Oh Joy

5 tips for applying to pre-school...
21 Mar 2014

Oh Joy / Ruby

It's been a while since I've talked about what's going on in the parenting world part of my life lately, so I want to share a little bit about applying to pre-school. I didn't want to go all "crazy mom" and get stressed about this process. But I did. I got stressed, I made a crazy spreadsheet comparing all the pre-schools we were looking at for Ruby, and I was up at night worrying about if she'd get into any of them. And at the end of the day, it all worked out how it was supposed to. 

Just as a foreword to this post, I am fully aware that the process of applying to pre-school isn't as competitive everywhere as it is here in Los Angeles. In many parts of the country (and even outside of the U.S.), you just fill out an application, put down a deposit, and your child gets to go to wherever you want him or her to. But here in LA (and other large cities like New York and San Francisco), applying to pre-school can feel like the second coming of college applications. There are limited spots and a small percentage of the applicants actually get in. It can be super competitive. You're going up against kids of actors and astronauts and parents who all have really cool jobs.

For the privacy of my family and our community, I won't be talking specifically about where we applied or where Ruby is going to pre-school, but I thought the process was so fascinating that I wanted to share few tips with those of you who might be approaching this subject in your lives in the near future...

Oh Joy / Ruby

1. Decide what kind of school environment makes sense for your child and your family. Some parents want their kids to run free and enjoy playing while they can. Some parents want structure. There are play-based schools, Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, and schools that are a combination of them all. Some schools split up the kids by age and some mix them all together. During the process of touring schools, we decided early on that we wanted Ruby to have a mix of play and learning. We wanted her to go into kindergarten with a good comprehension of her letters and words, and be on her way to reading. And we wanted a school that would offer her inspiration and ways of learning that we wouldn't be able to provide on our own. 

2. Tour a few schools and watch how the kids interact with the teachers and with each other. Do the kids at the school seem interested and engaged? How do the teachers engage them? The biggest turn-off for us was when we visited a school and saw that a child was bored and sitting in the corner by him or herself, or playing in a patch of dirt when there were plenty of other things to do. You want your child to love going there and to constantly feel engaged.

3. Think about the most important factors for you. It's sort of like any other life decision—what's most important to you if you can't get everything you want? Location? Cost? Style of learning? Schedule? For us, it was about the style of learning, a school that offered early drop-off hours, and the location (something within 10-15 minutes of our offices or our home). 

4. Participate in Parent & Me classes if available. Some schools offer Parent & Me classes where, for a couple hours each week, you can experience a sampling of what the school has to offer. It gets your child familiar with a more formal school set-up, and you get to know the teachers and their style of instruction better. And, in my opinion, it really helps when you're applying to a school if the staff already knows you and your child. It always helps your application and can never hurt your chances. Plus, that way, the school can make its decision based on how well your child would fit into the school and not just based on what your family looks like on paper.

5. You don't have to sign-up at birth. When we were pregnant, people asked us if we were going to start looking at pre-schools and we were blown away. I hear some people do put their unborn children on pre-school waitlists, but I had no desire to do that not knowing what Ruby's personality would be like. It was much better that we waited until she was an actual toddler. We started looking at pre-schools soon after Ruby turned two, a few months before all the deadlines for that school year. We looked at five schools, applied to three, and she got into two of them. We honestly loved all the schools we applied to, but chose the final one based on Ruby's personality now and where we thought she'd flourish the most.

At the end of the day, your kids will turn out fine no matter where they go. The pre-school your child goes to doesn't dictate if they'll go to Harvard. I went to very ordinary pre-school and turned out fine. However, I wasn't the best traditional learner as a kid, and did best when learning visually, so it really made me want to give her additional opportunities that I didn't have. I think if you have choices, it's worth researching what's best for your family and your child. It can only enrich your child's learning and imagination.

If you have pre-school aged kids, did you guys have to go through this crazy process, too? Anything else you learned in your experience?

{Top photo by Bob Cho. Bottom photo by Casey Brodley.}

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