Finding the Perfect Preschool
I was at a playdate today and I ended up ranting and raving about my frustrations with my cooperative preschool. Don’t get me wrong, my child is having a wonderful experience, but a cooperative preschool is an entire family experience and my piece of it, a.k.a. “administrative position” has been rather annoying. I could just be me. I think that I tend to get annoyed as I exit a preschool, and this is my last year of preschool…EVER! And, maybe I’m just jaded.
There is something about preschool that makes you feel a little like a hostage because you are handing off your very small child into the great unknown. This feeling is especially acute if you have to peel your crying child off your leg every morning and their favorite part of school is pick up. So, I readily admit that I am a Jaded Preschool Parent. Maybe that explains why I went through 4 preschools over the past 10 years.
If you are getting ready to pick a preschool for your darling, heed my advice. Do not solely rely on word-of-mouth endorsements from moms you meet in the park or at mommy-and-me music class! Why? Because it’s an unwritten mommy rule somewhere that everyone LOVES their preschool. I’m not sure why. I think it’s partly based on anxiety… that this must be a great place because I’m dropping off my precious child for x many hours and I have no real idea of how it’s going because my child can’t articulate their feelings and thoughts that well yet. Case in point, I moved my middle child because I suspected she was miserable. It wasn’t just the difficult drop off that clued me in. Yet the teachers and directors insisted that she was fine and happen even all day. I did sneak around early to spy on her or peer in through a window but I just wasn’t sure. It wasn’t until we hired an assistant teacher as an occasional babysitter who said that my daughter was COMPLETELY a different person at school versus home and not in a good way. And yet, even a year or two later, we would drive by the old preschool and my daughter would say, “There’s my old school. I love my old school.” REALLY? But now, at age 7, she is able to articulate her experience and she told me the other night that she did NOT like it there and then listed all the reasons why. It was surprising to me that it would take 4 or 5 years, like a victim of trama, to really get to the truth.
So…here’s my jaded view:
How to: Pick a Preschool
Daycare Pros: great hours for working moms. they will take infants. the staff-to-child ratio can be low.
Daycare Cons: Incredibly high staff turnover. I experienced 50% staff turnover in my child’s classroom every 4 months! And it was always the teacher she bonded with that left. That was not acceptable to me so we switched to a preschool when she turned 2.9 years old because that is when the preschool is licensed to take kids.
Nugget of Advice: Yes, get on the waitlist early but don’t confuse a really, really long waitlist with an incredibly wonderful daycare. And why you ask about staff turnover and the director tells you the length of time of a few of the staffers, ask about how many hires this past year. How old is the staff? Do they have degrees in early child education? Really young, just-out-of-college staff + low wages = high staff turnover. Drop by unannounced to “make an appointment.” Observe carefully before you ask for help…this is what really goes on. Also, how soon until they notice you, a stranger, in their midst?
Preschool Pros: The hours are more suited for what a child’s exposure to chaos should be so the day is shorter and the staff is not working incredibly long hours (ie underpaid & burnt out). They tend to do annual contract with their staff so staff turnover is significantly lower.
Preschool Cons: You generally have many, many options about how many days you want to attend. This is great for spending one-on-one time with your child plus helps with the cost but you will find that your kids will not know some of the kids in their class. As in, I have no idea who you are. I have never seen you before in my life. This is because they might have one day of overlap. Also, because the kids are not together on all the same days, the school can’t plan a structured academic curriculum.
Nuggest of Advice : Ask about staff to child ratio. Just because the school doesn’t go through a formal interviewing/rejecting process doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a good first impression! Ask if any of the lead teachers are certified teachers for K-2. Ask if the staff signs an annual contract. Is there a summer program? Do you need one? Do you occasionally need an early drop off or late pick up? Can they accommodate that? Have them explain their academic curriculum; there is no one right answer but understand if it’s play based or child-led or whatever the latest theory is? Is their foreign language exposure? (Ok, maybe I am way into that but no one else cares).
Montesori Pros: Now I confess that I have never attended Montessori so I am speaking for my many friends who have. Generally, they all LOVE Montessori. The families also tend to be more international. The curriculum IS impressive. Your darling will generally learn to read at age 3 and get exposure to a foreign language, typically Spanish.
Montessori Cons: Tends to be expensive. High staff to child ratio because of their education model. Not a lot of interaction with kids of their own age and sex…maybe 2-3 in their class. Must go every day at 8:30 a.m.; are you really ready for this schedule at age 2??? There are years ahead of you when you will have to do this. Preschool of choice for high-powered moms…do you really need that kind of stress in your life?
Nugget of Advice: If your child can not sit still on a very small square of carpet for at least 15 minutes at a stretch, then Montessori is not for you! Don’t take the rejection personally “that the school regrets there is no space for your child.” And also don’t read false hope in that message also!
Cooperative Preschool Pros: You know exactly what happens every second of your child’s school day. If you are not the parent helper, then your mom friend is. You know who they play with, who cried, and who will likes what for snack. The teachers are tip top…they have to be as they are supervised by the most critical of bosses (i.e. moms) during their work day.
Cooperative Preschool Cons: You will volunteer umpteen hours to the school. Your administrative job might not match your skills or worse the parent in charge of your committee has no business being in charge…literally, no prior business experience being in charge but now they are. Not always a good thing! After several years of this, you will realize why Socialism was doomed to fail. You will feel sucked dry.
Nugget of Advice: In the beginning you will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your school. Do not think that your child’s wonderful experience is commensurate with the amount of time you volunteer. It’s a long ride and YOU MUST PACE YOURSELF! Do not undertake too much responsibility. Under that kumbaya exterior lies the same snarky, sharky politics as any other organization. Don’t drink too much of the Kool-Aide!
My final piece of advice is remembering my work friend, Diligent Mom, who LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her preschool. She actually visited 22 of them. I am sure there are 22 preschool options in my neck of the woods within a 20 minute commute, but I didn’t visit even half that– a 5 minute commute and good parking were items on my must-have list. Well…that is why she LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her preschools and I do not.