Choosing the right boarding school for your child can be a daunting experience. Not only do parents often struggle to work out the right balance between school size and pastoral care that won’t limit their child, they also need to find the right educational environment to suit them. Yet fear not, choosing a small community boarding school can open up big opportunities for children.

“Everybody is a big fish in a small pond, integral to the life of the school athletically, academically, socially,” says Joanne Carruthers, president of the Small Boarding Schools Association. “In these really formative years,” Joanne adds, “students learn to understand the impact they have on their world.”

So how to define a small boarding school? While schools in the boarding sector are generally much smaller in comparison to public schools, small boarding schools typically have less than 200 students enrolled. Some very specialist schools even have a maximum of 25 students or less. According to the Small Boarding School Association, small boarding schools are characterised by promoting a low student-teacher ratio and by placing emphasis on individual learning. Schools can also be highy specialised, offering programmes designed for children with learning disabilities, for example.

In fact, a close-knit community will help children come out of their shell, develop friendships with other students and staff, and deepen their confidence. Common interests can even transcend grade levels and students have the sensation of living and learning in a family setting rather than in a staid, distant institution. Furthermore, smaller institutions positively encourage students to develop close relations and friendships. From switching dorm rooms to cross-year assemblies, strong connections are formed which often go on to last a lifetime.

The size of a boarding school can also have an effect on the student-teacher relationship. Whereas larger institutions have neither the resources nor the staff to ensure close relations, at a small boarding school teachers know all the students on a first-name basis. There is also more of a likelihood that a student’s dorm master will also be their form tutor, meaning the pastoral bond between student and teacher is able to grow.

Smaller boarding schools also have the added benefit of providing students with a much smaller class size. If a child struggles with maths or finds French grammar complicated, the increased personal contact and one-to-one contact helps the school establish where students have difficulties. This way they can tackle the issues head on, as opposed to leaving a student to struggle on alone. Mentoring is also an active part of smaller institutions who nurture and support students with any academic issue they may face. From homesickness to dorm life, mentors will help students deal with any minor blip.

Students are also positively encouraged to form an active part of the community in smaller institutions. Daily meetings and assemblies involving all students and staff provides every one the chance to voice concerns or problems, providing an active dialogue between student and teacher. Forming part of a community environment means students in smaller boarding schools develop a unique sense of togetherness during their entire school career.

Small boarding schools also offer leadership and confidence boosting opportunities. From sports to drama and music, students are challenged and encouraged to develop their interests and confidence as an individual. Students will leave boarding school with outstanding leadership qualities and a new found confidence, standing them in good stead for future studies and life after education.

Small boarding schools provide the perfect start to education, offering confidence-building extracurricular activities and a level of pastoral care which is second to none. Children feel at home and supported whilst benefiting from a tailor-made education to build upon their talents and help target problem areas.

For those for whom a smaller community boarding school offering excellent teaching is the right choice, read on to find out more about the education offered at the following world-class institutions:

Based in the quiet corner of New England, Putnam Science Academy offers its students a preparatory school education, preparing students for American college. As an accredited College Preparatory school, Putnam places family first, offering a small, close-knit community environment in which students can develop their interests and benefit from a challenging curriculum. The school specializes in math and sciences, and offers FTC robotics for which Putnam won the national championship in 2011, and regularly attends both national and international science fairs with students and their projects. The school’s basketball program sees many Putnam pupils go on to win Division 1 scholarships. Students benefit from Putnam’s nurturing environment, set in a beautiful green 30-acre campus.

The Emma Willard boarding school for girls promotes a homely, positive environment in which young women are encouraged to grow and flourish as individuals. Emma girls are encouraged to take risks and be resilient within the safety of the school grounds. Be it in the classroom, on stage, on the badminton court or in the science laboratory, women are supported and encouraged to make the most of the “girl-centric” environment that the school offers its students. Since its foundation by female education promoter Emma Willard in 1814, hundreds of young women have benefited from a world-class education in New York, U.S.

Indian Mountain School supports students’ creativity and curiosity in a small, supportive school environment. Teachers recognise the value of play while encouraging students to develop their interests and talents, celebrate cultural diversity and develop their leadership skills. Located in the unique rural surrounding of Lakeville, Utah, Indian Mountain School offers a traditional education for boys and girls from kindergarten to ninth grade. Academia and the arts, as well as sports, are carefully balanced thanks to small teaching groups and highly skilled staff, meaning students are prepared for secondary school and beyond.

Set in the green surroundings of Maryland, St Timothy’s is a forward-thinking girls’ boarding school. Girls are treated as individuals and are encouraged to take risks and grow on a personal level during their time at the school. St. Timothy’s is accredited by the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools and the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. Students are encouraged to make the most of the school’s arts and athletics programmes in addition to an equestrian programme. Students form part of a vibrant campus life, where moral values and spirituality are key to the institution’s high-caliber education programme.

Outstanding academic programmes, dedicated staff and a warm, campus setting are part of the Knox School values. Knox students are encouraged to think both creatively and critically while living and learning in a nurturing and supportive school setting. Knox is located just 50 miles from New York City on a beautiful, 48-acre campus bordering the Long Island Sound. Knox students are encouraged both on the pitch and in the classroom, forming leadership skills and confidence in addition to traditional academic subjects. Knox students form lifelong, lasting friendships, that continue long after their time at the school has ended.

Images via Putnam Science Academy & Indian Mountain School.