It’s a Google age, and we’re trained to gather our information quickly and digitally. In seconds on your smartphone, you can find out what restaurants are nearby, make a reservation and map out a route. You can shop, uncover trivia, follow breaking news, watch videos and more.
But when it comes to finding a school for your child, internet research barely scratches the surface. There’s a certain energy at schools that you feel when you visit and have a chance to see the teachers and students in action. You’re going to need to put your phone away and take a tour.
How can you make the most of your school visit? Here are 7 tips:
Visit on a regular school day
You’ll want to see the school in action, and the best times are during a typical day. Performances, assemblies and end-of-unit activities are important parts of school life, but you need to know how the school functions on a daily basis. Are teachers standing in the front in a lecture style or are they encouraging participation? Do the students seem happy and engaged? What does the school do to accommodate different learning styles?
Check out the furniture arrangement
How teachers set up their classrooms can provide a glimpse into their teaching strategies. Unless Corbett Prep students are taking a test, their desks are usually arranged in groups of four to promote cooperative learning. Teachers give students opportunities to work solo, in pairs and in teams throughout the day. Classrooms may have dividers, allowing teachers to separate students into small teams for certain lessons. Some teachers will carve out cozy reading nooks, or a school might set aside a flexible space for tinkering, creating and inventing.
Look over the decor
Displays of student work will show you what students are studying and the creative measures teachers use. Are they current? Do they show originality? Are they grade-appropriate? You may also see the school’s priorities reflected by what’s on the walls. Posters of colorful grids hang in all Corbett Prep classrooms — part of a schoolwide social and emotional intelligence initiative with Yale University.
Pursue the arts
Arts programs are suffering in many schools, yet research shows the arts has both creative and academic benefits. Studying the arts can strengthen problem-solving and critical thinking skills and lead to higher standardized test scores. Is there a music room or art room? Do students take drama or dance? Ask where and how the arts are incorporated into the school day.
How do teachers talk to students and ask questions, and how do the students respond? You may arrive in a class where the students are working in small groups, and you can observe how they treat each other and take turns. You may come into a Corbett Prep class and hear music — teachers often play upbeat music to inspire or energize children in the mornings or classical tunes to help them focus as they write quietly at their desks.
Visit outdoor spaces
Physical education, sports and free play are important parts of your child’s education. Besides the health benefits, recess and PE provide opportunities for developing teamwork and social skills. Activity can even improve academic performance. What locations are available and how are they used? Are there fields and playgrounds for after care programs as well?
Linger in the parking lot
Parents know what it’s like to be in your shoes. Say hi to the people you pass as you come and go and ask them for their input. They can tell you about how the school encourages volunteering, traditions they love and why they selected this school.
You can find beautiful photos and videos online. A peek at a school’s website or social media accounts will help you learn about a school’s philosophy, history and current news and events. Reviews and testimonials can contain valuable information. But that should be just the beginning of your research. Take a walk through your prospective school and imagine your child there to see how it feels. It’s time well spent.