When choosing an elementary school, it’s important to consider how your child learns best, Yatzus says. Does he or she thrive in a structured environment? One that is faster paced? Does he or she need lots of hands-on experiences? “Parents need to keep their minds open,” Yatzus says.
Education has changed since parents were in elementary school because educators have learned so much more about how students learn, she says. In addition, a global perspective is more important than ever before.
As Johnson notes, parents will want to investigate how students perform on standardized tests. But test results are just one element to consider. Parents need to ask about the curriculum as well as the teaching philosophy. How does the curriculum build on itself throughout the year and grade after grade? How are students of different abilities challenged and supported?
Does the school offer instruction in the arts as well as in the core subjects? Testing pressures and budget restraints have led some schools to cut music and arts programs, but that might be the wrong course of action. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between training in the arts and improved math and reading skills. In addition, Rodriguez says, “It’s easy to integrate core subject matter into something children enjoy such as music and art, and it’s never too early for children to explore these talents.”
Schools are competing for students, and just as with high schools, Delaware elementary schools are offering programs to distinguish themselves from their peers. The curriculum at Odyssey Charter School, a K-5 public school in Wilmington, includes instruction in Greek and an emphasis on mathematics. Students at the Academy of Dover begin learning Spanish in kindergarten.
Investigate what the classroom environment is like, Harrison says. Does the teacher appear to engage the students? Do there seem to be discipline problems? Are children paying attention and showing respect to the teacher and each other?
Education can take place outside the classroom as well, so find out if the school offers sports, clubs and other extracurricular options for children either during the school day or after school.
Parents looking at non-public schools will need to consider the cost of the program, but rather than ruling out a school because of cost, they should inquire whether or not financial aid is available, as it is in many cases.
Clearly, parents have some homework to do when it comes to choosing a preschool or elementary school, but the time spent investigating the options is well worth it when the result is that children are being educated in a challenging and supportive environment where they can grow academically, socially and emotionally.