Choosing a kindergarten program for your son can be stressful. You have so many goals for your child, long-term and short-term.
You want to find a school where he will find a great group of friends with whom to connect and where he will feel well supported, but you also want to put him on the right track to academic and, eventually, lifelong success. You want a school where he will learn, build character, and develop strong social skills, but you also want a school that will encourage his independence and give him opportunities for free creative play.
You have so many questions, but which are the most important ones?
First of all, you should know that when it comes to your child’s education, there are no wrong questions. This is a major decision that you are right to take seriously.
We do advise parents searching for a kindergarten program to focus on finding a good fit for their child rather than looking at outcomes that might be 12 years down the road. No kindergarten program can set your son on a guaranteed path toward the Ivy League, nor is there necessarily any way of knowing at four years old if that’s even the right path for your son.
So what do we mean by “good fit?” Here are four questions you can ask during a visit to a kindergarten program that will help you determine whether or not the school and your child are a good match.
1. How is active play incorporated into the day?
At a private boys school like Fessenden, play is serious stuff.
Our kindergarten boys actually begin their days on the playground; we find it helps set them up for the rest of the day. Time to play at the beginning of the day helps them blow off steam and recalibrates their bodies for the transition from home to school. By the time our boys get into the classroom, they are primed for learning.
We also believe it’s important to infuse play throughout the day—even through the ninth grade. Our teachers pay attention to the behavior of their students, and if they’re getting antsy and losing focus, many of our teachers will introduce a physical component into their lessons, or they’ll just lead the class in a round of jumping jacks.
Then it’s back to learning.
2. Is there room in the classroom for dramatic play?
Dramatic play, also known as roleplaying, is more than just fun for kindergarten-aged children. It’s a vitally important way for boys to learn and a critical part of their development. Roleplaying—like taking on the persona of a favorite character such as Superman or Spiderman—helps children develop empathy, confidence, and a sense of right and wrong.
3. How do you support children through failure? Are there opportunities for failure in a nurturing environment?
Throughout our lifetimes, but maybe even more so as young children, we learn through trial and error. We confront challenges – sometimes overcoming them and sometimes not. Some parents are concerned their children won’t have this experience at a private school, that they’ll be too “coddled” to ever experience failure.
Good private schools understand the fine line between coddling and nurturing. A nurturing approach allows students to experience failure, but helps them learn from it, and do better the next time. They also provide a wide breadth of opportunities so that, no matter where your son’s strengths and weaknesses lie, there will always be something to challenge him.
In our Pre-K and Kindergarten we spend a lot of time developing students’ confidence, grit, and perseverance. The boys learn to navigate challenging experiences that are outside their comfort zones. They might be encouraged to stand up and read even though they aren’t the strongest reader in the class, or to “take the back seat” in a game of pretend instead of being the usual leader. We see how this early exposure to risk taking prepares the boys to take on bigger and more varied challenges as they grow and mature. The result – a life driven by their passions and priorities rather than societal norms and conventions.
4. What’s the typical tenure of your faculty?
The tenure length of the teaching staff is a good way to measure the “health” of a school. Private school teachers don’t have pensions to look forward to if they stay at a particular school for the majority of their career. So if you find they’ve been teaching at the same school for ten or more years, it’s a good sign that school is a great place to work, and they want to be there.
Ask a couple of teachers how long they’ve been working at the school, and follow it up with why they teach – expect some pretty enthusiastic answers.
Look for schools with a good balance between veteran educators—who bring the lessons learned from decades of experience—and energetic young teachers—who bring cutting-edge pedagogical techniques.
14 More Essential Questions to Ask On Your Kindergarten Tour
There is, of course, plenty more to determining whether or not a kindergarten program is a good fit for your child. To help you as you search for a school that will give your son the opportunity to grow into the best boy he can be, we’ve created a 14-question checklist of questions to take with you on your campus tours. Get your free copy here.