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Tips and Questions to ask on School Tours

Fall is here! That means temperatures are dropping, the smell of pumpkin flavored everything is in the air and trick or treaters will soon be making their way to your door.

If you’ve decided that your child is going to go to private school next fall this is also the season of school tours and applications! woohoo! There are so many different kinds of schools to consider that it can make your head spin. From college prep, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia approach, Montessori or religiously affiliated to name a few. How do you even decide what to start with?

My first piece of advice is to read up on all the different approaches and see which learning style best fits your child. Be totally honest with yourself even if your child doesn’t fit the category you would want them to. When we moved to Portland I had dreams of my daughter attending a Waldorf school but it just doesn’t fit her personality or learning style so then we went with Montessori and while Montessori inspired daycare had been wonderful for her when I was working full time and she was very young it didn’t fit her developing learning style as she got older so I’ve had to adjust and face the fact that she just won’t thrive being barefoot at a Waldorf school or self directing at a Montessori school. No big deal- after all as a parent my job is to help her thrive so I have to find the environment that will work for her.

As I’ve started touring schools I’ve come up with a list of questions. These are some of the things that are important to me for one reason or another. I hope they come in handy for you to use as a starting point so you can make sure to get all of your questions answered. Also, please share if you have any more great questions you’d like to share!! I still have more touring to do!

1. What curriculum do you follow? If you’re in a common core state please make yourself familiar with their standards and what they’re teaching in school. If you’re in a common core state and considering Catholic school know that the Archdiocese is incorporating common core into their curriculum – when, how much and how they apply it will vary from school to school.

2. What specials do you offer and how often? If languages, music, drama, P.E or anything else is important to you make sure the schools your thinking about offer them.

3. How much technology is used in the classroom and how? You also want to consider how it is integrated throughout the grades and how much they use as they get older.

4. How much time do children spend outside, how many times a day? In my opinion the younger they are the more breaks they need but I still think it’s important for older kids to have more than one opportunity a day to go outside and be a kid.

5. Field trips or special class trips. Field trips are more of a regular occurrence at some schools than others and some even do outdoor school or travel across the country or even out of the country together.

6. What high schools do kids go to?  What colleges do graduates attend and what percentage attend college? This question obviously depends on what grade your child will be applying to and wether or not it’s a school that goes through the end of high school. How important is it to you that a specific high school or college is attended afterwards.

7. Which sports are offered?

8. Are any after school activities offered?

9. Are there opportunities for community service and to give back to the community? Think about what you want your children to be exposed to. Do you want them to give back to the community as part of their educational experience?

10. Safety. The scariest question of the bunch but one of the most important. What do they do for lock downs, is there security, how to teachers relay a message to the school if something looks suspicious, how hard is it to get onto the campus? It’s a sad reality of the world we live in today.

11. How are they assessed and how often? Not all schools do formal testing but rely on daily small assessments to learn how students are doing and where they need help and others administer formal tests up to four times per year.

12. Parent participation. Is parent participation required, if so how many hours. If not then what is parent participation like? Do parents actively participate in the school and are they an important part of the school community (besides paying the tuition!)

13. How many students per grade and what is the teacher:student ratio? I went to a very small school and loved it. Having been a public school teacher I also know that when there are too many kids in a class some can get lost with most of the attention being on outstanding and struggling students. Find a number that feels right to you.

14. What are the policies for vaccination. States vary on the rules concerning vaccine exemption and you may be considered “unvaccinated” for opting out of even just one vaccine. Know your rights and how exemptions work in your state.

15. Is there a science lab and at what grade can they start using it? I’ve visited schools where kids start visiting the lab in kindergarten and others that don’t start until 5th grade so don’t assume that your child will be visiting a science lab just because there is one in campus.

16. Do you teach cursive. Sadly (to me) it’s a dying art that’s being phased out of a lot of schools.

17. Do students play musical instruments and are they required to learn a particular instrument?

18. Do the students participate in school productions and if so are they just singing productions or will they have drama opportunities? If your child is interested in drama and the school doesn’t offer any opportunities to pursue this that is something to take into account.

19. How much homework can be expected throughout the grades? You’ll find such a range starting in kindergarten from optional homework, to no homework to hours of it.

20. How many spots are available and how large do you anticipate the application pool to be? This can give you an idea of how proactive you need to be and maybe how many schools you should be applying to.

21. How are holidays celebrated? Not all schools celebrate holidays equally. Public schools nowadays aren’t allowed to celebrate any religious holidays so if a private school you’re visiting isn’t religiously affiliated they might not be celebrating holidays either, and is this something that matters to you?

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