To the OP,
The best way to decide if a martial arts school is worth the cost, especially for children, is to watch the classes. Are the students attentive or are they goofing around and not paying attention? Does the instructor allow the students to goof around or require them to pay attention? Obviously kids will be kids, but there’s a huge difference between a martial arts class and an overpriced day care.
Do they look like they enjoy being there? On the flip side of my previous point, some instructors don’t understand that there’s a difference between a 5 year old and a professional fighter. Kids won’t want to keep doing something if it’s not fun.
Also, watch some of the older kids or higher belt classes and talk to their parents. Those kids that have been at the school for a while will really be able to give you a good idea of what your son can get out of it. Are they well behaved, respectful, and polite, or are they the kind of kids that you look at and say “good god! I would never let my child act like that in public”. A good martial arts school with good instructors can teach a child a hell of a lot more than just how to punch and kick.
Finally, in regards to the money issue and the instructor’s request to bring your wife along. Just see how it feels. If you get that “used car salesman” feeling, thank him for his time and leave. One thing I always ask when checking out a new school is if they require a contract, and if so, how binding is it.
If you have to sign up for a year and pay for the whole thing up front with no chance of a refund, don’t bother. Lots of schools work just like commercial gyms, they make money on the people who buy a year membership and then quit after 2 or 3 months (weeks?). If you can pay for a month or two at a time without penalty and leave at any time, there’s a good chance the school is for real.
One last thing, the request to talk to your wife may very well be what you think, a sign that it’s expensive and you’ll need her ok, but maybe not. Lots of teachers like to talk to both parents to make sure they understand that this is a martial art. There’s kicking, punching, wrestling, etc… i.e. a chance of injury.
Mother’s tend to be a bit more sensitive to these things and more likely to freak out the first time little billy comes home with a black eye. Father’s tend to hand the kid an ice pack and tell him to walk it off (while secretly grinning ear to ear imagining the brutal jet li style battle royale his son must’ve been in to get a shiner like that).
Overall, go into this with an open mind, but don’t let yourself get locked into anything longer than a couple of months. Even if everything is great, kids are fickle, next month your son may decide he doesn’t want to do karate anymore and would rather play soccer (or baseball, footbal, rugby, synchronized swimming, who knows).
Hope something in that rambling response helped,
Thanks Jay, what great advise.