Kindergarten. For most children, it’s the foundation of their education. A time for both play and learning (much of which overlap), kindergarten is a big step for children. And it’s a big decision for parents. If you’re debating between public or private school, here’s a list of factors to consider. Keep in mind that every public school system, and every private or independent school is different, and the factors below will vary in importance and relevance for each.
Teaching and special attention
Teachers at public schools are required to hold valid state licenses, as well as meet certain criteria to serve students with special learning considerations. Private school teachers don’t have the same requirements. This means that if you know your child requires special guidance or attention, or has a diagnosed learning concern, inquire as to whether a private school is properly equipped to meet his needs.
On the flip side, private schools may be more able to challenge students with advanced abilities. Thanks in part to smaller class sizes and lower student/teacher ratios, private schools are able to avoid “teaching to the middle,” providing more resources and challenges for academically strong students.
The intangibles: values and character
Many private schools place a deliberate focus on specific values, including honesty, friendship, respect, and integrity. Together, these values inform what a number of schools refer to as “character education.” Private schools often craft units and lessons designed to demonstrate and exemplify these values. The schools purposely focus not just on a child’s intellectual development and academic learning, but on his moral, civic, and behavioral development.
Resources and “specials”
When it comes to classroom resources (everything from technology to supplies) and special areas of study (art, music, foreign language), private schools usually have the advantage. Funded by tuition and endowments, private schools don’t rely on taxpayers for vital funds. Many incorporate a foreign language, such as Spanish, into the curriculum as early as Pre-Kindergarten–something that many public schools are not able to include until later grades. (Pre-K tech photo)
Depending on the city or town, a public school may have the advantage if you want your child to be exposed to students from a range of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Some public schools are situated in very homogeneous towns or neighborhoods and therefore offer little diversity. Many private schools make purposeful efforts to enroll students from different backgrounds, including varying socioeconomic levels (via financial aid packages). If this is important to you, be sure to visit the school and observe the population, and ask admissions staff about it.
Additionally, some private or independent schools serve just one gender: all-boys or all-girls. This approach has some inherent advantages. There are some differences in the way boys and girls learn and behave–and these differences come into play as early as kindergarten.
Teachers are able to tailor their methods and techniques to the learning preferences of given gender, allowing boys (or girls) to explore, learn, and grow in the manner most fitting and natural to them.
For moms and dads juggling careers and other children, scheduling is important. Each public and private school will vary in the options it offers for kindergarten scheduling, including full- or half-day options, days of week, and before- or after-school care.
It’s a given: tuition is one of the main differences between public and private school, and a factor for many families. Public school is free; private school comes with a price tag. A year’s tuition at most private schools typically runs in the thousands, even for kindergarten–though some schools offer financial aid. Of course, the cost and value of a private education includes more than just dollar figures. (And that’s why it’s important to consider the other elements on this list–especially if tuition is affordable for your family.)
So where does this leave you as a parent? Each family must weigh the decision carefully and consider the best choice for them and their child. In any case, it’s almost always beneficial to visit the schools you’re considering and talk to teachers and administrators. Talk to other parents and get their perspectives. Know your child and know what you want for your child. Most importantly, trust your instincts.