Someday you’ll have to have “the talk” with your kids. You know, ‘the birds and the bees’ discussion. Finding a school can lead to the same type of avoidance. My husband and I didn’t have “the talk” about our elementary school choice until we were already more than a little panicked. Before the process snowballs out of control take the time to discuss what you (and your co-parent) want — before you go to all the open houses and read all the brochures and talk to all the neighbors and…
What are you looking for in a school? Take a moment to write a list of what you’re looking for in a school. Ask your partner (if you’re co-parenting) to do the same. If you’re having trouble making a list, just describe what you see in your mind’s eye.
Each of us has preconceived ideas about what our child’s future school will look like. If you’re going through this process with a partner it’s important to see if your ideas match theirs. One friend I have went to a private high school, whereas her husband went to a large public school. This had never, ever been an issue in their marriage. After each school they didn’t seem to see the same strengths and weaknesses and finally realized that she preferred schools similar to what she experienced (small and private) and he preferred schools similar to his experience (large and public). Had they sat down early in the process for “the talk” they could have seen each other’s perspective and skipped a lot of incredulous disagreement.
Make a list of “needs” and “wants”. Once you sit down with general ideas, start to list specifics. People do this when buying a house. Needs: 3 bedrooms and eat-in kitchen. Wants: fireplace, yard, parking spot. Again, find out if these match between you and your partner.
It took us a long time to make a list. When I finally sat down and made out a list of things important to me the curriculum wasn’t first, as I would have assumed. It was third. I realized that there were things outside of the actual education that were more important to me for my child’s elementary school experience. (I imagine I’ll feel differently about high school) But I had been going to all these open houses without ever asking what I was actually looking for.
Envision the long haul. Are you planning to have your child in this school forever? Will the same plan work for younger siblings? What the kindergarten decision means for your family will often depend on how long you’ll be chained to that decision.
A friend of mine chose to put her daughter in an expensive private school. She knew that she couldn’t afford the tuition for two kids and she also had a 3-year-old son. Why would she make such a decision? She decided to spend time on the public lottery, convinced that there were good public schools out there. She invested a lot of time getting to know each neighborhood school. She tried to lottery into several, but didn’t receive a spot she was happy with, so she moved her family when her son was 4 into the catchment area of a school she believed in. For her, the second kindergarten decision she made (for her son) was much more binding and permanent. She knew her daughter would be in the private school only temporarily. Discuss a long-term plan with your partner and whether a move is in your future, it may very well change how you go about the kindergarten decision.