It’s that frightful time of year again. And I’m not referring to Halloween! We are talking about school tours and admissions. When cheque books emerge and pens are poised to fill out applications while toes are crossed for good luck.
Where to send your mini-me’s (basically finding a second home) is a big deal.
Especially as a new mom the process can be overwhelming and shockingly expensive. Application fees for city (private) schools range from $100-250 each… so you can be placed on a wait list right? How frustrating!
I just finished my round of tours for both Montessori and International schools. Here’s a list of important questions to ask and things to consider that I came across in my own quest to find the right pre-school…
Plan at least a year and sometimes more in advance if you live in a big city! Especially in the toddler level, most moms in Canada finish their mat leave after a year so spots fill up fast. You can request a school tour anytime but open houses are typically in September thru November. Acceptance is usually offered in February when most schools start planning their next year.
What are their payment and cancelation policies?
Schools operate differently than daycares. They typically allow children to start anytime (if there is space) however, there are a few that have “terms” beginning in either September or January. Be prepared to submit post-dated cheques in advance. Most schools have quarterly payment plans. There are some that offer a discount if you pay the year in full or have more than one child attending.
Cancelation is strict. Unlike daycare where you just give 60 days notice, if you move or change your mind, you need to plan way ahead and stop payment sometimes 3-6 months in advance. At my son’s school, once you send in the cheques you will not get a refund unless you find a replacement to fill the spot.
Consider the commute time
There are some great schools located midtown Toronto but we are not quite ready to leave our downtown life (where we walk everywhere) so we prioritized schools that were within 30 mins walking distance.
For schools located further, we did a trial run – mapping out different routes and keeping track of the time it took to get there (in rush hour).
Be realistic! After bribes and threats to get your kids out the door do you really want to sit in gridlock traffic or deal with road closures or people who forget how to drive as soon as snow hits the ground?! Alternatively ditch the car and consider the TTC.
If you drive, is there temporary parking for drop-off and pickup?
Food: To pack or not to pack?
Schools will either ask you to bring your own lunch, offer a lunch program or have an in-house kitchen. Remember to ask if food is included in the tuition and get some sample menus!
What is the Student:Teacher ratio
Typically this is 5:1 for babies and toddler and 7:1 for children ages 3-6. (In US it can be up to 12:1 for preschool.)
Outdoor playtime and physical activities
Check out their outdoor playground. Is there a gym or do they have access to a local community centre? I visited a school with a pool next door and the kids just walked over for lessons. How convenient!
Unless you are a SAHM, who can get to school by 3:30pm pickup right? Signup for extended care (up to 6pm). It costs around $10-12/hour. Some schools bring in teachers for dance, soccer, a second language, etc. At my son’s school, they have yoga lessons. Bonus!
Do they support toilet training?
My son’s school is above and beyond committed to assisting us in this journey… sweat, tears and poop all the way! However, many schools only accept children who are full trained.
Type of teaching
Find out and explore different teaching styles – there are many from Montessori to Waldorf to academic to language immersions and more. Usually you can tell from the website but still ask during your tour. I visited an international school with strong Montessori influences because the director who puts the program together was previously a Montessori teacher.
Not all Montessori Schools are created equal
I would love to hear about your school search experience or any other tips to add to my list!