When is Private School ‘Worth It’? Experts Say the Earlier the Better

Research shows kids benefit long-term from high-quality early childhood education. Experts from Cranbrook Schools weigh in on why it's so valuable.

When’s the best time to start your child in private school?

If you have to ask that question, chances are the answer is now – or as soon as you can.

While top-tier private schools are a natural go-to for the middle and high school grades, a growing body of research suggests students could be missing out when parents settle for less early on. That’s partly due to children’s rapid brain development and elasticity during their first five years of life.

“You’ve got this really golden window of opportunity to make a lasting impression on a child as a learner,” says Karen Watson, director of the Vlasic Early Childhood Center at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills. “It’s an opportunity you don’t want to pass up.”

The benefits of high-quality early childhood education go far beyond academic gains. In addition to being better prepared for elementary school, kids in enriching pre-K programs that emphasize social-emotional learning also enjoy long-term benefits into adulthood both personally and professionally.

“Being able to share ideas, how to communicate effectively and persuasively – those are all skills that if you don’t have those, if you can’t work with other people, if you can’t be flexible and have a tolerance for frustration, it doesn’t matter what your reading level is,” Watson says.

Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child has found that kids’ executive functioning and self-regulation skills must be carefully supported in early childhood programs; kids aren’t born with these skills, researchers point out.

“Here at the Early Childhood Center, we really think of our role as creating an environment where children are literally learning how to learn,” Watson says. “While a lot of programs will focus on those early academics, and that’s important and certainly part of what we do, we really think of our job as guiding children in developing ways of thinking, how to work together, how to collaborate, and how to cultivate those soft skills: problem solving, critical thinking and social learning.”

More schools are finally recognizing how important these skills are – and it’s a welcome change in the right direction, says Teresa Coleman, assistant director of Cranbrook’s Early Childhood Center. The same goes for an increasing focus on hands-on, project-based curriculum with teachers learning alongside students instead of lecturing.

“It’s very exciting to see that being embraced at older ages,” she says. “Those are things that have always been a real hallmark of early childhood education.”

Another piece of an ideal educational foundation is a love for learning, which should start in preschool and continue through each grade.

“Cranbrook is a very happy place for children,” Coleman says. “It’s a very joyful, playful place here; some people call it magical. The children skip into school and there’s a lot of laughter and singing. I think the younger you can set up that great attitude, the better.”

It’s all part of why experts say getting your child into the right educational setting – from the environment to the teaching style, curriculum and everything in between – shouldn’t be left for the upper grades or considered not “worth it” until then.

“In an ideal world, you are investing in those early years because those are the years that are going to make the biggest long-term impact. Kids are going to be more successful in college and in life if you have invested early on,” Watson explains. “The cost-benefit analysis is in favor of investing early.”

And from a logistical perspective, starting your child’s private education in preschool secures his spot for future years and prevents issues transitioning to a new environment at a later date.

“One of the benefits of starting early is that ongoing and continuous experience. Having a school that serves 3-year-olds all the way through high school seniors, we’re able to see the whole continuum of the child’s education and really plan appropriately,” she adds. “It’s that foundation that you’re building and without it, you can send them to the world’s greatest high school but if they’re not prepared to be really successful there, then you’ve missed that window of opportunity.”

For more information on Cranbrook’s early childhood center and other programs, call 248-645-3000 or visit cranbrook.edu.


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