One of the most important decisions you will make as a parent is deciding on your child’s education.

You know your child better than anyone else. You know their strengths, weaknesses, personality and what interests them most. Deciding on what type of school will work best is sometimes the frustrating part.

There are so many types of schools now. Public, magnet, charter, private, virtual and homeschool—so many choices can make choosing the right school a difficult and stressful process. So check out Bear’s Academic Advantage Guide and consider these helpful steps from the U.S. Department of Education as you choose a new school that will bring out the best in your child!

  1. What do you want a school to do for your child? Come up with a list of your child’s needs, strengths, learning style as well as what the family needs. Does your student tend to do better in a more structured or a less structured environment? Does your child need more challenging work or more individual attention? Does he or she have any special learning needs? And for the family, there are transportation, timing and financial aspects that must be considered! Will you walk your child to school? Is there a bus that provides transportation? Does the school require uniforms? Are there extra fees for sports or after school programs? Does the school provide before and after care to fit around your work schedule? Are meals provided or does your child need to bring their own lunch and snacks?
  2. Research the schools. Go to their websites, find public school report cards, make phone calls and go to parent fairs or open houses. Consider things like the style of teaching and the curriculum, enrichment opportunities, extracurricular activities, how this school compares to others with state testing results, learn about their policies on discipline and safety. Visit helpful websites such as greatschools.net or use resources on the U.S. Department of Education website at www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice.
  3. Visit and observe schools! Contact the top schools on your list and schedule a visit to tour the facilities with the principal to see how things operate. At open houses you can find out what staff, parents and students think about the school. Are the staff and teachers friendly and helpful? Is the school clean and modern? Are there art projects or trophies in the hallways and classrooms of previous accomplishments?
  4. Apply to the school(s) you choose. Consider applying to more than one school in case your child isn’t admitted to your top choice. You’ll want to begin the process as early as possible so you don’t miss any deadlines and can enroll your child without encountering any problems. Some schools may have more rigorous admissions processes than others.

For families looking for the best school for their kids, the search can get trickier if they have more than one school-age child. Officials recommend narrowing the field by researching schools according to your child and your child's needs. Then, if possible, visit the promising schools and don’t be afraid to ask questions.