Choosing an elementary school for your child can be a daunting process. In the Bay Area, we have many choices, which is good and bad news. The good news is that there are many options and types of schools in both the public and private arenas. The bad news is that it takes a lot of time to research the options, and you don’t always get your first choice.

Here are a few tips that will help you get started in the process and make a decision that will work for your child and family.

  1. Start early! If your child turns 5 by September 1, 2014, now is the time to start exploring your options.

If your child’s birthday falls between September 1 and December 1, he may have the option to attend transitional kindergarten in your public school. There may be some private schools that will accept him, but there are others that expect children to be 5 by August 1 or even earlier.

The application or registration process for kindergarten starts a year before your child could start school. The summer is a good time to begin to research your options. The fall is when private school open houses take place, applications are made available, you can schedule school visits and testing dates, and preschool teachers should be given recommendations to write.

Some public school districts have informational meetings in the fall. December is a good time to work on completing private school applications because most are due in early January. Registration for public schools begins in January and February. To register for kindergarten, you will have to show proof of residency in the district and your child’s birth certificate to verify age eligibility.

If you are in a school district where there are choices about what school to attend, you will probably have to fill out an application form and enter a lottery. Acceptance to private schools and public school lottery results usually come out in March and April, and you will need to make a decision about your child’s school relatively quickly. Private schools will require that you send in a deposit to reserve your child’s space in the incoming kindergarten class. Information about openings that are available to children on public or private school wait lists can come out anytime between May and early September. Public school district and private school websites are the best sources for information about dates and deadlines. It’s very important that you follow these schedules.

  • Think about what you are looking for in your child’s education. Consider what you can handle financially, the distance from your home or work to the school, and what type of learning environment your child will thrive in, such as size, academic rigor, level of teacher/child interactions, the school’s subject specialties (language, science, math, music, the arts), and homework policies.
  • Look at your options. Some public school districts have many options; others have only your neighborhood school. Check your school district’s website to learn about them. Make sure you know to which neighborhood school your home is attached. The website www.greatschools.org offers a list of public and private schools in your area.
  • Think about how your family will fit into the school community. Elementary school is the longest period of time that your child will spend in one school, so view it as membership in a club for your whole family. You and your child will want to feel comfortable. Look at the school’s ethnic and socioeconomic make-up, the opportunities for parental involvement, and the ease with which you can participate. Your child’s educational experience will be enriched if your family feels a connection to the school community.
  • Learn about individual schools by studying their websites. Attend tours and open houses, talking to other parents with children in the school or of similar age, and read statistics like test scores and ratings on websites like www.greatschools.org. There is no one resource that will give you the complete picture. Your first-hand experience visiting is probably the most important, but other information will round out the entire picture. Test scores and Internet ratings should not be considered the main criteria for quality.
  • When evaluating a school look at:
  1. Class size and overall school size.
  2. Accreditation for private schools.
  3. Leadership/ public school board dynamics.
  4. Faculty credentials and background.
  5. School mission and teaching philosophy.
  6. Curriculum design, implementation, and homework policies.
  7. Parent involvement and sense of community.
  8. Funding sources and financial solvency.
  9. Facilities and permanency of the school site.
  10. Extra-curricular activities.
  • During the application process, assess your child realistically. Pay attention to his temperament and learning style thus far. Try not to get caught up in the frenzy of getting into only the most popular schools. Find a few, both public and private, that could be a good fit for your child and family.

Register for at least one public school as a back-up in case you child is not accepted to your first-choice private school. If she is being interviewed for private schools, don’t coach her. Just make sure she gets a good night’s sleep, has a good breakfast, and is prepared to have a good time.

  • When the time arrives to select a school, ask your child what he thinks of your first choice. Remember, though, a 4- or 5-year-old really can’t make a decision like that himself. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know what is best for him and your family.

If you feel like you want more help in making this important decision, call Parents Place. We are here to help! Here is a list of upcoming programs on the Peninsula that can give you even more information. We also provide individual consultations during which we can help guide you more specifically in your decision-making process.

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