What do parents REALLY want to know about daycares and schools? Guest Blog by Karen Young Chester of www.theshortylist.ca/

The Shorty List From the moment your child is born - nay, conceived - the race is on. The clock is ticking and you’re frantically looking for daycare space, researching preschools, hunting for the right elementary school. Some parents use the scattershot method of applying willy-nilly for every facility and school within their proximity. Others comb through reports and test scores. I’ve always found that one of the most valuable approaches is talking to other parents. Small talk at the playground often reveals the kind of important but unquantifiable information impossible to find anywhere else. Opinions and anecdotes provide the extra - and human - dimension to a school or daycare’s profile.

After years of loitering around playgrounds, I started developing The Shorty List website to bring the conversation about Metro Vancouver daycares and schools online, as well as collate information such as statistics, satisfaction surveys, and test scores. Through the convenience of the web, parents will be able to share their valuable experience with other parents by reviewing daycares, preschools, and elementary schools. The website will include personal comments, for example, a note on how a caregiver is developing your child’s confidence or an observation on how a school encourages an anti-bullying atmosphere - these kind of stories and reviews help other parents make the demanding choices for their children.

There are countless details that parents would love to know about a particular daycare or school. If you’re writing a review, you may consider some points which parents are probably the most curious about:

1) What’s the atmosphere like? It’s an unThe Shorty Listtangible quality but an insider parent may be able to put their finger on what it’s like through the doors of a school or daycare. Are children running like a pack of hellions or is it as quiet and peaceful as a church?

2) What is the space like? Is it bright and light or dark and gloomy? What kind of facilities does a school have - a gym, computer room, good outdoor playspace? For a daycare - what kind of toys, activities, sleeping and eating areas are provided?

3) What is the teaching philosophy? Is the school known for emphasising academics, or maybe sports or the arts? Does the facility follow a particular method - for example Montessori, International Baccalaureate, Waldorf, or Reggio Emilia?

4) How do the caregivers or teachers discipline? What are the rules and what happens when a child transgresses the rules?

5) Fees? If this is a daycare, preschool or private school, how much are they going to ding me? Are there any tips for finding scholarships or bursaries? Are there sibling discounts?

Besides the sharing of information between parents, there are more online resources out there for daycare and school research.

If you are looking for daycare, preschool, or afterschool care, The Ministry of Children and Family Development have a very useful searchable database http://childcareinfo.gov.bc.ca/childcaresearch/search.aspx.

Parents looking for statistics and test scores for elementary schools can check out The Ministry of Education reports for public and independent schools here http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/reporting/school_data_summary.php.

If you are interested in the much-debated school ranking reports, the Fraser Institute publishes one every year http://britishcolumbia.compareschoolrankings.org/ChooseReport.aspx. The CD Howe Institute has recently published a school ranking report which takes into account the socio-economic differences of student populations. http://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/BC_2010_SchoolPerformanceIndicators.pdf

With more and more information being available on the web, including parents’ opinions, the online discussion about daycares and schools will be expanding and engaging our families. I encourage you to join the conversation - listen to other parents’ insider tips and provide some of your own.

However, as much as I hope some of the conversation will shift from schoolyards and playgrounds to the convenience of your computer, nothing really beats getting involved in real life. The facts and tips you find online is a good place to START but the relationships you create offline will be the best place to continue the conversation. If you’re finding out about a school or a daycare, it’s essential that you check it out yourself, chat with the teachers, and get a feel for a place.

If your child is already attending a facility or school - participate in the class, help out, and get to know the other parents. Hopefully, conversations about our children’s care and education online will lead to increased engagement in real life as well.

Bio: The Shorty List is currently a website for parents (and staff) to write reviews about Metro Vancouver daycares, preschools, and elementary schools. It will officially launch in the fall as a comprehensive site about Vancouver daycares and schools which will help parents make the demanding choices for their children.

The site will provide hard facts about schools and facilities such as statistics and test scores, and most importantly, include real-life comments and reviews from parents and staff members. The Shorty List was started by Karen Young Chester whose interest in the childcare process was originally piqued when a daycare pronounced that registering her 5 month fetus on their waiting list was "waaaay too late"