Be the first to know about new tools and features on Education.com.
Spring is right around the corner, and that means it's time for parents to start thinking about fall enrollment. If you plan to send your child to a new school, there are many factors to consider.
At this time of year, most private and many public schools are deep into their tour cycle, which is when they try to convince prospective parents that their school is the best. As a former teacher, I remember this season well—welcoming large groups of bewildered parents each Friday and answering their questions as I try to keep my students focused and engaged. Now that I have a child fast approaching his elementary school years, I am diving into these deeper conversations about what makes a "good" school from the parent perspective. As you consider where you will be sending your child to school this fall, use the following criteria to help make your decision.
Type of School
At the basic level, you should know the different types of schools to choose from. Public schools are open to all neighborhood children, while charter schools vary widely and have different entrance requirements. Both public and charter schools are free. Parochial schools are affiliated with religious institutions and often require families to complete an application and pay tuition. Likewise, independent schools require an application and tuition but are unaffiliated with religious institutions. To learn more about the different schools in your area and their requirements, look at their websites and plan a visit.
Many people think high test scores mean a school must be good, while others base their opinions on whether a school offers art or foreign languages. While test scores can certainly indicate how well a school is doing in some areas, they don't always paint a holistic picture of a school. Maybe your neighborhood school has low test scores, but they also offer smaller class sizes, extra art-enrichment and project-based learning. Perhaps the "best" school in your city is ranked highest due to the high standardized test scores, yet the teacher retention rate is terrible. So use test scores as one data point, but be sure to schedule school tours. You will discover so much about the school's culture that is not reflected in scores.
Know Your Child
Schools draw you in with buzzwords and shiny exteriors. You might tour a potential school for your incoming kindergartener and absolutely fall in love. I get it. Sometimes we see a school that we would have loved to attend. For me, it is always a big beautiful library and an art studio. Here's the thing, though, just because a school sweeps you off your feet doesn't necessarily mean that your child will thrive.
Consider what you know about your child. Do you have a super-active kid who needs a lot of movement and outside time in their day? Does your child love to read already? Does your child do well in large groups, or do they need a quieter environment to process information?
As you tour schools, keep these things in the back of your mind and imagine your child at the school. What would their day-to-day life look like? How would your child fare in this setting? What challenges might you see? What would make them shine? When thinking about what kind of school might work best for your child, also consider the curricular elements. For example, would your child learn best in a project-based learning environment or something focused on arts education? What kinds of social emotional curriculum or social justice programs are available, and how might they affect your child's experience?
Think Beyond Kindergarten
Many people tour schools with the upcoming school year in mind, however, you'll also want to consider how this school will grow with your child. For example, while you might fall in love with the gorgeous kindergarten classroom and enthusiastic teacher who takes her classes on field trips every week, you'll want to consider what happens when your child transitions to first, second, or fifth grade. Do teachers follow a set curriculum, or is the curriculum dependent on the teacher's experience and creativity? Does the school prioritize the arts in all grades and classrooms, or do individual teachers have their own priorities? Visit multiple classrooms and talk to parents, teachers, and students in older grades as well. While teachers are an important part of the school, many come and go. Knowing what is teacher- versus school-dependant can help you decide if a school will be a good long-term fit for you and your child.
While the frequency and type of communication you receive from a school might not seem important right now, it will be the primary way you find out what your child is doing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for the next several years. So it's pretty important.
Some schools use a consistent communication system such as Schoology, School Circle, or ClassDojo to let you know what is happening. Other schools rely on individual teachers to come up with their own methods of communication, which can range from a monthly newsletter to home visits or emails. What kind of communicator you are is going to influence how you interact with your school community, teacher, and administration team. Do you like seeing photos and real-time updates? Do you prefer in-person check-ins? Your child isn't the only one joining a school community, you are as well. Consider how you want to send and receive communication with teachers and admin now and in the long term.
Most schools have adopted some kind of policy on school-wide discipline that translates into management and discipline strategies within the classroom. There are many different opinions and philosophies about what works best, and there is no perfect method. Think back to what you know about your child and your own belief system to decide if a school policy will work for your family.
When you tour a potential school, ask questions about their school-wide policies and beliefs about discipline. If you are excited about a school that prioritizes a specific practice, ask questions and then do your own research. Consider how you would feel should your child have a disciplinary issue. Would you agree with the system in place and feel good about your child participating within that system?
Does being a field trip chaperone really excite you? Are you anxiously awaiting the day you participate in lunchtime recess duty? When I had my older child, I imagined how I would want to be heavily involved in the day-to-day classroom environment as a regular volunteer. In reality, as he has become more independent and is attending longer hours at preschool, I've realized that I prefer being able to drop in for the occasional read-aloud or art project, but don't need to volunteer on a regular basis.
Some schools have a minimum amount of time they expect each family to volunteer per year. Other schools discourage parental involvement within the classroom. Decide what kind of involvement works best for you and your family, and look for schools that fit those needs.
After School & Extracurriculars
Another factor you'll want to consider is what kind of after-school programs or extracurriculars they offer. Some schools provide early drop-off and late pick-up with an extensive offering of after-school activities. Other schools outsource their after-school care to a local organization, like the YMCA, and provide off-site care. Depending on your work schedule, other children, and other needs, you'll want to consider if after-school programming is something you'll participate in. If so, ask questions about cost, space availability, and who provides the care—in addition to learning about the types of programs offered.
There is some flexibility if an activity or program is important to you or your child and the school you adore doesn't offer it. For example, one of my former students was passionate about soccer and our school didn't offer a school soccer team in the lower grades. So the K-1 parents formed their own school team. While an on-site after-school program might be desirable, other options might fit your needs as well.
Trying to find the perfect school for your child can feel overwhelming, but know that you can always make changes. You are your child's most important advocate, and their needs will likely change over time. Maybe you find an amazing school, and it's working really well. Then you realize your child needs some additional math support outside of school. You can work with the school, and you can also provide support at home with resources such as guided lessons or games.
Talking to current parents can provide a wealth of useful information. If you find a few schools that you are seriously considering, ask the administration to put you in touch with current parents at the school. These conversations can give you a good sense of how the school feels from a parental perspective versus an administrative or teacher perspective.
As you weigh the options between schools, consider creating a spreadsheet to have a visual of how schools are similar or different and identify your list of "must haves" (I know this sounds a bit intense, but I assure you it can be useful). I hope these tips have given you some insight into finding some hidden gems among the schools you tour this spring.
Being a parent is exhausting. Some parents stay home full time, while others balance parenting with their careers. Whatever your situation, balancing everything is a challenge. Even more, according to mindful parenting experts Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, "We live in a culture that does not uniformly value parenting as valid and important work." Parents have a huge responsibility: We are raising the next generation of change-makers. Yet we are doing so while cooking dinner, paying the bills, and worrying about how we can afford to send our kiddo to that really cool art enrichment class. Well, I'm here to tell you that there's something that can help!
Mindfulness is the practice of staying present in the moment. It's using the power of awareness to understand what's really going on in your heart, body, and mind. When you practice mindfulness, you tune in to the present moment and notice how your physical sensations relate to your overall well-being and the actions you take. Practicing mindfulness has scientifically proven benefits, including decreased heart disease, improved immune response, and increased psychological well-being.
So, how does mindfulness relate to parenting? Stacy McCaffrey, from Nova Southeastern University, quotes Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn when she states, "mindful parenting has been defined as 'paying attention to your child and your parenting in a particular way: intentionally, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.'" When you incorporate mindful parenting practices into your family life, you can enjoy your kids in the present moment, increase your connection with them, and stop that mind of yours from worrying.
Check out these three simple mindfulness practices you can start today:
Make Time for Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing can be used to de-stress your life.
Time: 5 minutes per day
- Turn off the lights and technology. Lie on the ground or sit in a comfortable position with your children.
- Encourage your children to focus on their breath. Remind them to let their thoughts pass like clouds in the sky.
- Discuss some of the body sensations and emotions they felt while their bodies were still and calm.
Pause to See ClearlyParents often run on automatic. Taking a moment to pause can bring clarity, purpose, and connection to your day. Teaching your children about the importance of taking a moment to pause can support them in reacting to others with intention instead of their immediate emotional reactions (for example, thinking before you say something mean to a loved one).
Time: A minute or less
- Practice taking a moment of silence as a whole family before you drop your children off at school, after a family disagreement, or before responding to a difficult question your child asks. Simply say, "Let's pause and breathe."
- Everyone should close their eyes and breathe in deeply. Exhale. Repeat.
- Encourage your children to take a moment to pause if they are upset about an argument with a friend, a really difficult assignment, or a disagreement with a family member.
Practice Gratitude During Difficult TimesThis activity can help us rewire our brains to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
Time: 3-5 minutes
- During a difficult situation (such as your child having a really hard time completing an assignment from school and is upset about it), explain to your child that you are both going to take a break, step back, and reframe the situation.
- Take a few breaths together and repeat the phrase, "I am grateful for many things."
- Ask your child to think of something they are grateful for. Encourage them to share it aloud with you or write it down on a piece of paper.
- Share something you are grateful for with your child.
- Continue this process until a lighter feeling replaces the tension.
- Explain to your child that although the situation might feel frustrating right now, it's important to put the challenge into perspective. Remind your child that many good things are also happening, and you'll get through the challenge together as a family.
Recommended Books on Mindfulness
- Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and John Kabat-Zinn.
- The Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson.
We use math every day, often without even realizing it. Our world is comprised of shapes, colors, patterns, and symbols that are organized to help us create order and make sense of everything we do. As a child, I grew up thinking I was "bad" at math without realizing that mathematical concepts went beyond multiplication tables and division problems. When I taught kindergarten and first grade, I made it my mission to teach math in a hands-on way to instill a love of mathematics from an early age. As a parent, I am striving to do the same. Incorporating math into your day-to-day activities might seem daunting, but I can assure you that it is not only possible—it can be fun! Here are some ideas to get you started.
Developing pattern awareness at a young age can help children build a strong foundation for later mathematical understanding. Identifying, creating, and extending a pattern supports your child's ability to make predictions. Understanding operations can be thought of as early algebraic thinking. You can support your child's learning about patterns through fun activities right at home.
- Take a walk. Look for patterns in nature like rings on a stump, stripes on a zebra, shells, clouds, and so on. Point out interesting patterns and identify what makes them a pattern. Are there repeating elements, symmetry, or another kind of regularity between elements?
- Create patterns. You can do a simple activity like Cereal Patterns that uses common materials in your kitchen. You can extend this activity by asking your child to name the kind of pattern they created (AB, ABB, ABC) and by using other kinds of food or vegetables to create or modify a pattern.
- Use blocks or other building materials to create a growing pattern or a staircase pattern with equal steps. These types of patterns can be a great way to challenge your child to predict and make a plan for what will happen when they continue to add materials.
Knowing how money works is an important life skill that we can all agree our children must have. Understanding money also supports counting, adding, subtracting, and numerous other mathematical reasoning skills. There are many fun and engaging ways to support children's understanding of money at home.
- Ask your child to help you shop. Depending on your child's age, this will look different. For younger kids, point out how you give cash to pay for an item and receive change back. Model counting out money, if possible. This often works well for smaller items such as coffee, milk, or a cookie. Invite older kids to take on part of your shopping by having them calculate how much things cost and adding up the total. You can extend this learning by putting an older child in charge of one meal a week and helping them figure out the budget needed for their ingredients.
- Use an allowance to teach financial literacy and the value of money. There are many ideas about how and when to give an allowance. Ultimately, if and how you choose to use one is a personal decision for you and your family. I learned about the three jar approach a few years ago. In short, the idea is that all the money a kid gets is divided into three jars: save, spend, and give. This helps teach the value of money. I started to use it with my 3.5-year-old, and it has already opened up many conversations and ideas about money in my house!
- Play games to practice using money. Monopoly or The Game of Life were the games of choice when I was a kid. Now there are a ton of interesting options to practice using money in a playful setting—including making up your very own currency!
Children begin to identify and learn about 2D shapes between the ages of 2 and 4 through everyday exposure in books and songs as well as real-world examples such as the shapes of windows, doors, or blocks. Learning about shapes helps children better understand the world around them through visual organization. Our world is comprised of shapes, and when children are taught the names and attributes of shapes, they are able to use that knowledge to make sense of everything from trees and buildings to letters and numbers. During the early years in school, your child will begin to understand basic 2D and 3D shapes by name and attribute (for example, a square has four equal sides). Helping your child develop a deep understanding of shapes will support their learning in other areas such as recognizing similarities and differences, identifying symbols, and making observations.
- Go on a shape hunt in your house, neighborhood, or city. Shapes are everywhere if you look closely enough. A shape hunt is a great family activity to do after school or during the weekend. For younger kids, bring along a list and have them check off shapes as they spot them. For older kids, encourage them to track the shapes they find using words or visuals.
- Create shape art using pre-cut shapes or inviting your child to draw and cut out their own shapes. Not only is this a great art project, but it is also a wonderful way for your child to learn how shapes can work together to create other shapes.
- Make shapes using materials you have around the house. You can create shapes out of toothpicks, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, or string! Making shapes is a great open-ended activity for all ages. For younger kids, display a shape and ask them to copy it using one of the provided materials. For older kids, ask them to create a shape and explain how they know what shape it is by describing its attributes.
Being able to use and understand measurement tools is an important life skill that we can support at home. We use tools such as rulers, measuring tape, thermometers, and scales on a daily basis to help us understand the world and our place within it. Measurements help us know how much flour to add to our bread, the amount of rain to expect in the morning, and how heavy something might be before we pick it up. Kids love measuring things and there are many ways to practice these skills in your day-to-day life.
- Invite your child to cook something with you in the kitchen. Model reading or let them read a basic recipe and encourage them to take the lead when measuring out the ingredients. Even my 18-month-old loves to "help" me mix ingredients for pancakes in the morning. Cooking is a great way to introduce the concept of measurement in a tangible and delicious way.
- Grow a plant indoors or outdoors (depending on the season) and practice noting how much it grows each day. While this is a project with some delayed gratification, it is an excellent way to show how something changes in height in small increments.
- Measure stuffed animals or objects around the house using a measuring tape, blocks, or other measurement tools. This fun activity encourages your child to collect and (if they are a little older) record data. This activity can also be a good way to introduce the concept of comparison by asking your child questions such as, "Which one was the longest? Which was the shortest? How do you know?"
Being able to collect, sort, and classify objects into groups is a foundational math skill taught in the primary grades that continues to be used in more advanced mathematical studies. Classifying and sorting begins without the use of numbers and looks like sorting objects into groups by a distinctive attribute, such as by shape or color. As children become more adept at sorting, they will begin to analyze the groups by identifying similarities and differences within a given category. Classifying and sorting can be done with anything and can provide hours of enjoyment—all the while honing important math skills!
- Go outside and find objects to sort into categories. Use a piece of chalk to write or draw the categories on the sidewalk. Then invite your child to write or draw each item into its matching category. Alternatively, you could collect natural items in a park, on a hike, or in your backyard and then sort the physical items.
- Sort crayons, markers, or colored pencils. Get out that big box full of used crayons and ask your child to sort them into groups by color or length. Once they are confident in this task, mix in other kinds of writing tools and encourage them to identify additional categories (fine or wide tips, with or without erasers, and so on) when sorting into groups.
- Put away toys, books, or games. Did you know that cleaning the room could be a great way to practice math skills? Work with your child to identify categories of toys, books, or games, and then have them sort their things by category. You can go a step further and work on some serious household organization in the process! When my family moved last year, we made it a point to create functional toy bins based on category (vehicles, blocks, animals, and so on), and this has helped with cleaning up on a daily basis!
I hope some of these activities spark a love of mathematics in you and your child and inspire you to be creative in the ways that you view math and how useful it can be in all areas of our lives!
I moved a lot when I was younger—we moved to a different country when I was 5, 9, and again at 15. My parents did their best to ease the process of moving for my siblings and me, but honestly, it never became easier. While moving can be an opportunity for discovery, the stress of packing, living out of boxes, and starting over with new friends can be a considerable challenge for young children.
Here are a few tips to help your little ones transition more smoothly. Keep in mind that no two kids are the same, and each will handle a move in a unique way. So take your pick of strategies to try out with them as you embark on a new chapter of your lives.
- Visit ahead of time. The unknown of a new city or town is scary, but if we are a tad familiar, some of the fear dissipates. If it is feasible, take your child to the new home before you actually move. Show them their new school and take them to the local ice cream store, too. If visiting in-person is not possible, you can do a lot of exploring online. Use Google Earth to view your new home, explore the neighborhood, and discover any nearby landmarks. Make a plan to visit these once you move to create something to look forward to.
- Play up the positives. Talk up the perks of the new place. Explain to your child that even though moving can be difficult, it also can be an opportunity to learn new things, such as starting a new after-school activity or making new pals. Maybe the new place has better weather or a really cool children's museum. Every place has something to offer.Be sure to help your child keep the positives in mind if they are having a rough time.
- Keep in touch with your old home. Let them miss their friends back home and find ways to keep in touch with them, such as through online chats, video calls through Skype or FaceTime, phone conversations or letters. A visit to their previous hometown after you have moved can help your child go through the process of accepting the move more quickly.
- Facilitate new friendships. Host playdates and make an effort to integrate the whole family into the new community. Most neighborhoods have parent social media groups that can help you become familiar with the new place. Attend a singalong or other event at the local library to meet and get to know other families of young children in the area.
- Create new traditions. Along with a new home comes the chance to create new meaningful family traditions. Something as simple as an after-dinner walk to the park or a weekly visit to a particular restaurant contributes to a sense of routine and attachment to the new place. Let your child think of a new tradition they would like to implement in your family.
- Be their shoulder to cry on. Be open and honest about your frustrations of moving, and let your child express their feelings of sadness and longing for their previous home. My mom was there for me through all the after-school tears, and all my feelings were considered valid. It was okay to feel angry and sad in the new and unfamiliar place. My parents' acceptance made a world of difference.
Ironically, as an adult, I have also chosen to move around quite a bit with my small children. In hindsight, I now appreciate the impact that all the moves had on my identity and character. Despite the struggles I faced each time my family moved when I was little, I now crave change and the adventure of living in different places. Going through a move, with all its ups and downs, can foster a sense of camaraderie and being in the adventure together. It's all a matter of perspective.
Here in Austin, Texas, the weather doesn't usually drop below 30 degrees. That might sound mild compared to what our friends in the northeast experience, but I'd like to note that our house was built in the 1940s and is poorly insulated. Once November hits, I fully embrace hibernation mode. Cozy sweaters, boots, and cranberry tea are some of my top picks. Oh yes, and candles—I burn through Texas pecan and pine candles like nobody's business. Maybe it's because I grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan, but the happy feelings that winter brings are in my bones.
A few years ago, I saw a meme circulating that spoke of the Danish tradition of "hygge" (pronounced "hoo-guh") and explained why so many of us cling to the cozy during the winter season. The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines "hygge" as "the quality of being warm and comfortable that gives a feeling of happiness." Sounds about right to me. My family has some tried-and-true traditions that foster togetherness and hygge in the cold months of winter. If you love the idea of bringing hygge to your home, check out these tips:
Make and enjoy warm beverages. Hot cider, cocoa, and delicious spiced teas come to mind when I think of the winter season. On cold winter evenings and mornings, cuddling up as a family with a cup of hot chocolate can create a sense of happiness and calm throughout the house. Light a few candles and make the moment last by reading a few books together or separately as you sip on your yummy beverage. Here are a few recipes to try:
- Make Homemade Pumpkin Hot Chocolate. Let the aromas of pumpkin pie, melted chocolate, and warming milk in this pumpkin hot chocolate keep you feeling cozy inside and out during the winter months.
- Try Raspberry Hot Chocolate. Whole raspberries give this raspberry hot chocolate a rosy hue. Faintly pink and incredibly delicious, it is perfect on those cold winter nights..
Create a cozy environment. One of my favorite frameworks to teaching and learning is the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Created by Loris Malaguzzi in Reggio Emilia, Italy, this approach emphasizes the impact the environment has on the child. Malaguzzi defined the environment as the third teacher. If we relate this to our homes, we recognize the importance of creating an environment that sets the mood for togetherness, comfort, and safety. Here are some simple ways you can create a cozy environment for your family:
- Use soft lighting. LED warm light bulbs use less power and create a calming ambiance in the house. Find fun and eclectic lamps at your local thrift store and place them around the house. Use the lamps in the evening instead of overhead lighting to set a cozy mood. We also love to use string lights indoors. Check out Etsy for some inspiration.
- Get some indoor plants. Having plants indoors improves air quality and peoples' moods. We have a variety of cactus, aloe vera, herbs, and other easy maintenance plants like the philodendron in our home. Your child can help you care for the plants and observe the magic of growth.
- Make your own baby food jar candles. Have your child decorate the outside of a baby food jar with glue and tissue paper or paint with glass paints. Come up with creative ideas together, and find safe and special places to put them around your home.
Learn about hibernation. The winter months are a perfect time to teach kids about what some of our fellow mammals do to survive the cold. Here are some resources to start your inquiry:
- Create a Hibernating Bear Den. Many bears hibernate during winter by cozying up in a den to sleep the cold months away. Your child can learn more about bears and hibernating by making their own creative and comfy den. Encourage your child to use their finished den to snuggle up with a favorite book and warm light or lantern.
- Read books about hibernation. Fictional books such as Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman or Old Bear by Kevin Henkes provide children with whimsical and engaging tales of what many bears do in the winter. After reading these books, encourage your child to create their very own fictional tale with a wintery setting and a bear as the main character. Next, teach your kids facts about hibernation by reading nonfiction books like Hibernation by Robin Nelson or National Geographic Kids: Sleep, Bear by Shelby Alinsky. Encourage them to write down three facts they learned and share them with a family member or friend.
Start baking traditions. Eating and enjoying delicious food is a crucial part of getting through the winter months. Here are some yummy recipes that are sure to please your kids and your stomach:
- Throw a Winter Tea Party. Transform your kitchen table into a winter wonderland with a cookie and cocoa party that looks like it has been dusted with fresh snow. Set the table in a snowy style by choosing a cream or silver tablecloth and sprinkle the top with snowflake confetti. Bake some delicious treats, and you're ready to enjoy!
- Bake Apple Bread. Excite your kids by baking delicious apple bread. This moist, sweet treat will have your family or guests asking for seconds--and the recipe!
- Make Baked Apples. If you're looking for a healthy dessert, look no further! Your child can use fresh apples and other basic ingredients to make baked apples the whole family will love. It's as simple as getting out some apples, doing some measuring and mixing, and then waiting patiently to enjoy the results!