It’s preschool application season, and we all know what that means. Countless tours of adorable buildings with tiny bathrooms. Endless scrutinizing of daily schedules printed on girds and the corresponding tuition sheet that goes with them. A million Google searches of key terms like Play-based,” “Reggio Emilia,” and “Montessori.” And, mostly, STRESS.
When my oldest son hit preschool age, application season gave me zits, and I think I gained 6 pounds between Open House Sunday and the deadline to apply because all I ate was Hershey’s Kisses and Pinot Noir. It was like final exam week in college only worse because my decision seemed so consequential. From my seat at my kitchen table surrounded by enrollment forms and immunization records from our top five choices and my checkbook that was sitting there in the middle of the pile staring mournfully at me as if to say Just make a decision and use me to write your deposit before you go insane, I could see a straight line from the school my son attended as a two-year-old to his college graduation day.
Nine years and three more preschoolers later, though, I realize that I was being ridiculous. I still have a 5 year-old in 4K and a 3 year-old in preschool, and when I go pick them up at their rainbow unicorn, fairytale, cartoon butterfly of a school, they are both LITERALLY sitting around table with their friends eating playdough. (In their defense, it’s homemade by their teachers and usually scented to go along with the season and it was hard for me not to swipe a corner of the December gingerbread stuff).
We have gone to several preschools
- An adorable once-a-week program for two year-olds.
- A terrific play-based school on my way to campus that was totally perfect for our schedules when I was in grad school.
- A fancy Reggio Emilia school that let us work around our tough schedules when my husband was in the private sector, and I was teaching for the first time after my PhD program.
- Public 4K at the school across the street when baby number 3 was an infant, and it was so easy to send the older two kids out the door with a wave and a smile.
- A delightful play-based school close to our house that affords me 180 kid-free minutes in the morning to write my book and do indulgent things like fold laundry and take a shower.
And you know what? These schools have all been wonderful, and they have all taught my kids how to not be jerks to other kids in a group setting, how to put on their own snow pants, and how to write their names, all tasks I was more than happy to outsource. As a bonus, the fancy Reggio school made my now-eight-year-old love couscous (because they had a chef who made their snacks), and it taught both of my older two kids how to eat soup neatly, which is a monumental achievement. All of the teachers we’ve met have been smart, caring, engaged, inventive, and loving, and I have been able to find my tribe of perpetually late, top-knot-wearing, too-lazy-to-ever-collect-all-of-the-art-projects-from-my-mailbox moms at every school.
I guess that I’m saying is relax! Do not waste one second stressing about preschool application season because all of your choices are good ones. If you decide that preschool is not for you, that’s a good choice, too. You don’t have to go broke paying for preschool. 4K is free through the school district, and local libraries offer story-times for preschool aged children that are great activities to do with your children if you decide not to send them to a formal school setting. I know moms who have developed their own preschool co-op where they take turns hosting a group of 3 year-olds for crafts, snacks, and math and literacy games a few days a week. And plenty of kids attend daycares with academic programs and come to kindergarten just as fired up and ready to go as their preschool-attending peers.
If I could got back to February of 2008, I would sweep all of those enrollment form off the kitchen table and tell my stressed out self to pick the place that fit my budget and my schedule the best and save the hysteria for junior high application season because that’s the choice that matters more than any you have ever made in your child’s life and will surely decide if the Ivy League is in their future and PASS ME THE HERSHEY’S KISSES. (Remind me to look at this post and laugh in 2025, OK?)