Parents that have decided to send their children to boarding school sometimes struggle to choose between the excellent options on offer. Amongst the more obvious things to consider are the quality of teaching, academics, sports, facilities and extracurricular activities provided. However the nurturing, family-oriented and inclusive nature of the school community is just as important, although it can sometimes be harder to gauge.

Parents that opt for small boarding communities often do so in light of a big-picture decision and by the benefits that will pay off with it long term. That means more than children learning to do their own laundry and finishing their homework without a parent cajoling them. It is about teaching them self-initiative, to be good learners and navigate various situations that may present to them in ways that day scholars simply don’t face.

One of the missions of boarding schools is not only to educate students, but help them become better-rounded individuals who can contribute positively to the world around them. Small schools that offer high pastoral care and a family environment are often ideal in this regard as they provide ongoing support on a one-to-one basis, which can be extremely important in the absence of parents. Here are some of the things to take into consideration when you research school options.

High pastoral care and family environment 

Leaving the family home is never easy, but going to a boarding school can be good preparation for university when a move often becomes imperative. Living in a boarding school environment is a good way for students to learn to cope with life, interact in healthy ways with their peers and prepare for a more independent life, all under the watchful eyes of teachers. While teachers at most schools are there primarily to direct students in their academic lives, at boarding schools they also take on a mentor role and are often called on to assist with a wide range of issues in the student’s life.

All children are known by a member of staff

Public schools can have large class sizes where students can easily become lost in the crowd. At a boarding school the class sizes are normally a lot smaller and, given the intensity of the school and boarding environment, students quickly become known by their teachers as distinct individuals. This enables all students to be recognised participants both in and outside the classroom.

Individual support and growth

Boarding schools can be incredible catalysts for personal and moral growth in students. At schools such as Indian Mountain in Connecticut, USA, students are celebrated for all of their talents, and supported in ways that encourage emotional growth. Living in a community means learning how to get along with everyone and respecting the different values and ideas people have. Students also learn the consequences of their actions and how to become responsible citizens. There are often numerous opportunities that come up in boarding schools for students to challenge themselves, reach their full potential and develop a sense of independence in their daily lives. Their adherence to a code of conduct and the various lessons they learn at boarding school also helps lay foundations for their future life.

Home family feel

Most students that attend boarding school make friends for life and often describe their school as “a family”. These friendships and network of friends and contacts help make each individual feel valued and cared for. This community can often last well into adult life as alumni tend to share a distinct and unique history with other people that understand and affirm them. Boarding school alumni also tend to be very proud of their school and usually seek to remain connected once they graduate.

Below are five international boarding schools in North America that pride themselves on the highest levels of pastoral care for their students:


Indian Mountain School (IMS) is a coeducational junior boarding and day school for grades pre-kindergarten through to 9th in Lakeville, Connecticut. In line with IMS’ motto “life through service”, the adherence to values such as honesty, compassion and respect permeates the school philosophy where faculty are engaged in educating the whole child. The school provides an excellent academic foundation for students, enabling them to place highly at secondary schools in the US, whilst also encouraging them to live and work with others, find their voice, identify their strengths and talents, develop leadership skills, and engage with the world. The IMS boarding community provides an environment for students to explore who they are and how they can contribute to their peer group and beyond. Weekly activities are designed to take advantage of the mountain location, cultural events and destinations on the school’s doorstep.


The St. John’s-Ravenscourt School (SJR) is an independent, co-educational kindergarten to grade 12 day and boarding prep school in Winnipeg, Canada. The importance of literacy remain at the heart of SJR values, but so too the need to develop fully functioning members of society that have 21st century fluencies such as critical thinking, creativity, global awareness, and collaboration and entrepreneurial skills. Boarding offers students a home-away-from-home experience with plenty of time for academic endeavours and co-curricular activities such as concert bands, music lessons and debate programs. Grade 11 and 12 students can also opt to enrol for a term in the boarding program to immerse themselves in the life and facilities of SJR and prepare for life after high school.


The White Mountain School (WMS) in New Hampshire is a college preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9-PG. At White Mountain they believe in keeping their community small so teachers and students forge deep, lasting relationships and every individual is valued and recognised. The average class size is 10 students and the overall student-to-faculty ratio is 5:1. Dedicated teachers, a strong community and a belief in individual passions are the fundamental elements of the school. White Mountain also has signature programs such as student-directed learning, off-campus study, outdoor education and sustainability studies that set it apart from other schools.


Riverstone International School in Boise, Idaho is an independent day school with programs from preschool through Grade 12. It is also one of only a handful of schools in the United States to offer all three International Baccalaureate programs at Primary, Middle Years and Diploma level. Riverstone has just 325 students across the three levels of school and is proud of its small class structure. The overall emphasis at the school is on getting to know students and nurturing their academic and personal development. Community service programs, outdoor education and international understanding are some of the activities that extend beyond the curriculum for students to forge lifelong skills to succeed both at Riverstone and life beyond school.


High Mowing is an independent, private, co-educational boarding and day high school in Wilton, New Hampshire. Its location on farmland in a home that became a school is telling, as High Mowing is still a home that today serves as an interactive classroom. Students here enjoy the tight-knit learning and living community that teaches tolerance and acceptance. The curriculum at High Mowing is arts rich and embraces the surrounding woods and nature. The unique high school program includes 150 minute-long morning block classes and intensive electives in the afternoons to allow for the fullest possible immersion in subjects and disciplines. Close and warm relationships are encouraged in the dorms and counsellors and families live in the apartments in each of the two facilities for boys and girls. Other faculty families also make their homes on campus, share meals with the students and spend time with students outside the classroom.

Images via Indian Mountain School