As parents we intuitively know that to raise happy children we can’t leave childhood to chance. We know that each year is precious, and this is reflected in the great investment we make in choosing the right schools. Finding that school, however, is no small feat. On her first day of preschool, our daughter (apparently lacking preverbal communication skills), bit a classmate and then announced resolutely that “this was my first and last day of preschool!” Fortunately, our little biter is now off to UCLA to study biology, but this leads me to reflect on how we navigate the sometimes bumpy road from chomping-preschooler to compassionate and respectful young adult; one who is now a self-directed learner, an analytical and creative thinker, and one who can confidently tackle life’s obstacles.

We invest incredible thought and finances into preschool, and the costs for our college-bound children are staggering. But what about the choices we make during those years in between? Although it is counter-intuitive, we often tend towards passive decision-making, despite the fact that the stakes are greatest between ages 5-18. In fact, it is during these years that the trajectory of their analytical skills, creativity and social emotional growth are deeply influenced by their environment. Choosing the right school during this time, perhaps more than any other, can have the greatest impact on our children’s future.

As we explore colleges we ask: “Will the environment support my daughter’s ability to flourish intellectually?” “Will my child feel a sense of belonging?” “Will his interests and uniqueness be celebrated and full potential be encouraged?” These are fundamental questions we ask when we are considering colleges, because we are looking for the greatest return on our investment; undoubtedly, we should be asking these very same questions as we begin elementary school, and throughout childhood.

Every year is a new beginning and as we reflect on the school year that is coming to an end and the possibilities for the year to come, let us ask ourselves if we are leaving childhood to chance.  _

Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. Published Jlife 2016.