For me, making a big decision is a process; a painful, tedious, annoying experience for all involved. For example, before purchasing my dishwasher I spent hours, weeks scouring Consumer Reports, customer reviews, reviewing features and comparing brands and models. I probed friends, neighbors, and the sales staff at Home Depot for recommendations. I created a spreadsheet matrix; I shopped multiple stores and watched closely for sales. Ultimately it took months for me to find a dishwasher, but in the end I was confident with my decision and six years later I still love my dishwasher.
So now imagine my process for deciding where my sweet, precious first born should go to kindergarten. He will start this fall and at this point I am completely annoyed with myself – and here’s the kicker – I have not even decided! My husband and I have spent over a year thinking about and researching the best place for our sweet, precious, first born son to attend kindergarten. We’ve narrowed it down to two schools and we’ve learned a lot along the way.
1. Explore your options and prioritize what matters to you. A great thing about living in Pierce County and Tacoma is the many school options. There are traditional public schools, public Montessori, private Montessori, secular private schools, private Christian and Catholic Schools. While having so many options can be a bit overwhelming, it’s a testament to our community’s acknowledgement that every child and family is different and what works for one does not necessarily work for others. Look beyond your neighborhood school because the best fit for you and your child might not be the closest school. And if you live in a neighborhood like us, you may live very close to several schools.
Prioritize what's most important to your child and family, taking into consideration academics, special education, sports, arts, and other extracurricular activities but also practicalities like tuition, transportation, and aftercare. You can find test scores for public schools and detailed information about the programs offered (check out the links at the end of this article.)
2. Listen up working parents - before and after care varies, a lot. My husband and I both work full-time so for us before and after care is really, really important. This is where our child will spend 2-3 hours a day. The folks at before and after care are responsible for safely getting him to and from class. And school is not open as much as my office. I don’t get winter break, spring break, or the Friday before a holiday off – so I need a safe, loving and reliable place to take my child. Some care is onsite, and others require busing. Make sure you understand what the before and after care options are and then talk to them.
3. Visit prospective schools. To help me make a decision I again created a spreadsheet matrix. It really helped me to compare schools and see the differences. By doing this I was able to narrow our search down to four schools. And the last couple weeks we’ve visited all four and the corresponding before and after care options. We chose to bring our son along with us on three of the tours. I wanted him to see the schools and observe his reactions. We met teachers, principals and other parents and asked a lot of questions.
What will the school do to ensure that my child doesn't fall behind? What happens if my child gets behind? Or if my child is gifted, how do you develop those gifts even if the rest of the class doesn't have them? What is your approach to discipline? Can you walk me through a typical day? How many kids are in the class? How often do you assess a child’s progress?
4. Think long-term. A sticking point for me personally has been trying to think beyond kindergarten. Right now we are stuck between a great public school in our neighborhood and a private school that’s close but not in our neighborhood. Kindergarten is just one year; I want to set my son up for success through elementary, middle, high school, college and life. And we’re thinking through the goals we have as a family and parents. What if we move to a different neighborhood? Is private school worth the extra cost? This is a great public elementary, but what will our options be for middle school and high school?
In the end we know our son and our family needs the best. Over the next couple months we’ll make our final decision on kindergarten and this decision will have tremendous impact on my son’s life, so he deserves us taking our time, doing our homework and putting his needs first.
1. OSPI - State website with test scores and tons of information about schools across Washington. https://www.k12.wa.us/
2. This is a national website where you can search schools across the US and find test scores. It also has tips and articles on picking a school. http://www.greatschools.org/
3. Schools Districts (find schools individual websites) The following is a list of all sixteen public school districts in Pierce County, Washington: