Searching for a golden age

Experts discuss a best age for private school

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There is no standard issue kid. Parents know their children are one-of-a-kind, so determining the best age and stage of their lives to launch their private/independent education can be a complex matter.

We asked the experts to dish out everything parents must consider when making this crucial decision for their children.

Barbara Coloroso, author and parenting guru

What makes your child special?

Parents should consider the uniqueness of their children as individuals, how they are navigating their developmental milestones, as well as their own vision and philosophy for their kids' educational experience, says Barbara Coloroso, an internationally recognized author and parenting guru.

"There is no magic age in general. But there may be a magic age for your child," Coloroso says. "You need to look at your child's gifts and their needs. Where are they now? What is their situation?"

Go natural

Although there is no simple answer as to when is the perfect time to send your child to a private school, Coloroso says, there are some general rules of thumb parents should consider as to the timing of enrollment.

"Natural breaks are the best time. The middle school years are a natural transition. I don't recommend switching a child in the second or third grade in the middle of the primary school years," she says.

Tough times

However, there is one important exception that parents should always keep in mind.

"At any time, if your child is child is experiencing ongoing and unresolved problems, with issues like bullying for example, parents should consider another schooling option," Coloroso says. "If your child's needs are not being fulfilled you should look elsewhere."

Fitting in

More importantly than asking when to send your child to private school, is the question of where to find the right fit, Coloroso explains. The answer of where you would like to see your child educated can help answer the question of when to send them.

"If it's a school where kids have typically been there since first grade and stay right through to Grade 12, then sending a child there starting in middle school might be a problem, unless the school climate is very welcoming and inclusive of new students," she says.

"Regardless of when, you're looking for a school for your child that will be deeply caring and incorporates all that the child is and can be."

Dr. Esther Cole, psychologist

Focus on your vision

Toronto-based psychologist Dr. Esther Cole agrees that parents should consider their vision and goals in deciding when and where to enrol their child in a private school.

"It's important that parents plan ahead and take a long-term view of their child's education." "If a parent wants to send their child to a bilingual school, you can't parachute your child in five or six years down the road. Parents have to consider what they're looking for, what feels right for their family and their child," Cole says.

Size it up

"Parents might ask: What am I gaining by sending my three or four-year-old to private school? If your child tends to be timid, anxious and requires a lot of attention, then the smaller class setting of a private school at this point may better prepare your child for the future," Cole says. "You have to focus on who your children are and the outcome you want for them."

Common sense solutions

Parents should also keep in mind that there are some practical considerations in deciding when to send their child to private school, Cole says.

"Some schools they may want to consider might have waiting lists for particular grades or certain points of transition. There may not be an entry point in Grade 4, for example," she says.

"If children are starting an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in Grade 9 are they going to be able to cope if they haven't had a similar academic background? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed."

The complexities of older children

As children get older, Cole also points out, they need and will likely want to have more input in schooling choices. Parents have to carefully consider the implications of moving a child into or out of a private school at this stage.

"Keep in mind that an adolescent might have their own vision of what they want to do and may not want to change because of fear of losing their friends and not being able to adjust to a new school," Cole says.

"You have to consider how children are going to adjust. In making the switch at a given point are children going to feel excluded socially?"

Ruth Ehrlich, education consultant

The middle years

Education consultant Ruth Ehrlich stresses that it is vital to consider the nature of the individual child in making such an important decision. But she has her own opinion about which stage is best.

"If there are no big concerns about academic ability, learning issues or motivation, I'd say wait until your child is a little older and they have begun to discover their own interests, which usually comes at about age 10," Ehrlich says.

"A good time is around middle school. You know your child better and can likely make a better choice. If your son is not athletic, you're likely not going to send him to an all-boys school with a strong focus on sports."

Making exceptions

However, Ehrlich points out that learning difficulties or other developmental exceptionalities, including giftedness, might come into clearer focus at around Grade 3.

"If there are issues of concern you may want to consider sending them at Grade 3 to a school where they will have the opportunity of smaller classes and more individual attention," Ehrlich says. "Class size is a huge issue for me. Most kids are going to do better in a smaller class environment."

The answer from within

"There are lots of good things about private education. But you have to consider your priorities and motivation for sending your child to a private school and this will help you resolve the questions of when and where," Ehrlich says.

Malkin Dare, president of the Society or Quality Education

The importance of the early years

Malkin Dare, president of the Society for Quality Education - an Ontario-based advocacy group striving to improve the calibre of education and schooling choices for parents-says she strongly believes that the best time to make the investment in your child's education is generally in the early primary years. She suggests that Grades 1 to 3 or even in the preschool years.

"If kids are taught properly in the early years and become strong readers, I think they are 95 percent certain to succeed later on," says Dare, who is author of the book How to Get the Best Education for Your Child.

"I am a reading tutor and I have found that it is very difficult to remediate the situation for a child who has not learned to read fluently by Grade 3. In the early years a good private school can set children up with the strong reading, writing and arithmetic skills they will need going forward."

Dare adds that she sees benefit to starting kids at even three or four years of age on a solid academic footing.

"They just seem to absorb and internalize information at this stage," she says.

In the end, experts, agree that there is no single magic fit or age that is best to send a child to private school. Parents know their children best and this knowledge is their greatest ally. They should rely on their inner wisdom to help guide this very important schooling decision.

"Trust your own gut-your own sense of what is good for your child," says Barbara Coloroso.

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