How to Choose an Elementary School for Your Child to Thrive

Published April 20, 2021
schoolgirl drawing at elementary school

When it comes time for your little one to enter elementary school, you may find that you are faced with a mixed bag of emotions. This stage in the parenting game is a time of pride, anxiety, and confusion, and choosing the best elementary school can make a world of difference for your child and your family. Getting off to a great academic start is essential, and knowing how to choose an elementary school for your child is key.

Choose a School That Fits Your Family's Schedule

You are sure that you found the perfect school for your child! It's beautiful, the staff is engaging, and the curriculum is top notch. The only problem is it is 20 miles from your home, starts two hours after your workday begins, and doesn't offer childcare or busing options. Guess what? Your perfect school might not be so perfect. An elementary school has to fit with your family's rough schedule. Nothing is going to be perfect, but the school you choose should meet a few of your family's scheduling needs. When researching an elementary school, make sure that you ask about:

  • Busing options to and from school
  • Before and aftercare programs
  • Start and end times for students
  • Lunch programming

Pick a Place That Puts Emphasis on Ratio

Teacher-student ratio refers to the number of students in a class per one teacher. Schools with a lower teacher-to-student ratio may be able to offer your child more attention and individualized instruction. This can be a large bonus to families who have students seeking additional support in the classroom regarding academics and behavior, or families who have young kids and want their little ones to receive as much personalized guidance as possible in those initial years.

Ask what the teacher-student ratio is in the schools you are considering and inquire about support staff. Do classrooms have full-time, part-time, or no aides or paraprofessionals? These persons, while not certified teachers, are a huge bonus to students and educators alike.

Choose a School That Jives With Your Behavior and Disciple Policies

For parents, discipline tactics and beliefs vary greatly. What one family deems necessary might be unfathomable to another family. When it comes to discipline in schools, the gap won't be so wide, as schools function under umbrellas of disciple procedures. That said, not all schools handle disciple in the exact same way. Ask what your prospective elementary school's bullying policy is. No one wants to think about bullying, especially with young kids, but it happens. You'll want to place your child in a school with a no tolerance approach to bullying. Some will be more strict and others will seem more lax. Ask about a school's policy on discipline and behavior management and make sure that you are comfortable with what they have laid out. All schools that you consider should have behavioral policies that make sense to you and your family.

Consider School Culture

Every school sets its own tone when it comes to the culture of the community and the building. Look into all prospective schools, thinking about some key ideas regarding school culture.

Is There Parental Involvement?

Schools with an overall positive culture are about far more than just the students. They encompass the community and the families of their learners. Ask what the parental involvement at your top elementary school choices is like. Do they welcome parents and guardians into the classroom, lunchroom, and the playground? Is there a parent-teacher group or organization affiliated with the school? Is the communication between families and educators open, honest and positive? Choose a school that actively includes and listens to families' concerns and welcomes parents with open arms.

Does the School Celebrate all Aspects of a Child?

You will want your children spending their days in a school that celebrates students every chance that they get. Look at what the school values and what they choose to celebrate in their students. Does the school notice more than just good grades? They should. Positive behavior, kindness, good deeds, and hard work should be acknowledged and commended so that young students grow up to be confident, valuing themselves.

Are the Adults Positive?

The teachers and staff in an elementary school set the tone for positivity. If they are unhappy, unsupported, and working in a toxic environment, then that will eventually influence the students' learning. Do the teachers look happy to be at work? Is there a sense of teamwork and leadership within the building? If you get a sense that the elementary school could be a toxic space for adults, then it is probably not the best place for your child.

Is It a Fun Place?

Elementary schools are places of learning, but they are also places of fun. The initial educational years are beautiful balances of learning foundational academic skills, routines, and social behaviors. They are also the years that kids figure out that school is fun! Does the elementary school at the top of your list do more than teach reading and math? Are there fun activities for kids to connect and engage with each other scattered throughout the school day? Look into events that take place throughout the year, like Family Fun Nights and Cultural Learning Days. The best elementary schools should help foster a love of learning in students.

Primary School boys and girls

Does the Physical Space Support Student Learners?

A good elementary school typically has a physical space that supports learners and impacts the overall school culture. When the environment is safe and well-maintained, students have higher academic scores, better behavior, and a better outlook and attitude regarding school.

Tour the elementary building that you are thinking of sending your kids to. Look at the library, the lunchroom, playground, and bathrooms. What is the technology like in the building? Do classrooms have traditional seating or flexible options for kids? All of these spaces and factors should be considered when looking at a physical space of an elementary building. Does the building make the grade? If so, it is a good indication that there is pride in that environment.

Does the School Address All Learning Needs?

Schools are full of diverse learning, and a good elementary school will take into account the unique needs of all its students. Even if your child isn't going to receive special education services, it is worth looking into what is offered at any given building. Do this for a few reasons. First, if the school has options for special needs learners as well as ample, knowledgeable staff to support those kids, then you are likely in a solid place, capable of creating extension options for any child who walks through the front doors. Another reason to check this out is you never know what life will throw at you. Your child might not need services now, but who knows what his/her learning will look like in a few years. Elementary schools are investments for families with multiple children. Future kids in your family might need unique learning services, and you won't want to go hunting for them elsewhere should the need arise.

Look Into Curriculum

When your little one enters elementary school, curriculum is likely the furthest thing from your mind. They are barely out of diapers and likely cannot do much more than spell their name when entering kindergarten, so considering academic rigors seems outrageous! While your priorities are probably not centered around curriculum at first, it won't be long until that becomes the forefront of your academic thoughts.

Seek Balance

The first thing that you want to consider in regard to the curriculum is whether it is balanced. Does the school offer academics, but also art, music, and gym?

How Will Homework Look?

Homework policies vary from grade to grade and sometimes from teacher to teacher, so this can be challenging to navigate in your elementary school search. Ask about general homework policies, not only for younger grades, but for older grades as well. Your child is going to spend several years at one elementary school, so it makes sense to look at the entire picture, not just the grade your child is entering. Most parents don't want their young children spending hours each evening on their studies, and discussing homework policies up front can save you from issues down the road.

Where to Go for the Answers

You have your questions and you have your top school choices. Now, who do you direct those inquires to?

  • Tour the school. Ask for a building principal or an assistant to accompany you.
  • Meet a few teachers. Because teachers are busy people, this will have to be scheduled ahead of time and you might find that you visit a school more than once before deciding on the one.
  • Check out any parent groups. Many schools have a PTA or a parent organization that can walk you through your questions.
  • Many communities have online community forums full of parents who live in the district that you are considering. Ask a few questions of them. These are the people who send their kids to the schools you are interested in.

Elementary School Is so Much More Than a Place

Putting your kids in an elementary school that suits them is an important choice. This is where their academic career begins. It's where they establish a love of learning and make crucial human connections that will shape them as they grow. Elementary school is a second home to so many children and is a place where they are loved, nurtured, and encouraged. Spending those formative years in a space that works for your child deserves careful consideration.

How to Choose an Elementary School for Your Child to Thrive