender of your child. You’ll have an idea of which ones have the schedule — year-round or traditional school semesters you seek.

This gives you a general idea of how many schools are worth checking out more seriously. But now you need to narrow it down

Basic needs

Now you can put together a list of bare requirements. Do this now, before visiting or contacting the schools directly — so you don’t waste time at institutions that are out of the question. You will want to narrow down your school inquiries to at least those that meet your basic needs.

What are your basic needs? These are your physical requirements — like cost, distance of the school from your home, whether you need the school to offer boarding or transportation, care before and after school — as well as concerns about the kind of education to be provided, such as the school size, the availability of modern facilities, specialized training you need supplied by the school.

Here’s a list you can start with, although you may think of more:

  • Your budget for tuition, uniforms (if required) and supplies.
  • Is boarding required? If so, what is your budget for residence?
  • If not boarding, how far are you willing to let your child travel back and forth to school — with or without the school providing transportation?
  • Before-school or after-school care.
  • Any special learning problems your child has, which the school will need to be able to handle.
  • Any physical, linguistic or emotional needs.
  • Any disciplinary problems that need to be dealt with?
  • The size of school that is best for your child’s learning.
  • The need for a school that focuses on specific grade levels or with a wide range of levels (anything from pre-school to Grade–12).
  • Preference for instructional model, such as traditional with emphasis on back-to-basics program or alternative approaches to learning.
  • Preference for modern facilities and use of new media and technology, or more traditional setting.
  • College preparation needed.
  • Specialized training sought in certain fields, such as science and technology, athletics, music or arts?
  • Education in a boys-only or girls-only environment — or in a co-ed school.
  • School uniforms preferred, or not. Or general dress code.
  • Religious training preferred as part of the curriculum.
  • Other philosophical or pedagogical beliefs that may inform a school’s instructional methods.
  • Extracurricular activities important to  your child, such as sports, arts, music and clubs — which could affect the overall experience as much as, or more than, the in-class academic program.

When you’ve got your basic needs list put together, it’s a simple process of checking the available schools against it.

You may have to extend your initial survey a little or make a few phone calls to find out the necessary data about certain schools.

Depending on how strict your requirement are, this should narrow down the number of school substantially — in many cases to no more than three or four close enough to the local area.

See for yourself

You’ll want to visit those schools to see for yourself. The schools are generally happy to allow you to visit, which is best to arrange during the school day while classes are in session to learn more about the philosophy of the school as it is put into practice. (See more about this later in this guide).

This is the time to ask the less practical — but still vitally important — questions about how the school operates and assess how the school might help meet those intangible goals we discussed at the beginning.

Private schools usually have entry requirements for the grade levels of the students who are accepted. Make sure your child meets the academic requirements, which may include an SSAT score and an in-school admissions test that gauges the child’s academic entry level.

You may — and probably should — apply to more than one school that you think would be a good fit to bring out the best in your student.

But don’t get carried away. Applying to too many schools would be stressful for your child.

Remember, you are looking for the school to give your child the best educational experience possible.

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