How do you find a school in Beijing where most of them are gigantic and intimidating even to adults, many look like US college campuses with large buildings, dorms, quads, AND you can’t read the websites?
There are many, many choices for schools in a city as huge as BJ, even for foreigners. Here is Beijingkids Magazine’s school guide. http://www.beijing-kids.com/beijingkids-School-Guide-2011 (This mag is a fantastically useful resource for all things ex-pat-kid in BJ.)
An American mom from LA who moved her three kids in September enrolled them in a local public school on the West side of Beijing in the District called Haidian. That’s where the big universities are, plus many of the Silicon Valley-like companies. Some, not all, of the public schools accept foreigners. Public schools aren’t free but they’re much more affordable than the privates. Some of the privates—that apparently cater to expats who are funded by huge corporations like Chevron rather than totally un-funded moms like me --rival San Francisco private schools in tuition. Like in the high 20k’s: http://www.beijing-kids.com/magazine/2011/02/24/Sticker-Shock
I have also heard good things about FangCaoDi http://www.fcd.com.cn/ and know of an American woman who lived in Beijing until her kid completed her schooling there, then came back to the States for college. It’s taught under the Chinese Nat’l Curriculum and I’ve heard it is quite rigorous. It accepts foreigners but it’s my understanding that the placement evaluations are only done once per year. I may look into it if we decide to stay longer in BJ or if we’re unhappy with Daystar for some reason. It’s a huge school and frankly intimidates me. LiLi would probably be fine; it’s me who might be too timid for that school.
I mentioned earlier that when we were in BJ this past summer we met another family who also decided to move for their three kids' language acquisition. That family did the research and field work and evaluated many BJ schools. They settled upon Daystar Academy, a relatively small private non-profit school that has 2/3 native Mandarin speakers and 1/3 M learners from all over the rest of the globe. Of the 2/3 native M speakers, 1/3 are what they call "Mainlanders" from China and 1/3 are native M speakers from other areas like Taiwan and Singapore. The school teaches 50% Mandarin/ 50% English and the English side is taught Montessori style. The Chinese half is taught under the Chinese National Curriculum (Renmin Jiaoyu Chubanshe). A friend mentioned that those sounded like polar opposites and would be an interesting day for LiLi. The school also focuses on character development and the “whole child” and that sounded like a good fit to me too. Our friends reported that their kids are thriving there and that was enough for me. I emailed the admissions director, downloaded and completed the application, wrote a page mostly about LiLi, got her teachers and tutors to do their recs, and had one Skype with the admissions director who, as it happened, was from the Bay Area. After an exchange of a few emails and a couple of weeks, we were accepted. I wired the tuition last week and we are in! I feel tremendously fortunate and also relieved.