Having your kids help in making decisions about their learning sounds unheard of, especially in a country like China where there is such an emphasis placed on test scores and academic prestige. These are without a doubt important, but it is also the opinion of many in the field of education that there are other factors to be considered.
As parents, and the primary source of all wisdom regarding our children’s needs, we often can get trapped in the process of assuming that we know what’s best for our children while failing to ask them what they think.
As this year’s Beijing International School Expo is focused on themes surrounding innovation, we want to encourage all parents out there considering a change of school or maybe pondering what the next step will be, to find a different and more democratic approach. After all, when children are given respect and some autonomy, they are more likely to make better and more informed choices that will be aligned with the preferences of parents.
We know what you are thinking. There are a variety of factors that go into picking a school, and price and location are a huge part of this that we can’t avoid. While we’re not saying hand over a blank check and hope for the best, we are suggesting that they should be included in the process, and by factoring in their suggestions, you might be surprised at the results.
Here are some ways that you can begin on this journey towards complete educational autonomy.
Being democratic, promoting independence
A way of doing this is to discuss school choices with the child from the start. A simple “What do you think?” can go a long way. Do not start the discussion without the child and then just tell the child what their options are. Let the child be the one actively selecting which schools he or she is interested in, and offer suggestions from a parental perspective.
This includes choosing a school where a child feels he can contribute or take part actively in extracurricular activities, especially if he or she is inclined towards areas like the arts or athletics. More often than not, this sort of inclusion only begins during the process of selecting a university, but starting with this kind of autonomy early on can be great practice, helping to make a more informed decision when it’s time to be shipped off for higher learning.
What’s their favorite subject?
Seems like a pretty basic question, but this simple pry can tell a lot about what your child is interested in and narrow down some of the schools that are the best fit. While most schools may excel in science and mathematics, this might not be the same for humanities.
Schools often strive to be dynamic and flexible to the needs of all children, but you can determine through some questioning that some will be more talented in particular areas. Learning about where the school shines can be key for finding the perfect fit.
How does your child learn best?
As your child develops, it is likely that they’ll know what has been most effective in allowing them to retain the knowledge they are given in class, and also if they prefer a large or small class environment. While large classrooms with less student-teacher interaction are less of a concern for many international schools in Beijing, the style of learning can differ greatly from school to school, especially if you take into consideration all of the innovative forms of education such as project-based learning currently being implemented at many schools in town.
Not just about grades
Part of what makes international schools in Beijing great is that the range of electives and extracurricular activities are, well, international. This means the options for activities that your child can participate in at any given school are pretty extensive and much more varied from what you would likely find in the public school system from your mother country. This provides a great chance to examine your child’s strengths and interests and pick the right environment for them to flourish.
One of the best aspects of extracurriculars in our opinion, besides making for a well-rounded applicant once the college admissions process begins, is that they also provide time during the day which promotes both socialization and the student’s well being. Actively participating in a team or learning a craft can help develop communication, leadership, and creative problem-solving. These are all attributes that institutions of higher learning love to see on college applications.
Let them do the talking
Finally, this is something you can prepare to guide your child as they make the rounds at the Beijing International School Expo, or during the interview and admissions process. Every school’s primary reason for attending is to thoughtfully answer whatever queries you and your child may have. So it may behoove you to prepare a list of questions. Some these might be primarily of concern to you, but also let your child make a list of things that would help to determine whether or not this school is a good match.
Help your child make a checklist of what they would like from their ideal school. Questions about classes and electives offered are a great place to start, but then go deeper by asking about things like campus culture and the school’s facilities. We understand that this requires a bit of maturity from your little ones so it might only work for those about to go into high school.
Watching your child communicate will not only help you to gauge their excitement about the school but will also inform you on the ability of the school to answer these questions clearly.
Make sure to join us Jan 13-14 at the Beijing International School Choice Expo. Find more information here and make sure you register before you attend so we know how many cups of coffee we need to brew!