Before you sign the school or preschool enrolment form, Tiffany Brown takes you through some helpful points to consider.
Which school fits your family values best?
Educational philosophies vary widely, from conservative religious- based settings to the unhurried creativity of Steiner-style education. Understanding which learning approach meshes best with your family values is important, because a seamless transition from home to school can help kids feel more settled, and research shows that happy kids learn best.
What does it cost?
New Zealand offers access to free education in state schools for all children; even those living an impractical distance from the nearest school can access the Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu correspondence school programme. We’re lucky to also have a wide range of state-integrated and private schools to choose from. Education at these alternative institutions is generally fees-based, so you’ll need to do your research into costs. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of uniforms, technology, extra-curricular activities, excursions and extras on top of any fees.
What resources does the school provide?
Different kids have different needs for optimal growth and development. It’s ok to shop around to find the learning environment that suits your child best. Energetic kids need plenty of activity and sports, while sensitive children need opportunities for sensory play, quiet times, and perhaps smaller class sizes. Additional needs or learning difficulties should also be considered; you’ll be able to find plenty of anecdotal information from other parents in online support groups about which environment fits best.
How far away is it?
The right school may be a short walk or bike ride away from your house, or it could be much further away. Consider the implications of distance carefully. Is public transport or a private bus service available, and will the cost be a factor? Time spent commuting to and from school can be draining for children, but it may also be valuable time to connect as a family, bond with friends, or grow resilience and independence.
What size is the school?
Some kids will thrive in a large school which may be able to offer more options for learning, sports and culture, while others will respond much better to a smaller school, with a more intimate feel and smaller class sizes. Again, the key is to understand which environment can support your child to be most comfortable.
What about play time?
Play is essential for a child’s development. It also sets kids up for better learning, academic and career success down the track. The best school environments recognise the importance of play and will offer plenty of opportunities for functional, constructive, exploratory and dramatic play for their students.
How do you feel about the staff involved?
Kids may have access to the best educational resources in the world, but these are wasted if they don’t feel comfortable around their teachers or other school staff. Take as much time
as you need to figure out which school offers up the best vibes between you, the staff and, most importantly, your child.
Do you need before or after school care?
Many schools offer before and after school programmes for working parents, but some don’t, so researching alternatives may be important when selecting the right school to suit your family.
What do other people say?
While you want to keep an open mind about other people’s experiences (particularly if their stories are second or third hand!), hearing from other parents and kids about a potential school can be instructive. Local grapevines and online forums can also give you independent information to help your decision-making.
Preschool points to ponder
Most early childhood education (ECE) centres are not “zoned”, meaning that your family isn’t limited to sending your child to a centre within a certain distance from your home. While many parents do choose a space close to home, some prefer a centre near work or other family members. Whatever logistics you like, it’s wise to visit multiple preschools/ECEs so you can meet the manager/teachers and compare the environment and learning philosophies of each, to be able to select a home away from home that’s best suited for your tot. Some of the first things to take into account are:
Hours: Is the centre’s opening house in line with what you’ll require?
Friends: Are there children of a similar age already at the centre?
Meals: Will you supply food or is there an on-site cook (and what’s on the menu?)
Nappies: How often are their checks and changes, and are you to supply your own nappies and nappy cream?
Toilet training: How will they work with you on this milestone when the time comes?
Connection and Communication: Do they use digital programmes, such as Storypark, to document your child’s learning progress? Will they upload pictures and video so you can see what your child’s up to when you’re not about?
Cost: What are the part-time and full-time fees and are you entitled to any subsidies?
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