School just started, but the application process for many private schools is already beginning for next year. In this Parent to Parent, Anoo Padte, an "education coach" with the art of education, talks about choosing the right school for your child.

What matters most for a child in a school?

Parents can pay attention to these factors. Does your child get attention and feel like she belongs. Strong relationships with teachers and peers help her feel safe enough to take on challenges.

Your child should feel competent and find things of interest. The work is at grade-­‐level, is clearly defined, is developmentally interesting. Your child feels like she is making progress. She finds something of interest that draws her to school and builds her confidence.

Look for a good partnership between the school and home. School work is valued and supported, parents receive information on a regular basis and are involved in the school.

What about public versus private?

Parents choose public and private schools for different reasons.

Children that attend a public school get a sense of community that is strong inside and outside the school, the chance to work with children from diverse backgrounds. Public schools have no tuition and lower fees.

Parents choose private schools for different reasons. Some reasons are – smaller class sizes that can lead to better teacher attention, specialty offerings, programmatic focus on social, environmental or global issues and religious affiliation.

What should we look for when we visit a potential school?

When you visit a school, you will be taken on a tour of the school while it is in session. Some elements of a school can give parents useful information about whether it will be a good match.

Look for what is on the walls. School walls tell stories. They represent what is most valued in the school.

Observe the materials being used. Every child is unique and each learns in her or his unique way. Classrooms that have a variety of materials can be indicative of such responsive to different children's learning needs.

Note the schedule. Look for balance between seat time and play/recess. Notice whether it has on it academic subjects or specialist subjects like PE, Library, Technology, Art, Music that connect with your child's interests.

Evaluations, assessments and homework. What is the purpose of the assessments? What is the impact of the assessments on your child's learning? How much homework is a child expected to do on a daily and weekly basis. What support is provided to make the homework meaningful and manageable?

What tips do you have for parents trying to choose the right school?

Start early: I think it's a good idea for parents to start looking at schools, at least by themselves early in the Fall of the year before they plan to enroll.

We have some fantastic community resources. Parent Map, is putting on a great education extravaganza on October 11 where many of the areas schools will be present. That is a great avenue for parents to get to know many schools in a single setting.

Know your options: I think it is important for parents to get to know schools and understand the full range of their options. Parents choosing public school education have many more choices than they always know about. Private schools often offer financial aid.

Talk to other parents: Other parents in your situation have the same kinds of questions you do and talking them might help you consider aspects you haven't. Talking to the parents of current students at a school can help you get an deeper sense of what your own experience might be like.

Visit schools: You can visit all schools – public and private. Most visits happen while the school is in session. Seeing a school in action can give you an invaluable feel for how it might actually work for your child.

For more information on this topic, go to the Art of Education and ParentMap websites

You can learn more about choosing the right school and other hot parenting topics at ParentMap's Education Extravaganza next Tuesday, October 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. It's free to the public.

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