Choosing a School

A Parents’ Guide & Checklist

Choosing a school for your child’s formative years will impact his/her future happiness and success perhaps more than any other decision you’ll make. No other influence, aside from yours, will have a greater influence on forming the person your child will become.

Your choice of a school will impact much more than your child’s options for college. In elementary school, children develop foundational emotional and interpersonal skills, attitudes, and habits that will either support or impede them in later life.

Young boy at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, California
Parents want their children to be happy and successful. Living Wisdom School has proved that these goals are totally compatible. (Click to enlarge.)

Many private schools emphasize their academic strengths and tout their students’ test scores. However, an individual’s happiness and professional success is determined at least as much by his/her emotional intelligence. (The was eloquently evidenced in Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence.)

Nevertheless, parents tend to judge schools by test scores, and only rarely by how well they develop children’s emotional and social skills.

When evaluating a school, it is easy to be swayed by “numbers” factors, classroom technology, facilities, playgrounds, landscaping, lunch menus, etc., and overlook qualities that will play a key role in determining how well the children succeed in life. This is why we created the “School Choice Checklist” below to help parents compare the emotional and social development practices of candidate schools.

Academics obviously matter, and at LWS we take them seriously. In fact, most LWS graduates score above the 90th percentile on standardized high school admissions tests (e.g., ISEE, HSPT). And most LWS graduates are accepted by the top private high schools in the Bay Area.

Please review the School Choice Checklist, then if you have questions about our school, please give us a call at (650) 462-8150.

We believe a well-rounded education that includes the child’s personal development and a strong foundation in academics is the best combination of influences for success throughout their lives.


Fourteen questions to ask administrators and/or teachers when evaluating schools

1. How does the school actively develop the children’s emotional and interpersonal social skills?

Happens naturally, as part of all activities In-class or after-class
Projects / discussion / training
Specific practices employed throughout each day

2. Are the children taught to be inclusive and demonstrate teamwork and leadership in their play with others?

Told it is good to include others Some structured activities where all children play together Play time is actively monitored; teachers intervene immediately if children exclude others.

3. Are specific methods employed to encourage children to be kind and respectful toward others?

Only verbal encouragement or demands to “be nice” External rewards and/or recognition for good deeds, foster “kindness
Methods to help children value and enjoy being kind; intrinsic motivation fostered

4. Does the school actively help children resolve conflicts “in real time”?

Children punished with time-outs only, or student-negotiated conflict resolution Teachers lead conflict resolutions for physical
fights only
Real-time teacher intervention even for unkind words

5. Are the school rules affirmative, inspirational, and expansive, or merely a negative list of “do-not’s”?

List of “do-not’s” Mixed list of negative and affirmative rules Positive list of qualities to aspire to

6. Are the children encouraged to eat properly during school hours?

Lunch time only, no snacks Snack and lunch times provided Students monitored to ensure they eat their snacks and lunches before play

7. What impression do the teachers present?

Sad, tired, frazzled Okay Happy, energetic, calm

8. What kinds of field trips are offered?*

Day trips only Overnight trips Several week-long trips*

* Extended trips help form deeper connections between students and with teachers.

9. Do the children receive enough physical activity during school on a daily basis?

Lunch recess only Lunch and snack recesses Morning exercises before classes, and lunch/snack recesses


10. Does the school utilize theater plays to help child’s development?

Volunteer play only, limited number of students can participate Every child participates, plays have entertainment themes only Every child participates, plays have inspiring themes based on the lives of great people


11. How are songs and music used to inspire the children?

Volunteer choir sings
current popular songs only
Everyone sings current popular songs Everyone sings uplifting songs


12. To what extend do the children receive public speaking/performance/presentation practice?

Children asked to speak
and present in class
Volunteer play participation and class presentations All students perform in play, give class presentations, and give yearly public speeches


13. Do the children have a morning meditation before classes start?

None, start right in on classwork Quiet time Morning meditation


14. Are the classes multi-grade or single grade only?*

All single grade only Some multi-grade All multi-grade

* Multi-grade classes help children learn to interact naturally with people of different ages.