You will find the right school for your child

Written by: Cate White

Photo credit: crazybananas/Flickr
One of the things I both love and find infuriating about raising kids in the city of Chicago is school choice. I grew up in a small suburb outside of Boston and you simply went to the school that was assigned to your neighborhood—one of the three that were available. A few outliers went to one of the local Catholic schools, and even fewer attended the private boarding school down the road.
Raising, and educating, children in the city of Chicago is an entirely different animal, but having gone through the early preschool and elementary years generally unscathed I can tell you: Take a deep breath and relax, because it all somehow works out.
I think one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was that I might not get this school thing right on the first try, and changing schools is not the end of the world. Kids are resilient, kids will not remember their 3-year-old preschool friends if that is not who they end up going to school with for elementary school, and it is most certainly okay to make a change if the school is not the right fit—that’s what choice is all about.
Here are what I feel are the top three things to keep in mind when deciding where to send your child to school:
  1. Location – I’m putting this one first because the initial preschool we decided to send my oldest son to was exactly the right school on paper, except it was 3.5 miles from my house. Now, 3.5 miles does not sound very far, but at 8:30am in Chicago rush-hour traffic (even without snow or rain or construction) this is a 25-30 minute commute. My naïve younger self thought this was no big deal. Wrong! This is a huge deal. First of all, getting a toddler out the door is no easy feat in and of itself, never mind his or her younger siblings, then to drive close to half an hour for a two-hour toddler program. No, thank you. Lesson learned. We switched to the preschool we could walk to.
  2. Price – School tuition for both the preschool and the elementary years runs the gamut from free to more than some colleges. The tuition-based preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds via CPS is approximately $14,000 for the year for 2017-18 – for a 10-hour day. If you need that type of coverage during the school year this is an excellent tuition. And, of course, there are many other schools at a lower or higher price point that should work within your budget.
  3. Curriculum – This is another area that I had strong opinions about. Although I did want my children in school at age 3, I did not want them sitting at a desk. I wanted a play-based curriculum for them that focused more on having fun and socializing than academics. Of course, this changed for us for elementary school where I wanted them to be pushed academically, but nurtured socially.
Having been through this process and finally finding the right fit for our family for elementary school, I can’t reiterate enough that although the process can be exhausting, it does all work out in the end.
Our family did not take a straight path from A to Z to find our school but rather meandered through three different preschools and two different elementary schools, running the gamut from public to private to Catholic. Do I wish it were easier? Of course, but at the same time I’m glad I made the changes and found the schools that were right for my kids. Remember, deep breaths.
Cate White, mom to three, loves exploring the city of Chicago with her kids and husband - finding new activities and restaurants to try out. She hates the cold, but loves running along the lake in the summer and of course reading, writing and learning all there is about raising her kids in Chicago. 
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Posted on November 07, 2016 at 8:37 AM