How to Choose the Right School for Your Kids Before You Move

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There are many factors that go into choosing a new home … the size, the layout, the number of bedrooms and the cost. But if you’re a parent, soon-to-be-parent or a someday-parent, then there’s another thing you really have to factor in: the school.

As a teacher, a soon-to-be mom and a homeowner who just moved to be in the school district of her dreams, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately! When looking for a new home, my husband and I narrowed down the location based on the best public school district in our area. There were plenty of homes we loved that were outside of the exact district lines, but we chose to ignore those open houses so we could concentrate specifically on finding the home AND school of our dreams for our child.

But how do you even go about finding the best school for your child? What information is important to consider? That’s what today’s “lesson plan” is all about!

Consider Private vs. Public

First up, you need to choose between private or public schooling. The primary difference between these two options comes down to funding. Public schools typically receive government funding, whereas private schools charge tuition for each student. Let’s look at how that impacts other critical factors.

The Cost of Schooling

Here’s the 101 on private and public school financials.

Because public schools are financed through federal, state and local taxes, they must follow all the rules set by the government. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to some public school systems being underfunded. For us in the Chicagoland area, the location of the district makes a big difference for how well-funded it is. Obviously, better funded public schools are often found where the average housing costs are higher. Therefore, families often pay extra in housing costs to live in the “ideal” neighborhoods in order to be in the best public school districts. When it comes to admission, by law, public schools must accept all children. And a lot of kids are attending public school … about 90% of children in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Conversely, private schools generate their own funding through tuition, private grants and fundraising efforts. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition fee for private schools is close to $12,000 per year. Often times parochial schools charge much less than that (around $3,000 per year), whereas boarding schools often come with a higher price tag (up to $37,000 per year).

Because these institutions are in demand, private schools can be selective when it comes to admission. This means that the admission process often involves interviews, essays and testing for each student.

The Best Location

But how does choosing public or private affect where you’re going to live?

If you choose the private school route, you’ll have a bit more leeway into where you choose to settle down. But of course, you will want to consider your child’s commute to school every day. Often times private schools do not offer transportation, or if they do, it’s with extra fees, so making sure your child will have a safe and efficient way to get to and from their private school is definitely something to consider.

Public schools are a little more complex. Namely, there are specific district lines that you must live within in order to send your child there. In fact, all districts require proof of residency before you can enroll your kids in a public school. When you’re searching for a new home, often the listing on sites like Zillow and Redfin will include the nearby schools and give a “School Rating.” But if you’re buying a home, it’s always best to call the district to verify, especially because district lines can suddenly change and the real estate site’s information may not accurately reflect this updated information just yet.

Check out a School’s Report Card

Just like kids, schools get report cards too! But it’s up to you to do your homework online to gather all of this crucial info. Both GreatSchools.org and The National Center for Education Statistics offer data for each school district, including information on test scores, education programs, graduation rates, and teacher quality.

When it comes to teachers, there is a difference in certification between public and private schools. Teachers in public schools are usually state certified, whereas teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. They often have subject-matter expertise or an undergraduate degree in the subject they teach, but actually don’t always have to meet the standards that the state outlines for a teaching license.

Also, don’t forget to review the curriculum at the schools you’re considering!

This isn’t always the same between private and public schools. Public schools follow state guidelines, a curriculum that must meet specific standards and common state assessments, while private schools have the freedom to design their own curriculum and don’t always mandate standardized tests.

To get real reviews from other parents about their school satisfaction, you can check out GreatSchools.org. Here, parents write detailed reviews about their school’s curriculum, class sizes and thoughts on the teachers. This real talk may be insightful as you narrow down your top choices.

Consider Your Child’s Personality

But those “report cards” don’t always give the full picture. Because every child is different, be sure to think about the unique qualities and characteristics of your child when choosing a school. The right combination is not always super obvious.

With that in mind, when finalizing your top school contenders don’t forget to review:

  • Class sizes
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Special education needs
  • Accelerated programs
  • Extracurricular activities

Make sure you’re giving your child what they need from their education! Consider questions like these: Is your child introverted? Does she like a particular sport? Does he need special attention or accommodations? Answer these crucial questions about your child while thinking about the list above.

Private schools may have programs for gifted students and can specialize programs to offer extra curriculum surrounding the arts or technology. However, most private schools are not able to fully accommodate students with learning disabilities. Because public schools have a responsibility to teach all students, they often have programs set up and funded just for children with individualized academic or developmental needs.

Extra Credit: Ask the Neighbors

If you’re really interested in a neighborhood and school, speak to parents in that area. This is a great way to gauge the area and see if the parents there are satisfied. If you find glowing reviews from real parents, chances are you can trust that they are doing a stellar job!


When it comes to deciding between private or public school (and choosing a school district), it’s important to remember that it’s a very personal choice for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer. Do your homework, but at the end of the day know that only you can make the best decision for your family.

As for me, even though my baby isn’t here yet, I’m happy to know that when school time eventually gets here we already have our ideal home and school district all planned out for his future. That’s because we did our homework before we started searching for a new home!

House Hunting While Expecting? Don’t Forget About These Things

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As a mom-to-be, I had one thing in mind when my husband and I were recently house hunting while expecting: a space that was ideal for our growing family. We were no longer just looking for a home that was perfect for both of us, but instead, we had to think about our soon-to-be family of three (or someday even more!).

As if house hunting wasn’t hard enough, the “future family factor” can make the process even more daunting. If you’re expecting, or hope to start a family someday, then you’ll definitely want to keep the factors below in mind when searching for the home of your family’s dreams.

Floor Space

The most obvious and non-negotiable place to start is the size of any prospective home. Will it be able to accommodate you and your partner, along with one or more kids? Ask yourself these questions:

Where are the bedrooms located to one another?

Of, course you want to have enough bedrooms, but that alone isn’t enough. Like someone sketching out the perfect blueprint, you’ll want to consider where the bedrooms are located to one another. It’s preferable to have all the bedrooms on the same floor, so they can easily get to their child’s room at night.

Is there more than one bathroom?

Surprising nobody, people will walk away from incredible arrangements if this single factor is off – and it’s no wonder why. Whether this is your forever home or not, multiple family members getting ready for work and school in one tiny bathroom won’t cut it long-term.

Are stairs going to be a factor for you? (Probably.)

Parents who are city dwellers know how difficult it can be if you live on the third floor of a walk-up building. Even after pregnancy, bringing a stroller, a baby and groceries up and down three flights of stairs is quite the trek! Especially if you’re at the beginning of your family adventure, stairs may be a major factor to consider.

Is there an open floor plan?

These days, open floor plans are the most desirable, as parents can keep an eye on their kids playing while making dinner. Make sure whatever layout you choose is one that works well for you and your kid’s safety.

Where are you gonna store extra stuff?

Kids come with a lot of stuff. Strollers, clothing, toys, sports equipment … is there storage space for all of these things in your potential home? Make sure you have a concrete plan to contain the clutter!

Safety Concerns

Even if there weren’t any kids to consider, safety is a priority when house hunting. Add kids to the mix and you become even that much more aware of potential safety hazards that lurk in a potential property.

Is this home near a busy street?

A busy street can be a potential deterrent for a number of factors. First, it may be pretty noisy which isn’t ideal for sleeping babies, trust us. But (somehow) even more importantly, you don’t want your kids playing in a yard that’s on a street with lots of traffic. Here’s a protip: Google Maps highlights streets by their traffic. The darker the color, the more that’s “happening” there. A double-edged sword, to be sure!

What about a fence?

A fence in the backyard or front yard may be a priority for some expanding families, as it allows kids to roam the patio without wandering off too far. If there isn’t a fence (and you want one), budget in the cost of adding one when checking out potential properties.

Can kids play in the neighborhood?

When house hunting, you’ll want to get a feel for the neighborhood. If kids are out riding their bikes and playing in the streets, it may be a kid-friendly spot where your future kiddos can hang with their neighbors. If you want to get a feel for the crime rate, there are definitely handy websites that show you the police blotter for any given area. Your notes shouldn’t begin and end at the front door!

How far are you from your personal doctor or an urgent care/hospital location?

You know that scene in movies where a nervous husband carts his “in-labor-and-about-to-burst” wife into the car before zooming through traffic? Well, planning out where the hospital is not a one-and-done trick. While we hope you won’t be using this route often, make sure where your health insurance is accepted and where you live aren’t majorly out of sync. Speaking of this tip …

Location

Location, location, location. It’s always the number one factor when buying a home of any kind. But throw a kid or two into the mix and where you live is more important than the view.

What’s the school district like?

We’ve chatted all about the importance of house hunting with a school district in mind on the HireAHelper blog before, and we maintain this shouldn’t be overlooked. Do your research, look into the numbers, and make sure you’re in a school district where your children can thrive!

5 Sweet Garage Upgrades That Up Your Home’s Value

Garage additions and upgrades like the five in this list can produce an estimated 65 percent return-on-investment.

How long does it take to get to school?

When my husband was a kid, he had to take a 30-minute bus ride to the other side of town for school every single day. If you don’t think about this before buying, trust us, you will afterward. Can your child walk to school? Can you drop them off on the way to work? Is the bus ride manageable? Even if your kid is far from their first words, this is a crucial variable to think about when searching for your perfect home.

Are there other families in your neighborhood?

When narrowing down locations, it may be beneficial to take a stroll through the neighborhood on a weekend afternoon. Are there young families at the park? Are the kids a lot older? Is the demographic mostly older people without families? Do some research online (like with this app) and get a feel for the demographics of the neighborhood to see if your future family will fit right in. It helps to have a helping hand and a night out once and awhile!

Where’s the closest park/library/swimming pool?

When you’re a parent, you want to keep your kids entertained to prevent anyone from saying the b-word (no, “bored”). Having parks, libraries, swimming pools and other fun activities nearby is always a good idea. Nobody wants to have to make a field trip out of every excursion.


Starting a family. Buying a home. These are big milestones for anyone! But combining these two life events? You’ve got the recipe for a lot of important decision-making. Our advice is to be thoughtful, consider every angle, and think about your life 5, 10, or even 25 years from now. That way, you’ll be certain you’re making the best choice for you and your future family no matter what it looks like.

5 DIY Lifehacks That Make Back-to-School Way Less Stressful

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Going back to school is a time that is filled with all kinds of emotions. There’s some excitement, some anxiety, some uncertainty and even some relief… especially for the parents. But one emotion that is bound to sneak up on both kids and parents as another school year rolls around is stress!

Back-to-school season can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you and your family have systems in place to stay organized. Today we are diving into 5 simple, yet genius, ideas to make back-to-school season as stress-free as possible. We’re confident that even the kids will be excited about some of these ideas and can even get involved to make them happen.

1. The (Real) Carpool Essentials Kit

For parents, back-to-school actually means they are back to being full-time drivers for their kids. Evenings typically consist of carpooling from school, to practice, to boy scouts, and then back to another activity… all while trying to grab dinner somewhere in between.

To cut down on this never-ending chase, we encourage you to add a carpool kit to your car. All you need is a small Tupperware bin and you can add all of the emergency essentials in there for both you and the kids. Here’s some of the stuff we’ve put in ours:

  • Mini Hairspray
  • Spare glasses
  • Band-Aids
  • Advil
  • Phone charger
  • Coin purse
  • Tampons
  • A fork
  • Hair brush

A little time up front to build one of these will save you a lot of stress down the road!

2. The All-In-One Homework Caddy For Home

You thought you were done with school? Well, prepare for the dreaded pile of nightly homework! Wrangling up the kids to get their homework done is stressful enough, but then trying to chase down all of the supplies they need for that night’s assignment is stressful.

To avoid a meltdown, build a homework caddy before school starts. While at the store picking up your child’s school supplies, go ahead and buy an extra, backup set of at least these things: 

  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Crayons
  • Pencils
  • Tape

Then corral them into a portable caddy for home. That way, all of the supplies are in one place and your child is prepared for any assignment that comes their way. Plus, these simple caddies can easily be packed up and hidden in a cabinet, as opposed to all the individual pieces being strewn around, being an eyesore.

3. Hang A Color-Coded, Dry Erase Calendar (For The Kids)

Staying organized is half the battle to cut down stress, especially with all those meetings, appointments, activities and (way too many) social obligations. We love the idea of getting kids involved to build a DIY paint swatch calendar because it’s extremely inexpensive and the kids can personalize all the colors to give them their own meaning. Plus, it’s erasable for all of those last-minute changes. When the kids have ownership in creating and maintaining the calendar, they are bound to be far more invested in keeping plans.

4. Make “The Pantry Pal”

We hate making lunches, so a simple way to make it better is to create various pantry pals. Organize them in whichever way works best for your family, but we love the idea of compiling all of the snack foods into little baggies at the beginning of the week, then adding the baggies into your pantry pal (or a “refrigerator pal” for items that need refrigeration).

Breakfast pal, lunch pal, snack pal… all you or the kids need to do to pack their own lunch is grab a few items from the pre-made assortment of stuff, maybe add a sandwich, then the lunches are ready! This may take some work on the front end of the week, but once the pantry pals are packed, they should be all set for several weeks of lunches.

5. Host an Awesome Back-to-School Night

Usually, schools host an annual back-to-school night for students and parents to meet the teacher and tour the classroom, but have you ever thought about hosting a back-to-school night at your home? A back-to-school night at home, where you invite all the neighbors and classmates, is actually an amazing idea, despite how it sounds.

Why? It can cut down on the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to expect. Put a fun and exciting spin on the upcoming school year, rather than one focused on unknown factors. The kids can compare schedules and make plans for the year, while the parents discuss their excitement, concerns and swap questions.

Hopefully, these five projects will not only keep the kids busy before they head back-to-school, but will also establish organization systems or traditions that will cut down on stress all year long!

How I Managed to Move While I Was 6 Months Pregnant

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Yes, it’s true: I was living with my husband in a one-bedroom walk up when my pregnancy test came back positive. We were both thrilled, but any excitement I felt about the baby’s arrival was dimmed by the depressing prospect of bringing a newborn home to such a small apartment. Despite the inevitable trouble that comes with moving while pregnant, I ultimately preferred those issues over sharing our already cramped space with a screaming baby.

And that’s how I wound up moving while six months pregnant.

The bad news is that pregnancy complicates an already exhausting process. The good news is that I survived—and you can too. Below is how I managed to move into my new place.

Plan to Work During Your Second Trimester

Moving While Pregnant Tip - Plan on Working

The famous real estate mantra is location, location, location, but a positive moving experience (especially while pregnant) also depends on timing.

That’s why you should capitalize on your second trimester.

Most women feel a surge of new energy after the initial morning sickness dissipates. Even if you can’t move into the new house yet, use that valuable energy in productive ways—for example, box up items you won’t need until after the move (like books or holiday decor), research paint options, or just use that time to reserve the moving truck.

Always Prepare for How You Will Feel Later, Not Just Now

Your body and your overall mental state change rapidly during pregnancy. What you feel comfortable with one day, you may dread just a few days later. Welcome to the moving while pregnant rollercoaster.

Early in the packing process, I filled probably a dozen cardboard boxes with books. Even at the time that I packed these boxes, they seemed heavy, but I was largely unconcerned. Weeks later, I was experiencing major back pain—and after having others move the boxes into the house, I couldn’t even manage to push them along the floor to where I wanted them. I had to leave the books scattered in inconvenient locations for days. Anticipate your body’s changes better than I did!

Care for Your Body, Because Someone Depends on It

Moving While Pregnant - Plan for Rest

Your sleep, diet and other health choices impact not just you, but your child too. Even if you feel you are coping well with the strain of moving while pregnant, don’t neglect your physical well-being.

Set an alarm to eat (seriously)

There were days when we spent hours packing or painting or somehow preparing for the move without any consideration for food. With my already decreased appetite, I sometimes forgot about entire meals. But not eating will only make you feel sicker. Before you start a long project, designate a specific time to stop and eat, then mark it with an alarm on your phone.

Prioritize sleep

That includes everything from taking frequent naps to making sure that you have a bed situation sorted for the first few nights in the house. We didn’t leave enough time to assemble our Ikea bed on move-in day, so we wound up on the floor in the living room—not ideal for a pregnant woman!

You CAN Help Moving While Pregnant—Just Not at Your Own Expense

Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to friends and family even if you’re already enlisting a moving company (which I recommend, because honestly.) On moving day, more is always merrier.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help wherever possible

Some may welcome the excuse (or rather, extremely valid reason) to kick back and watch other people work, but if you’re anything like me, you might actually struggle not to jump in and contribute when you see your friends sweating and straining.

Don't be afraid to ask for help when moving while pregnant

Find alternative ways to contribute

I guarantee no one will think you are lazy for not moving boxes—there is plenty to do that doesn’t involve heavy lifting. You can do a deep clean of each room, direct other people about where to put boxes, run out to grab food for everyone helping, etc.

Whatever you do, if you’re moving while pregnant you will likely grow tired quickly like I did, so remember to take frequent breaks.

Overall, the key to survival when moving while pregnant is to embrace the positive aspects of the situation rather than dwelling on the complications. When you’re at your most stressed, just remember that the final outcome will be a home for your baby, where you can create sweet new memories as a family.


The four most important things in Kelsey Down’s life are her coffee, her cat, her dog and her kid. As a first-time homeowner and a working mom, Kelsey loves to tackle topics like home improvement, family life and wellness while finding balance in a chaotic life. She has been published on sites like TODAY.com, Mommyish & KSL. Follow her on Twitter @kladown23.

The Comprehensive Guide to Moving With a Child

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Moving With Small Children is a Big Challenge. Here’s How to Succeed.

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DIY Tips to Win the Super Bowl (Party)

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Okay, it’s confession time. We’re not the hugest football fans, and to be honest, we don’t typically watch a game until February. We’re more focused on the food, friends, commercials and half-time performance than the actual score.

But that just means we know how to throw a killer party. And there’s almost no bigger party than a Superbowl party! We’ve concocted some awesome DIY pro-tips to turn the inevitable get-together that you’re hosting (or going to!) into something memorable – no matter the score.

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6 Things to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy

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Halloween has come and gone, but we’re guessing there may still be some Halloween candy lingering in your household. Your child may have brought back way too many goodies from their trick-or-treating run, or perhaps you simply overbought and weren’t able to fill as many trick-or-treaters’ bags as you anticipated. Either way … you’re probably stuck with a lot of leftover Halloween Candy.

Instead of indulging on stale candy for the next year, we suggest trying one of these six options to help make the most of your sweet stash!

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8 GENIUS Halloween Costumes That We’ll Teach You To Make From Leftover Boxes

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Halloween is just around the corner (18 days to be exact…) and if you just moved in or still have a few moving boxes to unpack, this post is for you! Instead of throwing away those last few boxes, we want to challenge you to up-cycle them into the most amazing Halloween costume that your new, impressionable neighborhood has ever seen!

Yep, forget spending big bucks online or at a costume shop. With a little creativity and some leftover boxes, we are confident you can fashion one of these looks. Check out the tutorials below each image! (Except for Beyonce. There’s only one Beyonce.)

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How Do I Find (and Keep) a Great Babysitter in My New Town?

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People who move to a new location often immediately find themselves with this super under-appreciated problem:

“Hold on…where am I supposed to find a babysitter around here?”

Considering realtor calls, landlord visits, emergency hardware trips and much, much more, there is no doubt this usually falls under-the-radar until maybe even after you’re already moved in. And if you’ve moved away from friends and family who used to keep an eye on things, good luck.

This is why learning about all the different babysitting options goes hand-in-hand with moving. What kinds of sitters are out there? Where and how can I get them? And is there anything special I should know about?

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