How to Choose a Kindergarten for Your Child

Sending a child to Kindergarten is a big transition for the child and for the family. This essay will give you some ideas and direction for your school search process. After each section there will be suggested questions. These will be good to have as you begin your search process.

Before Kindergarten

Is everybody ready?

Child in preschool – If your child is attending a preschool, Kindergarten will include the following three changes:

  1. A new school—This could be a positive change if your child has grown out of the preschool lessons. It can also be scary if your child has been going to the same school for many years.
  2. A longer day—Most Kindergartens in Durham are a full day (meaning 9:00am – 3:30pm). After lunch many Kindergarten classes have a rest time and many kids fall asleep. Going to bed early is very important even though your child is getting older.
  3. More classmates—Many Kindergarten classes are bigger than the average preschool. Depending on the school, Kindergarten can range from 14 to 25 kids in a class. Bigger classes usually have 2 teachers.

There are a few half-day, private Kindergartens. If you have the resources and would like to keep your child in a shorter day Kindergarten, this is available in Durham.

Child in home/caregiver – If your child has been at home with one care giver or in a home day care before Kindergarten there are several things to consider:

  1. Routine—Most Kindergarten classes have a schedule. For parts of the day, all kids do things as a group (e.g. eat lunch, listen to a story). You may want to introduce some of these ideas to your child (e.g. “At 1:00 we will read a story.” “After lunch we will rest.”)
  2. Group Work—Socializing is one the main goals of any Kindergarten. You may wish to expose your child to new peers in anticipation of Kindergarten so that he or she gets accustomed to making new friends and interacting with new people.
  3. Small to Big—Children coming from a home environment will be moving from a smaller to a bigger setting. Not just in the classroom but managing the school as a whole. This can be overwhelming to a child and to the family! Consider visiting your library story time or registering your child for a short class. Some schools offer a summer orientation for in-coming Kindergarteners. These can range from a few days to 3 weeks.

Questions to ask your child’s school

  1. How does the school help kids to become familiar with the format of a school day?
  2. Does the school have a summer orientation available for incoming Kindergarteners?
  3. How big are the Kindergarten class sizes and how many teachers are there in each classroom?

Visiting Kindergartens

The most important thing you can do in your search for a Kindergarten is to get inside of them. All schools will have designated times that parents can come and tour the school. Many have open houses just prior to the time of school registration.

We suggest looking into school before the registration process time. Consider beginning you tour process a full two months after school begins (October for schools on the traditional calendar; September for the year-round schools). This will give you more time to explore and let you see a classroom as it is starting up for the school year.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children has developed this list of 10 signs of a good Kindergarten. Be sure to look and ask about these things as you tour schools.

  1. Children are playing and working with materials or other children. They are not aimlessly wandering or forced to sit quietly for long periods of time.
  2. Children have access to various activities throughout the day, such as block building, pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as Legos, pegboards, and puzzles. Children are not all doing the same things at the same time.
  3. Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend time only with the entire group.
  4. The classroom is decorated with children’s original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and dictated stories.
  5. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. Exploring the natural world of plants and animals, cooking, taking attendance, and serving snack are all meaningful activities to children.
  6. Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Filling out worksheets should not be their primary activity.
  7. Children have an opportunity to play outside every day that weather permits. This play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
  8. Teachers read books to children throughout the day, not just at group story time.
  9. Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Because children differ in experiences and background, they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
  10. Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel safe sending their child to kindergarten. Children are happy; they are not crying or regularly sick.

Public versus Private

Strong Durham Schools is dedicated to supporting Durham public schools. We feel there are a lot of great choices for Kindergarten for your child. In choosing a public school your family can take advantage of many benefits.

  • Resources – Since public school is funded with tax revenue there is not cost associated with enrollment. Throughout the year you will asked to pay for small things like school supplies, field trips and teacher appreciation gifts. Many schools also conduct fund raisers to pay for extra resources. In general the average annual cost associated with school will be around $200. This may increase as a child ages and becomes involved in sports, academic teams and music. Resources that you save on public schools can be used by your family in other ways.
  • Services – If your child needs additional resources so that he/she will be successful in school, public schools are often in a position to provide these services. This can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, special education and physical therapy. As with regular classroom instruction, these services are provided at no expense to the family.
  • Location and Choice – Durham Public Schools offers many options for families wishing a particular kind of educational experience for their children. Some of the schools are year round, while others have a specialized focus on the arts, science, or foreign languages.
  • Transportation – Durham Public Schools guarantees free transportation to all year-round and magnet schools. Students who transfer from one school to another voluntarily are not provided with free transportation, however.
  • Teacher certification – Teachers in public schools are state certified, which means that they have gone through the training required by the state including student teaching and coursework. They are required to hold college degrees and to be licensed by the state. Durham Public Schools also prides itself in its support of teachers achieving National Board Certification. Many public school faculty members have a master’s degree, and have logged many hours pursuing in-service study. On average, public school teachers earn higher salaries than those in private schools do.
  • Activities- Public schools can sponsor many activities. When it comes to offering extra-curricular sports and clubs, academic support, and supplies and learning tools, public schools have many choices. Many public schools offer extra opportunities such as a science fair, chorus or computer club.
  • Peers – Public school is one of the few places in public life that includes people of all races, ethnicities, ability levels, and income levels. Public school students reap tremendous rewards from learning about other cultures and ways of life from their peers. In today’s fractured world, it is a benefit to learn that not everyone thinks, acts, or dresses exactly the same way. In the words of the parents of a Forest View student, “Our children are growing up with exposure to so many different cultures. We believe this will help them succeed in the global economy.” In the words of another parent who appreciates the diverse student body at his children’s school (EK Powe), “Parents who can afford to send their kids to private schools already have the luxury of all the cultural/intellectual advantages they can offer their kids at home, but those children will never learn what it means to live in the real world unless they are intimately socialized with children who bring different experiences. That kind of lesson cannot be quantified. It is a quality deeply embedded in what makes America such a dynamic country. If I had to tell every single story in which I shed tears of joy watching my children among their friends sing songs of freedom, till the land, learn about their communities, discuss the pressing issues of our day, learn to get along, learn to respect each other, learn to enjoy what it means to be a free thinking human being – well, I’d have to sit down a write a book.”

from Ann Rebeck on Wednesday, April 21, 2010