“I Spy:” School Tour Edition

Touring a prospective school is one of the best ways to get a sense of whether the school is a good fit for your family, and while you’re on the tour, there are 10 key factors to watch for and take note of. Think of it as playing “I Spy” for the private school admissions process (and you thought it wouldn’t be fun!). We turned to admissions directors at nursery schools and private on-going schools, as well as savvy local education consultants, to determine this handy checklist.

1 . Engagement in the Classroom

“When you visit classrooms ask yourself: ‘Are the students and teachers engaged?’ Also consider how the physical space has been designed to facilitate the best possible teaching and learning.” –Paige Murphy, Head of Admissions and Communications, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School

2. Results of the Curriculum on Display

“[Ask yourself]: Are the displays reflective of children’s work? Is the work displayed in ways that are respectful to the children who created it? Is there any context provided for the work on display?” –Michael Luft, Preschool Director, 14th Street Y Preschool

3. That Magic Feeling

“You’ll want to have a good feeling when visiting schools. Many parents tell us that they often immediately know, in their gut, when they have found the perfect school because they got ‘the feeling.’ We encourage you to look for that as well!” –Ashley Warren, Director of Admissions, Montclare Children’s School

4. Accurate Representation

“A disconnect between what a school says about itself and what you see on a tour [would be a red flag]. I’d also be wary if students or teachers looked bored or unhappy, or if visitors aren’t able to talk with students or teachers on a tour.” –Andrew Hume, Director of Enrollment, Calhoun School

5. Authentic Action

“Please keep in mind that school tours are planned to highlight what they want you to see, but keep your eyes and ears open for unplanned action ‘behind the scenes.’ It doesn’t have to be a negative—you might come upon a classroom discussion or a hallway interaction that gives insight into how the community works.” –Christine Rogers, Director of Outreach and Enrollment Management & Terri Huggins Decker, Associate Director of Outreach and Enrollment Management, The Cathedral School at St. John the Divine

6. Features You See Your Child Loving & Learning From

“Approach the tour knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and look for signs that the school can bolster each. Is your daughter in love with science? Look for STEAM initiatives and inquiry-based learning. Does your son need help with math? Make sure the school can customize instruction and provide the support he needs.” –Hope Mueller, Principal, St. Ann, The Personal School

7. Quality of Facilities

“Parents should look at the size of the classrooms, and what art is on the walls, for example. Are the classes bright, light, and clean? Find out how the learning experience unfolds as the children get older, so you get a feel for your child’s complete school years.” –Martine Lala, Director of Admissions, Lycée Français de New York

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8. Quality of Staff (Beyond the Principal & Teachers)

“You want to feel comfortable with the administrators and faculty at each preschool program to which you apply. Make sure that you have a positive ‘gut instinct’ reaction to these people, as you want to feel safe and comfortable leaving your child at school.” –Erica Papir, Educational Consultant, Smart City Kids

9. Does it Meet Your Needs?

“It is important to look for representation of the areas on your shortlist—do you see evidence of the approach you are looking for? Are there independent accreditations in place to reassure you of the quality of the program?” –Jason Morrow, Headmaster, The British International School Of New York

10. Positive Teacher-Student Relationships

“[You should look for] warmth and wonder in the relationship between teacher to student—is there an atmosphere of mutual respect between children and adults?” –Matt Bateman, Director of Research, Polis Montessori World School