Choosing an elementary school can feel like the most important decision of your child’s life … when they are five. There are so many factors to consider: questions about the school’s philosophy, if there’s a personalized approach, too much homework, whether lunch is included, etc. I want to share my experience of choosing a school for my child because a lot of families are searching for a school that is the best fit for their child at this time of year.
A few years ago, when my son Eli was four years old, I began doing some research on schools in my area. I started with our local school district—Mountain View Whisman School District. I wanted to support our public schools because I had gone to public schools in NYC. But I wondered if they were any good and would be a good fit for Eli.
When I heard about the two choices available for Mountain View public schools, I was intrigued. After doing some online research, talking to friends and acquaintances, and attending a coffee for prospective parents, I knew I would be applying to one of them immediately.
Stevenson PACT had everything I wanted—parent involvement, a whole child educational philosophy and lots of art. Providing a variety of art options was not my forte and I figured sending him to a school where other parents were passionate about art was my best opportunity for Eli to have exposure to it.
Also, since the District birthday cut off was December 1st, and Eli was a November baby, we would have two years to apply and try to get into Stevenson. And guess what happened? He got in!
The problem was that he was only four years old and wouldn’t turn five until November of his kindergarten year. My first thought was, ‘Am I turning into a Silicon Valley tiger mom who sends their child to school too early and they burn out by 3rd grade?’ Most parents wait until their kid is five or six in this area. My son was also tiny for his age and would be the youngest in the entire grade.
I wasn’t sure how to make this very difficult decision. So I did what I always do in these situations—I turned to Facebook and its parenting community. Then I reached out to friends who were teachers in different states, other parents, Eli’s preschool teachers, the kindergarten teacher at his future school and anyone else I could find.
I felt like this decision would direct the course of his future education. I set all the information I had gathered to one side and just looked at my son. In the end, the decision to start him in kindergarten before his fifth birthday was not based on anyone else’s opinions or suggestions. I knew he could handle going to school and he would be happy there. At the end of his kindergarten year, his teacher pulled me aside and said, “Do you remember how you struggled to decide whether you should send Eli to school at four? You made the right decision. He did great this year.”
Luckily, you don’t have to struggle alone with this decision. Parents Place is hosting its 10th Annual Private Elementary School Fair in the Palo Alto on Sunday, October 6th, 2019. (Note: This post has been updated for 2019.) The Fair is a unique opportunity to engage with more than 30 schools located on the Peninsula. This is the only Peninsula event that connects families with multiple private and independent schools at the same time. You can speak informally with school representatives and find the right fit for your child and family.
You are also invited to attend Public or Private: Choosing the Best Elementary School for your Child and Family, with Parents Place’s Stephanie Agnew, Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, in Palo Alto.
Good luck, don’t stress, and remember that this is just one of many educational decisions you’ll be facing over the next 18 years!