The art of teaching has, over the last 250 years, changed considerably in US public schools. The best public elementary schools know how to change with the times, adapting to new technologies and to the ever-growing needs of their communities.
Primary school is a critical developmental period for children ages 6–11. During that time children acquire their sense of identity and competency. Their self-image is shaped by their expanding abilities, and (aside from parents) much of this knowledge derives from interaction with their teachers and peers.
Faculty is crucial for a great elementary school. Teachers are needed who understand the developmental milestones that children face, and who work alongside trained professionals developing strategies for those who may be struggling.
Though test scores were factored into our Best Elementary Schools ranking article, a great school goes beyond blue-ribbon academics. The best elementary schools know that their students are more than just empty brains waiting to be filled. Academic achievement—though important—is not the ultimate end goal for learning. A student’s social, physical, and emotional wellbeing are just as important, if not more.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to form connections, essentially wiring itself for the future. Research has shown that neural development is most active before the age of 11 (12 for boys). Strongly cultivating these connections will set the stage for future learning that extends far beyond the classroom and into adulthood.
Extracurricular activities play a vital role in developing the constantly changing brain of children. Research has shown that artistic training strongly correlates to both personal and academic benefits. Music education aids students in areas like language development, spatial-temporal reasoning, verbal memory, and even math. In fact, the National Association for Music Education found that students actively involved in music scored an average of 85 points higher on the SAT!
Involvement in theater can help develop children’s speaking ability, interpersonal skills, and the capacity to express emotion, all of which are crucial for developing into happy, healthy adults. Art education develops fine motor and problem solving skills. Furthermore, Americans for the Arts discovered that students who were involved in artistic learning were 5 times less likely to drop out of school. A Mississippi Statue University research study concluded that “classroom arts integration can reduce or eliminate educational achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students.” That is huge!
Physical education is important for the lifelong health of the individual. Research has shown that physical activity during childhood induces structural changes within the muscles that are maintained into adulthood, even if the individual hasn’t maintained the same level of activity. Muscles actually keep a “record” of past fitness levels which can last indefinitely, hence the phrase “muscle memory”. Healthy physical fitness as a youngster gives the body a baseline for the rest of their lives, and makes living healthy and staying in shape easier as an adult. Beyond the physical benefits, actively engaging in physical activity during the school day has been strongly correlated with increased focus, a vital aspect of learning.
A good elementary school will help your child succeed in academics. A great elementary school will devote resources to developing your child as a well-rounded individual. The best elementary schools excel at both. And without further ado, we would like to tip our hats those we’ve found to be the best elementary schools.