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Is a small school right for your child?

Exploring the potential fit of a small school for several different types of kids


In finding the right school, you’ll need to look at both the school and your child. Here we focus on how certain types of kids fit in small schools, i.e., schools with 200 or less students. 

Specifically, we’ll look at the fit of eight different child types in small schools. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a small school is right or wrong for any kind of child, but to highlight some important child-specific factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids step-by-step advice guide and questions to ask private schools. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account


How several different types of kids fit in small schools

On this page:

Extroverted

If you’re considering a small school for your extroverted child, make sure it offers plenty of social opportunities, including the ability to seek out and interact with different peer groups. Since smaller schools have smaller and less diverse student populations than big schools, it can sometimes be more challenging for your child to find a like-minded group of friends—friends with similar interests, values, etc. 

“It’s important to look at the social makeup of the school,” says Ruth Rumack of Ruth Rumack's Learning Space. "Is there enough variety that your child will have a group that they feel connected with? Because you want to have friends that are like-minded and you want to be in a social situation where you feel honoured and respected. Variety can also be found in extracurriculars, leadership programs, and sports activities, which tend to have kids with a wide range of personalities.”

Also, make sure a school’s teaching and learning approach is suitable for your social child. “For instance, a school focusing on individual learning instead of group learning may not play into your child’s strengths,” say Ann and Karen Wolff, Toronto-based education consultants at Wolff Educational Services. “You want to make sure the social, emotional, and academic realities of the classroom are a match for your child’s personality.”

To access our report on the fit of extroverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Introverted

Smaller schools often have small classrooms and tight-knit communities, which can make it easier for your introverted child to come out of their shell, make friends, and feel like they belong. Since they’re less socially overwhelming, your child should find it easier to navigate their social environment. And since they’re conducive to group work, small classes often have plenty of interaction, which can help your child develop critical interpersonal skills. 

Of course, small schools normally have a less diverse student population than big schools, which can sometimes make it more challenging to find a group of like-minded peers—peers with similar personalities, interests, values, etc. This makes it especially important to ask a school about its extracurricular programs, which can help your introverted child establish an intimate social circle.

To access our report on the fit of introverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Highly focused

Smaller schools with small classes often provide more individualized learning and one-and-one support, which can bolster your child’s concentration. The structure and intimacy of smaller classes can help your focused child engage more fully with their studies. Since they’re conducive to group work, small classes also often have plenty of interaction, which can help your child develop critical interpersonal skills.

Just keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.

Finally, “Small schools often have a family-like feeling, because the class sizes are so small,” say Ann and Karen Wolff, Toronto-based education consultants at Wolff Educational Services. “They form a sense of community across the grades. You get these cross-grade friendships, relationships, and mentoring if it gives certain kids leadership opportunities, something they would rarely have in a larger school.”

To access our report on the fit of highly focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Distractible

Smaller schools with small classrooms often provide more personalized attention and one-and-one support, which often helps distractible kids engage with their studies and sustain their focus. Since they’re conducive to group work, they tend to be more interactive, which your child may find invigorating.

Just keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.

The intimacy of smaller schools and classes can also help your child connect with the student community. “Small schools often have a family-like feeling, because the class sizes are so small,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. “They form a sense of community across the grades, with cross-grade friendships, relationships, and often, leadership opportunities.”

To access our report on the fit of distractible kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Very physically active

If you’re considering a small school for your physically active child, ensure it offers plenty of unstructured social time, such as outdoor recess, during which they can let loose. Since some small schools have fewer supplementals, you should also ask about after-school activities like sports and dance, which can give your child more opportunities to channel their energy in useful ways. Since different kids enjoy different physical activities, ask school staff what’s available, what your child is eligible for, and how they can get involved.

To access our report on the fit of very physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less physically active

If your child is looking to get more physically active, make sure a small school offers plenty of opportunities to do this. This makes it especially important to ask about a school’s extracurriculars—such as team sports—which can improve your child's physical fitness and enable them to broaden their horizons.

Smaller schools often have small and intimate classrooms, where your less active child can work independently and in small groups, allowing them to focus on academics in a peaceful, structured, and supportive environment. With tight-knit, less intimidating communities, small schools can also help your child come out of their shell.

To access our report on the fit of less physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Intensively academically-focused

If you’re considering a small school for your academically-focused child, ensure it offers enough enrichment and acceleration opportunities to challenge them. Make sure it also has plenty of academic diversity in the classroom, where your child can work with, be challenged by, and even measure themself against other academically-focused kids.

Of course, “Smaller schools give kids opportunities to be the ‘big fish in a small pond,’ where their successes and abilities are truly highlighted,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Some kids enjoy this, and this can be a valuable opportunity to develop their confidence and self-esteem.”

To access our report on the fit of intensively academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less academically-focused

Smaller schools with small classrooms often provide more personalized attention and one-and-one support, which often helps less academically-focused kids engage with their work more fully. Since they’re conducive to group work, these classes tend to be more interactive and stimulating.

Just make sure a school provides your child with plenty of opportunities to pursue their passions outside of class—something not all small schools offer. “Research shows that when students have something to look forward to after school, they’re often more motivated and focused during the day,” says Janyce Lastman, Director of The Tutor Group. “This can really help them renew their energy and recharge their batteries.”

Also, keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.

To access our report on the fit of less academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Arts-oriented

Small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning and support, which can give your arts-oriented child the freedom to pursue their creative passions with close supervision and guidance. A smaller student community often means more group work and collaboration, which can enhance learning and enliven the creative process. Smaller schools, especially arts-focused ones, are also more likely to integrate the arts into the general curriculum, something many, though not all, artsy kids enjoy.

Small schools tend to have fewer arts programs, classes, and extracurriculars than bigger schools. Ask what’s available, focusing specifically on your child’s areas of interest and need. For instance, if they’re keen to work on their sculpting skills, find out whether a class is offered during or after school, and whether your child is eligible for it.

To access our report on the fit of arts-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


STEM-oriented

Small schools tend to have fewer STEM programs, classes, and extracurriculars than bigger schools. Ask what’s available, focusing specifically on your child’s areas of interest and need. For instance, if they’re keen to work on their computer programming skills, find out whether a coding class is offered during or after school, and whether your child is eligible for it. Also, ask how they teach problem-solving, instill creativity and innovation, and use technology.

Of course, since small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning and support, they can give your child the freedom to pursue their interest in STEM with close supervision. A smaller student community often means more group work and collaboration, which can enhance learning and stimulate intellectual and creative insights. Smaller schools are also more likely to integrate STEM learning into the general curriculum, something many STEM-oriented kids enjoy.

Just keep in mind the law of diminishing returns regarding class size. While a class of 12 or 15 students can boost engagement, a class of 4 or 5 can reduce it, since there are too few voices and perspectives to generate much meaningful interaction and discussion.

To access our report on the fit of stem-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Gifted

Small schools are sometimes more flexible in meeting gifted learning needs. Make sure a school is willing and able to provide the right learning environment to directly address your child’s learning needs, whether it’s through a segregated gifted class, a part-time withdrawal class, or in-class adaptations such as acceleration or enrichment opportunities.

If your child enjoys learning and competing with other high-ability learners, confirm this opportunity is available. Also, find out whether a school has extracurricular programs your child will find challenging and stimulating.

Finally, “Smaller schools give kids opportunities to be the ‘big fish in a small pond,’ where their successes and abilities are truly highlighted,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Some kids enjoy this, and this can be a valuable opportunity to develop their confidence and self-esteem.”

To access our report on the fit of gifted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Special needs

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of individualized teaching and learning and one-on-one support, giving them the flexibility to accommodate students with a wide range of special needs. Some also provide learning environments that directly address special learning needs, such as segregated classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and integrated classes.

However, “Keep in mind that some small schools only provide support for one special need,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “Ask which special need(s) a school supports, how it supports it, and whether it has teaching staff with the right training and expertise to provide this support.”

Finally, since small schools tend to have fewer resources, ensure they have whatever’s needed to foster your child’s academic, social, and emotional development, such as guidance departments, academic and social counsellors, educational assistants, and assistive technologies.

To access our report on the fit of special needs kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Learning disabilities

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of personalized learning and one-on-one teaching. This gives them the flexibility to support students with a wide range of learning disabilities (LDs), and to actively monitor their progress and development. Some also provide learning environments that directly support LDs, such as segregated classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and integrated classes. 

However, “Keep in mind that some small schools only provide support for one type of learning disability,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “For instance, they may only support dyslexia or language-based learning disabilities." Ask which learning disability (or disabilities) a school supports, how exactly it supports it.” Finally, make sure a smaller school has out-of-class resources to support your child’s development. For instance, if they struggle with decoding language, ensure they have a reading intervention specialist on staff. 

To access our report on the fit of learning disabilities kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Social/emotional issues

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of individualized learning and one-on-one support, giving them the flexibility to accommodate students with a range of social issues. Some also offer learning environments that directly address these kinds of special needs, such as segregated classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and breakout support groups. 

“Students with behaviour/emotional/social issues often thrive in smaller school settings,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “These students often feel a sense of comfort and ease in knowing that all of the staff know them and understand their challenges. They can be supported in a trusting environment and have to navigate fewer social relationships, both with their peers and adults.”

However, keep in mind that some small schools only provide support for one or two social or emotional issues, such as clinical anxiety or depression. Ask which issues a school supports, how it supports them, and whether it has teaching staff with specialized training to provide this support. Finally, since small schools tend to have fewer resources, make sure they have whatever your child needs, such as an on-site psychologist to help them with their impulse control, if this is an issue.

To access our report on the fit of social/emotional issues kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Conventional learner

Some small schools, especially alternative ones, have smaller classes with a student-centred curriculum and an individualized approach to learning. While this benefits many kids, conventional learners often prefer a more traditional environment, with pre-planned units, teachers who deliver whole-class lectures, and lots of structure.

That said, many schools with smaller classes, especially those which offer individualized learning, have the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of learning styles. For instance, if your child prefers direct instruction, textbook-based learning, and graded work—as many conventional learners do—a small school may be able to offer these things.

To access our report on the fit of conventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Unconventional learner

Small schools tend to have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning and independent and small group work. This can enable your unconventional learner to pursue their interests in an engaging and sometimes collaborative environment. It’s also often easier for smaller schools to set up classes of special interest for certain students—such as art history or microbiology—allowing them to pursue unique learning paths.

Small schools normally have fewer extracurriculars for kids to explore passions and develop skills outside of class. Ask what’s available, focusing specifically on your child’s areas of interest.

To access our report on the fit of unconventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Independent learner

Small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning, which can give independent learners the freedom to pursue their interests and explore their passions. It’s also often easier for smaller schools to set up classes of special interest, such as evolutionary biology or musical theory.

Small schools tend to have fewer extracurriculars and supplemental learning options than bigger schools. Ask what’s available, focusing specifically on your child’s areas of interest. For instance, if they’re eager to work on their painting skills, find out whether an after school or lunch program is offered and whether your child is eligible for it.

To access our report on the fit of independent learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Collaborative learner

Small schools with smaller classes offer more opportunities for the kind of group work collaborative learners enjoy. Whether it’s discussion groups, project work, or peer-to-peer teaching, they tend to offer plenty of group activities in an inclusive environment.

Also, “Small schools often have a family-like feeling, because the class sizes are so small,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. “They form a sense of community across the grades. You get these cross-grade friendships, relationships, and mentoring if it gives certain kids leadership opportunities, something they would rarely have in a larger school.”

To access our report on the fit of collaborative learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Anxious

Many small schools have smaller classes with lots of one-on-one support and close supervision to support kids with anxiety (and other emotional issues). 

“Students with anxiety often thrive in smaller school settings,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “These students often feel a sense of comfort and ease in knowing that all of the staff know them and understand their challenges. They can be supported in a trusting environment, and they won’t have to navigate as many social relationships with kids and adults.”

However, some small schools don’t support kids with certain anxiety disorders, especially severe ones. Ask what kinds of anxiety issues a school supports and how it delivers this support. Finally, make sure your child has access to resources they may need in class or out, such as on-site counselling.

To access our report on the fit of anxious kids in several different school types, read our guide.


ADHD

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of individualized learning, structure, and one-on-one support, which students with ADHD tend to require. Some also offer learning environments (and special education staff) that directly support ADHD, such as segregated classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and breakout groups. 

“Students with ADHD often thrive in smaller school settings,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “These students may feel a sense of comfort and ease in knowing that all of the staff know them and understand their challenges. They can be supported in a trusting environment, and they won’t have to navigate as many social relationships with their peers and adults.”

However, keep in mind that some small schools don’t have the resources to accommodate kids with ADHD, especially if it’s severe. Ask what kind of support is available, both in class and out, and how it will be delivered. For instance, “do you have an in-house psychologist to work with my child on their focus and organization?”

To access our report on the fit of adhd kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Autistic

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of individualized learning, structure, and one-on-one support, which students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often need. Some also offer learning environments (and special education staff) that directly support autism, such as dedicated classes, part-time withdrawal classes, and classes with breakout groups. 

“Students with autism tend to do well in smaller school settings,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “These students may feel a sense of comfort and ease in knowing that all of the staff know them and understand their challenges. They can be supported in a trusting environment, and they won’t have to navigate as many social relationships with their peers and adults.”

However, keep in mind that some small schools won’t be able to accommodate kids with autism, especially if a child is on the higher end of the spectrum. Ask what kind of support is available, both in class and out, and how it will be delivered. For instance, “do you have an in-house psychologist to work with my child on their communication and interaction skills?”

To access our report on the fit of autistic kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Dyslexic

Smaller schools with small classes normally provide lots of personalized learning and one-on-one guidance. This gives them the flexibility to support students with a range of learning disabilities (LDs), including dyslexia, and to actively monitor their progress and development. Some also provide learning environments that directly support dyslexia, such as segregated classes and part-time withdrawal classes. 

“Keep in mind, though, that not all small schools provide support for kids with dyslexia,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Consulting. “For instance, a school may only support kids with LDs involving math or numbers (like dysgraphia).” 

Ask whether a school supports dyslexia, and if it does, how it delivers this support. Finally, make sure a smaller school has out-of-class resources that meet your child’s needs. Since your child struggles with decoding language, they may need regular visits with an on-site reading intervention specialist.

To access our report on the fit of dyslexic kids in several different school types, read our guide.

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