Choosing the right school is a daunting process. All parents are in search of the best place for their children. This is evident in the number of parents who attend the annual Beijing Kids School Fair each Spring or any other fair around the World for that matter.
I remember moving to a new country with our four year old and being told that we were much too late to enrol her and indeed, all the schools we were interested in were already full. After much looking around and multiple phone calls, we did eventually find one that had a vacancy. We registered, paid our deposit, bought the uniform and our daughter had a very successful first day at school. Everything had gone according to plan until we received a message later on that same day by our first choice school: “A spot had unexpectedly become available… Would we want it, and if yes, could we decide by…tomorrow!!!”
This sudden much hoped for opening prompted an anxious dilemma. Having put our daughter through a smooth textbook acclimatisation to start her school experience, would we traumatise her by transferring her to another school after just one successful day in her first ever school? Like all first time parents we wanted to do the right thing. After much deliberation we decided to move her, which in the long term proved to be an excellent decision. And should you want to know… she doesn’t remember a thing about our huge dilemma…!
When it was time to find a kindergarten for our two year old, the nice neighbourhood kindergarten I had carefully selected told me that they had no morning places available. They offered us an afternoon spot instead, which could have been acceptable once we had sorted out her nap time. I had planned to acclimatise her slowly, starting with two afternoons and building up to five during the year. Starting school full time at two and a half years old was not an option for me and when the kindergarten insisted she attend every day from the beginning, we registered her somewhere else.
A school fair is a good place to find out about choices. You get a taste of many different types of schools, such as local, private and international, day and boarding, monolingual and bi-lingual and you can talk to other parents about their own children’s schooling experience.
Talking to Admissions officers at a Fair, browsing through websites and glossy brochures can give you some flavour of a school but visiting it provides you with a true personal impression. Some schools make you feel happy, some leave you uninspired. If you are uncomfortable or intimidated by the Head of school or the teachers, it is likely your child will be too. Follow your instinct (it works) and choose a place where you yourself would be happy going to everyday and where you see happy motivated children and enthusiastic and approachable teachers.
In my opinion, finding a school that values dialogue between family and school is essential. Find out if the school welcomes parents on campus (within reason), if they will listen to your (respectful) concerns and will contact you if your child struggles academically or emotionally. This is particularly important when we send our children to a school with a foreign curriculum or in a foreign language and even more so to a boarding school.
A good school should be a community where teachers and parents cooperate alongside each other with the common goal of raising happy, balanced and successful children.
It has been a privilege to be able to send our children to some wonderful schools. But like in every organisation, it is the people in it who make it what it is. If you can’t choose your school, look for the dedicated people where you are and work with them. I believe very strongly that ‘It takes a Village to raise a Child’ as goes the old saying and I encourage you to be involved with your child’s school (yes, paying the school fees isn’t enough!). Offer to read, to talk about your cultural traditions, to teach a game, to bake, to go on school trips. Opportunities abound to get to know your children’s friends and teachers. After all our children spend many hours at school and we are better able to help them through a challenge (be it academic or emotional) if we are familiar with their community.