Simplifying the School Search

Simplifying the School Search

In some communities, the options for kids’ schooling abound. From home-based to city-run, baby-signing to multilingual, along with specializations in music, art, sport, or yoga, how do parents make the right choice?

Soon after learning I was pregnant with my first daughter, came the many wonderings and worries about childcare and schooling. The options felt dizzying: home-based to city-run, baby-signing to multilingual, along with specializations in music, art, sport, or yoga. How can parents make sound and sure school decisions for their child?
For some parents, the convenience of the nearby local school is the logical choice. For others, top priorities might include a school’s innovativeness, approach to teaching, or crucial supports or resources (for example, for students with disabilities).
Additional considerations abound, like single sex or co-ed; boarding or day; secular or faith-based; and schools with co-op, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics), and maker spaces. Such myriad options can feel like both a blessing and a burden.
Sure enough, once our family secured daycare, we then had to start preparing for what pre- and grade school she would eventually attend: public or private, Montessori- or Waldorf-inspired, half- or full-day. Homeschooling was never far from our minds. Waitlists, subsidies, registration fees, and deposits added further pressure.
For insight into this journey, I asked three Canadian educators about how, as a community of parents, guardians, and carers, we can slow down, simplify, and empower ourselves when contemplating scholastic pathways for our kids.

A sound start?

Liz Bovey, owner and director of Westside Montessori in Toronto’s Kensington Market area, strongly recommends that “parents begin by considering their family values, and their child’s personality, interests, and struggles.”

Johanna Mercer, founding director of The Booker School, an IB (International Baccalaureate) aligned school in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, similarly says, “Know your child and what they need.”

By “understanding the individual child,” says Jay Field, founder and principal of Tamarack West Outdoor School in Toronto’s West End, “the family can start to understand what pedagogical approach might resonate best.” This is especially important, Field says, as “each school has a different teaching style, philosophy, and mandate.”

Reaching out

Bovey suggests “talking with other parents, and visiting several schools, including some whose philosophy may not be what you’re seeking, to get a sense of what’s out there.”

Every school offers a unique culture, Mercer points out, and “one approach does not fit all.” Mercer encourages parents to “read a school’s mission and vision statements” and ask, “Do my values align?” From there, “visit and ask questions to satisfy yourself that the school is genuinely working to fulfil your mission.”

What to look, and feel, for

These are the core questions Bovey urges searching parents to ask:

  • Do the children seem happy?
  • Is there joy?
  • Is there both order and flow in the classroom?
  • Are the educators happy in their work?

How to know if it’s right

“Good is not enough; the right fit walks the talk,” explains Bovey. “Educators should be both inspired and inspiring.”

School is a whole-family decision

Field says that the “right” school also “embraces the entire family, seeing the parents as a primary resource in helping understand and support the student.”

Resilience and the “right” school

Even though kids are known for their resilience—their remarkable recoveries from bumps and bruises, hurdles and hurt feelings—choosing the “right” school can feel like a high-stakes decision.

It’s important to feel comfortable and confident about the search and selection. As Bovey affirms, “Choosing a school for your child is a complex decision.” But what can help the most is for parents to simply “listen to their hearts.”

Some school options

A Montessori approach

“Independence is the heart of Montessori,” says Liz Bovey, owner and director of Toronto’s Westside Montessori. Children’s abilities and agency are deeply respected. From an early age, children “make tea, run class meetings, organize camping trips, work out long division, plant flowers, and write puppet shows en français.”

Ins and outs of outdoor ed

Nature-based options, like forest schools, are becoming more readily available. Jay Field, founder and principal of Tamarack West Outdoor School in Toronto, explains that “being outside, immersed in nature or the community, fosters connection and helps set the stage for significant experiential and meaningful learning.” This sense of connection is at the heart of outdoor education “connecting to the environment, each other, and oneself” directly supports self-confidence.

IB’s global perspective

Schools offering the International Baccalaureate program, explains Johanna Mercer, founder of The Booker School in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, provide “interdisciplinary, theme-based inquiry to explore big, integrated ideas.”

“In IB,” Mercer says, “children develop personal attributes, use their knowledge, and take action.”

Before you choose
  • Connect with your child.
  • Explore your neighbourhood, and beyond.
  • Read school mission statements.
  • Ensure alignment with your family values.
  • Visit a range of schools.
  • Attend open houses.
  • Seek opportunities to observe teaching and playing in action.
  • Look for happy children and inspired teachers.
  • Ask questions.
  • Take your time.
  • Trust your gut, comfort, confidence, and heart.
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