I want the best for my son–but how do I know I’m getting it? What truly differentiates schools at the Pre-K level? What questions should I even be asking? You’ve researched tuition and flipped through the viewbook. Now it’s time to get real: what are the key questions you should be asking to evaluate a school–and what do the admissions advisors wish you’d ask to make a truly informed decision? The five questions below will help you consider the right school for your family.
1. Does the school offer options that meet my family’s needs?
In today’s world, families are busy. Often, both parents work and are juggling the schedules of one or more children. A pre-kindergarten may seem like the perfect match on paper, but it also has to work logistically. It has to fit in the family’s schedule…and align with the boy’s level of readiness. Consider looking at the school’s program options. Are there full-day and half-day offerings? What about extended day? Do classes run five days a week, or two or three? Not every school offers an all-or-nothing approach: some have flexible and part-time options that can serve the family’s schedule and work well for a boy who may not be developmentally ready for full school days–but who is ready for half-days or part-time.
2. How is play integrated into the day?
At the pre-K/K level, play (or active learning that employs physical activity and all five senses) is integral and an essential part of how boys develop. But it’s important to remember that play and structure are not mutually exclusive. Loose, unguided play can be fun for boys, but structured play can “disguise” learning–and boost its effectiveness. Look for schools that incorporate multi-sensory learning; for example, a class might learn the 12 months of the year by singing and dancing to the “Macarena Months of the Year” song. Or, teachers may follow the “Handwriting without Tears” curriculum which has students build letters out of blocks and other materials instead of traditional paper and pen methods which can be frustrating for little guys who are still developing their fine motor skills.
3. What are the options or expectations for parental involvement?
Boys have different needs for the school day, and so do parents. While some may want to volunteer in the classroom or visit from time to time, others have demanding careers that don’t offer them the flexibility to be as involved as they may wish. Consider asking a school about levels of involvement that work for you. Can you come and join your son for lunch? How many parents typically get involved in the parents’ association? Is it a requirement (or an unspoken requirement) to join multiple committees and groups? Look for a school that offers a range of levels for parental involvement–making it an option, not a pressure.
4. Does the school evaluate applicants based on developmental readiness–or calendar age?
Across the country, more and more parents are “redshirting” their children when it comes to kindergarten. “Redshirting” refers to holding children back for a year so they have a supposed developmental advantage when they start school (especially boys, who typically don’t mature as quickly as girls when it comes to the behaviors that traditionally promote success in the classroom: sitting quietly, paying attention, etc.). Some schools actually have different age cutoffs for boys than for girls.
Why is redshirting a problem? Well, if a boy with a “late” birthday is bright, he may be bored if he’s held back simply because he’s chronologically younger. Once he does enter school, he may have trouble relating to younger students–or vice versa. Consider a school that looks holistically at each boy, and doesn’t just look at the calendar.
5. Isn’t an all-boys school going to stunt his social development?
The short answer: no. At the pre-K level, many families are coming from a positive experience in co-ed nursery schools. In these settings, girls likely have been a positive influence, and boys and girls have played together harmoniously. What most families don’t realize, however, is that humans are very adaptive creatures. We recognize very early in our lives what’s socially acceptable for each gender (e.g., boys shouldn’t like the color pink, girls are caretakers). While this typically hasn’t happened at age two or three, it’s quite common by age four.
When boys are educated alongside girls, they lose certain opportunities to expand their development. In an all-boys environment, boys are not only free to explore all educational activities and behaviors; they’re encouraged to. Moreover, they’re not subjected to an unwritten set of rules that dictates how they should or shouldn’t behave, or what they should or shouldn’t like. Boys have the opportunity to be active and to nurture. Rather than being told to look to girls as the “gold standard” for behavior, the boys are the gold standard.