January 22, 2011

Choosing a Preschool

It’s that time again. Just after the new year, we start seeing the ads in Bay Area Parent, the questions start flowing in the mom groups, and I start to break a sweat. It’s preschool open house time.

My daugther, Jelly, is 20 months and I’m considering sending her to preschool a couple mornings a week in the fall. I always assumed my daughter would just go wherever we sent her older brother, so this decision should have been made already. My son is 3 1/2, and when he was about Jelly’s age, I started to think about preschool for him. But he just didn’t seem ready, and we decided we’d wait until he was 3. But around his second birthday, he was diagnosed with autism, and a new path was chosen. There were still many decisions to be made, but they were guided by our developmental pediatrician and what the Regional Center offered for early intervention. When he turned 3, he entered our school district’s wonderful program. Although our days are challenging, the decision of what preschool he’d go to was pretty easy.

But now I have this typically developing little girl, who despite a little bit of separation anxiety, seems more than ready for preschool, so I’m once again faced with this decision. I asked my parents how they chose my nursery school, but things were different in the 70′s. Kids usually went to preschool for just one year, if at all, and my parents just put me in the nursery school at the local temple. They said they didn’t really give it too much thought.

For better or worse, parents have a lot of choices now. If you haven’t been through this, or are going through it now, here are just some of choices to think about:
  • Approach: Developmental vs. Academic
  • Philosophy: Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf, etc.
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Mixed age classes
  • Potty training requirements
  • Co-op/Parent Participation or drop off
In general, I think a developmental or play-based approach is the way to go, but my little girl is already showing an interest in reading and counting, so I do want to make sure those skills are not neglected. I’m a big fan of the Jewish preschools, but probably mostly because that is what I had growing up, and of course they are not all the same. I doubt she’ll be potty trained yet, and fortunately most of the 2′s programs don’t require this. (This is one thing experts agree on. Don’t push your kid to be potty trained if they aren’t ready just so they can go to a particular preschool. And don’t send your child to a school that requires your child to be potty trained if he or she is not.)

The parent participation schools tend to be wonderfully nurturing environments, and have the added benefit of being much less expensive than the drop-off programs. But I may have trouble with the commitment, especially since I’ve got an older child with a complicated schedule. I’m also, quite honestly, trying to get some free time for myself.

I’m planning to educate myself on the various philosphies, go to the Las Madres Education Fair (open to the public) this weekend, then attend a couple of open houses after that. I’m hoping I’ll be able to identify a few that seem to fit our style and budget, and are places my girl will be able to learn and especially have fun. I’m sure she’ll do well wherever we send her, and I don’t believe that the preschool she goes to will determine the rest of her academic future. But I can’t help but feel a little stressed about this decision. I just hope we get our applications in early enough. I’d hate to find the right school and end up on the waiting list.

Originally published at Silicon Valley Mamas, where I am a contributing writer. Are you thinking about preschools for your little one? Have you found a preschool you absolutely love? Tell me about it! Leave a comment or find me on Twitter, @wantapeanut.

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  1. My girl (being an Aspie, although we didn't know it at the time), was very academically inclined. Initially, I thought an academic program was the way to go with her. After I toured some programs, however, I quickly realized that she'd be bored in an academic program. They were teaching things she'd known for a while already! I thought a developmental approach would actually keep her more entertained and develop her creative side more. For her, it was totally the right call. I loved the preschool she went to.

    Go and tour the different schools. You'll totally see the one that calls to you and seems like the right fit!

    Good luck!

  2. Child 2 was in a preschool that I called "Very Berkeley." Picture a preschool that opened in Berkeley in the late 1960s, apply every stereotype you can think of and that's exactly how this preschool is. I also called it "clothing optional." To say that this preschool didn't emphasize academics is an enormous understatement. There were no letters or numbers anywhere in the vicinity, except in books. It was all very child-led, artwork oriented, very loosely structured but with lots of options for play. It was all about the play and about nurturing the child and encouraging their natural development and curiosity and social skills and development and blah blah blah. I make fun of it but I really think it was the best possible place for him. He learned that learning was fun and not a chore, and he taught himself all his letters and letter sounds and numbers by the time he was 4. Now in Kindergarten he thinks school is the greatest place ever and has a blast. I'm not saying this kind of place would work for every kid, it NEVER would have worked for Child 1, but it definitely worked for #2!

  3. I didn't realise our children were so similar in age. HRH is 3 and my daughter will be 2 next month, there is 16 months between them. She is very NT and ready for preschool too, I was thinking of sending her in September. Best of luck choosing :) Jen

  4. This brings back horrible memories. I haven't heard the phrase "Las Madres" in forever...someday I'll tell you my experience with them and why I hate moms groups to this day. I can clearly remember when everyone started having those preschool debates and of course I was not able to participate.

  5. @Cheryl & @jillsmo: Thanks! You've reminded me that what Jelly really needs right now is time to play with other kids. She's clearly learning just fine.

    @jencull: For some reason I thought HRH was older than Moe. Moe and Jelly are 23 months apart. Apparently, I'm just slightly less crazy than you :)

  6. I'd go for academic and skip the Montessori because that is good only for a very specific type of child. Not really all kids. I haven't really read enough of your blog to know anything about your kids....Montessori is a really cool philosophy.....because the kids who get it THRIVE but the kids who are slackers or don't get it.....fall behind, very quickly.

    And with the potty training requirements? I'm pretty sure that ALL schools private parochial and especially public are required to provide an "appropriate education for all children". I think it's PL42.143?? I forget.


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