Here’s an article I recently wrote for Modern Luxury’s Dallas Private School Handbook.
As a parent, one of our greatest responsibilities is our children’s education. In some places this is an easy choice; the local public school system is well-rated, or there are only two or three private schools in the area. In Dallas, with over 200 (yes, 200!) private schools in the city and suburbs, we have a myriad of choices at all levels. As parents begin the private school search, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about what’s best for your child.
Once you go beyond considerations like location, tuition, co-ed vs. single sex, etc., what other things might you think about to help you make this important decision? How can you anticipate if your child will thrive in a particular school environment?
First, though it’s easy to be swayed by name recognition and think that the most well-known schools must be the best ones for your child, know that there are many, many good schools in our area. When I’m not seeing clients, I’m visiting schools (over a hundred and counting), and almost without exception, I have found something very positive at every school I’ve toured. Not every child would do well at every school, but many would.
For a preschool-aged child, ask yourself if the mission of the school matches your child’s personality and temperament. For instance, a young child who has trouble sustaining attention and can’t work independently may have a difficult time in a Montessori setting, where students work on their own in self-directed activities. However, for a curious, self-motivated child, Montessori can be the perfect fit because they can explore and satisfy their thirst for knowledge.
With an older child, you might consider whether your child is a match for a very competitive private school. If accepted, would they be ready for a rigorous course load and the homework to go with it? Is their ability in sports, arts, etc., exceptional enough to land them a spot on a team or a role in the school musical? Or would your child do better at a smaller, less competitive school? One where they can play on a school team even if they’re not a fantastic athlete or be chosen for the lead role in the school play because it’s something they’ve always wanted to try? At such a school, there are opportunities open for kids at different skill levels, not just for a small range of kids that excel.
Also, don’t limit yourself to considering only PK-12 independent schools. I get it, the process is stressful, and you want to be “one and done,” but kids make huge developmental gains every year that can significantly impact their educational needs. Even if a child is already in a PK-12 school, I recommend that parents assess their choice every year or so. A school that was the perfect fit for your younger child may not be right for middle or high school. Ask yourself if the school meets their needs and provides the experiences that will keep them on the path that you feel is important. Sometimes a change is needed.
Finding the best fit for your child is the most challenging part of the process, in my opinion. I believe that a child must feel emotionally safe and secure to take risks. If they’re in a school environment that’s not right for them, they won’t have the confidence to try new things, grow, and stretch themselves. Yes, they will make it through, but will their life be as enriched as it could have been if they had been in a setting more in tune with their true essence? It is a complicated process and may feel daunting at times, but with open-mindedness, commitment, and consistent evaluation and reevaluation, you should be able to find the best place for your child to spend their grade school years.
Eleanor Munson, Ph.D. is an Educational Consultant in Dallas. A Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association with a specialty in Learning Differences, Dr. Munson is the only such practitioner in Dallas to focus exclusively on private school placement. Find her at www.eleanormunsonphd.com.