I sent my daughter to an expensive, all-the-bells-and-whistles Montessori preschool that cost $1300 per month. I sent my son to a 50 year-old neighborhood preschool that cost $700 per month (including hot lunch) Both of these preschools were wonderful, each in its own way.
My daughter’s Montessori preschool was love at first sight for me. Bright colors in the big, airy classrooms, kids sitting quietly working independently or in small groups, children squeezing fresh oranges for their snack, Mandarin Chinese lessons, piano class, Spanish and more. I instantly knew my shy, studious daughter would thrive in this preschool. I just hoped she’d get in. The waiting list was long and since this was my first child, I didn’t know what to expect. We signed up for the mommy & me and crossed our fingers. Fortunately, a colleague of mine had a child there and wrote us a letter of recommendation. Soon after, we got a letter admitting my daughter. What a relief!
The Montessori preschool was focused, academic (as much as a preschool can be, but you’d be surprised), boasted a spectacular drama program that produced three Shakespeare plays each year. Parents at the school included famous directors, costume designers and actors. They loved volunteering to produce the plays. Lacking any artistic or entertainment experience, I typically brought food for these extravaganzas. The parents were mostly affluent. My daughter loved preschool and she at Montessori reading fluently and well prepared for kindergarten.
When it came time to find a preschool for my son, I knew Montessori wasn’t right for him. An energetic boy, he wouldn’t have been able to sit still long enough to make it through the first hour at Montessori. And, the yard was small and didn’t offer enough room to run. So, I sought another preschool for him. A friend suggested a very traditional, old-school preschool where her kids attended.
“Don’t be turned off by the location or the exterior,” she said before I scheduled a tour. “It’s a great school, but it definitely lacks the fancy quality of your daughter’s preschool.”
At that point, I was open to looking at other schools—those that would be best for my son. I knew he wouldn’t be interested in Mandarin or Piano or even Karate classes offered at Montessori. He needed freedom to run, play and learn. And, I needed a school closer to my daughter’s elementary school.
I signed my son up for the no-frills preschool for the afternoon session. There was a one-year wait-list for the morning spots. But, he liked the school and it was relatively inexpensive, close to my daughter’s elementary school and, best of all, had afternoon playtime. I’d arrive to pick him up to find him playing football with one of his teachers. He loved the school and they knew how to deal with high-energy boys without trying to over-discipline them. He came home with traditional spelling and math worksheets. There was no spectacular art or music program. The school didn’t have email yet. He spent two great years there.
It’s not always easy to sort through your preschool options. Here are a few things I learned from having kids at two very different types of preschools:
Safety comes first. Make sure the school is clean, safe and licensed.
Don’t be discouraged by the exterior of the school. Lots of preschools are in former single-family homes or on busy streets.
Familiarize yourself with different types of schools: Montessori, Reggio, Traditional, Progressive, Waldorf. Each school has a very different teaching style and educational philosophy.
Tell everyone you know you’re looking for a preschool. Some preschools are “hidden gems” accessible primarily by word of mouth.
What is the application process? Is there a written application? When does the school notify parents if their child has been accepted?
Sometimes preschools can be hard to reach by phone. If you’re interested in applying to a school, ask a friend to walk you in to introduce you to the director if your call isn’t being returned.
Is the school close to your home or your work? If not, can you realistically get your child there and pick him/her up daily?
Does the preschool offer early morning/extended afternoon care for working parents?
Does your child need to be potty trained before starting school? If so, do you realistically have time to accomplish this?
Preschool is a time to begin to help your child socialize and make friends. Can you envision yourself becoming friendly with other moms at the school?
If diversity is important to you, make sure you see diverse kids when you tour the school. If you don’t see them, they’re not there.
If you are a working mom, would you be comfortable at a school where the majority of moms stay home?
Assume tuition will increase each year.
Find out how much fundraising the preschool does and what contributions are expected of parents beyond the price of tuition
What volunteer opportunities are there for working parents? Stay-at-home parents?
Where do the kids go when they graduate? Public school? Private school
What is the student/teacher ratio? Does the teacher seem like he/she has control of the class? Is the teacher interacting and teaching the kids or gossiping in the corner with other teachers?
What does the school do with kids who bite? What is the policy for kids who are sick?
How does the school handle transition for new students? Can you stay and hang out or are you expected to drop-off and leave?
If the school has a “parent and me” class, that’s a great way to see if you/your child like the school and for the teachers/director to get to know your family
Trust your instincts. Always.
Christina Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She also writes the blog, www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com. Christina is the mom of two kids, ages 8 and 11, who attend The Willows Community School In Culver City. Her work has been published on Macaroni Kids, Mamapedia, BlogHer, Salon.com, The Mother Company and numerous other sites.
The preschools above were
Coping With Preschool Panic by Michelle Nitka www.preschoolguide.com
Hidden Gem Preschools in the LA area (part 1 and 2) on The Twin Coach* make sure to click on reader comments for more preschool recommendations